The Red Centre Way – A Complete Guide

RCW-Namatjira

The Red Centre Way used to be called ‘the Mereenie Loop’ (because a part of it travels through the Mereenie Valley).

It’s a grand tour of the very best of central Australia.

It takes you to iconic destinations like Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges.

It’s also a tour through central Australia’s diverse landscape: from real mountains to sand dunes to gorges and waterholes.

You’ll see plenty of wildlife: kangaroos, dingoes, wild camels and donkeys, brumbies (wild horses) and maybe even a goanna or two.  

To show you how EASY it is to do this legendary outback road trip, we’ve written a complete planning and travel guide, aimed at preparing you and your vehicle from beginning to getting out there and on the road.

You can now download an expanded edition of this guide as a PDF to print and use offline HERE

Quick Facts

Start/Finish: You can either begin or end in Alice Springs or Uluru

Distance: 690km /428mi

Time required: 5 days to do it comfortably and get the BEST value for money

Recommended vehicle: 4WD – but we’ve seen plenty of 2WD campers and backpacker vans on this road in dry weather.

Caravan/Camper Trailer friendly: Yes, but recommended for OFF-ROAD models only (there’s lots of corrugations).

Accommodation options: Hotel/motel/budget rooms at Glen Helen, Kings Canyon, Curtin Springs & Uluru; camping or campervan. We really do recommend you try camping – especially in the West MacDonnells- for a true outback experience.

Book accommodation & get the BEST prices here.

Fuel available: Alice Springs, Glen Helen, Hermansburg, Areyonga, Kings Canyon, Kings Creek Station, Curtin Springs Roadhouse, Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort). Expect to pay around $2.20- $2.40 per litre (2014)

Food/Supplies: Alice Springs (supermarkets), basic supplies at Glen Helen, Kings Canyon Resort (BE WARNED- it’s very expensive), Kings Creek Station, Curtin Springs, Yulara (a good IGA supermarket at the Ayers Rock Resort).

Costs (2016)

Fuel: If you’re driving a 4WD (we really, really recommend it – more about WHY below) allow about $200-$250 for fuel for the whole trip.

Accommodation: Camping is cheap. It varies from free (i.e. at Two Mile and Serpentine Chalet, the various Roadside Rest Stops) to $10pp at Ormiston Gorge to $25pp in the Uluru Campground. A good rule is to budget $10pp/per day for camping.

You can stay in motels, hotels etc. but it is quite expensive – which is why it’s best to hire a campervan or just camp.

Allow $200 per night for accommodation (per room), although you’ll find it’s far more expensive to stay at Yulara during peak season (May-Sept). We’ve written a post on finding budget accommodation at Uluru here.

National Park Entry:

Permits:

Officially, we need to tell you that you should buy a permit (a MASSIVE cost of $5.00!!) to travel the section of the Red Centre Way which passes through Aboriginal Land Trusts (this is essentially private property) between Gosse Bluff and Kings Canyon.

These permits are issued to everyone, across the counter. You can buy them at:

  • the Visitor’s Centre in Alice Springs, in Todd Mall
  • the Central Land Council (on the north Stuart Highway, in Alice Springs)
  • Hermannsburg Store
  • Kings Canyon Resort

Need to Know

The best thing about the Red Centre Way (apart from the scenery) is that it you experience the outback away from the crowds ….as well as with the crowds at Uluru.

You also get ‘off-road’ without the need for special equipment or driving skills.

RCW-Milage

You’ll need to be prepared to travel long stretches of up to 200km without seeing anyone or perhaps only one or two other vehicles.

Also remember that there are no towns out there, so make sure you’re prepared with food, water, clothes and the minimum recommended outback travel gear BEFORE you leave Alice Springs or Uluru.

We recommend a 4WD for driving the Red Centre Way, but that’s for high clearance and comfort rather than tough, technical off-road driving.

Whilst we’ve seen plenty of 2WD backpacker-type vans winding their way around the Mereenie Loop (lol, we locals still call it that), a 4WD will allow you to do side trips into places like Roma Gorge, Two Mile or Birthday Waterhole.

A 4WD will also help you drive more easily and comfortably over the corrugated sections of this road (which we’ll tell you about).

Our recommended itinerary starts and finishes in Alice Springs – really this is the best place to fuel up and buy groceries- although you can do the loop starting and finishing in Uluru as well.

