I’ve spent the majority of my time in Western Australia over the past year and I thought it was high time that I left the coast and explore inland. I was ready for an outback adventure and was keen to travel from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
Adelaide sits on the coast of South Australia with stunning beaches and world class wineries on its doorstep. Alice Springs is the true heart of the outback, thousands of kilometres inland up in the Northern Territory. If you’re looking to drive this route yourself or thinking about an organised tour, here is what you can expect to find along the way.
Day One: The Flinders Ranges
We left Adelaide in the early morning, stopping only briefly to pick up a few supplies and sneak in a quick breakfast. We were soon driving through flat agricultural land with the Flinders Ranges looming in the distance. We called in to eat lunch at a beautiful little café called the Stone Hut bakery. Here we sampled an Aussie classic: the pie. There were tons of varieties to choose from and each one was served with this delicious pastry. Well worth popping into as you drive up the Horrocks Highway north of Adelaide.
Our destination that afternoon was Wilmington in the Flinders Ranges. Our accommodation for the night was a bunkhouse in the Stony Creek campsite. We took an afternoon walk to a lookout point on top of a hill called Mount Maria in the Remarkable ranges that overlooked the town. We saw kangaroos and plenty of different types of gum tree.
That first evening provided me with probably the most beautiful sunset I had witnessed in while. An unexpected bonus to begin the trip.
Day Two: Coober Pedy
Drove through Port Augusta, known as the meeting place in South Australia because of a crossroad of highways where you can choose to travel north, south, east and west. Lunch was a stop at a roadhouse (think: fuel station) in a place called Glendambo, population of 30.
I enjoyed stopping at Lake Hart, which is one of the several giant salt lakes in this area. It feels surreal to walk out on to a solid sodium surface but is a great place to break up your journey with a few inevitable jump shots!
In the afternoon we arrived into the legendary Coober Pedy. This outback town is famous for being Australia’s opal capital. Residents in this town are motivated by the thought of scoring their fortune in opals and most are actively involved in mining for them. Due to the extreme heat and the fact that the opals are found below the earth’s surface, amazingly 80 percent of the inhabitants of this town live underground.
A definite highlight whilst visiting Coober Pedy was that I got to stay in an underground bunkhouse. There is an underground backpackers in town, but I stayed at Umoona mine. You can take a tour of the mine where you are shown how opals are cut and polished then explore underground miner’s tunnels.
Coober Pedy is a special kind of place. It’s surrounded by this lunar landscape that has been used as the location to many films, most notably Mad Max.
Day Three: Uluru
An early morning start saw us leave Coober Pedy at 6am to drive towards Uluru on the Stuart highway. We crossed the South Australian / Northern Territory border and paused to take photos in the gloomy afternoon.
On the horizon we noticed a giant, hulking rock. We excitedly started to peer out the windows at this distant monolith until we pulled over and took several photos. It was at this point that we started to realise the shape wasn’t quite right to be Uluru. As it turned out, what we were looking at was Mount Conner, colloquially nicknamed ‘Fool-aru’ by the locals. We still had to wait a little while longer for our first glimpse of the famous Uluru itself.
We reached the small town of Yulara in the afternoon, which has a few shops, cafes and a supermarket. Yulara is within the Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park boundary and there are several accommodation options here. We set up our camp in the Ayers Rock Campsite by rolling out our swags and set out to explore our surroundings by foot. Further down the road there is a camel safari centre that, whilst not being really my cup of tea, was fun to go and visit the cute baby camels.
The day was quickly slipping away from us and so we walked to the viewing platform within the campsite and got into position to view the sunset. We had an unobstructed view of Uluru as the sun went down. Toasting another excellent day with a beer as I gazed upon this beautiful landmark was a great way to finish the day.
Day Four: Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
This morning was an early one for a very good reason. Today I got to witness a sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) at 05.48 in the morning. If I’m honest with you, the sunrise wasn’t the momentous occasion that I thought it would be. Jostling for position on a viewing platform with fifty other tourists to snap a photo isn’t really my style. I probably would have preferred to pull over a car on the side of the road and take in the scene in solitude. But given that the area is aboriginal land and needs to be respected, I can understand why there are designated viewing areas for large groups of tourists.
Still, the sunrise was beautiful and I tried to take in the moment as fully as I could given my surroundings.
