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, things like vast open spaces, blue skies against red sand and 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 kinda far away. So how do you get there?
There are flights daily from Sydney and most other capital cities 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 off on the highway.
5 hours on the highway, that sounds fun… said no one ever. So what’s your other option then? 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 taking in the stunning West McDonald Ranges and Kings Canyon… it’s an entire outback adventure (including about 200kms of dirt road) in one go.
This is one of those trips where you don’t want to be rushing. One; for safety, and two; because there’s so much to see. 3 – 5 days would be ideal and you’d be able to take in all the sights and enjoy yourself, there’s no better way to explore this part of the world than at your own pace.
Day 1 – Alice Springs to Glen Helen
Heading west from Alice for around 130kms 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, a good spot for lunch (free BBQs) and a swim. Don’t let the outback fool you though, the water can be ice cold.
As you keep heading west the Ochre pits are worth a stop as well as the impressive Ormiston gorge. It should be getting late in the day by now and Glen Helen homestead is just a few more kms down the road, there’s cheap camping, showers and cold beer available but the best part is the amazing scenery… that’s free.
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.
Still heading west on Namatjira drive there’s another amazing gorge called Redbank Gorge to stop at. It’s a short drive and walk to the end but well worth the stop.
Back on the main road, things are about to get interesting… There’s another gorge, but unlike all the previous ones, this is all but absent from maps and wasn’t mentioned at any information spots. The only reason we made the turn off was 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, as the 8.5km ‘road’ is actually a dry creek bed, which is also sometimes not so dry as well! This is the only way in and out, making it an adventure in itself. The gorge, although small, is quite stunning and we were surprised to find not Aboriginal paintings on the rock… but carvings, some dating back almost 8000 years.
Day 3 – Roma Gorge to Kings Canyon
Rejoining the main road there are about 45kms left of the black stuff before a right turn onto almost 200kms of dirt through some stunning landscape. Take your time, drive to the conditions and watch out for wild horses… then try not to spontaneously burst into song.
By the afternoon, and just before hitting the black stuff again near the start of Watarrka National park and Kings Canyon, is a perfect spot to 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 300kms to go there’s no stressing today as the home straight is all blacktop. The road will meet up with the Lasseter highway which will take you 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, they are worth a stop (just don’t drive on them… they’re like Nutella with icing on it).
Like Kings Canyon, keep an eye out on the left before you hit the National park. There’s free camping on the border of the national park in the sand dunes that will give you, in my opinion, one of the most amazing views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta you’ll ever see.
The park closes after sunset, but from the dunes and the comfort of your swag you’ll be able to watch the stars all night long and then have the best seat in the house for an uninterrupted view at sunrise. If you’re 4x4ing, there’s a good chance you’ll have your own private little spot to enjoy the show 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 spot 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 55kms on down the road from Uluru is Kata Tjuta, the grouping of huge rocky domes that are maybe more awe-inspiring than Uluru…? The largest are over 500 metres high and there are a multitude of walks you can do here between the domes and creek beds.
The Mereenie Loop road takes in everything that makes the outback, and Australia what it is. The highways are great, but when you pull up at a roadhouse and see a 4×4 covered in dust and mud with some swags strapped on the roof, you’ll wish you’d been on the adventure those guys had.
- A 4WD vehicle
- Food, water and cooking utensils
- UHF or satellite phone (mobile coverage is patchy)
- First aid kit
- Camping supplies
- Wildlife spotting