GET THIS ENTIRE GUIDE, A REVERSE ROUTE ITINERARY (starting at Uluru/finish at Alice Springs), VEHICLE PREPARATION AND PACKING GUIDE AS A PDF.  OVER 100 PAGES:

Red Centre Way Guide & Driving Itinerary

Red Centre Way Itinerary

We’re recommending that you start and finish the Red Centre Way in Alice Springs for several reasons:

  • Cheaper food and fuel
  • You can hire a cheaper vehicle with unlimited kilometres (Central Car Rentals, Wicked Campers)
  • You can hire camping equipment (Central Car Rentals, Wicked Campers)
  • You’ll be able to the visit Alice Springs Desert Park (MUST DO!!!), and learn about the landscape, plants, animals and Aboriginal culture you’ll see along the way. This will help you to really get the best from your trip. If you skip this, you really are ripping yourself off.

Even if you’re touring in your very own decked out Landcruiser or Prado and don’t need to hire a vehicle, we still recommend you start and finish at Alice.

If you’re coming over from West Australia along the Great Central Road, yes, you’ll be starting at Uluru and working backwards! 

RCW-Sign

There are two options for driving the Red Centre Way loop:

  • Red Centre Way Outer Loop (recommended for most people) via Namatjira Drive
  • Red Centre Way Inner Loop via Larapinta Drive

We recommend the driving the ‘outer loop’ because it takes you through the West MacDonnells and past Tnorala (Gosse Bluff, the Centre’s very own comet crater).

The ‘inner’ loop takes you through Hermannsburg along Larapinta Drive and offers a must-do side trip to Palm Valley. However, if you’re returning to Alice, these can be done as a day trip later.

RCWmap

 

IMPORTANT: The itinerary on this page details the Namatjira Drive ‘outer loop’ option.

Start Here: Alice Springs

As Alice Springs is our home, we have an entire section on the site devoted to it.

Click here to read about accommodation, shopping and must see places in Alice Springs 

From Alice Springs, you need to head west along Larapinta Drive.

If you’re not sure where this is, it’s the big intersection with traffic lights near the railway crossing on the Stuart Highway. It’s the busiest intersection in the town – so it won’t take you long to find it!

Your first stop is about 8km from the town centre, on the western outskirts of Alice Springs, just past the turn off into the Alice Springs Desert Park.

You’ll see the big Red Centre Way marker and a carpark for Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve.

RCW_Flynns

The site includes a memorial that contains the ashes of the Reverend John Flynn.

The ashes of Mrs. Jean Flynn, John Flynn’s wife, are also interred within the memorial.

17km from Alice Springs – Simpsons Gap

Simpsons Gap is just under 20km out of Alice Springs.

Whilst we don’t know who Simpsons was named after (not even we rangers know) it has an easy, wheelchair accessible walk down to the Gap, and if you’re lucky, you will see black footed rock wallabies up on the rocky slopes.

simpsons-gap

This has a permanent waterhole but keep your bathers on, this one is not for swimming in.

Read more about what to see and do at Simpsons Gap here.

40km Standley ChasmChasm-long

Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye) is located on Aboriginal Land and is bordered by the West MacDonnell National Park.

To reach Standley Chasm you’ll need to turn off Larapinta Drive, and take a sealed 8km road into the Chasm carpark (there is an entry fee).

Standley Chasm cuts through tough quartzite to form a picturesque natural chasm.

Flood waters over many thousands of years are responsible for this beautiful spot, which is at its best in the middle of a sunny day.

The reliable trickle of water along the creek has ensured the survival of species from a time when Central Australia was a much wetter place.

There is a short but great walk up into the Chasm, which is pictured at the right. Try to get there around midday for stunning photographs.

The Chasm also has a kiosk where lunch and drinks and even espresso coffees can be purchased.

An entrance fee ($10pp) is payable, to help offset the cost of running the place and can be paid at the Kiosk.

This post will tell you how to get the very best (including what most tourists MISS) from you visit to Standley Chasm

You can also camp at Standley Chasm.

46km: Namatjira Drive Intersection

When you reach this intersection, turn right.

RCW-Namatjira

 

*(If you go straight ahead, you will continue on the Red Centre Way’s ‘inner loop’  along Larapinta Drive. You’ll pass the Owen Springs Reserve entry, the Wallace Rockhole turnoff, Hermannsburg and the Palm Valley entrance, before eventually rejoining the ‘outer loop’ of the Red Centre Way at the Ipolera/Gosse Bluff intersection.)

Turning right at the intersection is where we want to go: it will take you on the ‘outer’ loop of the Red Centre Way along Namatjira Drive. 

This will take you through the stunning scenery of the West MacDonnell National Park.

