How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary Through Outback Australia

When it comes to road trips in Australia, nothing comes close to the sense of adventure, trepidation and sheer excitement you get when visiting the Red Centre Way.

Weaving through a breathtaking landscape that encapsulates the very essence of the Australian Outback, this journey is as challenging as it is rewarding. Prepare to be immersed in a kaleidoscope of colours, from the fiery hues of the ancient rock formations to the brilliant night skies adorned with a blanket of stars.

Join us as we embark on a remarkable expedition through the Australian Red Centre, uncovering the hidden gems and cultural wonders along this extraordinary route. Whether you’re a seasoned road-tripper or a first-time explorer, driving the Red Centre Way promises an experience of a lifetime that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

There’s a lot to organise when planning an Alice Springs to Uluru road trip. But don’t fret; we are here to help you. Here is how to plan the perfect Red Centre Way itinerary.

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What is the Red Centre Way?

A Red Centre Way road trip involves driving from Alice Springs to Uluru in the Northern Territory, or vice versa.

The distance of the journey can vary slightly depending on the specific route taken and any detours or side trips along the way. However, the primary course within Central Australia typically covers around 690 km. 

DriveDistanceEstimated Drive TimeWhere to Stay
Alice Springs to Standley Chasm59 km (37 miles)35 minutesAngkerle Atwatye
Standley Chasm to Ellery Creek Big Hole49 km (30 miles)40 minutesEllery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole to Ormiston Gorge245 km (152 miles)35 minutesOrmiston Gorge
Ormiston Gorge to Kings Canyon217 km (135 miles)2 hours 40 minutesKings Canyon
Kings Canyon to Curtin Springs217 kms (135 miles)2 hours 15 minutesCurtin Springs
Curtin Springs to Uluru108 km (67 miles)1 hour 15 minutes50 km (31 miles)
Estimates only; times will vary based on traffic and road conditions

This road trip is a challenging journey that requires proper planning, adequate supplies, and a reliable 4WD vehicle to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience through the remote and rugged landscapes of the Australian Outback.

Travellers should prepare for long stretches of driving and limited services in some areas. Still, the stunning scenery and cultural attractions along the Red Centre Way make the Red Centre Way drive a road trip like no other.

How Do I Get to the Red Centre Way?

It’s very important that you understand distances when planning a road trip in Australia. The nearest major cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, are over 2000 kilometers away (by air); a lot further if you drive.

Many families interested in seeing the Red Centre Way will fly to Alice Springs and then pick up a rental vehicle to continue their journey.

You can, of course, include the Red Centre as part of a much longer Australian road trip itinerary. Do bear in mind, though, that you would need weeks, if not months, to do these longer road trips justice.

For further details on how to get to the Red Centre by road, follow along with these itineraries first:

How Much Time Is Needed to Drive the Red Centre Way?

The time needed to complete the ultimate road trip along the Red Centre Way can vary depending on your travel pace, the number of stops and detours you take, and the experiences you wish to enjoy. Generally, most travellers take 5 to 7 days to complete the Alice Springs to Uluru road trip. 

However, some may extend the trip to at least ten days to explore more places or spend additional time at specific destinations.

Remember that the Australian Outback is vast and challenging to navigate, so taking time to appreciate the unique landscapes, cultural sites, and natural wonders is essential. P

lan your trip carefully, consider the weather and road conditions, and carry enough supplies and water for the journey. By doing so, you can have a safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable road trip driving the Red Centre Way.

Best Time of Year to Drive the Red Centre Way

The best time of year for driving from Alice Springs to Uluru along the Red Centre Way is during the cooler months, generally between April and September. This period is considered the dry season and offers the most favourable weather conditions for travelling through The Outback.

During the dry season, the temperatures are milder, making exploring the arid landscapes more comfortable and engaging in outdoor activities. Daytime temperatures are typically warm but not scorching, while nights can get chilly. 

As its name suggests, the dry season has lower rainfall, which reduces the risk of road closures due to flooding and makes driving on unsealed roads more manageable.

