A once-in-a-lifetime trek along the spine of the spectacular West MacDonnell Range, the 223km Larapinta Trail is fast hitting the worldwide top hikes lists. End to end, the trail requires at least 14 days. But if you don’t have the inclination, time or ability to tackle the entire route, rest easy because the proximity to Alice Springs makes it simple to do smaller sections with no trouble. That said, the sections range from moderate to very hard, so you’ll need to be reasonably fit and well prepared to take on any of them.
The route is split into 12 sections that together run from the Alice Springs Telegraph Station as far west as Mt Sonder. Before you even head off, take a little time to explore the area’s early European history at the station.
The rugged track winds through the arid landscape, giving access to some of the West MacDonnell Range’s best-known features, including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Serpentine Gorge, Ochre Pits and Ormiston Gorge. Another highlight is Counts Point, which provides distinctive views along the quartz ridges of Heavitree Range out to Mt Zeil and Mt Sonder.
The chance to wander along the ancient Finke River is a highlight of section 10, between Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Resort. At just over 10km, this section is one of the trail’s most popular day trips and takes just four to five hours.
If you are up for more of a challenge, then section 4, Standley Chasm return, will reward you with what is regarded as some of the trail’s best scenery. Allow eight to twelve hours to comfortably complete this 20km section, which is rugged, steep and classified as very hard.
The end point of the trail, Mt Sonder rewards the hiker with amazing 360-degree views back to the east across the West MacDonnell Range, west to Mt Zeil, north to the Tanami Desert and south to the Gosse Bluff crater. At 1380m Mt Sonder is the Northern Territory’s fourth highest mountain. In fact, the 15.8km section 12, Mt Sonder return, is another of the trail’s most popular day trips, even though it is a steep walk that is classified as hard. Be warned, you need to make a really early start on this walk.
As well as being sites of scenic beauty, many of the spots the trail visits are also sacred to the Arrernte people. For the traditional owners the land has song lines, or dreaming tracks, that tell the region’s cultural history.
Special campsites are provided along the route for use only by trail walkers. July is the busiest month on the trail, so if possible, try to walk in May, June or August instead. Just remember that winter nights will be very cold. In wildflower season you may even be lucky enough to see the arid countryside come alive with the bright blooms. The trail is very well-organised with options available for as much or little support as you want, including guided treks, transfers and food drops
The instantly recognisable shape of Uluru, bathed red by the setting sun as it sits majestically amid the surrounding sandy plain, is definitely one of Australia’s most photographed sights. Once known as Ayers Rock, Uluru always appears in overseas visitors’ lists of Australia’s top three attractions, usually alongside the Sydney Opera House and the Twelve Apostles. Yet no matter how many times you’ve seen images of this imposing 348m high monolith, nothing compares with standing in front of it for the first time. It’s a sacred site in Aboriginal culture and Tjukurpa stories tell how Uluru was formed by ancestral beings at the beginning of time.
Various sunrise and sunset viewing spots provide great vantage points to see the amazing colours wash over Uluru at these particularly special times of day. However, they can be very popular, so if you’re looking for a quieter way to enjoy the experience then take a walk to locate a more secluded viewpoint. One little-known viewing point with great vistas over the rock is accessed just a short distance from the Cultural Centre along the Liru Walk.
Walking really is the best way to get up close to Uluru, and a clockwise wander around the base on the Mala Walk is an excellent way to see the rock from every angle. At 10km this walk is one for those with plenty of time, as you’ll need to allow about three and a half hours to do the entire circuit. If you have less time, it’s possible to just do some shorter sections to highlights like Kantju Gorge and Mutitjulu Waterhole. The peaceful waterhole is a beautiful spot to sit and relax for a while and there are rock art sites to see as well.
As a sign of respect for the beliefs of the traditional owners, the management of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park asks visitors to not climb Uluru. As of October 26 2019, the climb to the top of Uluru will be permanently closed.
Another great option for exploring around the rock is to hire a bike from near the Cultural Centre and cycle around instead of walking. Or for an even different mode of transport, try a Segway tour. Whatever you choose, remember to head out early to avoid the hottest part of the day.