This section of the journey is on sealed roads (with the exception of access roads into several gorges along the way).

56km: Hugh River – Free CampingHugh-River copy

About 10 minutes after turning onto Namatjira Drive (yes, you’re still on the Red Centre Way), you’ll come to a river crossing.

This will usually be dry, like most rivers in the outback are.

This is the Hugh River, and JUST before it on the right, you’ll see a little turn off onto a sandy track.

There’s a Parks & Wildlife shelter there (pictured to the right), and if you follow the track down for a kilometre or so, you’ll find plenty of fabulous FREE campsites along the shady banks of the river.

Note that this is bush camping and there are NO facilities.

77km: Point Howard – Free Camping

Yes, another free campsite the other travel bloggers won’t tell you about is Point Howard.

The turn off to this one comes up on you quickly, so be prepared – it’s on a hill crest and the turn is to the left (south) of Namatjira Drive if you’re coming from Alice Springs.

Point Howard, free camping, Red Centre Way

Point Howard gives you magnificent sunrise and sunset views along the MacDonnell Ranges.

Facilities are basic: a shade shelter with a table, a few fireplaces, and a water tank.

Note that you’re only allowed to camp here for 24 hours.

88km: Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ellery Creek Big Hole, part of the West MacDonnell National Park is another 57km from Standley Chasm.

It’s about 1km off the main road along a dirt road (2WD accessible) with a few bumps.

Well, I mentioned bathers before, so if you arrive here when it’s a little warm, have we got the swimming pool for you!

Ellery Creek Big Hole, red centre way, Alice Springs

If you are into geology then this area has the most outstanding geological formations around.

This, coupled with the amazing scenery, will leave you in awe of this part of the Park.

You can camp at Ellery Creek Big Hole (there are toilets, free gas BBQs, shade shelters, and drinking water). A small charge applies for camping.

For MUCH more information read this post about Ellery Creek.

99km: Serpentine Gorge

Serpentine Gorge (10km from Ellery) is less visited than the more stand out locations along the drive west but after rain it has a wonderful little waterhole.

It also has an impressive look out walk that takes you up on high for outstanding views into the gorge but also to the south across the sweeping valleys and range country.

Serpentine-Gorge2

It’s a kind of secret, special spot, and we really recommend it for a secluded swim and for the magnificent views from the lookout.

We’ve written a whole post about Serpentine Gorge here.

105km Serpentine Chalet

Serpentine Chalet is a free camping spot just 8km further west of Serpentine Gorge.

It’s got an interesting history and is a quiet option to camping at places like Ellery Creek or Ormiston Gorge.

It’s a place that few locals even know about – so it really is one of those little secrets we love to share.

Serpentine Chalet is an important place in the history of tourism in Central Australia.

The Serpentine Chalet Bush Camp was built in 1958 as a joint venture between early Alice Springs tourism entrepreneur, Len Tuit and the Ansett-Pioneer company.

The full story of the Chalet – and more information about the site can be found here. 

107km Free Roadside Campsite

Not far after the turn off to Serpentine Chalet is another free roadside rest area.

Again, the turn off comes up quickly and it’s also on the LEFT (south) side of the road – so keep an eye out for it.

Like Point Howard, this free campsite is on a magnificent hill with a fabulous view of Mt Giles and Mt Sonder.

West Macdonnell National Park, Alice Springs, Ptilotus flowers

There’s a water tank, some fireplaces and a shade shelter with picnic tables and chairs.

BONUS TIP: You’ll catch unbelievably awesome sunsets on Mt Sonder from this great little site.

111km Ochre Pits

The Ochre Pits, approx. 5km away from Serpentine Chalet, is a registered sacred site and is protected by NT Sacred Sites and Parks and Wildlife legislation.

The site offers one of the few opportunities for visitors to see an ochre deposit that is still used by local Arrarnta people.

Ochre Pits, Red Centre Way, Alice Springs

Please do not touch or interfere with any of the ochre – severe penalties apply and the site is regularly patrolled by Rangers.

Ochre has been used all over the world for decoration and painting since pre-historic times. At this location you can see different coloured ochre in the cliff face which have been a source of materials for Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

You can’t camp at the Ochre Pits, but there are free gas BBQs, toilets and picnic shelters there.

128km Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge is the most photographed gorge in the entire outback – even moreso than Karajini in the Kimberley (which is totally mindblowing). I guess that’s because Ormiston is much easier to get to – it’s all bitumen roads to get here, there’s a small campground, a kiosk and LOTS of great short walks.

