18 Best Sights in Red Centre, The Outback

Alice Springs Desert Park

Fodor's choice

Focusing on the desert, which makes up 70% of the Australian landmass, this 128-acre site contains 92 types of plants and 37 animal species in several Australian ecosystems—including the largest nocturnal-animal house in the southern hemisphere. An open-air habitat is also open at night, when animals are most active. At daily presentations, Aboriginal guides discuss the different plants and animals that have helped people traditionally survive and thrive in such an arid desert environment. Don't miss the twice-daily birds of prey presentation at 9 am and 3 pm. Allow about four hours to explore the park, which is located about 7 km (4 miles) west of downtown Alice Springs.

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Araluen Cultural Precinct

Fodor's choice

The most distinctive building in this complex is the Museum of Central Australia (A$8 entry), which charts the evolution of the land and its inhabitants—human and animal—around central Australia. Exhibits include a skeleton of the 10½-foot-tall Dromornis stirtoni, the largest bird to walk on earth, which was found northeast of Alice. Also in the precinct are the Aviation Museum (free), Central Craft (free, prices for workshops vary), and Araluen Arts Centre, home to the Araluen Art Galleries and the Namatjira Gallery (A$8 entry), a collection of renowned Aboriginal landscapes, and the Yeperenye Scuplture—a 3-meter-high caterpillar that you can walk through, representing the sacred Dreamtime creator of the country around Alice Springs. The precinct is located 2.4 km (1½ miles) southwest of town, and is on most tourist bus itineraries. The on-site theater has regular screening and events.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Fodor's choice

This is one of the prettiest (and coldest) swimming holes in the Red Centre, so it's quite popular with locals and visitors alike—it's also the deepest and most permanent waterhole in the area, so you may glimpse wild creatures like wallabies or goannas (monitor lizards) quenching their thirst. Take the 3-km (2-mile) Dolomite Walk for a close-up look at this fascinating geological site.

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Kata Tjuta

Fodor's choice

There are three main walks at Kata Tjuta, the first from the parking lot into Walpa Gorge, a 2.6-km (1.6-mile) hike to the deepest valley between the rocks. The round-trip journey takes about one hour. The gorge is a desert refuge for plants and animals and the rocky track gently rises along a moisture-rich gully, passing inconspicuous rare plants and ending at a grove of flourishing spearwood. More rewarding, but also more difficult, is the Valley of the Winds Walk, which takes you along a stony track to two spectacular lookouts, Karu (2.2 km or 1.3 miles return; allow an hour) and Karingana (5.4 km or 3.3 miles; allow 2½ hours). Experienced walkers can also complete the full 7.4-km (4.6-mile) circuit in about four hours.

Note that the Valley of the Winds Walk closes when temperatures rise above 36°C (97°F), which is usually after 11 am in summer.

The Kata Tjuta Viewing Area, 25 km (16 miles) along Kata Tjuta Road is 1,970 feet from the car park, and interpretive panels explain the natural life around you. It's also where tour buses line up for sunrise photos about a half hour before dawn. Be prepared for crowds—and amazing views of Kata Tjuta and Uluru in the distance.

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Ormiston Gorge

Fodor's choice

This beautiful gorge has something for everyone, whether you're interested in swimming in the waterhole, taking a short hike to Gum Tree Lookout for fantastic views of the 820-foot-high gorge walls rising from the pool below, or experiencing the best of both worlds on the 90-minute, 7 km (4½-mile) Ormiston Pound Walk.

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The Kangaroo Sanctuary

Fodor's choice

The Kangaroo Sanctuary is the passion project of Chris “Brolga” Barns, whose life’s mission is to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned kangaroos and educate people about how they can easily do the same—all you need to do is pay attention while you’re driving, and if you spot a deceased kangaroo on the side of the road, check to see if there’s still a living joey in its pouch, since they’ll often survive the impact of a vehicle and can live for up to four more days after it. Your ticket includes door-to-door transfers (no one is allowed to drive straight to the property), a 2½- to 3-hour tour, and gives you a chance to take turns holding baby kangaroos and feed Roger, Brolga’s marsupial costar in the popular BBC documentary series Kangaroo Dundee, who started it all.


Fodor's choice

Rising like an enormous red mountain in the middle of an otherwise completely flat desert, Uluru (formerly called Ayers Rock) is a marvel to behold. Two car parks—Mala and Kuniya—provide access for several short walks, or you can choose to do the full 10-km (6-mile) circuit on the Uluru Base Walk, which takes about four hours. Some places are Aboriginal sacred sites and cannot be entered, nor can they be photographed or captured on video—these are clearly signposted—while signs around the base explain the significance of what you’re looking at and recount traditional myths and legends.

The Mala Walk is 2 km (1 mile) in length and almost all on flat land, taking you to Kanju Gorge from the car park; park rangers provide free tours daily at 8 am from October through April and at 10 am from May through September.

The Liru Walk starts at the cultural center and takes you to the base Uluru. Along the way are stands of mulga trees and, after rain, wildflowers. The track is wheelchair accessible and the walk is an easy 1½ hours.

