- Countryside Crimson sands and desert oaks
- Country life Taking the Ayers
The Red Centre is a ruddy sprawl of desert wilderness in the middle of Australia – a desolate and seemingly endless landscape of dunes and shrubland, with iconic Uluru towering imperiously at its heart.
Named, with typical Australian pragmatism, for its striking red soil and location at the frontier-land heart of the country, the Red Centre is sparse on greenery, big on breath-stoppingly impressive natural features. It’s the classic idea of Outback Australia – an arid, rocky land criss-crossed by dusty tracks, with the rich thwang of the didgeridoo in the air and the ancient myths of the Aborigines written into the earth. Uluru (no longer known as Ayers Rock) is the region’s most famous tourist tick-box – and deservedly so – but there’s far more on offer. The domed rock formations of Kata Tjuta (aka the Olgas) are a similarly inspiring sight, the urban hub of Alice Springs (286 miles from Uluru) has all the appeal of a modern town, together with a strong sense of Aboriginal culture, and, at night, the Red Centre sky is a star-spangled canopy that’s impossible to forget.
Do go/Don’t go
With temperatures rocketing as high as 45ºC at the height of summer (December to February), it’s far from the best time to visit the Red Centre. Winter in the desert can bring some exceedingly cold nights, although the days normally remain warm and clear. In general, September to November or March to May are the most pleasant periods.
- Planes Regular flights are available from all major Australian cities to Ayers Rock Airport (also known as Connellan Airport) with Qantas (www.qantas.com.au). Flights are daily from Perth, Sydney, Cairns and Alice Springs and there are flights from Melbourne twice a week. If you’re coming from Darwin or Brisbane, you’ll have to change at Alice Springs. Many travellers choose to fly to Alice Springs and then drive to Uluru; again Qantas flies from the major Australian cities. Tiger Airways also flies to Alice Springs from Melbourne and Adelaide (www.tigerairways.com).
- Trains Alice Springs is a stop-off on the famous cross-continental Ghan train route (www.gsr.com.au/our-trains/the-ghan/the-journey.php) that runs twice weekly between Adelaide and Darwin.
- Automobiles 4WDs are best suited to handling the Red Centre’s rugged terrain, and a large stash of water is always advisable when taking to the tracks of the desert. Avis (www.avis.com.au) have branches at Ayers Rock airport and Alice Springs – book in advance.
- Taxis It’s unlikely you’ll be able to flag cars down in the road, but try Sunworth taxis in Yulara (+61 (0)8 562152), or Alice Springs Taxis (+61 (0)8 8952 187) in, well, Alice Springs.