A Jam-Packed Itinerary of Essential Desert Experiences in the Red Centre

Explore the Red Centre on camelback, enjoy a refreshing dip in an ancient waterhole or see the staggering beauty of Uluru up close.
Anastasia Medvedskaya
Published on February 08, 2022

A Jam-Packed Itinerary of Essential Desert Experiences in the Red Centre

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Explore the Red Centre on camelback, enjoy a refreshing dip in an ancient waterhole or see the staggering beauty of Uluru up close.

If there's one thing that puts Australia head and shoulders above the rest of the world when it comes to tourism, it's that you can enjoy every type of climate in one place. Enjoy shredding it on the ski slopes? You're sorted. Love sojourning balmy beaches in your speedos? No worries.

Over 18-percent of the country is made up of desert, which also makes Australia one of the best places for the ultimate desert experience. From red sand dunes and dramatic sheer cliffs to wallabies around watering holes and ancient rock formations, the desert could not look any better than in Central Australia. So, we've teamed up with Tourism Central Australia to give you the ultimate desert itinerary in the Red Centre.

Want to plan your very own adventure to the Red Centre? Take a look at our handy trip builder to start building your custom itinerary now.

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    Uluru Camel Tours

    Keen to get up close and personal with nature? On the iconic Uluru Camel Tours, you’ll get to hop on the back of a majestic camel as a skilled cameleer shares fascinating stories of the region. You’ll traverse rich red sand dunes, see ancient rock formations and brush up on your knowledge of native Australian flora and fauna. Choose from a morning, day or evening tour where you can watch the desert come alive as the sun rises, or as twilight falls following dramatic sunset views.

    Once the walk is complete, you can celebrate an adventure-filled day with a mouthwatering array of outback bush foods including fresh-baked beer bread damper, Australian jams, teas and wines.

    Image: Jarrad Sheng

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    Parrtjima 2022 — A Festival in Light

    No, those are not mirages you’re seeing in the middle of the desert. They’re art installations. The only Indigenous light festival of its kind, Parrtjima is a free ten-day festival that spreads across Alice Springs once a year. Celebrating the oldest continuous culture on earth using the newest technologies, this innovative festival illuminates the desert with larger than life sculptures, mesmerising light shows and an action-packed program of performances, music, films and talks.

    This year’s festival will take place from April 8–17. Under the star-strewn Red Centre sky, the festival will explore the theme of ‘Sky Country’ focusing on everyone’s place in the universe, with an emphasis on the elements of sky, air and wind. Whether you’re after immersive light walks, art-making workshops or catching live musical and spoken word performances, there’s something for everyone at this magical cultural event.

    Image: Parrtjima 2020

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    If you’re looking for the perfect introduction to Uluru, the Mala Walk is a captivating tour of the sandstone monolith’s northwest side. Admire all the evidence of desert life as you walk around the base of Uluru, including ancient Aboriginal rock art, spinifex, streams and groves of green trees. You’ll learn about the Mala people and how they lived their daily lives, from the kitchen cave where they prepared their meals to ancient cultural stories.

    Your tour will take a pause at the serene Kantju Gorge, a ‘fold’ among Uluru’s surface with stunning sheer cliff walls. Spanning a two-kilometre return journey, the trail is suited to hikers of all experience levels.

    Image: Salty Aura, Tourism NT

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    You can sleep under the stars in one of three luxury safari tents set against the stunning Western MacDonnell Ranges at this eco friendly bed and breakfast. You’ll enjoy views of expansive red desert earth, native trees, iconic rock formations and colourful bird life as you wake up to the sounds of nature and a continental breakfast with toast, assorted jams and freshly brewed coffee. Your eco-tent is fitted out with all the comforts of a hotel, like soft linen sheets, queen-size bed, an ensuite bathroom and split system air conditioning.

    If you don’t feel like driving into town for the evening, the Squeaky Windmill’s friendly host Michelle will bring you some nibbles. Enjoy a cheese platter with Australian wine or your very own barbecue hamper stocked full of locally sourced produce and gourmet bread that you can warm up on your Weber barbecue. Finish your day with a drink around the campfire under a blanket of stars.

    Image: Tourism Australia

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    After a truly meaningful experience in the Red Centre? Don’t look past Bush Yarns, a free tour that gives travellers the chance to listen to captivating stories about Aboriginal culture and tradition from an Indigenous storyteller.

    Here, you’ll learn about topics like the Aboriginal men’s ‘survival kit’, which included weapons like hunting spears, clubs, boomerangs and spear throwers. Hear also how Aboriginal women used traditional techniques and tools to gather bush tucker for thousands of years, and discover aspects of the local Pitjantjatjara language.

    Each tour runs for approximately 30 minutes, four times a day, and location varies depending on the season. If you want to add a truly authentic and enriching experience to your trip, this one is not to be missed.

    Image: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

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    Field of Light

    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to visit another planet, the legendary Field of Light show might just be the next best thing. Spanning a whopping seven football fields, Field of Light is made up of over 50,000 spindles of light that look like a field of alien plants.

    As the sun sets, Uluru becomes a darkened silhouette and the desert unbelievably starts to glimmer, stretching for as far as the eye can see. Lose yourself in the sparkling stems, as they breathe and sway, in shades of gold, deep violet, sparkling blue and cool white.

    Designed by the internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro, the once pop-up event has been extended indefinitely due to immense public demand. Enjoy a leisurely walk in this fantasy garden, or extend your visit with a gastronomic dining experience.

    Image: Field of Light: Bruce Munro. Photo by Mark Pickthall.

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    If you want to cool off with a quick dip, you can’t miss Ormiston Gorge. This serene waterhole is quite the oasis to stumble across in the desert, surrounded by the spectacular geological formations of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

    Laze by the water during the warmer months, and enjoy glimpses of local wildlife, bush scrub and a running river. You can dive in for a refreshing swim, but be warned the water is nippy all year round, with the south end of the waterhole estimated to be over 14 metres deep. If you want to linger a little longer, you can take the famous Ormiston Pound Walk, a nine-kilometre loop ending at the gorge. 

    Image: The Salty Travellers, Tourism NT

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    Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience and Tour

    The Aboriginal Cultural Tour will see you take a one-hour journey in Watarrka National Park. Here, you’ll be joined by First Nations guides who’ll share deep cultural knowledge on everything from bush tucker to medicine, weapon making and dot painting. Learn about Luritja and Pertame (Southern Arrernte) language and culture as you see artefacts up close like native seed jewellery and seasonal bush tucker ingredients.

    Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience and Tours is 100-percent Aboriginal owned and operated, and this particular tour runs four times a day from Wednesday to Sunday between February and October. Immersive, fascinating and welcoming, this experience is a must for anyone wanting to get first-hand knowledge of tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal history.

    Image: Archie Sartracom, Tourism Northern Territory

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    Sails in the Desert is a haven for weary travellers in the heart of the Red Centre. Here, you can treat yourself to a cocktail by a pool lined with gumtrees, before sampling Australian wines and regional cuisine at the Ilkari Restaurant. Or, you can head to the Walpa Lobby Bar to enjoy Indigenous-inspired cuisine. You should also pay a visit to Kulata Academy Cafe, which employs members of the National Indigenous Training Academy to help foster their careers in hospitality.

    After a long day of sightseeing, you can get some much-needed R&R at the Red Ochre Spa. There’s also an on-site gallery, Mulgara, that showcases locally made Indigenous art.

    Image: Shaana McNaught, Tourism NT

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Get out there in the Red Centre. To discover more things to eat, see and do, visit the website.

Top image: Jess Caldwell and Luke Riddle, Tourism NT

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