TOP 7 Central Australian RED HOT Spots once you’re done with Uluru!

Last Updated on February 6, 2021 by Red Nomad OZ

Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia
Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia

For some, the whole point of Central Australia is Uluru. For others the whole point of AUSTRALIA is Uluru. And who can blame them? It’s HUGE. It’s magnificent. It’s RED!!

But Central OZ isn’t just about Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Of COURSE they’re several kinds of awesome, but there are lots of other attractions that’ll show you just as good (and far less crowded) a time! And – even better – they’ve all got that trademark Central Australian RED!

So you’ve hired the car, seen Uluru and you’ve got another few days to kill. Or if you’re REALLY lucky, you’re an Aussie with a camper trailer and a bit of time on your hands.

Just like me!

So what do you do?  Hit the road – and see my TOP 7 Central OZ Red HOT Spots!  Just click the headings for more info!!

Kings Canyon Walls, Central Australia
Kings Canyon Walls, Central Australia

1. Watarrka (Kings Canyon)

Just down the road and round the corner from Uluru, Watarrka, as it is known to the local indigenous people is SO worth the 166 km one way detour off the Lasseter Highway back towards Alice Springs. For many Aussies, visiting Kings Canyon is a tribute pilgrimage to a famous scene from classic OZ movie ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’. Haven’t seen it? Click HERE for a trailer!

View from Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Central Australia
View from Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Central Australia

But you don’t have to hike the Canyon in a frock to show yourself a good time. The 6 km (4 mile) Canyon Rim circuit requires a reasonable level of fitness, but as you cross the rugged rocks you’ll get to see stunning vistas across the plain, the Lost City and Garden of Eden and sensational sunsets that make those towering rocky RED cliffs GLOW.

Besides, it’s not a race! Is it?

Stay at the Kings Canyon Wilderness Resort campground (closest to the Canyon) or at nearby Kings Creek station so you don’t have to rush. The men in frocks have long gone, but the awesome RED Canyon will be here for a LONG while yet!

2. Stuarts Well

So you’re back on the Stuart Highway heading north to Alice Springs. An hour or so before you get there, you’ll pass the Stuarts Well Roadhouse. Unless you’re a SMART traveller, in which case you’ll stop. Because Stuarts Well has one of the most bizarre and uniquely Australian Outback travel experiences you’re likely to see.

Stuarts Well Campground, Central Australia
Stuarts Well Campground, Central Australia

Unless you’ve already spotted a singing, piano playing Dingo named Dinky someplace else, that is.

For many years, roadhouse owner Jim ran tours to Kings Canyon from a resort he and his family built from scratch on nearby leasehold land. Until one year, the landowner resisted all attempts to re-negotiate their lease. Strangely unwilling to ‘gift’ the resort they’d paid for and built by themselves on their leasehold to someone who hadn’t done anything towards it but collect the rent, Jim and his family destroyed it.

Dinky, the Singing, Piano Playing Dingo, Stuarts Well
Dinky, the Singing, Piano Playing Dingo, Stuarts Well

Now Jim’s based at Stuarts Well. As well as running tours to nearby Rainbow Valley, Jim now assists visitors achieve their (perhaps as yet unrealised) dream of seeing a singing, piano playing real live dingo in the flesh! For perhaps the first and last times in their lives …

There’s even accommodation and campsites at the roadhouse for those who want a dinner and show experience with a difference!

STOP PRESS!  In what must be a dark day for Central Australian Tourism, Dinky the Singing, Piano Playing Dingo has retired.  Of course, the legend lives on in the hearts and minds of those who have seen him … AND countless YouTube clips!  See Dinky in full voice HERE!

Just as well there’s a special bonus EXTRA attraction below to make up the numbers, huh?!

3. Rainbow Valley

Scenic Public Loo at Rainbow Valley, Central Australia
Scenic Public Loo at Rainbow Valley, Central Australia

Staying at Stuarts Well puts you in the hot seat for a 22 km one way dirt road detour off the Stuart Highway to the amazing Rainbow Valley.

Rainbow Valley Rocks!
Rainbow Valley Rocks! (pic by Pilchard)

With a rainbow of multicoloured rocks rising above the (frequently dry) salt lake in front of it, the rocks are easily accessed from a short track from the visitors car park.

