Listen Uluru, we know you’re amazing, but you’re kind of overshadowing (both literally and metaphorically) the many other attributes in Australia’s Red Centre. If you wouldn’t mind stepping aside for a moment, we’d like to highlight the rest of the talent.
1. The doctors at The Royal Flying Doctor Service
Where: Alice Springs
Alice Springs. Pretty in name, but not so much in aesthetics. Don’t let that put you off visiting this remote Aussie town halfway between Darwin and Adelaide - we can’t all be blessed with good looks. Fortunately for Alice, she’s an interesting lass. With more art galleries (per capita) than anywhere else in Australia, call in at the Araleun Arts Centre and lap up the contemporary Aboriginal art, including works by celebrated watercolourist, Albert Namatjira. Grab a coffee and amble through the township; passing heritage buildings such as the 1908 Old Stuart Town Gaol and The Residency built in 1928. From here you can walk to the famed Royal Flying Doctor Service which houses a small museum and a team of doctors willing to answer your questions. Tours run every half hour from 9am-4pm, Monday to Saturday. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, the weekly market pops up at Todd Mall, selling arts, crafts and local produce. Of course, Alice will always be referred to as the gateway to the Red Centre itself, and for what she lacks in beauty, landmarks such as Uluru (and the rest) more than make up for it.
2. The red gap in the red desert
Where: Simpsons Gap
Just 18km west of Alice Springs, there’s a sacred site to Central Arrernte Aboriginal people called Simpsons Gap. Located in the West MacDonnell National Park, the gorge is sandwiched between two towering red cliffs; slicing its way through the middle of their mammoth sandstone blocks. With a permanent waterhole and a perennially blue sky, the saffron coloured bluffs act as the perfect model for a Red Centre photo shoot. Arrive early to avoid a relentless midday sun and seek shelter in the shadows, take plenty of water and a picnic to enjoy in the presence of nature’s finest creations. Simpsons Gap is an easy way to experience the desert without over-exerting yourself, simply embark on one of the several walking tracks that cut through these stunning red giants.
3. The magical swimming holes
Where: Ellery Creek Big Hole
Work up a sweat and then cool off in the Ellery Creek Big Hole. Also located in West MacDonnell National Park and an easy one hour drive from Alice Springs. Try the Dolomite walk - a 3km loop which takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Reward your efforts with a dip in the Big Hole. A gorge which has formed over thousands of years, it’s the regions flooding waters that have carved this deep hole into high stony walls. Encased by red cliffs and sandy Ellery Creek, it’s a gorgeous place to while away the afternoon, with your burgers and “snags” followed by a leisurely swim. There are free gas barbecues, picnic tables and a decent shower block so you won't need for much. Just remember to pack your "thermal" togs, or simply brace yourself for the temperature extremities. The waterhole is very large and very deep, meaning it can get goose-pimply cold. And not entirely suitable for children. Confident swimmers only please.
4. The greatest Outback experience…other than that one
Where: Rainbow Valley
The rise of rusty red sandstone is quite the sight whatever time of the day you visit Rainbow Valley, but to observe it at either dusk or dawn, is to witness one of nature’s most impressive desert spectacles. So called because rainbow-like rock bands shimmer in the changing sunlight, visit about an hour before sunset (or before sunrise) and the layers of hardened red sandstone radiate a light that spills over the arid desert floor. A palette of red, orange, deep brown and gold, these scenic sandstone bluffs make for a unique Outback experience. As tempting as it is to stand and gawp, keep moving, the show only gets better as you get closer to the freestanding cliffs. If you’re lucky you might even come across a few black-footed rock wallabies, as well as numerous lizards; these guys will make plentiful appearances as the sun falls and the temperature drops.
5. Okay, and YOU, Uluru
Where: Uluru, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
To see the sun rise over Uluru, which is undoubtedly one of those “do before you die” occasions, you will need to get up at 4am. And don’t expect to be alone. The park has designated sunrise and sunset viewpoints which are always heaving with visitors – and their extra-large camera lenses. But don’t be afraid to deter from the obvious, there are plenty of other hot spots where your retinas can be rewarded with the magic of Uluru. What makes this place so powerful is actually the sheer enormity of the rock, particularly as it rises somewhat unexpectedly out of a completely flat and barren landscape. Sit down and take in its immense size and solidarity - regardless of how many other punters you’ll be sharing this experience with, it’s guaranteed to be one of life’s 'sit back and sigh' moments.
6. But wait, there’s still more
Where: Kata Tjuta, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Behind every great star, there’s the lesser known sibling no one really cares about. Even when they should. Solange Knowles, we’re not saying anything.
Sure, Uluru gets the year-round fame, but there’s another enormous geological structure that is just as formidable (well it’s not, but it's mighty in its own right). Kata Tjuta is a 36-domed red stone structure next door to Uluru. Also known as The Olgas, it sits placidly on the horizon. Not to be hoo-harred, take a short hike through Walpa Gorge to observe the behemoth in all its under-rated glory. Or, if you’re feeling fit, the three hour Valley of the Winds walk is a strenuous yet rewarding hike with two lookouts affording glorious vantage points of Kata Tjuta. You’re also more likely to see kangaroos and other wildlife over this way. We recommend embarking on this route well before 11am when the terrain's still cool. Wear closed shoes (sorry, but snakes), sunscreen and a hat. Take plenty of water. And we mean plenty.