A great way to spend some time when it’s hot is to drop in to the Cultural Centre. Here you’ll learn about Anangu culture and the long history of the importance of Uluru to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people – the area’s traditional landowners. You’ll want to allow at least two hours to explore the centre, which includes art galleries and cultural displays. A must-do is a walk through the Tjukurpa Tunnel where you’ll be transported back in time with ceremonial songs, Anangu art and fascinating documentaries.
Another fun way to learn more about the area’s culture is to participate in a dot painting workshop with Maruku Arts. While you’re there you can also pick up a punu (wooden carving), painting or piece of jewellery as a special memento of your trip. Paintings are also available from Walkatjara Art, which is the art centre run by the Mutitjulu community.
The opportunity to see important rock art sites that show fascinating Tjukurpa stories is another big drawcard of a visit to Uluru. Along the Mala and Kuniya walks there are several rock shelters where visitors can get up close to these fascinating artworks. To gain an even greater understanding of the images you are seeing, take the ranger-guided Mala Walk.
For further insight into the culture and history of the region, take a guided tour. As well as walks there are a number of other ranger-guided activities on offer too, including tours around Uluru, bushtucker talks and presentations on the park’s animals. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime way to experience this amazing place you can take a tour on a camel, or even a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Thrillseekers can also take to the skies on a helicopter trip or go for a tandem skydive for unforgettable aerial views of Uluru.
Uluru is part of the World Heritage–listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is jointly managed by Anangu and Parks Australia. Park entry fees apply, and permits can be purchased online. There is no camping permitted in the park, with the nearest available at Yulara. It’s only a short drive on sealed roads from Uluru to Yulara, which has plenty of accommodation and restaurants as well as an airport.
An ever-present backdrop to Alice Springs, the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges stretch for more than 100 kilometres to both the west and east of the town.
To the west, this dramatic formation is protected in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. The first highlights you reach, just a short trip from Alice Springs, are a tantalising glimpse of the amazing gorges for which the ranges are renowned. Two of the most accessible sites, Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, are understandably also among the most popular.
As you head further west, you’ll find Ellery Creek Big Hole, which is a perfect spot to stop for a refreshing dip in the remarkable waterhole. Not far away is a popular picnicking place at Serpentine Gorge and the intriguing Ochre Pits site.
The gorges just keep coming as you continue west, with the towering walls of Ormiston Gorge and some welcome facilities at Glen Helen. Redbank Gorge, at the base of Mt Sonder, is another great spot to cool off with a swim after tackling some of the walks.
Over to the east of Alice Springs the East MacDonnell Range isn’t as well known as its western counterpart, but this can be a boon for travellers seeking to avoid the crowds. However, the area is still packed with interesting sites to explore, like Emily and Jesse gaps.
For an insight into the area’s Aboriginal history and culture, stop off at Corroboree Rock, which is a sacred men’s site. The rock art at Trephina Gorge offers another taste of this ancient culture. Beyond Trephina you’ll need a four-wheel drive, so this is a popular spot to stop for a picnic or camp overnight.
With a four-wheel drive it’s possible to explore some of the East MacDonnell Range’s lesser known attractions, including N’Dhala Gorge and Ruby Gap. With its numerous rock engravings, N’Dhala Gorge provides another insight into the Aboriginal history and culture of this area. If you’re up for even more exploration, then see the ruins of Central Australia’s first town at Arltunga. There’s also more mining boom history at Ruby Gap, which is only accessible to high clearance four-wheel drives.
Experience the many gorges, open red desert landscape and vast array of wildlife on the numerous treks surrounding Alice Springs.
If discovering land on foot is your preferred way to explore, then this town is the perfect base for you. Choose from a short walk out or an extended hike through the ranges to experience the colourful landscape of Australia's Red Centre.
Start with the Larapinta Trail in town, which traces from town centre through to the West MacDonnell National Park. Voted by the National Geographic as one of the top trekking experiences on the planet, this walk is one that can't be missed. Depending on your time frame, the trail can be split into 12 sections, so you can choose which areas you’d like to experience, whether it’s a seven-day hike or just a few hours, explore the many water holes and campsites set along the trail.
