Insider's Red Centre

Leave the crowds gawping en masse at Uluru to find your own take on the Outback. Paul Harding leads you on a walkabout

4 mins

See sunset by camel

Escaping the crowds to witness the magic of sunrise or sunset at Uluru (Ayers Rock) is not always easy – many visitors are corralled into the official viewing areas. But with the help of a camel you can plod off into the dunes for a different perspective from humpback. Uluru Camel Tours offers two-hour sunrise and sunset treks.

Walk the Valley of the Winds

If you think Uluru is a stand-alone attraction in this desert national park, think again. Kata Tjuta is a series of giant, rounded rock formations – the Aboriginal name means ‘many heads’ – about 50km west of Uluru. You can walk through the towering gorges on the wonderful Valley of the Winds trek; start late afternoon and stay for sunset.

Circumnavigate the rock

Many people come to Uluru to climb it, but more rewarding, less culturally offensive and (surprisingly) easier, is walking around it. The well-marked 10km circumambulation reveals cool caves, rock art sites, waterholes and the true magnitude of Uluru. Get another perspective from the new viewing platform Talinguru Nyakunytjaku (‘place to look from the sand dune’) – perfect for sunrise vistas.

Climb Mt Conner

Many a first-time visitor has been fooled by the sight of Mt Conner, thinking they’ve glimpsed Uluru. In reality  they’re not alike – though about the same height, this flat-topped mesa is much larger than Uluru. You can  climb Mt Conner (six hours return) on a guided tour from Curtin Springs Roadhouse, 80km from Yulara. www.seitoutback

Kick back at Glen Helen

For a dose of Outback hospitality, Glen Helen Resort (above) is a welcome treat after days spent walking the Larapinta Trail, camping under the stars or just touring the MacDonnell Ranges. Local musos twang guitars in the bar while you get stuck into a bush tucker mixed grill. The original homestead dates from 1905.

Hear the desert’s timeless tales

The best way to immerse yourself in the ancient stories of the Rock is through the eyes of the traditional owners, the Anangu. The Kuniya tour takes you to the Mutitjulu waterhole, where the scars and cracks on the rock face tell the story of a fierce battle between the Kuniya (woma python) and Liru (brown snakes).

Hike to the king of lookouts

The three-hour walk around the rim of Kings Canyon is hands-down the most spectacular short trek in central Australia.The best view comes at Cotterill’s Lookout, a vertigo-inducing high point that peers straight down into the sheer-sided canyon. A creek walk offers a less strenuous option.

See red at the Rainbow Valley

The colours of the Outback – vibrant honeycomb yellows and deep rusty reds – come alive at Rainbow Valley,75km south of Alice Springs.The setting sun brings out a brilliant display of hues on the sandstone.

Marvel at the Marbles

A bizarre pile of orange granite boulders sits beside the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. To the Warumungu tribe the Devil’s Marbles (left), now renamed Karlu Karlu, are a sacred site,some say the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent: to geologists they’re the result of over a billion years of erosion. For travelers, they’re an enigmatic pitstop only central Australia can deliver.

Chambers Pillar

Looming 60m over a flat desert,Chambers Pillar is one of those odd sights that great road-weary travelers in the central Australian outback. To find it you need to head into some rough and sandy 4WD territory 160km south of Alice Springs. The ancient sandstone pillar is a glorious sight at sunset, and you can camp nearby.

Ponder Mt Sonder

Made famous by the watercolour paintings of Albert Namatjira, Mt Sonder stands tall as a blue-and-mauve hued bump on the western fringe of the MacDonnell Ranges. The eight-hour return trek to the summit is not for the faint-hearted – but the views are superb.

Turn tropical in Palm Valley

The Red Centre becomes the Green Centre in this valley of lush cabbage palms and ancient cycads. The slender tropical palms are found nowhere else in the world and have survived for millions of years. A 4WD track into Finke Gorge National Park leads to a fine camping area.

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