The Red Centre has always been a bright beacon glowing from our nation’s heart, and the newly-launched Red Centre Light Trail just makes it official.

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures take place who have occupied and cared for these lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


I recently spent a week in Central Australia, soaking up rays from sun up to sun down – and gazing at the stars overhead in between – on the Red Centre Light Trail

Through a combination of light installations, sunrise and sunset experiences, and of course the expansive night sky, this lap of The Red Centre’s most iconic landmarks is also a tour of its radiance.

Here’s how to get the most out of the vivid natural and artistic light shows that brighten The Red Centre.

Just follow the light!

Alice Springs

Morning – Outback Ballooning

On your first full day in Alice Springs, it’s only right to start it by getting your bearings and gaining a bird’s eye view of the expansive desert you’ve landed amongst. 

Outback Ballooning is the only place in Australia where you can drift 300 metres above the remote Outback and welcome the first rays of light to a new day. 

Uniquely, the Outback Ballooning experience takes place in a single large balloon, so the sweeping views across the desert sand, over to Alice Springs and beyond to the snaking ridges of the MacDonnell Ranges, both West and East, will be completely uninterrupted. 

That soft early morning light that streams across the boundless plains will warm you up from the inside out. 

Oh and don’t fear, hot air ballooning is quite a peaceful experience, as you’re moving with the air currents rather than against them, there’s no turbulence or vibrating, just calm drifting.

Evening – Earth Sanctuary or Partijmma in April

With your feet firmly back on red dirt, spend your evening looking up instead to the glimmering lights at the Alice Springs’ Earth Sanctuary

Sitting on the outskirts of town and overlooking the less-wandered East MacDonnell Ranges, the Earth Sanctuary is your ticket to the stars with a nighttime view of the galaxy, and a damn clear one at that. 


Photo by Tourism NT/Tourism Australia

With a variety of astronomy tours to choose from, ranging from a 1.5 hour group tour to a sunset to sunrise experience, Earth Sanctuary gives you the chance to step beyond the earthly realm for a while and play among the stars. 

Hot tip! If you’re visiting Alice Springs in April, make sure to spend an evening at Partijmma, The Red Centre’s festival of light, where stunning light installations are projected across the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges. Plus, it’s free!


Photo by Tourism NT/Daniel Tran

West MacDonnell Ranges

Morning – Sunrise from Mount Sonder Lookout

There are few places more well-positioned for sunrise than the tip-top of Mount Sonder. The famous endpoint of the Larapinta Trail along the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges, Mount Sonder can be summited in time to greet the day – you just have to be prepared for an early rise. 

This section of the Larapinta Trail is accessible from the Redbank Gorge Day Use Area, and totals 15km to the summit and back again. For most hikers, it’ll take around six hours to complete, so to be there in time to catch the sun break over the horizon, you’ll need to be on the trail early – I’m talking 3:30am early. 

The hike to the summit is mostly uphill and can be quite exposed to the elements, so pack for wind, fog, and bring your headtorch! The walk back down is a nicer amble that’ll land you back at Redbank Gorge raring for a freshwater swim. 

Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes

Photo by Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught

Afternoon – Standley Chasm

This is a special inclusion and a must-visit as you head deeper into the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Range. Every day for a little while around noon, the soaring 80-metre tall sandstone cliffs of Standley Chasm deepen in colour with the glow of the midday sun. The red and orange hues of the narrow and impressive chasm have been carved out by a small flow of the Finke River system. 

If you’re lucky and position yourself juuust right, you might be able to catch a snap of the light flashing between the walls of the slender three-metre wide gorge. 

The walk to Standley Chasm is short and even wheelchair friendly, so everyone can join. You’ll just need to pay a small fee to enter as it’s Aboriginal-owned and managed. 

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

Kings Canyon

Morning – Sunrise Hike Up Kings Canyon Rim Walk

The 6km hike up, around, and down the perimeter of Kings Canyon is the best way to get up close and personal with this unforgettable outback wonder. 

We woke before the sun and raced the gaining light up the side of the cliff, followed it along the ridgeline and between the hundreds of domes that cover the roof of the range until its rays were spraying over the impressively sheer canyon walls. 

Read more: The Kings Canyon Rim Walk is Spectacular, Especially at Sunset

Photo by Tourism NT/Mitchell Cox

Possibly the most special part of this walk is around halfway when the trail escapes the light, dipping down into the canyon, placing you at the most reverent of waterholes, the Garden of Eden. Don’t bypass this detour, but give yourself a minute to catch your breath, sit in the shade, and soak in the stillness. 