Once you’ve ticked off the Larapinta Trail, next up is Ormiston Pound Walk, about a two-hour drive from Alice Springs. This trail is not only about the journey, but the destination too, as it leads you into the dramatic gorge and sparkling waterhole to cool off in, which is Ormiston Gorge. The trail is moderate with a slight climb, so come prepared.
If two hours outside of town is too far, take a 45-minute drive from Alice Springs to reach the Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve, a very sacred site. Experience the walk around the rock formations, just a short 15-minute walk but equally as stunning. Or if you want to ditch the car and stay in Alice Springs take a wander through the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, with a choice of short walking tracks showcasing views across the town centre and West MacDonnell Ranges. For something a bit longer, the Hill Walk takes about 40 minutes return and provides incredible views. The well-known Alice Springs Telegraph Station also has many historical walks departing from the landmark, try the Riverside Walk to reach the station for a glimpse of Alice Springs cute wildlife - and look out for the wallaroos hiding in the rocks.
Discover the incredible landscape and wildlife surrounding Alice Springs on the many walking trails available.
Experience the natural wonders surrounding Alice Springs, through one of the various cycling and mountain bike trails. There's no better way to find peace and quiet than see this incredible landscape up close and personal.
The first thing to note that Alice Springs climate plays by its own rules, and the desert is no place to be seen in the heart of summer at midday. So adopt the local lifestyle and plan your ride at either end of the day when the sun starts to fade. Winter, on the other hand, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world’s idea of winter. Out here, winter is the prime time to explore as temperatures drop, blue skies shine above, and there's little to no rain. This time of year is the best way to have complete flexibility and freedom, with weeks of riding on the cards to truly explore the land in all directions.
Starting in Alice Springs, you’ll have a choice of routes to take. The Larapinta Town Path is a 6.5km track, which will lead you to Simpsons Gap, and the total distance is 24 km, which will take you to Cassia Hill Walk. This comfortable 1 km loop walk to the summit of Cassia Hill is a great place to stop and have a rest. Or take Flynn’s Grave, the path trails through the West MacDonnell National Park, where you’ll encounter Central Australia’s unique habitat and open land. From The Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the path is a 52 km round trip.
Alice Springs is a central hub for mountain biking and cycling however in the area you’ll find a choice of trails through the national park area too. When it comes to picking the right set of wheels for your journey a mid-level tread tyre is recommended with good sidewall protection from the rocks.
Carry extra water especially in the warmer months, as you can expect to ride for kilometres in somewhat barren land. The temperature can soar, and many come unprepared for the intense heat, so always plan your distance and check the weather before your journey.
Refresh yourself at one of the many natural waterfalls in and around Alice Springs. Acting as the perfect central destination to discover many swimming holes nearby, take some time out to truly soak up the lush waterfalls surrounding the area.
When temperatures soar, you’ll no doubt be searching for the nearest swimming hole. From the barren desert to gushing water holes all in a car ride of each other, the contrast between landscapes here couldn’t be more apparent.
Pack yourself a picnic and spend the day between the waterfalls and rocky terrains. Discover the West MacDonnell Ranges with Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge, Redbank Gorge or Kings Canyon to name a few.
Ellery Creek is a stunning waterhole yet brings ice-cold water and high red cliffs. Dip in and out quickly and spend some time on the banks to see the rock faces come together, over 400 million years old. While Ormiston Gorge sits 300 metres deep, made up of earthy orange quartzite and if you enjoy hiking, the Ormiston Pound Walk will lead you to the swimming hole.
Surround yourself amongst the incredible red land as the walls of Kings Canyon encompass you in the shaded Garden of Eden, named perfectly to suit, this palm-fringed swimming hole is a 300-metre cliff face. Unfortunately, this waterfall doesn’t allow swimming due to the incredible fauna and flora it brings and delicate environment, yet it's still worth the visit. Continue on and you’ll start to make your way to Kathleen Springs where you'll discover even more local bird life and beautiful native plants.