Red rock formation in  Watarrka National Park, northern territory road trip

With fewer clouds and precipitation, the skies are clearer during this time of year, creating ideal conditions for stargazing and enjoying the awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets over iconic landmarks like Uluru.

Additionally, some attractions, areas of the West Macdonnell ranges and other national parks along The Red Centre Way may have limited access or be closed during the wet season, so travelling in the dry season ensures you can visit all the must-see sites.

While the dry season is the most popular time to embark on a road trip to the Australian Red Centre, it’s essential to remember that The Outback can still experience temperature fluctuations and harsh conditions, so come prepared. 

Also, be aware that the area can be busy with tourists during the peak months of June to August, so if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during April, May, or September.

Best Stops When Driving the Red Centre Way

Those tackling the Red Centre Way drive will discover the captivating allure of Central Australia.

From ancient rock formations that seem to touch the sky to hidden oases brimming with life, there are so many sites to see and places to visit on your adventure to the heart of the Australian Outback. It is almost impossible to see them all!

However, regardless of the time you have available, you should pencil in a visit to the following must-see destinations:

Standley Chasm

  • 40 km from Alice Springs

Standley Chasm – also known as Angkerle Atwatye – is an incredible geological wonder. Carved over millions of years by the forces of nature, this narrow gorge showcases soaring red walls that seem to reach for the sky. The midday sun casts a spectacular beam of light, illuminating the chasm’s walls in brilliant shades of red and orange, creating a stunning visual spectacle.

AU How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary - Standley Chasm

To reach Standley Chasm, visitors can embark on a short and easy walk through the enchanting bushland, where native plants and wildlife abound. Once at the chasm’s entrance, the rock walls’ sheer scale and beauty are lump-in-your-throat breathtaking.

For a magical experience, visit Standley Chasm at the peak of the day, around noon, when the sun’s rays are most captivating. The interplay of light and shadow within the chasm is an awe-inspiring sight that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

If you want to visit the Standley Chasm, there is an entrance fee (currently $12 at the time of 

writing). However, this helps to pay for the running of the place. You can pay this fee at a kiosk that serves food and beverages, including espresso coffees. Camping is also available at the Standley Chasm for those who want to stay overnight.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

  • 88 km from Alice Springs

If you want to explore the West MacDonnell Ranges, then be sure to stop at the Ellery Creek Big Hole.

AU How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary - Ellery Creek Big Hole

Accessed via a dirt track, it is an ideal spot for a swim, especially if you’re visiting on a warm day. The area is also renowned for its outstanding geological formations, making it a perfect destination for geology enthusiasts. Indeed the scenery is stunning, so you should take the opportunity to camp here overnight.

You must pay a nominal fee for the privilege of doing so. However, the park provides you with the use of shade shelters, toilets, drinking water and free gas BBQs. So, it is a handy place to rest up for the night before undertaking the next leg of your Red Centre Way Road trip.

Ormiston Gorge

  • 128 km from Alice Springs

The breathtaking Ormiston Gorge is a must-visit stop on your road trip adventure. Carved over millennia by the mighty Finke River, the gorge boasts sheer red cliffs that rise dramatically around a tranquil waterhole. The azure waters invite you to take a refreshing dip or soak in the serenity of the surroundings.

AU How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary - Ormiston Gorge

Hiking and nature lovers can embark on the Ormiston Pound Walk, a picturesque trail that unveils panoramic vistas of the gorge and its surrounding mountains. Whilst on it, keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife inhabiting the area, including wallabies and various bird species.

As the sun dips below the horizon, marvel at how the landscape transforms into a captivating canvas of brilliant dusk colours. Overall, with its serene beauty and opportunities for exploration, Ormiston Gorge promises an unforgettable experience that embodies the essence and magic of the Red Centre Way.

Kings Canyon – Watarrka National Park

  • 358 km from Alice Springs

Kings Canyon, nestled within Watarrka National Park, is another natural wonder that leaves visitors in awe of its grandeur. Featuring towering sandstone cliffs that rise dramatically from the desert floor, this landscape forms a majestic canyon that captivates the imagination.

