The middle of Australia might be pretty empty – but it’s full of adventure.
The night sky is stuffed with stars, the tiny towns are overflowing with history and the journey across this big red desert is rich with opportunities for side trips and diversions. Taking a drive through these wide open spaces will give you a chance to see Australia at its wildest, spot some creatures in their natural habitat and meet some fascinating characters along the way.
The Red Centre is the nickname given to the Southern Desert region of the Northern Territory in Australia. The name describes the unique red colour of the soil, due to oxidized iron. The main town is Alice Springs, an oasis in the very middle of nowhere. There is an airport in Alice Springs with connecting flights to Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth and Adelaide – so you can fly directly into the region and start your trip from here.
This remote region is the home of Uluru, the most iconic monolith of Australia’s outback. You haven’t really experienced Australia until you have seen this sacred geological phenomenon. It is also where the oldest living culture on earth, the Arrernte Aboriginal people, have made their home for more than 50,000 years. On your trip you can experience the aboriginal culture and learn about the traditions that are still kept alive today.
The remoteness of this area and the huge distances between each outpost means that you will need to prepare well for your road trip. Check the weather forecast before leaving home and plan your stop so that you arrive at fuel stops when they are open. There are services at around every 200 km along the highway but they are not all open 24 hours.
It is a good idea to get fuel at every fuel stop you see, just to make sure that you have enough to make it to the next stop. Also, it gives you a chance to get out of the car and look around at the beautiful landscape around you. Make sure that you bring plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated in the desert heat as well as protection from the harsh sun.
Explorers Way (Driving Trip)
The Explorers Way is a stunning drive that will take you from a mild coastal Mediterranean climate in the south through the vast and arid desert to tropical climates in the north. It covers a distance of 3016 kilometres and will take you all the way from Adelaide to Alice Springs. The Royal Flying Doctor Service uses the highway as an emergency landing strip – sections of the road are closed by the police sometimes so that planes can land.
The trip can be done in two and a half days, but you will want to give yourself much more time than this so that you can visit the many interesting stops along the way.
The Clare Valley is a beautiful wine region that you will drive through as you leave Adelaide. Stop for a wine tasting at Sevenhill Cellars, which was established by Jesuit Priests in 1851. Enjoy the lovely and green landscapes of this region before you head into the harsher outback.
As you leave the Clare Valley you’ll head out into wide open spaces rich with history. Visit the gorgeous village of Mintaro or the copper town of Burra. Don’t miss Wilpena Pound, an amazing 52 square mile crater like formation, and the Aboriginal cave paintings at Arkaroo Rock. Check out Peterborough in the Southern Flinders which was an important crossroads for the nation.
You can also stop to see the unique “underground town” of Coober Pedy, where 95% of the opal in Australia is mined. Consider taking a side trip to the Painted Desert, where you can see the stunning colours of the rock formations. If you take a side trip to the Brachina Gorge Trail you’ll see amazing fossil imprints that revealed to scientists that life began approximately 500 million years earlier than they originally theorised.
Stuart Highway (Driving Trip)
Considered one of the world’s great drives, this journey is named after Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart who made several excursions into the inland of Australia in the 1850s and 1860s. He was the first man to successfully cross Australia from south to north on foot and to make it back alive. The expedition took him nine months going north and five months getting back and he did it without a permanent source of water for the stretch between Port Augusta and the Katherine River.
The Stuart Highway is well maintained and it begins in Port Augusta, 305 km north of Adelaide. It stretches 2711 km all the way to Darwin, an incredibly long drive through the many different climate zones of Australia. It is sometimes simply referred to as “The Track.”
The landscapes you will be driving through are incredibly barren and empty of humanity except for the occasional fuel stop or road house. Eventually it will take you far enough north to find water, but watch out for the saltwater crocodiles that hang out in the rivers, lakes and creeks. In the Adelaide River near the small town of Humpty Doo you can take a riverboat cruise and watch the tour operator attract crocodiles by dangling meat over the side.
Don’t miss the chance to stop in the town of Daly Waters to have a meal and a few drinks at the famous Daly Waters Pub. This Outback waterhole is legendary and all of the walls within are covered in t-shirts, underwear and banknotes donated by the international cast of patrons from all over the world. It’s a great place to have a drink and chat to someone from the other side of globe about how you ended up here in the middle of nowhere.
The Stuart Highway driving trip is a journey into the beautiful and bizarre alien-like landscape of Australia’s Outback. Driving through this spectacular nothingness gives you a humbling sense of the sheer vastness of Australia.
Alice Springs is considered the heart of Australia and it is the hub of the Red Centre region. It is the only town with a sizeable population, as the only other civilisation in this region is within very small communities. It is surrounded by desert landscapes, canyons and gorges and remote Aboriginal communities.
In this remote outpost you can visit the Desert Park, which is a combination of botanic gardens and wildlife reserve. You can also climb to the top of Anzac Hill and admire the view over the town and the MacDonnell Ranges.
When it comes to visiting the iconic Uluru you could stay in the expensive accommodation near the rock, or you could make Erldunda your base and save money. This roadhouse is located at the intersection of Stuart and Lasseter Highway and it offers old fashioned hospitality with clean and comfortable facilities and delicious home cooking.
The advantage of staying at Erldunda is that you will be only a 2-3 hour drive from Uluru so that you can easily take a day trip from there to see this amazing natural wonder. The roadhouse has 12 rooms for backpackers, 47 motel units, a swimming pool, a camping site, powered caravan sites and a restaurant.
While you are there you can check out the Emu Enclosure, where you will be able to feed these fascinating birds. The resort even has a specially build sunset viewing platform where you can watch the sky come alive with brilliant colours over the vast bushland.