The Outback isn’t your classic weekend getaway. Cute B&Bs are thin on the ground. There’s a distinct lack of boutique vineyards and artisan cheese shops. But what it does have is something you can’t get anywhere else on Earth: the pock-marked slopes of Uluru, the sheer cliffs of Kata Tjuta and incredible bush sunsets. Here, the landscapes are ancient, the stars come out in force, and Indigenous connections to the country run deep.
Sure, it may be one of the most arid regions on Earth, and yep, there’s a whole lot of nothing out there. But there’s still lots to discover in Australia’s Red Centre, starting with the following:
The Outback’s most obvious drawcard, and yet people are still surprised when they see it in the flesh. Uluru, above the ground, is taller than the Eiffel Tower (348m), and the bulk of the rock isn’t even showing. Like an iceberg, two-thirds of it actually sits below the surface. In 1985 the Aussie government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Anangu people under the condition that they would lease it back to the National Parks agency for 99 years. Since then, tourism has boomed and the Anangu have shared their culture with millions of international visitors. The best way to experience Uluru is still the Mala Walk around the base with a local Anangu guide (we make sure it’s on our Intrepid Uluru itineraries).
For a lot of travellers, the highlight of their Outback adventure isn’t Uluru (as good as it is), it’s Kings Canyon. The yawning chasm sits in the Watarrka National Park and is the premier attraction on the Mereenie Loop track. The walk takes about four hours (you’ll have to head off before 9am on hot days) and traces the rim of the Canyon before descending down into the ‘Garden of Eden’: a lush oasis of ferns and ancient cycads around a little pool. After the Garden, you pass through a swarm of huge beehive-like domes, which, to the Luritja people, represent the men of the Kuniya Dreaming. Bring your wide-angled lens along with your comfy shoes: Kings Canyon is a photographer’s paradise, particular as the sun rises over the canyon rim.
Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas) is a massive group of domed rocks about 35km west of Uluru itself. Thirty-six huge boulders stand shoulder to shoulder, forming gorges and cut-off valleys, dotted with vegetation. Most visitors will tackle the 7.4km Valley of the Winds walk, which probably sits alongside the Kings Canyon rim as the best bushwalk in the Red Centre – not particularly challenging, but visually spectacular. Just like its neighbour Uluru, Kata Tjuta is best enjoyed at sunset, when the light makes the onion domes glow blood-red. There’s a picnic spot with a good view of the sunset just off the access road. Pop a bottle of bubbly and enjoy the show.
Yep, it’s a little cheesy. But there’s something powerful in the russet plains and huge empty sky of the Outback. Something humbling in learning about some of the world’s oldest surviving cultures. Something special about huddling around a crackling campfire with a group of new friends, sipping billy tea and swapping life stories under the stars. The Red Centre can re-centre you, if you let it.
Feature image c/o NASA Johnson, Flickr