AU How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary - Kings Canyon - Watarrka National Park

The park’s centrepiece is the Rim Walk, a challenging yet immensely rewarding trek that takes you along the canyon’s edge, offering breathtaking vistas of the rugged landscape below. During it, you can marvel at the Garden of Eden, an oasis of lush vegetation and tranquil waterholes that provide a welcome respite from the piercing sun of the arid Outback.

As you explore the ancient rock formations, watch for the diverse flora and fauna that call this unique environment home. For those seeking a more relaxed experience, the Kings Creek Walk is a leisurely alternative that unveils stunning views without the steep climbs.

Like most other places in the Red Centre Way, at sunrise or sunset, the canyon comes alive with a golden glow, adding an ethereal touch to your visit. Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park is a true highlight of the Red Centre Way, promising a memorable encounter with the rugged beauty of the Australian Outback.

For those wanting overnight accommodation near Watarrka National Park, various options are available, depending on the timing of your visit. They include motel-type rooms, campsites and backpacker lodging at Kings Canyon Resort and a complimentary campsite at Ginty’s Lookout. About 30 miles beyond Kings Canyon, the Kings Creek Station offers safari tents and other camping options.

Curtin Springs

  • 576 km from Alice Springs

You wouldn’t be the first traveller to confuse the impressive giant rock you see just before arriving at Curtin Springs as Uluru. But sadly, that is not it. (You still have to drive about 120 km before you see it!)

Actually, you see Mt. Conner – or what the locals like to call ‘FOOL-URU’, because many people think it’s a world-famous landmark!

AU How To Plan The Perfect Red Centre Way Itinerary - Mount Conner

Mount Conner holds significant sacred importance for Aboriginal men as it is inextricably connected to the Seven Sisters and Ice Man Dreamings – also known as ‘songlines’ – which span several hundred kilometres of land from west to east. Situated on the Curtin Springs Station, the only way to visit it is to book a guided tour.

Near Mt Conner, you will find a very popular roadside rest area and lookout that enables you to take excellent pictures of it – especially from the dune lookout. From there, you can also see a fantastic salt lake that is not really visible from the road or the roadside rest area.

You’ll find toilets, a water tank and picnic tables in this area and you can even camp overnight. However, be aware that plenty of other travellers usually have the same intention.

Not far from the Mt Conner Lookout, you’ll hit upon the Curtin Springs Roadhouse within the Curtin Springs Station. It offers donga-style accommodation, a pub, food and fuel. There is also a campground with free unpowered sites, a selection of powered campsites (currently available for $45 at the time of writing) and paid-for showers ($4).

Whilst there, you can book one of several guided walks and tours of The Outback. Some include overnight camping, two-day treks, meals and a private guide.

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More Tips for Driving the Red Centre Way

  • A 4WD is essential when driving along the Red Centre Way. Significant stretches of the road are unsealed and can cause a regular vehicle significant damage. By the same token, it could get stuck when you go off-road, especially in wet conditions.
  • Be ready to travel for long distances of up to 200 km without encountering anyone or just a couple of other vehicles. Ensure you take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and have a good Spotify playlist for entertainment.
  • For much of the journey, there are no towns whatsoever. It is vital, therefore, that you are well prepared with several days worth of food, water and other essentials like medical supplies, clothes and petrol.
  • Be mindful that camping is illegal at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park except for at the Ayers Rock Resort (they have hotel accommodation and campgrounds). Rangers regularly patrol the area and will move you on should you decide to set up camp in the wrong place.
  • It is worth spending two nights at least at Uluru as there is plenty to see and do at the site. For accommodation, the town of Yulara is a good option. It is located roughly 85 km from Curtin Springs and features an IGA supermarket and services like petrol stations, a post office and a hairdresser.
  • If you are new to road tripping in Australia, make sure you check out our guide to planning an Aussie road trip for further advice on how to plan out your itinerary and make the most of your time behind the wheel Downunder.
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