Actually Ormiston is one my favourite spots in the West MacDonnell National Park.

I’ve lived here a couple of times and the beauty of Ormiston Gorge always blows me away.

Ormiston Gorge, Red Centre Way, Alice Springs

The camp ground is small -so get here early to get a good spot- and it can get very crowded during the months from May-October. It costs $10 per person to camp here.

There are toilets, hot showers, free gas BBQs and a kiosk.

We REALLY encourage you to read our main page on Ormiston Gorge, which is here, where we show you how to get the best out of your visit.

132km Glen Helen Gorge & Two Mile

A little over 10km away is Glen Helen Resort, although I use this term ‘resort’ somewhat loosely as Glen Helen was formally a cattle station, which mean that the heritage-listed buildings are not really typical resort architecture!

Rustic is a much better word – but even so, I’m sure you’ll love it!

The Resort provides accommodation, fuel, meals, camping, hiking, swimming, BBQs and toilets and from here you can also access a short walk down to Glen Helen Gorge, a picturesque waterhole between a break in the ranges.

Glen Helen Gorge, Red Centre Way, Alice Springs

HOWEVER: If you’re looking for FREE bush camping in a delightful, shady setting, then directly opposite the turnoff into Glen Helen is the track into what we locals call ‘Two Mile’

Two Mile is a long series of tracks along the banks and in the dry channels of the river. There are often long pools to camp beside as well (pictured below)

There are no facilities, so you’ll have to be self-sufficient.

Two-Mile

Two Mile is VERY popular with Alice locals – so don’t be surprised if you run in to a few of us locals here instead of other tourists.

It is possible to drive a 2WD into the first section of Two Mile, but after this, it quickly becomes 4WD territory.

133km Finke River & Mt Sonder Lookout

Just after Glen Helen, you’ll cross the Finke River.

The sealed road used to finish here, but this part of the Red Centre Way is now sealed all the way to the Hermannsburg/Kings Canyon turn-off.

There is usually a small amount of water in the river, but if you’re visiting over late summer, you might be lucky enough to see the ‘world’s oldest river’ in full flow.

The Finke is called the world’s oldest river as  geologists tell us that some parts of it follow the same course followed for at least 300-400 million years.

The parts that travel through the West MacDonnell and James Ranges are thought to be the oldest parts of the river. The southern parts, which flood out down near the South Australian border on the edge of the Simpson Desert, are much younger.

The Finke River is called lhere pirnte (creek salty – or salty creek/river) in Arrarnte, due to the salty pools which are left as the river dries up after a flow.

Almost immediately after you cross the Finke, you’ll see the turn-off to the Mt Sonder Lookout on your right.

Mt Sonder, Red Centre Way, Northern Territory

It’s worth stopping here and checking out the lookout (it’s located about 30 seconds up a short, steep hill).

The lookout gives you a commanding view of the Finke, Two Mile and MacDonnell Ranges, with Rwetyepme or Mt Sonder dominating the skyline. This is an excellent place for sunrise and sunset photos.

152km Redbank Gorge/Mt Sonder

Another 19km west of Glen Helen lies Redbank Gorge.Redbank Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, outback Australia

Redbank is the westernmost gorge in the West Macs. If you want adventure plus one of our best bush campsites (at a small fee – $5.00 per person) then Redbank Gorge is waiting for you.

You can read more about Redbank Gorge and see video of its two fabulous campsites here.

There are a few things to stop and do at Redbank Gorge.

You can take the short 1km hike into the superbly narrow gorge, where you can then swim up a tiny chasm. This will take you about an hour return, not including time for a swim.

If you are planning on swimming up the narrow gorge, it’s a good idea to bring an inflatable ring or car inner tube.

The gorge is about 750m long (you can only swim for part of it before it becomes inaccessible), and you’ll be glad for the blow up ring as it gives you a change to stop and rest.

Redbank Gorge also marks the western end of the world famous Larapinta Trail, being the junction between Sections 11 and 12.

From the day-use car park at Redbank Gorge, you can climb Mt Sonder as a 16km return day hike.

The Mt Sonder hike (Section 12 of the Larapinta Trail) is one of the most popular bushwalks in Central Australia – and if you climb it, you’ll understand why.

You’ll get a helicopter’s view of all of the highest peaks west of the Great Dividing Range on the Australian continent. The amazing thing for many people is to discover that they are all in the central Australia.

So much for the outback being flat, boring and just red dirt!

Allow a whole day to climb Mt Sonder, although if you’re a regular, fit hiker, you’ll eat this up in half a day.

