If you have a week to spend exploring the outback, the Red Centre Way is a popular tourist driving route from Alice Springs. Head west along the MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon, then Uluru/Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta/Mount Olga.
The Mereenie Loop between Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges is progressively being sealed. You can check road conditions beforehand at information centres. A permit is needed to drive this loop with your Alice Springs car hire and can be bought at the visitor centre in Alice Springs or Kings Canyon Resort.
From Alice Springs, head west out of town on Larapinta Drive. Simpsons Gap is one of the many gorges that slices up the MacDonnell Ranges, and here you might spot rock wallabies along the eastern wall. You can walk into the gorge from the car park at Standley Chasm.
Onwards via Namatjira Drive, which crosses the Hugh River. You can detour to Hugh Gorge, backed by gigantic, rusty red cliffs. The road passes through woodlands and past many more gorges. Ormiston Gorge is home to some great waterholes and also some walking tracks, and great for camping.
Past Glen Helen Gorge, you cross the Finke River and start the Mereenie Loop – still unsealed in parts, it is usually fine for 2WD vehicles.
At the end of Namatjira Drive turn right onto Larapinta Drive. Heading west you cross through Katapata Gap before entering Watarrka National Park. Here lies Kings Canyon, one of the Red Centre’s top attractions. Sandstone walls rise hundreds of metres from the canyon floor. Take the Kings Canyon Rim Walk (6 km), which climbs to the top of the canyon and circuits around it; there’s also a shorter walk along the canyon floor. At the Garden of Eden, plant life flourishes beside waterholes.
Heading south from King’s Canyon you’ll pass the turnoff to Kathleen Springs – a lovely stop with rock pool and walking track – before continuing on to Uluru/Ayers Rock. You will drive through landscapes dominated by desert oak trees, then turning into the Lasseter Highway going west.
About 20 km before Ayers Rock is the tourist town Yulara; from here, Kata Tjuta/Mount Olgaare just 50 km away. The Valley of the Winds Walk and the Waipa Gorge Walk are the main attractions there.
At Uluru be sure to visit the Uluru–Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre. Helicopter flights are a great way to see Ayers Rock, or watch its changing colours from the ground at sunrise or sunset. A number of short and long walks are available around the base.