The ultimate guide to the Red Centre Way

west macdonnell ranges

Alice Piper

Posted February 04, 2022

Massive canyons, red desert sands and secret swimming holes – now is the time to pack up the car and head to the Red Centre for a road trip experience you’ll never forget. 

Ask anyone who has spent time in Central Australia, and they will tell you the Red Centre Way is an unforgettable experience, and the best way to see it all.  

Encompassing the drive from Alice Springs to Uluru via Kings Canyon, the Red Centre Way delivers unparalleled natural beauty and memories to last a lifetime. Just remember to give yourself around a week for this journey to see everything.

Here’s a list of the best the Red Centre Way has to offer.

Must-see destinations along the Red Centre Way

Alice Springs 

Before you begin your journey along the Red Centre Way, it’s worth checking out the thriving remote town of Alice Springs and visiting the long list of cafes and galleries on offer. 

Grab a coffee to rival anything you can find in Melbourne at local spots including Watertank Café, House of Tallulah, Bean Tree Café, and Red Dog Café. 

Post coffee, immerse yourself in traditional Aboriginal culture and head to one of the many galleries such as Mbantua Fine Art Gallery, Papunya Tula Artists, Yuba Napa Gallery and Studio and the Araluen Arts Centre home to the Albert Namatjira Gallery, where Albert's original paintings are still on display. 

You might even want to catch some live music at Monte’s Lounge or Epilogue Lounge, where you can sit under the palms, sip a cocktail and enjoy the tunes of local talent. 

There really is so much to see in Alice Springs, so stay for a few days before making your way to Uluru.

Simpsons Gap 

A short 18km (about 40 minutes) from Alice Springs is Simpsons Gap, known as Rungutkirpa to the local Arrernte people, and a place where you can spot native wildlife from the cliff faces above. 

Go spotting at dawn or at dusk to catch a glimpse of Black-footed Rock-wallabies along the short walking track into the Gap. 

If you fancy cycling, grab an eBike from town and peddle your way around. Starting opposite Flynn’s Grave, the path connects into the town bicycle path network, which is a 7km ride from the centre of Alice Springs and usually takes 1-2 hours to complete. 


Finke 2 Mile Campground

Finke 2 Mile campground. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory, Luke Riddle & Jess Caldwell

Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges National Park 

Stretching a massive 161km west of Alice Springs, there is so much to see and do in the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges National Park. 

Swimming in one of the permanent water holes such as Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge, or Glen Helen Gorge is a highlight, or if you fancy staying on dry ground, walk part of the 223km long Larapinta Trail inside the park.

You might even like to camp overnight if you’re feeling adventurous, with camping facilities at the Ormiston Pound Walk available to book. 

The National Park is also home to many rare and threatened wildlife, like the Peregrine Falcon, while recent rainfall has seen a surge in eclectic green budgies. 

Ellery Creek Big Hole 

This popular swimming hole is a highlight along the entire Red Centre Way, with the option to camp, walk and picnic at the water's edge. 

Sitting in the heart of the Tjoritja/West McDonnell National Park, the waterhole has been carved over thousands of years of floods and is a special meeting place for the Arrernte people. 

Just remember to be mindful and minimise your environmental impact to preserve this scared site. 


Ellery Creek Big Hole. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory, Hayley Anderson & Kyle Hunter
Uluru sunrise. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory & Rhett Hammerton
Scenic helicopter flight. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory & Backyard Bandits

Hermannsburg Historic Precinct

Continuing on through the West MacDonnell Ranges, experience a truly unique part of Australia’s history at the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct, where you’ll learn stories from the 150 years the site operated as a mission.

Indigenous artists in Hermannsberg have been creating art in both song and pottery since the days of the missionaries – make sure you take the time to look at some of their breathtaking work. Book ahead for an appointment.

Another essential stop in the Precinct is the Kata Anga Tea Rooms, where you can enjoy the town's infamous apple strudel.

Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park 

The Red Centre Way continues from Alice Springs via West MacDonnell Ranges, then onto the unsealed Mereenie Loop to get to Kings Canyon.

You’ll need a permit for this part of the Red Centre Way and a 4WD vehicle is recommended, although don’t panic if you have a 2WD vehicle, as you can head back to Alice Springs and take the sealed road to Kings Canyon from there.

Kings Canyon/Watarrka National Park has something for everyone, from epic walking trails and helicopter rides to glamping at Kings Creek Resort and Kings Creek Station.  

If you’re after a walking trail that allows you to take in everything the park has to offer, check out the Rim Walk, which is a six-kilometre circuit taking you through the beautiful oasis that is the Garden of Eden, before ascending to 360-degree views.

And to really get a sense of how grand and expansive Kings Canyon is, try a 15-minute scenic helicopter tour.


Guided tour at Uluru. Credit: Tourism Australia & Archie Sartacom
Larapinta Trail at Euro Ridge. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory & Shaana McNaught
Field of Light. Credit: Tourism Northern Territory & Matt Glastonbury

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Of course, the most famous destination along the Red Centre Way is Uluru, recognised as a World Heritage Site and one of the seven Natural Wonders of Oceania. Uluru is a place that holds great cultural significance for the Anangu people, the traditional owners of the land. 

Referred to as the ‘heart of the Red Centre’, catch a sunrise or sunset over Uluru and watch as the sky turns from pink to orange, and then to red. Make sure you arrive at the Uluru car sunset viewing area early to secure a good vantage point. 

There’s something for everyone to enjoy at Uluru including camel rides, Segway tours, guided cultural tours such as the Mala walk, and dinner in the desert at Tali Wiru or Sounds of Silence. 

Tthe Field of Light by Bruce Munro is another must, where more than 50,000 spindles of light sway illuminate the desert as far as the eye can see.

Hero image credit: Tourism NT & Paddy Pallin

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