Once you leave Redbank Gorge and head further west, you’ll leave the National Park for a short time, and will be travelling through Glen Helen Station, a cattle property.

It’s a good idea to keep your eyes out for cattle that may stray onto the road – many parts of the road here are unfenced.

You’ll also pass the turn-off to Haasts Bluff and Papunya, at an intersection that is locally known as ‘Beer Can Corner’.

There used to be a massive cache of empty beer cans (mainly VBs) here, as many Aboriginal people travelling back to their communities drank the beer and tossed the cans here.

Most Aboriginal communities and outstations are ‘dry’, which means that no one is allowed to drink alcohol on them.

The cans were cleaned up around 2006 when this part of the road was being sealed, but amongst us locals, the name remains.

177km Tylers Pass Lookout

Not long after Beer Can Corner, you pass through about 5km of winding bends.

At the crest of a hill, you’ll see a sign for Tyler’s Pass Lookout. Take this turn.

A short, steep drive of about 200m takes you to a rest area atop a hill.  This is in fact a fantastic viewpoint that allows visitors to see Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), a comet crater dating back about 140 million years ago.

TylersPass

There’s picnic facilities here (and a Geocache), but you’re not permitted to camp.

Enjoy the view and take a well deserved rest and a few photos.

192km Gosse Bluff (Tnorala) Turn-Off

Leaving Tyler’s Pass, continue on for another 15km, winding down away from the foothills of the MacDonnell Ranges and eventually crossing a small creek.

Gosse Bluff or Tnorala (pronounced noh-RUH-la), the massive comet crater, dominates the landscape and grows ever-larger as you get closer to it.

Not long after the creek, you’ll see the turn-off to drive into Tnorala/Gosse Bluff.

Tnorala

You’ll see that the sign says ‘4WD ONLY’ – this really does mean 4WD only.

The 5km track which takes you inside the crater is a rough, rocky trip, crossing creek lines with some sandy sections and requiring high clearance.

DO NOT take your 2WD sedan in here. You will not get in, and you WILL damage your vehicle.

Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) Conservation Reserve is a place of great cultural significance to the Western Arrarnta Aboriginal people, some of whom I have worked with over many years.

The Reserve is a registered sacred site and the Traditional Owners (the Malbunka family) welcome visitors to experience the crater, but ask you to respect the area and obey signs where access is not permitted.

The site’s Traditional Owners live nearby, and jointly manage the Reserve together with NT Parks & Wildlife. In fact, they’ve built walking tracks and other infrastructure inside the crater.

Western Arrarnta people say that Tnorala was formed in the Dreamtime when a group of women danced across the sky. These women formed the Milky Way.

During this dance, a mother put her baby aside, resting in its turna (a wooden baby-carrier). The turna toppled over the edge, crashing to earth where the impact created the circular rock walls that we see today.

Western Arrarnta and our own scientific interpretation of the Bluff are amazingly similar in that both have a celestial origin.

Scientists say that about 142.5 million years ago (wow) an object from space, believed to be a comet about 600 metres across (how they know this I’ll never know), crashed to earth, and some say with the force of 1,000,000 times greater than the blast that levelled Hiroshima during World War 2, leaving a crater some 20km across (wow, wow and wow!).

The crater we see today is about 2km lower than the original impact surface and the bluff is about 5km in diameter, worn down over time by the effects of weathering.

204km Hermannsburg/Ipolera T- Intersection

Leaving Tnorala, you’ll soon come to a T-instersection, where if you turn left the ‘Inner Loop’ of the Red Centre Way will take you back to Hermannsburg  on approximately 40km of very corrugated dirt road.

Ipolera-intersection

However, our journey takes us further west onto what we locals still call the ‘Mereenie Loop’ road.

Turning right at the T junction, we head out into sand dune country.

Keep your eyes out because you can see another left over (relict) plant known as a grass tree or Xanthorrhoea (the genus name) growing in the dunes.

This part of the Red Centre Way is currently being graded and (hopefully) prepared for tar sealing over the next couple of years, so keep your eye out for road works, graders and other heavy machinery.

230km Areyonga Gap Turnoff

After about 26 km, you’ll soon arrive at range of hills, where you pass through several sharp bends at a natural gap in the range.

As you go through this gap, you’ll come to a turnoff to Areyonga, a small Aboriginal community where you can buy fuel. It’s a 40km round trip into Areyonga, and the store (where you buy the fuel) is only open during the week (Mon-Fri) and on Saturday mornings.

