The great Australian pilgrimage from Mparntwe / Alice Springs to Uluṟu. 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? That’s why you’ve gotta take the Mereenie Loop!
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures take place who have occupied and cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Please note! This is a remote road that can get extremely boggy after some rain. If it’s been wet around The Red Centre, we advise avoiding the Mereenie Loop.
Forget the Highway
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, Uluṟu.
If you’ve ever been there (or know someone who has) you know it’s a long way from anywhere, like… hundreds of kilometres away. So how do you get there?
There are flights daily from most capital cities in Australia to Mparntwe / Alice Springs, which will get you within a lazy 460km from Uluṟu, 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 five hours on the highway sounds like fun, so what’s your other option? The Mereenie Loop.
Read more: How To 4WD For Beginners
The Mereenie Loop
The Mereenie Loop makes up part of The Red Centre Way, a 670km alternate route between Mparntwe / Alice Springs and Uluṟu that includes the stunning Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges and Watarrka / Kings Canyon. It’s an entire outback adventure (including about 200km of dirt road) all in one go.
This is one of those trips that don’t want to be rushing. 1. for safety, and 2. 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 – Mparntwe / Alice Springs to Glen Helen
Time driving: 1.5hr
Heading 130km west from Alice to Glen Helen is a cruisy drive with plenty of stops along the way. Angkerle Atwatye / Standly Chasm (about 50km from Alice) is a perfect spot for a break and an amazing sight to behold, especially around the middle of the day as the rock glows red.
A little further down the road, you’ll find Udepata / Ellery Creek Big Hole. Pull up for lunch (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 impressive Ormiston Gorge are essential pitstops.
By now it should be getting late and Discovery Park Glen Helen is only a few more kilometres down the road. There are 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 Rwetyepme / Redbank Gorge via Roma Gorge
Time driving: 50min
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 Loop before you go!
When you’re back on the main road, things start to get interesting. There’s another gorge which isn’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 4WD 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 takes you to incredible Aboriginal carvings, some dating back almost 8000 years.
To pitch up for the night, head back the way you came, and make tracks for Ridgetop Redbank Gorge Campground, on the other side of Namatjira Drive. A 2WD accessible campground that’s super close to the stunning Rwetyepme / Redbank Gorge swimming hole. Facilities here are basic, but you will find toilets, fire pits, and picnic tables.
If you have time for one last stroll before sunset, the walk from the car park to Rwetyepme / Redbank Gorge is around 2km and should only take around 1.5hr return.
Day 3 – Rwetyepme / Redbank Gorge to Watarrka / Kings Canyon
Time driving: 2hr 20min
Back on the main road, there’s about 45km left of the blacktop before a right turn onto almost 200km 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 Watarrka / 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.
Watarrka / Kings Canyon itself, living up its name, is king out here. The sandstone walls of the canyon stretch over 100m into the skies above and shelter the outback’s own little garden of Eden.
If you’ve got time in the afternoon, (and the temps aren’t too high) definitely take a stroll along the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. Stick around for sunset to see the colours of the wall change before your very eyes.
Day 4 – Watarrka / Kings Canyon to Uluṟu
Duration: 2hr 45min
With only 300km 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 Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa 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 Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, keep an eye out on the left. There’s free camping on the border of the National Park amongst the sand dunes, which’ll give you just about the most amazing view of Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa 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 have the best seat in the house for an uninterrupted view at sunrise. If you’re 4WDing, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have your own little private spot as well!
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
Day 5 – Exploring Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
Time driving: 1hr 20min
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 Uluṟu.
It’s no wonder this is a sacred site for the local Aṉangu people. In a landscape void of almost anything, a monolith of this size is something that’ll leave you in awe.
About 55km down the road from Uluṟu is Kata Tjuṯa, the grouping of huge rocky domes that some might argue are maybe more awe-inspiring than Uluṟu. The largest is over 500m high and there’s a multitude of walks you can do between the domes and creek beds.
The Mereenie Loop truly captures everything that makes the outback, and Australia what it is.
Please note! It can get real hot here. If you’re hiking, start in the early morning, take plenty of water and a hat. Some of the walks close if the temperature reaches 36 degrees or above so take care!
Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather
- A 4WD
- Food, water and cooking utensils
- UHF or satellite phone (mobile coverage is patchy)
- First aid kit
- Camping supplies
It’s not a hard trip, but as always, common sense is a must when driving off-road and in remote areas.
Distance Covered / Time Driving / Days
780 km give or take / 9hr / 5
Explore a little deeper into the heart of Australia – Get Out There into The Red Centre now!