Evening – Light Towers

Come evening, Disovery Kings Canyon Resort puts on a show. The newly installed Light Towers is another lightbulb moment of Bruce Munro’s come to life in The Red Centre. 

As the sun dropped behind us and the glowing ruby red of the George Gill Range slowly began to fade, the varicoloured and everchanging lights of 69 Light Towers began to catch my eye. 

From the deck at Lutrijta Lookout where we’d been sipping on sundowners and grazing on canapes, we followed the raised path towards the mesmerising installation. As I stepped down onto the soft desert dirt, the true size of these towers became apparent, with each one standing well above my head. Each light tower consists of a metal frame with 216 glass bottles stuffed with solar-powered fairy lights. The lights slowly cycle through a myriad of bright shades as a cappella chorale music in many languages thrums through your eardrums and the surrounding desert.

It’s a mesmerising and grounding experience well worth including on your itinerary.

Read more: Lights, Canyon, Action: Experiencing the Red Centre’s Newest Light Installation


Uluṟu & Kata Tjuṯa

Morning – Sunrise at Uluṟu & Mala Walk

Witnessing the day’s first sunlight strike the imposing force of Uluṟu is one of the most special mornings you could conjure. Get there early, take a jumper, and maybe something to make coffee on the go, and just bask in the glory of it all. 


After surrendering to sunrise, the next best move to make is to head towards the rock (like there was any other direction you’d be going) and get to the Mala car park in time to join one of the national park rangers on a guided tour of the Mala Walk

The Mala Walk covers around the first 500 metres of the 10km trek around Uluṟu and passes a handful of caves with significant rock artworks. Sure you could just read the signs yourself, but having a ranger explain the cultural wealth that this small section of the rock holds is a privilege. 

The Mala Story, that’ll surely be shared with you on the tour, is also the basis for Wintjiri Wiru, the new drone and light show performed every night at Uluṟu. Listening and learning about the Mala Story here first will give you bountiful more context when you watch the show for yourself.

Read more: Drones Over Uluṟu? Wintjiri Wiru Combines Ancient Storytelling With Modern Technology


Evening – Wintjiri Wiru

Round out your understanding of the Mala Story and spectate the world’s largest permanent drone show all at once with a ticket to Wintjiri Wiru. 

The newest kid on the light show block, but certainly the most spellbinding, Wintjiri Wiru takes place amongst Country, with the silhouette of Uluṟu as the backdrop and the dunes, flora, and sky as the stage. 

Using a combination of 1,200 light drones, lasers, projections, music, and aural storytelling, the local Anangu share the Mala Story, a section of a larger Dreamtime story that runs from Kaltukatjara (Docker River) to Uluṟu. 

With two viewings of the show happening each night, it’s up to you whether you enjoy sunset, cocktails, and canapes amongst the dunes before watching the night sky light up, or you wait for the later viewing after dinner with some boutique snacks. 

Either way, watching the landscape lit up with a Dreamtime story is an experience not to be overlooked.

Morning – Field of Light

Most people visit the Field of Light at dusk, but few know that you can take in the endless glow of Bruce Munro’s most famous Aussie installation in the quiet hours of the morning. 

The thousands of coloured lights sprawled across the desert floor are reminiscent of Indigenous dot paintings, creating patterns and shapes amongst the most serene of landscapes. 

The culmination of natural and human-made light to create such a sensational scene is a wondrous way to welcome the day. 

Photo by Tourism NT/Tourism Australia

Evening – Tali Wiru

To seal the deal on a truly unforgettable and illuminating trip to the Red Centre, it only makes sense to spoil yourself one last time before heading back to reality. And there’s no better way to do it than with the under-the-stars dining experience that is Tali Wiru

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so fancy as I did during my hours here. Dropped amongst the dunes between Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa, each on the opposing sides of the horizon, we were greeted with sparkling wine, the setting sun, a heartwarming fire, and the sounds of the didgeridoo.


Canapes were passed around and the head chef gave us an insight into the native flavours we’d taste over the night before we settled in for a sensational three-course meal under the desert night sky. Between mains and dessert, all the surrounding lights were switched off, and the full Milky Way and Old Man Emu came into view as we were treated to an astronomy lesson. 

Topped off with a hot chocolate and cognac around the fire, Tali Wiru is a special way to cheers a great trip around the Northern Territory’s radiant Red Centre.