Red Centre Overview
- 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.
Remarkably Red CentreThe 9.4-kilometre base walk is the best way to get see Uluru. On route, you can see the full variety of colours and rock formations of Uluru and there are waterholes, Aboriginal art and a wide variety of plants along the way. The walk takes about 3-4 hours and should be done early in the morning to avoid the heat. Although it’s possible to climb the rock, the Aboriginal community asks that tourists don’t – partly because of the rock’s spiritual significance, but also due to the deaths and injuries that occur every year.
- 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.
- Tipping culture
- Most restaurants and bars won’t add gratuities to your bill and tips are never expected, but 10 per cent is always welcome where the service has merited it.
- Siesta and fiesta
- The mid-afternoon sun can be punishing, so most activities tend to be conducted in the early morning to avoid the heat. During this time, an afternoon snooze is essential.
- Packing tips
- Cork hats may look like tourist gimmicks, but they do have a practical function – keeping insects at bay. Avoid wearing white clothes – the red desert dust wreaks havoc.
- The Outback’s notorious ‘Bush tucker’ is the catch-all term for food obtained from the wild but which would never make it into the culinary mainstream – due to production cost more often than flavour concerns. Kangaroo meat and jerky is increasingly popular as a lean alternative to beef, and freshwater barramundi native to the Northern Territory makes frequent appearances on restaurant menus. Flavourings such as wattleseed and lemon myrtle are used to jazz up ice-cream, yoghurt, and bread. Jams made from quandongs and Davidson plums are also common.
- Australian Dollar (AU$).
- Time zone
- GMT + 9.30 hours (there is no daylight saving in the Northern Territory).
- Dialling codes
- Country code: +61; Area code for Northern Territory: (0)8. Astonishingly for such a remote area, there’s excellent mobile reception.
- 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.
Don't go home without...
buying some aboriginal art, it’s a good investment and a way of supporting the indigenous community.