Your Ultimate Guide To The Red Centre Way

by Meri Gasem

The Red Centre Way is a spectacular route within Northern Territory’s outback, crossing over famous scenes and less known nature displays. It’s a loop track, beginning and ending at Alice Springs, the centre of the red desert. Down the road, it goes through West MacDonell, Watarrka and the renowned Kata Tjuta with Uluru. You get to dive in copious gorges, take some memorable walks and experience ultimate remoteness. The Mereenie Loop Road is part of the Red Centre Way and a real treat for avid 4WD drivers. The Red Centre Way is one of the best routes you can take to get in the heart of the Australian outback; it’s not as extensive, and it’s packed with unique displays of untouched nature.

Read Next: Every Free Camp You Need To Know About In Northern Territory

Important Travel Tips

  • Basic Road Info: The Red Centre Way is not a specific road; it’s a little over 1100km long route, a combination of Namatjira Drive, Luritja Road, Larapinta Drive as well as the Lasseter Highway. It goes through sealed road and unsealed 4WD tracks. It would be best if you take a 4WD for this route, even though it’s predominantly paved. The Mereenie Loop is strictly a 4WD as well as most secluded detours.
  • Best Travel Time: The best and most comfortable time regarding temperature and crowds is during the Spring from March to May or Autumn from September to November. You can expect temperatures between 20 to 30 degrees and dry weather. If you want to dodge the crowds, try not to avoid visiting in June and July.
  • Estimated Travel Time: Allow at least 6 days to explore the Red Centre Way. If you’re willing to make several detours and linger a little longer by the most popular attraction and gorges, it can take you around 10 days.
  • What To Bring: A 4WD, some spare tyres and repair kits are essential. You must get prepared for anything; there’s limited phone reception most of the time, and you can drive for 200km without seeing another car. In some areas there are long distances between service stations, so bring extra fuel. Get some great walking shoes, sunscreen, extra water and groceries. Alice Springs is a good place to stock up on these things.
  • Tickets And Permissions: Three-day entry to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – $38 for adults; Standley Chasm – $10 per adult, $6 per child; a permit to drive between Gosse Bluff and Kings Canyon, an Aboriginal Land Trusts – $5; Alice Springs Desert Park- $37 per adult, $18.50 per child.





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Alice Springs To Glen Helen Gorge

The first leg of the Red Centre Way takes you through the MacDonnell Ranges and the abundance of unmissable stops. Taking off from Alice Springs, you’ll reach Glen Helen Gorge in just 132km. Along the ride, the first stop is Simpsons Gap, only 20 minutes out of Alice Springs. Standley Chasm is the next one, located on privately owned land in the West MacDonnell Ranges, with sky-high walls around the chasm that change their colours with the sun’s movement during the day.

If you’re feeling brave, dive at Ellery Creek Big Hole, a permanent water hole with freezing waters all through the year. Serpentine Gorge is right next door to it, featuring a wonderful lookout just a short hike away. You get to cool off at the small waterhole along the track. Glen Helen is your final destination for the day, a scenic spot with a tranquil atmosphere as well as a permanent water hole.

Places To Stay

Paid: Palm Valley or Ellery Creek Big Hole Campgrounds

Free: Finke River Two Mile 4WD Camp or Big Gum





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Glen Helen Gorge To Mereenie Loop

The second part of the Red Centre Way takes you to the doorstep of the challenging 4WD track – the Meerenie Loop track. But before that, take a detour to Ormiston Gorge, an easily accessible gorge with a sandy bank and freezing water. Take the Ghost Gum Walk up to the lookout, where you can find amazing views as well as a kiosk with snacks.

The Redbank Gorge is the next stop, a tad more challenging to access; it requires lots of rocks and sand you need to navigate through. But the gorge is worth it!

Just 133km from Glen Helen, excluding the detours, you’ll reach the Meerenie Loop.

Places To Stay

Paid: Redbank Gorge Campground

Free: Morris Pass Lookout





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Meerenie Loop To Watarrka National Park

The next part of the Red Centre Way takes you deeper into the remoteness of the outback, so make sure to stock up on fuel and food. The Mereenie Loop takes you to the Kings Canyon in the Central Australian Outback. The best way to traverse the area is to take some memorable walks.

The 6km long Kings Canyon Rim Walk starts with challenging 500 steps. It takes you through the marvellous landscapes of the canyon, sliding to the Garden of Eden waterhole and the staggering rock formations of the Lost City.

The 4km long South Wall Return Walk and the 2.5km long Kings Creek Walk are equally impressive as well as easier to do. The canyon is the route’s highlight, so take enough time to take in the million years old views.

Places To Stay

Paid: Kings Creek Station

Free: Salt Creek Rest Area or Kernot Range Rest Area





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Watarrka National Park To Yulara

Fill up your tank for the following, longer stretch from Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park to Yulara. The road between the two is 272km long and remote. You can expect to pass a handful of vehicles and a small number of stops. Mount Coner Lookout, also known as “Fooluru”- because first-timers often confuse it with Uluru, it’s very close to what Ayers Rock looks like from afar. Climb to the other side over the dune for a view of the salt lake. It’s the last good rest stop for a while, so make use of it.

At Yulara, you can visit the Red Desert Reptiles to learn about the reptiles of the Red Desert of Central Australia and how they thrive in this harsh environment. You can hold some of the reptiles for a photo, especially entertaining if you’re travelling with kids! At Wintjiri Arts & Museum, you get to see more wild animals, birds and insects that live in Central Australia. There are more details on the history and development of the area as well as the Aboriginal culture.

Places To Stay

Paid: Ayers Rock Campground

Free: Roadside Rest Area – Lassiter Highway, Aboriginal Freehold Land

Read Next: Top 13 Places To Go 4WDriving In Northern Territory





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Yulara To Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park

The second highlight of the Red Centre Way is, of course, Uluru or Ayers Rock. The gem of Central Australia is reachable within a 25minute ride from Yulara. The ticket to Ayers Rock ensures a three-day entry, precisely how much you need to explore the valley in depth. Depending on your budget, there are a plethora of unique paid and free activities. The area is known to be pricy with almost non-existent free camping.

Besides Uluru, visit the Olgas -another unbelievable rock structure in Kata Tjuta. There are numerous walks with varying difficulty that take you through the best spots in the Valley of the Winds. Don’t forget to check the Walpa Gorge and the Mutitjulu Waterhole along the way. If you feel like treating yourself, hit the Field of Light after dark. This art installation by Bruce Munro features over 50,000 globes bringing the desert to life after sunset.

Places To Stay

Paid: Ayers Rock Campground

Free: Curtin Springs Wayside Inn & Free Camp





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Kata Tjuta National Park To Alice Springs

It’s time to get back to where you started; from Uluru, you’ll need to drive around 4 hours or 468km to reach Alice Springs. When you need a break, stop at Erldunda Roadhouse to meet their friendly emus and get lunch. Stuarts Well Roadhouse is another great roadhouse settled next to a camel farm.

Once you reach Alice Springs, take a few days to take in everything this vivid town offers. Visit the Alice Springs Desert Park or cuddle a kangaroo at the Kangaroo Sanctuary. The Telegraph Sation Historical Reserve is a good trip back in time, and the Anzac Hill provides impressive views over Alice Springs. If you’d prefer a relaxing stroll, visit the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.

Congrats, you did the Red Centre Way, one of the best routes to get to know the Central Australian Outback!

Places To Stay

Paid: Heritage Caravan Park or Alice Springs Tourist Park

Free: Mount Polhill Rest Area or Trephina Gorge

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