Throw in the MacDonald Ranges, easy access south to Mt Dare and the Simpson Desert, west via the Tanami Track to the Canning Stock Route, north to Kakadu National Park and west to the Beadell tracks and the 'Centre' is a deserving Mecca for four-wheel drivers. Of course you don't have to own a 4WD to enjoy the Red Centre - although it adds to the fun and enables independent access to remote and scenic sites - with the area hosting a large number of tour companies that can lend the 4WD muscle to take you to major attractions in comfort. Alice Springs is the ideal location, either as a marshalling point to head off the beaten track, as a base for further exploration, or as a finale from a desert expedition.
Driving the Red Centre One of the most popular ways to explore the Territory is by 4WD and campervan/caravan. Roads include sealed, unsealed and 4WD adventure routes, allowing you to explore the landscape and attractions at your own pace. While roads are generally good, unsealed roads can easily become an adventure in their own right after rain. Fuel stops are located every 200km to 300km along the main routes, but when tackling any of the more challenging 4x4 routes, ensure you carry reserve fuel and water. Tourism NT promotes a number of self-drive tours, two of which originate in the Red Centre. Aptly called the Red Centre Way, it links Alice Springs with NTs 'red heart' landmarks of Uluru/AyersRock, Kata Tjuta/The Olgas and Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
The drive starts in Alice Springs and travels through the West MacDonnell Ranges to Glen Helen. It then follows an unsealed road to Hermannsburg, the birthplace of Albert Namatjira, and doubles back to Watarrka National Park, which is most famous for the sheer, 270m high walls of Kings Canyon. The journey continues via sealed road past Curtin Springs and Mount Conner, the lesser known cousin of Uluru, and along an 80km stretch of road to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Sections of the route are unsealed and a 4x4 is recommended. Finke Gorge 4x4 Track - The Finke Gorge 4x4 Track through Boggy Hole is an alternative route between Finke Gorge National Park and Watarrka National Park. It is recommended for experienced four-wheel drivers only. From Larapinta Drive to Ernest Giles Road it is 120km long.
The Finke Gorge 4x4 track is a 9-hour drive from Hermannsburg to Watarrka NP, passing through the permanent waterhole at Boggy Hole. The track is mostly sandy, and tyres need to be deflated for softer sections. Palm Valley Track - Located in Finke Gorge National Park, access is just beyond the Finke River causeway from Hermannsburg. The road is gravel and a high clearance 4x4 is required. The slow, rocky and sandy track may be impassable after rain. Owen Springs Track - Owen Springs Reserve, south-west of Alice Springs, can be accessed via two routes. It is a 40-minute drive to the entrance of each route, Larapinta Drive, 50km west of Alice Springs, or the Stuart Highway, 66km south of Alice. The track is about 50km in length and takes about 1.5 hours. It follows the creek bed and sections can be difficult to traverse. East MacDonnell Ranges Drive This 330km circuit both starts and finishes in Alice Springs.
It takes in the beautiful East MacDonnell Ranges, which are most famous for their natural gorges and gaps and significant Aboriginal art sites. Sites not to be missed long the way include the dramatic Emily and Jessie Gaps with their collection of Aboriginal rock paintings, Trephina Gorge, with its sheer quartzite cliffs, majestic red river gums and sandy creek beds, Corroboree Rock, a dark grey column of dolomite, the Arltunga Historic Reserve, where you can learn of the area's gold rush heritage, and the Ross River Homestead and Gemtree, where you can prospect for your own gems. More challenging 4WD tracks include a trip to N'Dhala Gorge National Park, and a drive up the Ross River riverbed. Camping - Numerous camping sites are dotted throughout the MacDonnell Ranges at key interest points.
Facilities and vehicle access varies between sites and some campgrounds charge an on-site fee for overnight visitors. Basic facilities are available at Redbank Gorge, Trephina Gorge and Ellery Creek Big-Hole. Shower facilities are available at Ormiston Gorge and at Arltunga Campground. Ross River Homestead provides budget accommodation and is an excellent base from which to explore the East MacDonnell Ranges. Places to visit Kings Creek Station - situated 36km from Kings Canyon among majestic desert oaks, this is a working cattle/camel station with facilities for camping, accommodation and an opportunity to experience the outback either by quad bike, helicopter or camel.
Mt Conner - The third of the great rock formations of the Central Australian desert is Mt Conner/Atila, a 700 million year old sand and rock tabletop mountain or mesa. It is situated 100km east of Uluru on the western fringe of Curtin Springs cattle station. Yulara - is the small township that was built to service travellers to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. There is a range of accommodation available, from campsites and budget rooms to five star luxury of the Ayers Rock Resort complex, which is made up of six hotels. The town is serviced by an airport, while the Yulara Visitors Centre provides information on its history and the geology, flora and culture of the region.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre - provides an informative introduction to local Aboriginal culture, religion, knowledge and philosophy. Alice Springs - this progressive modern town provides all of the services that the travelling public may need, from mechanical repairs, 4x4 accessories, camping gear, retail provisions, accommodation, galleries and tours. The town still has a laid back atmosphere despite the many businesses that jostle for the tourist dollar and Lasseter's Hotel Casino. Highlights of the tourist calendar include the Alice Springs Cup Carnival in April, Heritage Festival April-May, Finke Desert race in June, Imparja Camel Cup in July and of course the annual Henley-on-Todd Regatta in August. Worth a look - experience the wonders of desert ecology at the Alice Springs Desert Park, step back in time at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, visit the National transport Museum and the School of the Air, or try an early morning hot air balloon ride.