Red Centre, Australia
When to 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.
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PlanesRegular 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).
TrainsAlice 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.
Automobiles4WDs 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.
TaxisIt’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.
Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland beyond Port Douglas – it’s wild up there. The lush forests and spectacular creatures, from palm cockatoos to green tree pythons and tree kangaroos, make it feel like a completely different country. Geographically, it kind of is, as it’s composed of fragments off the end of the land bridge that once linked Australia to Papua New Guinea.
Narawntapu National Park, near Devonport, in Tasmania – I sat in wonder looking out over what seemed like a well manicured park, perfect lawns stretching for miles between neatly trimmed shrubs. It was only as the sun set that the gardeners became apparent, and none brandished shears or secateurs. They simply bounced and shuffled from cover. The darker it got, the more kangaroos, wallabies, potoroos and wombats appeared, almost magically, and started their night’s work, nibbling and chewing the landscape into shape. I’ve never seen so many large wild mammals outside of the African plains, so it’s no surprise they call this place Tasmania’s Serengeti.
The Red Centre is hot, dusty and iconic. I love the harshness of the landscape and the contrasting areas with water, rivers or springs. If you like birds and reptiles as much as me then it doesn’t get much better or more Australian than this. My best memories of the Outback were my first meeting with a thorny devil (an Australian lizard), the huge flocks of wild parrots and cockatoos, and night drives looking for the more secretive creatures as they came out to play.
It’s a secret that’s about as hidden as they get, but as you stand and gaze at Uluru (Ayers Rock) you may not realize that beneath your feet, burrowing away, is a creature rarely seen by any human eye. The Itjaritjari, or marsupial mole, is a species revered by the local Aboriginal people. Looking like a bad bottle-blonde mole, this creature is more closely related to a wallaby and spends its entire life scraping its way through the sand dunes of the central desert. You just have to content yourself with knowing it’s there!
Uluru is the Red Centre’s awe-inspiring monolith. Formerly Ayers Rock, it exceeds the hype, rising magnificently from the epic desert. Scope it from your bed at safari-chic Longitude 131°, where all 15 stylish tented cabins are named after Australian explorers. Walk around Uluru at dawn (three to four hours), marvelling at rock carvings and flora, or channel Charley and view it from a Harley Davidson at sunset as a passenger with Uluru Motorcycle Tours; scenic flights, camel trips and helicopter rides can also be yours. Local highlights include Kata Tjuta’s domed rocks, the Culture Centre for Aboriginal art workshops and dramatic Kings Canyon further afield. Longitude offers free adventure tours and dreamy dinners under the stars.