The Red Center located in the heart of Australia is home to the Anangu people, with a cultural history dating back tens of thousands of years. From Alice springs and the Macdonnell Ranges to Uluru and Kata Tjuta there is a plethora of history and indigenous heritage with no shortage things to see and do. This is Australia's spiritual center.
The last thing you think of is lush vegetation in the outback yet that's all you will see.
While hiking and getting up close to the West Macdonnell ranges is a great experience, there is no real comparison to taking in the sunrise a thousand feet up over Alice Springs in a hot air balloon with Outback Ballooning.
You arrive to the balloon being set up by the pilot and his crew. Outback Ballooning has the largest basket in Australia, and some of the most experienced balloon pilots on the continent.
The view as the sun rises over the outback is unforgettable.
The pilot gives you a background on hot air balloon history and how he steers the aircraft.
You will be followed by a single man hot air balloon which is piloted by the owner of the company (who clearly loves his job).
Once you land, it’s time to pack up the balloon. The brochure says don't wear white and this is the reason why. After the balloon is packed up you are greeted with pastries and champagne to finish off your morning.
The hiking trails in the West Macdonnell ranges are very well maintained compared to the top end. Fillipo from Outback Elite Tours knows the area better than anyone and can provide you with a day tour or extended multi-day trips to get the true outback experience. This is your guy. Simpsons gap (shown above) is the most prominent water hole in the Macdonnell Ranges. Black footed rock wallaby sightings are common.
Orminston Gorge is a great way to view the geology of the Macdonnell ranges and you are guaranteed to see some wildlife.
The West Macdonnell ranges were formed by the tectonic plates pushing against the sides of Australia 600 million years ago. Within the ranges is a mix of rivers, natural springs and one of the few locations natural okra can be found in Australia; a key element in indigenous painting and art.
After a day or two in Alice springs take a quick one hour flight or four hour drive to Uluru!
Once you check in (I stayed at sails in the desert which is fantastic) it's time to eat. The Tali Wiru dinner is an intimate experience on the top of a hill overlooking Uluru. Tali Wiru means “beautiful dune”.
Hors d'oeuvres are served with the sound of the didgeridoo in the background performed by one of your indigenous hosts.
The meal is created using local bush ingredients as the chef explained while we enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine.
As the sun goes down you will enjoy each course with a special pairing of wine. The stars will start to show themselves because of the absence of any light pollution. This is a great activity for friends and couples alike and the food is second to none.
After dinner you gather at the fire pit to hear indigenous stories and enjoy a cup of hot coco.
Uluru is probably the main attraction in the red center. Its shape is iconic and there is nothing like it anywhere else on Earth. Every crack and crevice in Uluru has a special meaning to the Anangu people and there are stories to explain each one (though they will only share a few). The Uluru base walk is 10 kilometers and takes about 3-hours. Halfway through the walk you meet back up with your tour bus where breakfast is waiting.
As the sun rises the colors in the landscape will start to change. The guide will show you points of interest and explain the cultural heritage and stories that go along with them.
Another walk you should take is into Kata Tjuta through Walpa Gorge.
The walk is only 3 kilometers and the view at the top is unforgettable.
The Anangu believe Kata Tjuta is home to a great spirit energy.
After a wonderful three course meal at the Arnguli Grill, Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation should be your next stop. As the sun sets, the lights slowly turn on and change color bringing the ground to life below the Milky Way.
From the hill overlooking the installation you can even see Uluru.
Another must while in the red center is a sunrise camel tour with Uluru Camel Tours. Camels were brought over to Australia in the 1800s as they were more suited than horses for the climate. The tour starts with an introduction to your camel.
My camel was named Jonny. I was told he was a vocal guy and they were not kidding. Jonny was a talker. It became very obvious that each camel has its own personality.
The camels are tied together in a train, so all you have to do is sit back and take in the views (and some photos!).
This is one of the other camels photobombing my sunrise shot of Uluru. The tour ends with hot coffee, tea and freshly made beer bread. The bread is hot crunchy and a great way to finish off the morning ride. If you ask nicely they might even share the recipe.