Exploring and/or photographing the rocks is an excellent way to pass a few hours. Or a day. Or more …

Stay at the Rainbow Valley Campground (is it a coincidence that my best photo of the Valley contains one of the best Scenic Public Toilets in the country?) to be right in the (RED) hot seat for some extraordinary outback sunsets.And if it rains?Well … the road might be impassable, but at least you’ll get to-die-for pics of the amazing Rainbow Valley formations reflected in the lake!

And I’ll be as jealous as hell!

4. The Ochre Pits

Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia
Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia

Many years ago when I first toured the West MacDonnell Ranges, I didn’t call in to the Ochre Pits ~115 km from Alice Springs along Namatjira Drive. I won’t be making that mistake again! The intriguing contours of (not just RED) colour in the creek bed and surrounding rocks, and its status as a place of significance to local Indigenous people from the area show a different – and fascinating – side to Central Australia.

5. Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge and Pound Walk, Central Australia
Ormiston Gorge and Pound Walk, Central Australia

Just up the road from the Ochre Pits, if you can’t find LOTS of cool things to do at Ormiston Gorge, you clearly haven’t read my 7 TOP Ormiston Gorge attractions guide (see link in title)!

Yes, it’s going to take more than one day to explore this end of the West MacDonnell Ranges and Ormiston Gorge is the best spot from which to do it!

Glen Helen Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia
Glen Helen Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia

Staying at the nearby Glen Helen Resort with its own spectacular gorge, or the Ormiston Gorge campground means you don’t have to rush back to Alice Springs before you’ve seen – and done – everything.

But be warned. Don’t bother with this option unless you’re up for magnificent sunrises and sunsets; the Ormiston Gorge and Pound walk – one of the best short(ish) hikes in OZ; the stupendous splendour of nearby Mt Sonder; the beauty of Glen Helen Gorge and the glorious, glowing RED – everywhere!

6. Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) Conservation Reserve

Tylers Pass Lookout, West MacDonnell Ranges,  Central Australia
Tylers Pass Lookout, West MacDonnell Ranges,  Central Australia

This is as close as I got to Gosse Bluff. 175 km west of Alice Springs, the long line of gorges, waterholes and mountain ranges that forms the West MacDonnell Ranges comes to an end at Tylers Pass – from here the road snakes down onto the plain.

We’d spent the day exploring the area around Ormiston Gorge and driving as far as the Tylers Pass lookout had been an afterthought to end the day before heading back to the campground.

About 21 km from the lookout, the vast bulk of Tnorala – the remains of a comet crater, 5 km (~3 miles) across – is an impressive sight.

Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) from Tylers Pass Lookout, Central Australia
Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) from Tylers Pass Lookout, Central Australia

With no camping allowed at the Bluff, the only option was a flying visit. But even if we’d wanted to attempt a kamikaze night drive cutting a swathe through the nocturnal desert creatures feeding at the road’s edge, visitors to Tnorala need a Mereenie Tour Pass. And the nearest place to get one was back at Glen Helen Station.

But it’s SO on the list for next time!

Simpsons Gap via Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Simpsons Gap via Alice Springs, Northern Territory

7. Simpsons Gap

Yes, I know. EVERYONE’S been to Simpsons Gap, that narrow passage (there’s only so many ways to say ‘Gap’) through the MacDonnell ranges.

Only 18 km west of Alice Springs (or 17 km along the bike track) it’s the ‘Claytons’ Central Australia tripette de rigueur from the Alice if you haven’t got much time.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Simpsons Gap from Cassia Hill Walk, Central Australia
Simpsons Gap from Cassia Hill Walk, Central Australia

BUT the rewards are even greater for those who spend a bit more time and take the 1 hour return Cassia Hill walk up onto the schist escarpment (once part of the floor of a massive inland sea) and look down on the Gap.

Wildflowers, classic Central Australian scenery – and a staggering 360ºview, of which Simpsons Gap is a very small part.

That’s the thing about Central Australia. Wide open spaces. Magnificent mountain ranges. And an endless supply of RED!

Ranges from Cassia Hill Walk, Simpsons Gap, Central Australia
Ranges from Cassia Hill Walk, Simpsons Gap, Central Australia

Did I say SEVEN cool things? Of course there are WAAAAAAY more than that – so here’s another one for nothing!

8. Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles)

Sunrise at Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), Northern Territory
Sunrise at Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), Northern Territory

Even though it’s 412 km and ~4 hours north of Alice Springs, the great sprawl of spherical sandstone rocks weathered by the wind and sand all aglow in the Outback light are worth the trek.

Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) Campground, Northern Territory
Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) Campground, Northern Territory

Especially if you’re there at sunset. Or sunrise! Which generally means staying at the Devils Marbles campground, or at either of the nearby settlements of Wauchope or Wycliffe Well.

Aboriginal Dreamtime legend and scientific explanation both offer theories about the spheres’ formation. But in this region with its strong colours, harsh climate and stark beauty, the Indigenous theory seems more appropriate. It’s easy to see why this is a sacred site and also a ceremonial and trade meeting place for four different Aboriginal language groups.

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory
Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory

Besides, just 20 minutes further south and also renowned as the alien capital of Australia is Wycliffe Well! But that’s another story …

Central Australia has enough other attractions in both colours – RED and not-RED – to keep you busy for weeks.

What’s YOUR favourite?

Want MORE?

Major Mitchell Cockatoo near Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Major Mitchell Cockatoo near Alice Springs, Northern Territory
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  1. Este artigo é realmente brilhante. Você acertou em cheio ao escrever sobre este assunto tão importante. As informações foram apresentadas de forma clara e objetiva. Parabéns pelo excelente trabalho.

  2. I have visited couple of these places before and you have captured the real beauty here. I haven’t really got a chance to go through the dense forest part of Australia , as I am little afraid to give it a try.
    Amazing blog for the travellers.


  3. I agree with DianeB – Kings Canyon is a top favourite. In fact, forget Uluru and just head for Kings Canyon.
    You’ll never walk alone – I love it!

    1. One day I’ll have to visit those spots and do a comparison! Our Central Australia is even better to see for real!!

  4. When we did the Mereenie Loop we even didn´t have to pay at Uluru, we just drove through 🙂
    It sure is beautiful, but oh so crowded!

    And, yes, took a pic of Priscilla – sadly on one of our apartment-moves I lost the DVD, gah!
    We also visited the Northern Territory Beef Jerky Factory in Alice! And got Jerky into Germany (not allowed due to Australia belonging to GB/BSE) this time (don´t tell!).

    Sweet memories of Kings Canyon, too, thanks for bringing it back!

    Sadly we had no idea of Jim’s! Missed heaps but Ochre Pits we´ve seen, too 🙂 There was even water at the MacDonnell Ranges! Ups. Guess that was indeed Simpsons Gap!
    Awww, yes, Devil´s Marbles! Our car just had the same color…
    Oh Red, I´m homesick and I miss my car, that beautiful Nissan Patrol LWB! Minus 8C here, btw…

    1. I have no idea what Minus 8C even feels like!!!!! We haven’t yet done the Mereenie Loop – saving it for next time, and SO looking forward to seeing Palm Valley! And you’ve been somewhere I’ve never been in Alice – I didn’t even know about the beef jerky factory!! Although I’m surprised it wasn’t camel jerky??? We are still getting the dust out of the car …

    1. Hahaha!! How did you know?? There IS a massive casino in Alice Springs … but I’ve never been inside! That would be seeing RED in quite a different way!!

    1. Hahaha! Why don’t you give him a free subscription?? Just put his email address in the box on the top right, tell him you’ve got a gift for him & all he has to do is click the confirmation link in the email!!! It MIGHT work, right??!!

  5. Another fabulous post! I can’t get over how much this part of Australia looks like the southwestern part of the United States. We’ve got very similar canyons, red rocks and outcroppings all around this area. But, what we don’t have is a piano playing, singing dingo. That I have to say is truly a one of a kind.
    P.S. I loved Priscilla, Queen of the Desert!

    1. I’ve heard that before … and not just from you!! Maybe we should do a joint comparison tour one day??!! The Dingo is one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had downunder – and I was lucky to see it!!

    1. Hahaha, that’s hilarious!! But it sounds like he could sing better than some people??!! Dinky the Dingo was far less discriminating … the pianist didn’t need to be playing an actual tune, any mish-mash of discordant notes would set him off just as well as a song!

  6. I was so excited when I read your post because for once I have actually done one of the things on your list. I visited King’s Canyon and walked round the rim. A highlight of my trip to Aus I might say.