On the southern side of Uluru, the Kuniya Walk and Mutitjulu Waterhole trail starts at the Kuniya car park and is an easy 45-minute walk along a wheelchair-accessible trail to the water hole, home of Wanampi, an ancestral snake. A rock shelter once used by Aboriginal people houses rock art.

Another popular way to experience Uluru is to watch the natural light reflect on it from one of the two sunset-viewing areas. As the last rays of daylight strike, the rock positively glows as if lit from within. Just as quickly, the light is extinguished and the color changes to a somber mauve and finally to black.

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Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Thorny devils, frill-neck lizards, some of the world's deadliest snakes, and "Terry" the saltwater crocodile inhabit this park in the heart of town, opposite the Royal Flying Doctor Service. From May to August, viewing is best from 11 to 3, when reptiles are most active. There's also a gecko cave and free talks conducted daily at 11, 1, and 3:30, during which you can handle small critters and pick up pythons.

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Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre

What do children who live hundreds of miles from the nearest school do for education? Find out at this informative visitor center, which harbors a working school within its walls. Discover how distance education has been delivered to the country's most remote parts since 1951; from pedal-operated radio systems to interactive online classes, it's come a long way. During your visit you may have the opportunity to watch a live lesson being taught in one of our studios; outside school hours, you can see a recorded lesson.

Glen Helen Gorge

This gorge, cut by the sporadic Finke River, often described as the oldest river in the world, slices through the MacDonnell Ranges, revealing dramatic rock layering and tilting. Here the river forms a broad, cold, permanent waterhole that's great for a bracing swim.

John Flynn's Grave Historic Reserve

John Flynn, the Royal Flying Doctor Service founder, is memorialized at this spot along Larapinta Drive just 6½ km (4 miles) west of Alice Springs in view of the majestic West MacDonnell range.

Lasseters Casino

Entry is free at Lasseters Casino, where the action goes late into the night with more than 300 slot machines, plus blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat tables. Choose from six restaurants and bars, each with its own style ranging from exotic eats at Tali to tapas at Tempo. The Juicy Rump is known for live music, Stadium 93 for its sports bar atmosphere. The Goat & Bucket is a beer lover's paradise, while Casbah is perfectly positioned should you need a break from betting.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Alice Springs Tourist Facility

This much-visited tourist attraction in Alice Springs has a theater, interactive displays, and a full-scale replica of the fuselage of the service's current Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The site has long been the radio base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which directs doctors (using aircraft) on their house calls to remote settlements and homes hundreds of miles apart, making it a vital part of Outback life. The center features historical displays, a holographic audiovisual show portraying RFDS founder Reverend John Flynn, tours that run every half hour throughout the year, and a lovely café at the back.

Serpentine Gorge

Accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle, this site is best experienced by taking a refreshing swim through the narrow, winding gorge. According to an Aboriginal myth, a fierce serpent makes its home in the pool, hence the name.

Simpsons Gap

The closest gorge to Alice Springs—there's even a bicycle and walking track from the city center—greets you with views of stark-white ghost gums (Australian evergreen trees), red rocks, and gorgeous, purple-haze mountains that provide a taste of scenery to be seen farther into the ranges. Heed the "No Swimming" signs, as freshwater crocodiles may be present if there's enough water, and come in the morning and late afternoon for a chance to catch a glimpse of rock wallabies.

Standley Chasm

At midday, when the sun is directly overhead, the 10-yard-wide canyon glows red from the reflected light, a phenomenon that lasts for just 15 minutes. The walk from the parking lot takes about 20 minutes and is rocky toward the end. For a greater challenge, climb to the top via the steep trail that branches off to the left at the end of the gorge; the views are spectacular. There's also a kiosk selling snacks and drinks at the park entrance.

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Uluru–Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre

The cultural center is the first thing you'll see after entering the park through a tollgate. The two buildings are built in a serpentine style, reflecting the Kuniya and Liru stories about two ancestral snakes who fought a long-ago battle on the southern side of Uluru. Inside, you can learn about Aboriginal history and the return of the park to its traditional owners on October 26, 1985. There's also an excellent park ranger's station where you can get maps and hiking guides, as well as two art shops, Maruku and Walkatjara, where you'll likely see Indigenous artists at work. Pick up a souvenir or grab refreshments at the Ininti Cafe, or rent a bicycle for another fun way to explore this beautiful Outback landscape (from A$50).

Women’s Museum of Australia and Old Gaol Alice Springs

This fascinating museum—which happens to be housed in the Old Alice Springs Gaol simply because it’s a historic building—tells the stories of the brave, strong women of the Red Centre, with exhibits showing the important role women played during WWII, and how women of all races helped shape Australian politics, education, medicine, aviation, sports, and pretty much every aspect of today’s society. You’ll also be able to tour the old jail, which began as a prison for both sexes but became an all-male prison in the 1980s, and hear the stories of its former inhabitants through an interactive audio display.

2 Stuart Terr., Alice Springs, Northern Territory, 0871, Australia
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Rate Includes: A$15