In the same way that some clichés are clichéd because they’re true, there are some ‘must-sees’ you simply – well – must see. The Northern Territory’s outback sights fall squarely into this latter category.
Start your journey at Serpentine Gorge, a lesser-known site where you can enjoy beautiful vistas and get to know rare Australian fauna, including lovely flannel flowers. The semi-permanent waterhole here is a peaceful spot to pause and simply take what’s around you. Do, and you’ll find that, in a landscape defined by its vastness, you appreciate little things: a sudden change in the mauve-tinted light, or a fat butterfly preening on a eucalyptus leaf. Further on, Ormiston Gorge is another vital refuge for native flora and fauna. You should explore this special place by foot, sticking to one of the number of designated tracks. A regional highlight for the energetic is the Ormiston Pound Walk, a three- to four-hour circuit to the Pound, which resembles a giant footprint stamped in an area of rock formations. Cool off – briefly – in the notoriously cold waterhole before caffeinating at the kiosk and retiring to your outback campsite.
If your vehicle has the requisite grunt, take the Larapinta Way down to the Watarrka National Park, a bit over 300 kays south-west of Alice. This area, home to the renowned Kings Canyon, features a number of walks to suit all levels of fitness and curiosity. These pass through unexpectedly lush vegetation from which your progress will be monitored by countless native birds. After a steep preliminary climb on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping canyon views. If climbing doesn’t feature in your idea of a good day, the gentler Kathleen Springs Walk ends with the welcome sight of a spring-fed waterhole where you can rinse off any lingering dust. (Note that camping isn’t allowed in Watarrka, although there are several commercial accommodation options.)
Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park
You’ll no doubt be itching to walk around Uluru’s immense base, but before doing so, spend time at the Cultural Centre to learn about the Anangu people, Uluru’s traditional custodians; you’ll appreciate the landscape far more if you’re carrying knowledge with you. With this in mind, the daily guided walk offered by the National Parks Service or a guided tour with Uluru Aboriginal Tours, an Anangu-owned and -operated company, are good options. While you can’t camp in the Park itself, there are other campgrounds nearby. As you sprawl on the red earth, gazing up at the stars in a sky that looks like it’s been vacuumed clean, you’ll appreciate that this region is truly one to admire, respect and protect.