Red Centre

Red Centre

The Red Centre is the colloquial name given to the southern desert region of the Northern Territory in Australia.


Other Destinations


The Red Centre is the place where you will find the most famous monolith of Australia, Uluru and it is where the heart of the outback beats. The only town of sizable population is Alice Springs, the remainder of the population being scattered in smaller communities. The oxidized iron in the soil gives the whole area its distinctive and immediately recognizable reddish glow. Here you can connect with the oldest living culture on earth or listen to colourful yarns of the pioneering days at an outback pub.

Indigenous History

The Arrernte Aboriginal people have made their home in the Central Australian desert in and around Alice Springs for more than 50,000 years. The Aboriginal name for Alice Springs is Mparntwe. Three major groups Western, Eastern and Central Arrernte people live in Central Australia, their traditional land including the area of Alice Springs and East/West MacDonnell Ranges. They are also referred to as Aranda, Arrarnta, Arunta, and other similar spellings.

Arrernte country is rich with mountain ranges, waterholes, and gorges; as a result the Arrernte people set aside 'conservation areas' in which various species are protected. According to the Arrernte traditional stories, in the desert surrounding Alice Springs, the landscape was shaped by caterpillars, wild dogs, travelling boys, two sisters, euros, and other ancestral figures.

There are many sites of traditional importance in and around Alice Springs, such as Anthwerrke (Emily Gap), Akeyulerre (Billy Goat Hill), Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), Atnelkentyarliweke (Anzac Hill), and Alhekulyele (Mt. Gillen). Many Arrernte people also live in communities outside of Alice Springs.


English is the most common language spoken in the Red Centre and hundreds of different Aboriginal languages are spoken by the indigenous people.

Get in

Remember, if you travel into an Aboriginal Community, you are not allowed to take alcohol or pornography. There are severe fines if caught. Also, when visiting Arts Centres, do not travel into residential areas (these are well sign posted).

By plane

There is an airport in Alice Springs. Currently Qantas has connecting flights to Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns and Perth. There is a flying shuttle to Uluru but Uluru has an airport (Yulara) too, so if you're just flying in to see the rock, you don't have to stop off at Alice. (Although you should!). Tiger Airways is by far the cheapest way to get to Alice Springs.

By train

The Ghan is as infamous as the Orient Express, a long train ride over a large land area, and got even longer in 2004 with an extension right through to Darwin. Don't expect complete luxury on the Ghan, however. The rolling stock is rather dated, and while adequate, it was purchased used, and has not been highly refurbished. The scenery is nice though. Expect to pay a premium over the airfare.

By car

Lasseter Highway between Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Alice Springs

Alice Springs is 17 hours drive from Darwin, and 18 hours drive from Adelaide. The Stuart Highway from Adelaide is well-maintained and goes right through Coober Pedy, an underground town famous also for being the opal capital of the world (and worth stopping off for a visit on the way). It continues through Tennant Creek and Katherine all the way up to Darwin.

It is worthwhile reading the safety tips for Driving in Australia and always carrying water and ensuring you know the location and opening hours of your fuel and food stops.

Read the rental car conditions carefully. Cars rented locally in Alice Springs usually do not offer unlimited free kilometres. Rental cars hired outside of the Northern Territory may not be able to be driven into it. Driving after dark outside of the city limits may be prohibited.

By bus

Greyhound ] ply the route to Alice Springs from the north and the south.

Get around

Map of the Red Center

The sealed Stuart Highway running from Alice Springs to Adelaide crosses the area and is the major artery for local traffic (meaning you can actually cross several vehicles per hour). The Lasseter Highway is also sealed, and links the Stuart Highway with Uluru.

Consider renting a 4WD to explore areas beyond the Stuart Highway and Uluru. Several destinations can simply not be accessed by conventionnal vehicles. If you run out of fuel here, you're in big trouble. It is advisable to travel with other vehicles, the more the better.

The big rocks are actually a little distance from Yulara. where the accommodation and facilities are. If you are not with a tour, or didn't bring your car, you will need to decide how best to get to these locations. Hire cars can be expensive, and have limited kilometres; however shuttles to and from the rock are also expensive, so do the math and see what works best for you.





Alice Springs has a large variety of restaurants, cafes and popular fast food chains.


Alice has just gone dry - so there is no drinking in public, all drinking must be done on private premises or in the selection of bars and restaurants.

Stay Safe

The Australian Outback, although very beautiful is also very dangerous due to its extreme conditions. Be prepared and plan your trip before you start it. Plan fuel stops and always carry extra fuel as on some highways fuel and towns can be up to 800km apart. It is advised to carry a satellite phone or HF radio for emergencies if leaving the major roads. Water and food are also very important. If you become stranded in the outback stay calm and stay with your vehicle so emergency services are able to locate you. If you have communication devices use them. Mobile (cellular) phone coverage is limited to the regional centres.

On the road

As with all things in the remote desert, some care should be taken in planning to go out of town. A few of the trips listed are 4WD only and should only be undertaken by experienced 4WD drivers, with proper supplies and equipment. There are a number of tour companies available to help with this. Things to remember:

Comfort notice: If you are leaving to go out bush and it is not the dead of winter (July), you should bring a flynet. Flynets are fine mesh nets which cover your head. The flies don't bite but they do make a very enthusiastic attempt to get up your nose, in your ears and at your eyes; not being prepared can spoil what would otherwise be a wonderful experience.


Remember that you may not take alcohol or pornography into Aboriginal Communities, even as a tourist passing through. This applies for the Historical Precinct at Hermannsburg also. Travellers are not permitted into residential parts of the communities. These areas are well sign posted, so keep your eyes open and you will be fine.

Go next

The Stuart Highway is the only sealed option. Drive North, you will reach the tropical Northern end and Darwin. To the South, you will enter South Australia, with Adelaide at the end of the road.

If you have a 4WD, you can cut Northwest directly to the Kimberley on the Tanami Track, a relatively well graded dirt road crossing the Tanami Desert. It is a 800+km drive to Hall's Creek in Western Australia, with very little supplies along the way, and only a single fuel station at the remote Rabbit Flat Roadhouse (which is not open all the time, on top of that), roughly midway between Alice Springs and Hall's Creek.

To the West, you can take the unsealed Gunbarrel Highway starting at Kata Tjuta, and with a lot of patience and a good 4WD you could drive all the way to Perth (something like 2500 km away).

To the East, the WAA line or the French line are 4WD tracks crossing the Simpson Desert to Birdsville in Queensland, some 500 km East. Be extremely well prepared if you wish to tackle those routes.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, September 21, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.