Areyonga-turnoff

Looking back at the Areyonga Turnoff from the Kings Canyon side

Areyonga is one of the most picturesque Aboriginal communities in Central Australia, and is nestled in a hidden, fertile valley.

It has an interesting history. It was established by the Commonwealth Government in the 1920s as a settlement for Pitjantjatjara people from Docker River area (about 350km south west of Areyonga), whose country was suffering a devastating drought.

Pitjantjatjara people call the place ‘Utju’, however the name ‘Areyonga’ is also retained as this is its original Western Arrarnta name -and the community is on what was traditionally considered Western Arrarnta people’s land.

Over the years, Areyonga became a government rations depot for other Aboriginal people in the area, and then an outpost of the Lutheran Mission at Hermannsburg.

About 300 people live at Areyonga today, and identify themselves as Pitjantjatjara, Luritja and Western Arrarnta.

230km-260km: The Mereenie Valley

From here the road conditions can vary according to how much rain we’ve had, the amount of traffic on the road and of course, the time since the road was last graded.

This section of unsealed road can be badly corrugated so prepare yourself for this!

Yes, this is the part of the road you’ll hear people complain about – and it’s also the reason why we recommend a 4WD for comfort and control AND that your caravan or trailer is of the sturdy, OFF-ROAD variety.

Mereenie-Valley

We have found that the best speed to travel on this road to ’skate’ over the corrugations (you won’t feel them as much) seems to be about 90km/h.

However, please drive to the conditions and YOUR abilities at all times, and leave yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush.

I’ve (Gary) witnessed and had to attend several crashes along this road on my travels to Kings Canyon because tourists did not drive to the road conditions.

Also, this seems to be a place where overseas visitors choose to drive on the right-hand side of the road!

We have been driving on this section of road around blind corners and come almost face-to-face with European tourists in campervans.

This is not a pleasant experience.

No matter how tempting it might be to drive on the right if you’re from Europe or the US, please DRIVE ON THE LEFT at all times on this road. There have been head-on collisions and deaths on this road.

It’s also along this section that you’ll probably see camels, donkeys and wild horses.

Chestnut-stallion

Lots of people stop here to take pictures (you can often get quite close to the donkeys), but be aware these animals might be on the road too.

Enjoy the drive and the scenery as you travel through low lying rocky hills and dune country as you get closer and closer to Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park.

As a cautionary note, this area also has oil fields, so keep an eye out for heavy equipment using the road.

263km (approx). The Famous ‘Lift ‘Um Foot’ Bend

After a while in the Mereenie Valley, you’ll find the road sweeping around to the south, and start to climb another range of hills.

The road here can be quite corrugated, depending on how long it’s been since the road was last graded, so do take care.

At a sharp bend in the hills, you’ll encounter one of the most famous pieces of outback humour: the ‘Lift ‘Um Foot’ drums.

LIft-um-foot

These drums have been on this sharp, almost 45 degree bend for decades. They use to have ‘Puttim Back Down’ sprayed on their opposite site, but this has disappeared in their current incarnation.

At present (2014) these drum are bright yellow and are pictured above.

317km – Ginty’s Lookout

Give or take about 100km from leaving the T junction and just before you descend towards Watarrka you will see a lookout on the left called Ginty’s Lookout.

Gintys-sign

This place is locally known as ‘the Jump Up’, as the road from Watarrrka (Kings Canyon) ‘jumps up’ a short, sharp, steep hill.

Ginty’s Lookout has recently been made a free 24 hour campsite.

Gintys-facilities

Every winter, more and more people are camping at this stunning site, and the campsites extend well into the surrounding scrub – as does the toilet paper.

It has wonderful views, some minor infrastructure but no toilets, please bury your waste so we don’t end up with a messy campsite where no one will want to stay.

Heading down from Ginty’s, the road is sealed for a short way. Don’t get excited about the sealed road, though. It doesn’t last for long.

Soon, you’ll enter Watarrka National Park and the road is now sealed from here to Uluru.

358km Kings Canyon – Watarrka National Park

About 40km (approx.) further on from Ginty’s Lookout you’ll find the Kings Canyon Resort, where you can rest after your drive, fuel up (ouch $$), buy lunch or snacks and decide where you may or may not stay.

Depending on what time you arrive you have a couple of choices for accommodation around Watarrka National Park (that’s the official name):

  • Free camp at Ginty’s Lookout
  • Stay at Kings Canyon Resort (camping, backpacker’s rooms, motel style)
  • Stay at Kings Creek Station (camping and safari tents)
  • Spoil yourself at the Kings Creek Wilderness Lodge (luxury tents)

At the very least, it’s worth staying one night in Watarrka National Park, because Kings Canyon is one of Australia’s most jaw dropping sites.

