The Australian pilgrimage from Alice Springs to the Rock – Uluru. There’s the easy way to do it and then there’s the fun way. But no real adventure ever stuck to the sealed roads now did it?
When you think of outback Australia, there are a few things that come to mind. Blue skies, red sand, and of course the heart of our beautiful country, Uluru. If you’ve ever been there (or know someone who has) you know it’s a long way from anywhere, like… hundreds of kilometres far away. So how do you get there? There are flights daily from most capital cities in Australia to Alice Springs, which will get you within a lazy 460kms away from Uluru, where you’ll need to rent a car or jump on a bus to finish the rest of the trip. But no one has ever said that 5 hours on the highway sounds like fun, so what’s your other option? The Mereenie Loop Road.
Mereenie Loop Road
The Mereenie Loop Road makes up part of the Red Centre Way, a 670km alternate route between Alice Springs and Uluru that includes the stunning West McDonald Ranges and Kings Canyon. It’s an entire outback adventure (including about 200kms of dirt road) all in one go.
This is one of those trips that don’t want to be rushing. One; for safety, and two; because there’s so much to see. About 3 – 5 days is ideal and with this time frame, you’ll be able to take in all the sights and enjoy yourself. Trust us, there’s no better way to explore this part of the world than at a leisurely pace.
Day 1 – Alice Springs to Glen Helen
Heading 130km west from Alice to Glen Helen is a cruisy drive with plenty of stops along the way. Standly Chasm (about 50kms from Alice) is a perfect spot for a stop and an amazing sight around the middle of the day as the rock glows red. A little further down the road, you’ll find Ellery Creek Big Hole. Pull up for lunch (has free BBQs) and a swim. Don’t let the outback fool you though, the water can be ice cold.
As you continue west, the Ochre Pits and the impressive Ormiston Gorge are essential pitstops. By now it should be getting late and Glen Helen homestead is only a few more kilometres down the road. There’s cheap camping options, showers and cold beer on the menu. But the best part is without a doubt the stunning scenery, and that’s free of charge.
Day 2 – Glen Helen to Roma Gorge
After watching the sunrise at Glen Helen, it’s time to pack up the swag and hit the road, but don’t forget to grab a permit to drive the Mereenie before for you go! Heading further west on Namatjira drive, be sure to stop at the amazing Redbank Gorge. It’s a short drive and walk to the end, but well worth it. When you’re back on the main road, things are about to get interesting. There’s another gorge which wasn’t mentioned at any information centres and absent from maps. In fact, the only reason we made the turnoff was because of a small wooden sign on the side of the road that read “Roma Gorge and Aboriginal Petroglyphs – 8.5km”. Here’s where the 4×4 you’re driving gets its first workout. The 8.5km ‘road’ is actually a dry creek bed, and is the only way in and out, making it an adventure in itself. The gorge, though small, is stunning and to some incredible Aboriginal carvings, some dating back almost 8000 years.
Day 3 – Roma Gorge to Kings Canyon
Back on the main road, there are about 45 km left of the blacktop before a right turn onto almost 200 km of dirt through some stunning landscape. Take your time, drive to the conditions and watch out for wild horses… then do your best not to burst into a little karaoke. Just before hitting some blacktop again near the start of Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon, suss out a camp spot on the escarpment (there’s a hairpin bend in the road, hard to miss) with sweeping views from north to south. Kings Canyon itself, living up its name, is king out there. The sandstone walls of the canyon stretch over 100 meters into the skies above and shelter the outback’s own little garden of Eden.
Day 4 – Kings Canyon to Uluru
With only 300 km to go, there’s no stressing today as the home stretch is all blacktop. This road will eventually meet up with the Lasseter Highway leading you right to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Along the way, you’ll pass a few salt farms, and while not as cool as an actual salt lake, are absolutely worth stopping at. As you approach the National Park, keep an eye out on the left. There’s free camping on the border of the National Park on the sand dunes, which will give you just about the most amazing view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta you can get. Though the park closes after sunset, you’ll be able to watch the stars all night long from the comfort of your swag and then the best seat in the house for an uninterrupted view at sunrise. If you’re 4x4ing, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have your own private little spot as well!
Day 5 – Exploring Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
After enjoying the sunrise you’re set to venture into the National Park and explore the rock up close. If you’ve never been before, prepared to be blown away by the sheer size of Uluru. It’s no wonder this is a sacred site for the local indigenous people. In a landscape void of almost anything, a monolith of this size is something that will leave you in awe.
About 55 km on down the road from Uluru is Kata Tjuta, the grouping of huge rocky domes that some might argue are maybe more awe-inspiring than Uluru. The largest is over 500 metres high and there is a multitude of walks you can do between the domes and creek beds. The Mereenie Loop Road truly captures everything that makes the outback, and Australia what it is.
- A 4WD vehicle
- Food, water and cooking utensils
- UHF or satellite phone (mobile coverage is patchy)
- First aid kit
- Camping supplies
- Wildlife spotting
Intermediate – It’s not a hard trip, but as always, common sense is a must when driving off-road and in remote areas.
670 km (give or take)