After visiting Sydney in 2 days, driving along the Great Barrier Reef for 2 weeks, we continue with a road trip in the Australian Outback with a rent camper van to experience the red desert. The Australian Outback is a huge arid and inhospitable area where the earth is red and rain almost never falls. However, when it rains, it is torrential rain that can last several days and floods some roads. While it is difficult to measure the size of the Outback, it actually covers the vast majority of Australia. That is why I could not consider going to Australia without stepping on the red sand of this desert which finally, by its dimensions, represents the true Australian land. Here is our 1-week road trip in the desert of the Red Centre.
Map of my 1 week itinerary in the Red Centre of Australia
This 7-day van road trip in the Australian desert is the 3rd part of my 3-week tour in Australia. Here is the map of the route from Alice Spring through Kings Canyon and the West Macdonnel Range:
Australian Outback Tour – Steps on my itinerary
- Day 1: Flight Cairns Alice Spring arrival at 13h00 + Rental van and night in Alice Spring
- Day 2: Road to Watarrka National Park
- Day 3: Kings Canyon
- Day 4: Kings Canyon + return trip and overnight in Alice Spring
- Day 5: West Macdonnel Range Road – Ellery Creek Big Hole – Ochre Pits
- Day 6: Ormiston Gorges – Glen Helen – Hermannsburg – Return and overnight in Alice Springs
- Day 7: Return van at 10am + flight to Darwin
Road trip Centre rouge – Pourquoi pas ULURU ?
Why didn’t I schedule ULURU in my circuit? That’s the question everyone asked me. To miss the largest site of the Centre Rouge seems insane and unimaginable for a majority of travellers…. Yes, but not for me. Indeed, I had read that this rock is invaded by mass tourism, that dozens of buses dump hundreds of tourists every morning… Of course it’s like on all the tourist sites around the world but I didn’t want to add hundreds of kilometers for that.
As time is limited in my programme, I preferred to focus on sites where you can go for beautiful hikes, enjoy nature calmly, discover more authentic places. Moreover, if I had added the Uluru and Monts Olga stage to my itinerary, we would have had to do everything in a hurry, without taking the time to contemplate the landscapes at our own pace, to rest… So our first stop on the circuit will be Watarrka National Park to fully enjoy Kings Canyon.
Red Centre Road trip – How to get to Kings Canyon?
With a camper van, you are not allowed to drive more than 12 km on unsealed roads (Britz rental contract). So to get to Watarrka Park from Alice Springs, it was impossible for us to take the shortest route through the Mereenie Loop because this route includes part of a road that is not sealed. Be careful because the GPS calculates the shortest route by default and will guide you to the route that passes through the unsealed raod. To avoid this, we took the Stuart Hiway, at Erldunda, then turn left to take the Lasseter Hiway and then right onto the Luritja Road which joins Ernest Giles Road to reach Kings Canyon Resort. It’s a monotonous 475 km trip we made in 7 hours.
After this long drive, we settled at the Kings Canyon Resort campsite, which is the closest campsite to the site. Small disappointment because the welcome is not great, the toilets were really rotten and the price was $50 per night…. In addition, as we have to refuel the van’s gas tank, we go to the spring station where the posted price is $2.08, almost double the normal price. I don’t want to make my big moan, but this is still an abuse…
Red Centre Road trip – Hiking in Kings Canyon
You can take a short 2 km walk (Kings Creek Walk) that makes a loop in the heart of the canyon. This walk that passes inside the Canyon can be done in the afternoon because it is very shaded.
In the morning, it is better to do the Kings Canyon Rim Walk which is a 6 km loop on the upper part of the canyon. It is a 4-hour walk that begins with a steep 10 to 15 minute ascent to the top of the canyon. This hike is grandiose and spectacular. Incredible views, superb panoramas, steep cliffs, incredible colours….
This place will remain one of my best memories of Australia!
Another very easy 2.5 km hike (Kathleen Springs Walk) takes place in the Watarrka National Park within one hour’s time. It leads to a water hole where you can sit and cool down…
Red Centre Road trip – West MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges are mountains that stretch 644 km long in central Australia. They form parallel ridges that start from the east and west of Alice Springs.
West MacDonnell Ranges – Ellery Creek Big Hole
Leaving Alice Spring, it was our first stop. As I knew that it would take about 6 km of track to reach the starting point of the hike and that we were limited to 12 km return, we preferred to do only half the kilometres in Van and the other half on foot. Arrived on the site, we discover a small hole of water almost completely drained in the middle of the rocks with a beautiful fault.
West MacDonnell Ranges – Ochre Pits
200 m from the car park (accessible with sealed road), this site is not exceptional. Maybe it was because of the morning light and the sun still low but the ochre colours didn’t really stand out. The site is not large, does not deserve to spend much time there and perhaps even does not deserve a detour.
West MacDonnell Ranges – Ormiston Gorge
I was impatiently waiting to see this great site with anticipation and excitement. Indeed, I had read that the Ormiston Gorges were the most beautiful of all the MacDonnell Ranges and that it was the ideal place to observe the fauna and flora. Once we arrived on site, we decided to start with the half-hour walk and then continue with the big 8 km hike (Pound Trail) thinking that this would give us the opportunity to see beautiful landscapes, beautiful plants and especially animals.
Ormiston Gorge – What I loved
So we started with the Ghost Gum Lookout which is a 30-minute hike that leads to a magnificent view overlooking the Ormiston Gorge and makes the loop back to the starting water. With the morning light, the colours of the rock were bright and incredible. I Loved it!!!!!
Ormiston Gorge – What I didn’t like
Then, we leave for a 4-hour walk on the Pound walk, considered one of the most beautiful trails in the area. But from the first ascents, we quickly became disillusioned. Indeed, the site is totally devastated. A fire destroyed everything and there is no vegetation and even less animals left.
We will need a lot of motivation to continue our efforts (because some places are difficult to climb) and especially to support all the flies that were harassing us….
As we return to the gorge along the riverbed, the cliffs form a spectacular red gorge but the bed is dry. Fortunately, the views at the end are nicer….
Red Centre Road trip – Glen Helen Gorge
A little greenery in this red and black desert (because it is partly burnt), it feels very good! It is a real pleasure to contemplate this oasis and to listen to the silence.
Red Centre Road trip – Hermannsburg
Hermannsburg is a very small town at 131 km south of Alice Springs where an Aboriginal community lives (or survives) far from everything. Founded in 1877 by a Lutheran mission, it is the oldest city in Central Australia. In 1982, the area was returned to the colonized Aboriginal people. About ten buildings including the church, the school, the tannery and the missionaries’ houses are visited.
What I didn’t like was that they presented the missionaries as saviors while they were colonizers! I would have liked the site to be run by aborigines when it’s an Australian who manages all this. In response to my questions, he explained to me that it is not a private museum, that it is managed by the government which rewards part of the profits to the Aboriginal Community. Yes, but still…, I was disappointed not to be able to exchange directly with aborigines. I had the impression that we were exploiting their history and their territory to generate profits while keeping them well away.
Discover the rest of our trip with our last 2 days: Darwin – my favorite