Overlooking the Garden of Eden, Kings Canyon-Watarrka

We have an entire section on Kings Canyon on the site:

Whilst we have provided all you need to know about Watarrka in the links above, there’s two MUST-DOs and those are the Rim Walk and the Creek Walk.

Kings Canyon is another favourite place (I have lots) that I have lived and worked in my time as a ranger and we’d like to hear back from you on what you think of it, too.

Some distances for you:

  • Kings Canyon to Kings Creek Station is 40km
  • Kings Canyon to the Ernest Giles Road turnoff is 100km
  • Kings Canyon to the Lassester Highway intersection is 165km
  • Kings Canyon to Yulara (the closest place to camp/stay near Uluru) it’s 302km
  • Kings Canyon to Uluru (Ayers Rock itself), it’s 320km.

397-524km Kings Creek Station to the Lasseter Highway

Once your visit to Watarrka National Park is over, don’t forget to visit our friends Ian and Lyn Conway at Kings Creek Station.kings-canyon-resort

Kings Creek Station is about 30km from the Canyon (the actual canyon, NOT the resort!). You’ll pass right by it on the way to Uluru.

Kings Creek Station is not only a working cattle station, but also a tourist attraction in its own right providing camping, permanent tents, camel rides and quad bike rides.

You can also buy camel burgers, one of our favourites!

Also, when you’re at Kings Creek Station, don’t forget to check your fuel as this is the last opportunity until you reach Curtin Springs, on your way to Uluru (fuel is a little cheaper at Kings Creek than it is at the Kings Canyon Resort).

Once you leave Kings Creek Station, you’re travelling along the Luritja Road and heading towards the Lasseter Highway, the main road to Uluru from the Stuart Highway.

And just in case you’ve forgotten, the whole journey to Uluru is now on sealed, high-grade highways.

It’s about 125km from Kings Creek Station to the Lassester Highway intersection. There’s not a lot to stop and see, but you will be travelling through some magnificent sand dune and desert oak country.

About 60km south of Kings Creek Station, you’ll see the turn-off for the Ernest Giles Road, which is a short cut back to Alice Springs.

The Ernest Giles Road. Suitable for 4WDs ONLY - despite what the signs say.

Although improvements have been done to the sand dunes on the Ernest Giles Road over the past couple of years, I would still NOT recommend driving it in a 2WD.

There are still very sandy sections only 15-20km in from the intersection with the Luritja Road.

Roughly 20km further south of the Ernest Giles Intersection is another FREE campsite, set in desert oak country.

There are a few picnic tables and a water tank at this rest area, but nothing else.

This is beautiful sand dune country with one of nature’s marvels, the desert oak, surviving here in the harsh conditions. The ones you see that are thinner and straighter are the immature trees and the other more spreading trees are the mature ones.

It can take 15-20 years and good rain for these trees to mature.

From the rest stop, to the Lasseter Highway is around 48km. There is a Red Centre Way marker on the left hand corner as you arrive at the T junction.

524km-576km Lasseter Highway to Curtin Springs

An ‘unofficial’ free campsite has sprung up around the Red Centre Way marker, and unfortunately, the place is littered with used toilet paper.

As this is an ‘unofficial’ campsite, there are NO facilities.

About 8km west of the Luritja Road intersection, you’ll find another free campsite, again set amongst desert oaks and sand dunes.

As this is an ‘official’ road side rest area, there is a table and a water tank, but little else. Like the rest stops at Ginty’s Lookout and the desert oaks camp on the Luritja Road, you’re only permitted to stay for 24 hours.

Not sure who’s going to check up on you if you decide to stay longer, though! There are no ‘roadside rest stop Police’ in this part of the world.

Keep in mind that if you’re travelling during June-August, these free rest areas get VERY busy, so arrive early (around 3pm) to get the best spot.

If a free roadside rest area isn’t your thing then better facilities are available only 44km away at Curtin Springs Station.

HOWEVER: Just before you come to Curtin Springs you will see a massive, giant rock to the left or south of the road.

Mt-Conner2

This is what we locals like to call “FOOL-URU”, as it tricks many people into thinking it’s Uluru.

Don’t be fooled: this is Mt. Conner (it’s name is ‘Atila’ in Yankunytjatjara) not Uluru!