    1. Fantastic! Now we really DO have a shared experience in common! But you have been there more recently than I have – I wonder did it look any different when you did it??

  7. The heartland of Australia certainly knows how to give a grand display of rocky colour. Combine that with wonderful skies and you have yourself a paradise. I for one would love exploring the detail of those rocks from a macro perspective.

    1. I wasn’t so much into macro when I last visited – my camera was still pretty new! I’d love to go there again & see how different my photos turn out! That’s what comes of a low boredom thresh-hold!!

    1. It’s my pleasure! Much as I love Uluru and Kata Tjuta, there are so many other awesome spots that don’t get as much publicity! I hope this doesn’t mean they’re ‘full’ next time I go there!!

    1. And the good news is that any bus tour worth it’s salt would stop there! This is archetypal Central OZ scenery – although I’m not sure the Marbles are officially IN Central OZ! I’ll have to check …

  8. That cockatoo looks like he’s having a grand time, just hanging out. Those Devil’s Marbles make a very vivid photography subject. You must have had fun with your camera on those!

    1. We were lucky to see the cocky – they’re not all that common and mostly found out in the more remote areas. As for the Devil’s Marbles shots, all I had to do was hold up the camera and click! It’s almost TOO easy to take good shots there!!

    1. Dank je, mijn vriend. Centraal-Australië is als geen andere plek op aarde – en het is nog beter om zelf te zien! Ik hoop dat je het een dag te maken!

  9. Australia does have gorgeous scenic views. How cool to see a singing Dingo. And I love the Cockatoo, they are pretty. Thanks for sharing your visit, enjoy your week ahead.

    1. The cocky is one of my favourite Australian birds … but they’re not that common, so it’s always a thrill! Of course, the singing Dingo is even LESS common!! Have a great week, my friend!

  10. 🙂 you’ve seen that dingo singing for yourself and I’ve only seen it on tv – I wonder if the piano actually disturbs him?! Fabulous tour spots; great photos and for some reason I wonder do you make it up in time for EVERY sunrise??

    1. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen … right up there with racing Cane Toads!! And no, I SO don’t make it up for every sunrise 🙂 Just the late ones!!!

  11. I’m almost embarrassed to say that my experience of outback travel these days is none existent Red… What can I say I’m a city gal 🙂 BUT….thankfully since discovering your blog a few years ago, I can now visit these ‘amazing’ places from the comfort of my RED sofa without going out through my RED front door 🙂

    1. Hey, happy to oblige you with an Outback fix anytime you need one!! You don’t HAVE to travel to the outback to see the ‘real Australia’ (whatever that is), but it’s an awesome experience! Maybe I’ll do a post on the accessible Outback – just for YOU!

  12. Another great travel post. So much to see out there. We weren’t there long enough but my favourite place other than the rock and Kata Tjuta was King’s Canyon. We were lucky enough to stay at the resort with a picture window over the spa bath so I could sit among the bubbles and look out to the red desert scenery. Because one of us is not able to do big walks or climbs we did the canyon floor walk and that was pretty spectacular too. Lovely shots and a great Loo with a view.

    1. Wow, that bath sounds awesome!! We also did the Canyon Floor Walk – it’s amazing to be in the gorge surrounded by all that RED! The RED Centre is full of great things to do – it’s a shame so many tours only focus on one or two of them. Have a great week!

  13. I can only envy you and your travels Red. I love this post, especially Kings Canyon Walls and just gazing at the hills, valleys and ranges, all in RED. I love your Dinky, the Singing, Piano Playing Dingo, Stuarts Well – now I’ve see something really great. Too bad you didn’t have a video of the dog – that would have been awesome. Thanks for a wonderful tour – take care, eh 🙂

    1. I DO have a video of the Dingo taken by Pilchard … trouble is, there’s a young woman from the audience who I don’t know playing the piano & I’ve always been in two minds as to whether that would be a breach of privacy. Pity … our video is REALLY GOOD! Our experience was in 2008, so maybe she’s unrecognisable now?? What do you think?!?!

  14. I’ve seen the piano playing dog via some medium but I can’t remember where. But good on Jim for refusing to play the game, Less rent for the owner would have surely been better than no rent

    1. HAha, you may have seen it right here – or maybe on Kath’s blog! Wonder what the owner’s done with the land since?? I bet there’s nothing there now …

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