If you choose to take the Larapinta Trail from Alice Springs, you’ll find the Birthday Waterhole, only accessible by 4WD. Here you’ll also see an incredible range of native water birds for you to observe.
Take your camera with you and make the most of these incredible swimming holes in and around Alice Springs. Discover the diversity of these gushing waterfalls and spend your days slowly exploring each one.
Allow a network of pathways to guide you through a wonderland of enchanting waves of colour at the Field of Light. As darkness falls over the outback, the desert is brought to life by an immersive art installation consisting of over 50,000 illuminated spindles in a multitude of gentle colours beneath the starry night sky. The display covers a staggering 49,000 square metres on a canvas of red sand.
In the local Pitjantjatjara language, the name of the installation is ‘Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku', which in English is ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’. However, the Field of Light is so much more than that, as it perfectly combines art with culture in the most captivating way.
The concept was inspired by Uluru itself when renowned artist Bruce Munro was camping there in 1992; however, it wasn't until several years later that the sketches in his notebook were brought to life at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exhibit has travelled around the UK, the US, and Mexico, before arriving at the base of Uluru in the heart of the Northern Territory in 2016. This is the largest recreation of the exhibition to date. Originally intended to remain there until 2017, its stay has been extended twice due to overwhelming popularity. Since 2016, visitors from all around the world have been mesmerised by this unique artwork.
A number of different tours and experiences are on offer to those lucky enough to witness the magic of this breathtaking installation.
Once a year, car enthusiasts from all over Australia and further afield gather in the red centre for a weekend-long celebration of all things wheels. If you love cars then this is an event that needs to be added to your calendar immediately. Red CentreNATS allows you to watch some of the coolest and craziest cars in the country being used, raced, and enjoyed across tarmac, grass, and dirt. Come along to watch or even enter your own vehicle.
The family-friendly auto festival features a full program of competitions, both on and off the track. Enjoy three days of thrilling events including drag races, show n shines, thrifty grass driving, and street cruising. Watch as a 4 wheel drive track in Blatherskite Park puts off-road vehicles and drivers to the test with log hops, barriers, and more. See an impressive collection of cars in the street parade which departs from Blatherskite Park and rolls into town and back, and learn how much power your car really has at the Diggamen Dyno Cell.
Points are awarded to cars through cruising, drag racing, driving events and show judging, for the best to be named the Red CentreNATS Champion – a title open to both street and elite class cars. The festival concludes with a podium party in Blatherskite Park on the Sunday evening, featuring entertainment, food stalls, and a bar.
Red CentreNATS takes place across three Alice Springs venues within a 12KM radius: Alice Springs Inland Dragway, Blatherskite Park, and Lasseters Centre of Entertainment.
For ten days a year, the desert is brought to life with impressive artwork, dazzling light shows, and excellent performances, set against the stunning backdrop of the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges. The name Parrtjima means ‘shedding both light and understanding’ in the local Arrernte language and the aim of the event is to celebrate the oldest continuous cultures in the world through the latest technology. Visitors can gain a deeper insight into the country and Arrernte culture through artwork, light installations, and more, from Arrernte artists and those from across the central desert region and around the Northern territory. Parrtjima is a celebration of indigenous arts, culture, and storytelling, enlightening attendees in the most engaging and entertaining way.
Magnificent artwork commands a large portion of the ranges, celebrating the beauty, uniqueness, and survival of the landscape. Meanwhile, Alice Springs Desert Park and Todd Mall host a thrilling program of interactive workshops, music from talented local and national musicians, Indigenous dance, films by Aboriginal filmmakers, and insightful talks, as well as more artwork and light installations. Visitors can wander through a unique outdoor gallery of contemporary and traditional Aboriginal art, and immerse themselves in artwork and stories through light installations coupled with soundscapes.
Parrtjima is the only authentic Aboriginal light festival of its kind. Entry is free, and everyone is encouraged to attend. As well as the culture, there is a hub of food and drink stalls. The event is family-friendly, featuring a children’s’ area with artwork specifically designed to engage younger guests.