Embark on this six-day loop that starts and finishes in Alice Springs, covering nearly 1200 kilometres through the heart of the Australian outback, linking the MacDonnell Ranges, Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon), Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
Day one: Alice Springs to Helen Gorge
The MacDonnell Ranges is a 650-kilometre-long series of mountains continuing east and west of Alice Springs. These contorted peaks rise from desert sands beneath the shifting colours of the outback sky, dotted with white ghost gums, waterholes, mulga and spinifex. By day, the landscape is alight with oranges, ochres and reds, and is home to thriving wildlife. Come nightfall, skies explode in stellar brilliance unlike anywhere else in Australia. West of Alice Springs, through the West MacDonnell Ranges, there are stunning gorges and swimming spots all along the route.
Day two: Glen Helen to Kings Canyon
West of Glen Helen, the bitumen ends and the dust rises – we’re now truly entering the outback. The Mereenie Loop access road can be tackled in the family sedan, but a four-wheel drive is recommended, especially after rain. You’ll also need a permit (only $5!), which you can pick up at the Visitor Information Centre in Alice Springs or at Kings Canyon Resort reception.
Day three: Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park
Kings Canyon is a 300-metre-deep crevice splitting the earth, sheltering palms, ferns and cycads – a tropical oasis in the middle of otherwise dry surrounds. The Rim Walk takes in everything the canyon has to offer. A moderate level of fitness is required, as it includes a steep 20-minute climb at the start, but the rest of the trail, which winds around the edge of the canyon, is much easier. Some lofty views at the peak are your reward. There’s also a shorter, one‑hour walk along the canyon floor.
Day four: Kings Canyon to Uluru
Kings Creek Station is just over 30 kilometres from the canyon, which you will pass on the way to Uluru. The station covers 1800 square kilometres, and was established in 1982 as a cattle and camel property. It provides a range of accommodation options from camping grounds and powered sites to luxury glamping.
Day five: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
You will get your first glimpses of Uluru on the horizon about 50 kilometres from Yulara, the resort village closest to the rock. Witnessing the setting sun light up the rock in oranges, reds and violets is a must. The sunset viewing area can get crowded, so make sure you set out well in advance; it’s a 15-minute drive from Ayers Rock Resort, which has accommodation options ranging from five-star, all the way down to modest camp sites. The resort has all the amenities you’ll need, with bars, restaurants and shops.
Day six: Uluru to Alice Springs
The last stretch of your journey, from Uluru back to Alice Springs, is an easier drive on the sealed Lasseter and Stuart highways, but it takes at least five hours. A good stopover is Rainbow Valley, east of the Stuart Highway, and not far out of Alice. If you set out early, the rising sun lights up the iron striations in the sandstone, a grounding way to start the day.
To find out more, read the Spring 2022 edition of Caravanning Australia.
Image: Textures of Uluru (C) Tourism NT; Kate Flowers.