Mt Conner is a VERY sacred site for Aboriginal men. It’s associated with the Seven Sisters and Ice Man Dreamings (sometimes called ‘songlines’) which travel from west to east across several hundred kilometres of country.

The mountain is located on Curtin Springs Station, and the only way to visit it is to book a tour at Curtin Springs Station (next section).

There is a MEGA-popular lookout and roadside rest area near Mt Conner. You can take excellent pictures (like the one above) from this rest stop, and from an even better vantage point on the dune lookout which is on the opposite side of the road.

Mt-Conner-lookout2

The dune lookout directly across the road is worth checking out, because it will reveal a magnificent salt lake that you can’t really see from the road or the Mt Conner-side lookout.

You can camp overnight at the rest stop, but be WARNED.

We have driven past this rest stop over winter and been amazed at the number of RVs, campervans and camper trailers stopped there.

The rest stop has toilets, picnic tables and a water tank.

576km Curtin Springs StationCurtin-Springs2

Not long after the Mt Conner Lookout is Curtin Springs Roadhouse, which is built on Curtin Springs Station.

The roadhouse has fuel, meals, a pub and donga-style accommodation.

There’s also a campground. Unpowered campsites are FREE, whilst powered campsite sites are $3.

Showers are $3 for people staying in the free campground.

Curtin Springs now offers a range of tours and guided walks, which are organised via SEIT Outback Australia tours.

Some of these walks are overnight/two day walks and include accommodation, a private guide and meals.

Visit the Curtin Springs website for more information. 

576-690km Curtin Springs to Yulara/Uluru

From Curtin Springs, it’s only about 45 minutes of driving to Yulara, the little town where most people stay when visiting Uluru.

(Please note that its name is YULARA, not ‘Yuluru’ or ‘Yalara’ – we frequently see people getting this wrong. Not sure why – it’s really easy to spell).

Along the way, you’ll start to catch glimpses of Uluru, if you look to the left (south) of the road. It’s usually about 25km from Curtin Springs when you start to see it.

And believe us: just like seeing Mt Everest for the first time, you NEVER forget your first glimpse of Uluru.

One of the great things about this trip is another free roadside campsite, just 40km from Uluru.

Uluru-from-roadside-stop

This rest stop has a picnic table, a water tank and a couple of BBQ pits, but not much else. It also has a special, secret part that you can read about by clicking the link below.

We’ve written a detailed guide to this campsite on our extremely popular ‘Driving from Alice Springs to Uluru’ guide, so we urge you to have a look at the information there (just click on the link).

There’s also a few ‘unofficial’ campsites further along this road. None of these have any facilities, and some of them are right on the road in very exposed locations.

Whilst you’re unlikely to get moved along by anyone, do remember that once you are inside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park boundary it is illegal to camp anywhere but at the Ayers Rock Resort’s campground.   

Rangers do patrol and do move people on if they’re caught camping illegally

Yulara, the town that services Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, is about 85km from Curtin Springs.  It’s also the place you’re likely to be staying, or at least, visiting to re-fuel and stock up on supplies.

As Yulara is a real town, it’s got an IGA supermarket, a post office, hairdresser, and quite a few overpriced touristy shops.

Uluru sunset, Northern Territory

As we have an entire section on Uluru on the website, we’re not going to repeat all that information here. Instead, here are some links that you will find very useful:

At the very least, plan 2 nights at Uluru. There is LOTS to see and do and you don’t have to spend loads of money doing it. Whilst you can find some very expensive tours at Uluru, you can also find enough self-guided tours.

We especially recommend the Mutitjulu Waterhole Walk (wheelchair accessible) and the Valley of the Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).

The pass into the national park is $25 per person and lasts for 3 days.

Please Read This:

This post took us several months to compile and write. We wanted to dispel much of the WRONG information about the Red Centre Way that we’ve seen in traveller’s and Grey Nomad’s forums.

Some of what we’ve read has been utter rubbish, or is woefully out of date.

We KNOW that there is nothing else like this post out there on the Internet, so we really hope that you find it useful if you’re travelling the Red Centre Way.

YOU CAN NOW DOWNLOAD THIS ENTIRE GUIDE, A REVERSE ROUTE ITINERARY (starting at Uluru/finish at Alice Springs), VEHICLE PREPARATION AND PACKING GUIDE AS A PDF.  OVER 100 PAGES:

Red Centre Way Guide & Driving Itinerary

We would really appreciate it if you SHARED this post via Facebook, Google Plus and especially shared the photos on Pinterest. This will reward our hard work and let others who might be interested in this information find it more easily.