As soon as we had finished taking photos and soaking in the atmosphere of that moment, we drove over to Kata Tjuta. This is within the same national park as Uluru and only 50 kilometres away from the rock.
We began our Valley of The Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta by 6.30am, which although sounds hideously early was actually a good idea because the day quickly heats up. I enjoyed this hike through the changing landscape.
We started out ascending over a lot of fairly loose rocks, then turned a corner to walk across an everlasting plain where the many giant heads of Kata Tjuta jutted up in the distance. Then we entered a gorge and scaled a vertical ascent in between two of the domes.
After lunch and a swim in Yulara’s outdoor swimming pool, it was time to pay a visit to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This special place offers a wealth of information about the history of the Anangu people who have called Uluru home for thousands of years. It details the aboriginal laws that govern them and why Uluru is so significant in their culture.
Most interesting for me was the video I watch regarding the debate on whether to climb the rock or not. It was eye opening to see different points of views on the subject, and saddened me to see the deterioration of the surface of the rock over the decades due to people walking on it.
Day Five: Uluru
This morning we tackled the 10km loop walk around Uluru. It sounds strange to admit it, but even in the punishing heat this walk was probably one of my highlights of not just this trip but my whole two years in Australia.
I think it was so special to me because I was delighted to be finally face-to-face with such an incredible Australian icon. Furthermore, I loved to hear about the creation stories from the local Anangu people, and learn about how Uluru continues to be such a sacred place for them to this day. I certainly felt a strong connection to this unique landscape. The spirituality of this place permeated my soul as I relied on my two feet to guide me around this ancient geological wonder.
We headed back to the campsite to shower and have lunch then begun the drive towards that night’s accommodation. Home for the night was Kings Creek Station (Watarrka), 3.5 hours away from Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park. That night I relaxed with my new friends around a bonfire and slept in swags by the fire under a trillion stars.
Day Six: Kings Canyon
This morning’s activity was the 6km full rim walk of Kings Canyon. To get the blood pumping you start with the near vertical climb up the colloquially named ‘heart attack hill.’ Once you’ve managed this you are on top of the rim of the canyon and the walk flattens out. With their horizontal stripes of ochre and white, the rocks at the top here were reminiscent of the fantastic Bungle Bungles in Western Australia.
There was a section of the walk called The Garden of Eden, which is a gorge filled with tall palm trees and a sacred aboriginal waterhole. This beautiful, shady spot was perfect for resting our feet for a while and taking in the silence of the gorge in the shade of the cliffs.
After the walk was finished it was time to complete the last drive of the trip: all the way to Alice Springs.
Like Coober Pedy in South Australia, Alice Springs is one of those legendary outback towns in Australia. Miles from anywhere, people have heard of Alice but it’s not the sort of destination you just happen to casually pass. With a large aboriginal community, Alice Springs is a large settlement of around 26,000 people. I stayed in the Blue Haven Backpackers and enjoyed dinner and a few drinks in Uncles Tavern. If you’re spending a couple of days in Alice then you may want to check out the Alice Springs Reptile Centre or take a day trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Adelaide to Alice Springs
The drive from Adelaide to Alice Springs was roughly 2800 kilometres. That’s a whopping amount of driving in six days! I don’t have my own car in Australia and was not keen on hiring a vehicle so I decided to hop on a tour with a company called Groovy Grape. Groovy Grape are an Adelaide based travel company that had come highly recommended to me.
If you’re not too keen on the thought of group travel, then don’t panic. I wasn’t either to start off with. However, given the vast geography and sometimes difficult terrain in Australia, I’ve taken a couple of tours this year over in Western Australia and loved them. I wrote a blog about the pros and cons of guided group travel if you’re on the fence about travelling this way.
I’d also heard that the direction of travel on this journey was important. If you can, start in Adelaide and work your way up into the Northern Territory to end at Alice Springs. I truly believe that this feels like the right direction to travel. I know that sounds a little odd, but believe me, travelling towards the mighty Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon is such a climactic ending to your journey.
Please note: my journey with Groovy Grape was not compensated. I paid full price for this trip and am sharing this with you as I would highly recommend the company.
Tell me what you think: are you tempted to travel from Adelaide to Alice Springs? Where would you like to visit the most? Are you blown away at the thought of visiting the iconic red centre of Australia? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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