Swim in cool green oases, see the desert exploding with wildflowers, wonder at giant meteor craters and rock colossals – and that’s before you even get to the main attraction.
Day 1 - Around Alice Springs
Fuel up with a cup of the Alice blend, a chocolate-and-toffee-tinged roast that’s crafted in town at DuYu’s Roastery Café, before exploring with long-time local and tour guide James Acklin of Alice Springs Walking Tours. Meet him at the Visitor Information Centre in Todd Mall for a 90-minute stroll that explores the stories behind the town centre. “Alice has a bit of everything,” says Acklin. “Its history is both recent and ancient, with Aboriginal creation stories going back to the beginning of time.”
A seven-kilometre drive west, Alice Springs Desert Park will change your mind about deserts being desolate. Red and purple wildflowers burst out of the dirt. Red river gums and bush medicine plants create havens for ’roos, dingos and birds.
Give yourself three hours, timing things to join up with the Nocturnal Tour, which in the cool of evening gets even closer to endangered bilbies, mala and echidna in the foothills of the MacDonnell Ranges.
Close to the Alice Springs Golf Club, DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs is an easy base camp where balconies look over rugged scenery and the breezy Deck Bar and pool make the most of nights. Its award-winning Hanuman restaurant plates up Indian and Thai fare while Saltbush serves NT classics like crispy local barramundi with flavours inspired by the outback.
Day 2 - Do a Daytrip
It’s worth getting up in the dark. Soaring on a hot air balloon, catching sunrise turning the MacDonnell Ranges blue then red is just the entrée on a flight with Outback Ballooning. Riding the wind for 30 minutes, you’ll also see former cattle station Owen Springs Reserve and packs of wild camels stirring to life.
Drive 1 hour 45 minutes
After a quick pit stop to pick up snacks at Afghan Traders Wholefoods in town, drive
135 kilometres west to dip in the oasis of Ormiston Gorge.
Walled by the craggy rock formations of Tjoritja West MacDonnell National Park, the shimmering waterhole is brimming after a rainier-than-usual season. Around 14 metres deep at the southern end, it’s so chilly you’ll expect your hot skin to hiss with relief as you sink in.
Day 3 - Epic Cliffs and Canyons
Drive 1 hour 45 minutes
Hit the Stuart Highway early for the drive to Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve. These orange, ochre-red and white sandstone bluffs are home to sacred sites of the southern Arrernte people and feature short walks around claypans that fill with flowers.
Drive 60 minutes
Stop to marvel at the 12 giant craters of Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve, formed 4700 years ago when space rocks crashed into the middle of nowhere.
Drive 2 hours 30 minutes
Dinner and glamping digs await at Kings Canyon Resort, halfway between Alice and Uluru. Smoky classics come with tap beer and music at the resort’s Outback BBQ and Thirsty Dingo Bar but you’ll look forward to turning in. Spacious tents feature quality linen, a deck for stargazing – and a Nespresso machine for the early start tomorrow.
Day 4 - Onward to Uluru
There’s much to explore between the towering rock faces that rise 100 metres on all sides of King’s Canyon. Guided walks connect landscape to Aboriginal legends but to self-navigate, start at Priscilla’s Crack – where you’ll see the Lost City’s bulbous domes – and take the winding six-kilometre Rim Walk circuit to the Garden of Eden filled with ferns and hidden pools.
Drive 3 hours 15 minutes
The drive to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park tracks past Mt Conner (or “Fooluru”, as it’s often mistaken for the rock) to the indulgence of Longitude 131º resort, with its luxe suites and private plunge pools offering uninterrupted views of Uluru. Cool, starry nights make Table 131° a one-of-a-kind experience as you taste delicacies at your table atop a dune by firelight.
Day 5 - Explore the Icons
Tours of Uluru depart as the sun touches the horizon. A guided base walk around the sandstone giant is 10.5 kilometres – 3.5 hours at a brisk pace – while a two-hour Desert Explorer Scenic Flight with Fly Uluru gives you perspective plus fly-overs of Kata Tjuta and glistening Lake Amadeus. Seeing the Field of Light, a fantasy garden of 50,000 spindles of light stretched across the desert, makes a highlight of your last night.