Every Australian feels the pull of the Red Centre, yet many of us leave it until we retire to visit. There are so many active adventures on offer, it pays to get out there sooner. While fighting fit, make sure the action-packed 200km-long West MacDonnell Ranges is on your bucket list.
For everyone: A real Red Centre highlight is swimming in the gorges of the West MacDonnell Ranges. Must-dip spots include Ellery Creek Big Hole and Ormiston Gorge.
The Simpson Gap bike path is a pleasant, easy ride best enjoyed between April and October, when days are cooler – no matter how fit you are, please don’t tackle this in high summer. The path is 17km one way from John Flynn’s Grave to Simpson Gap. Families should allow four hours to complete this stretch, stopping to enjoy a picnic and take in the views along the way. You’re likely to see lizards and wallabies en route. Alice-based cycle store Longhorn rents out bikes for $30 a day (longhorncouncil.org). Mountain bikes, kids’ bikes and bikes with baby carriers are available, and the staff can suggest suitable routes.
Avid cyclists can turn the ride into a 48km endurance test by starting in Alice and taking the bike path west for 7km to Flynn’s Grave, doing the return Simpson Gap ride, then heading back to Alice.
For fitness freaks: Take a bike ride on rough terrain on the Araluen Mountain Bike Trails. The Central Australian Rough Rider Mountain Bike Club (centralaustralianroughriders.asn.au) conducts social rides along 15km of fire trails and single tracks every Wednesday night. The Hump Rides, as they call them, start at 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer, setting off from the Alice Springs Scout Hall offLarapinta Drive. Suitable for advanced, intermediate and beginner riders.
The Larapinta Trail (www.larapintatrail.com,au) is just over 220km long and follows theWestMacDonnellRanges from the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs toMountSonder. The best time to tackle this rugged track in full is between June and August. It is not recommended from October to February. The trail is broken into 12 sections of 9-29km, so you can do a section a day. The longest day’s hike is about 10 hours. While the track is well signposted, planning your trip well is vital – there are no convenience stores along the way. There are tanks at each trail head to top up your water and you can organise food drops.
Rock climbers will find plenty of crags to conquer in both the West and EastMacDonnellRanges. They may not be the grandest of peaks, but they are pretty spectacular for bouldering and climbing. Grab a copy of Rock Climbing in Central Australia by Krish Seewraj, $35 online at Open Spaces bookstore, www.osp.com.au.
For the less mobile: The Dolomite Walk, a lovely 3km loop around Ormiston Gorge, is 90km west of Alice Springs. It gives a little taste of the Larapinta Trail – sections six and seven begin here. Also great for bird watching, swimming, camping and resting in the shade of beautiful ghost gums by one of NT’s most picturesque waterholes.
If your stay is short, or if you can’t get out of town, a trip to Alice Springs Desert Park offers an insight into Central Australian fauna and flora. A gentle walking trail takes you through three distinct ecosystems – woodland, sand country and desert rivers. Entry: adults $20; kids (aged 5-15) $10; www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au.
Where to stay: There’s heaps of accommodation in Alice Springs, but if you want to get out amongst it, take your tent. Redbank Gorge offers two campsites with basic amenities (ie, pit toilets). This tranquil campsite is 156km from Aliceand about 5km along a dirt road off Namatjira Drive(4WD recommended). There are gas barbies at the first camp you come to, but the second camp has amazing views to MountSonder. You can also camp at Ellery Creek Big Hole, but you’ll no doubt have to share this beauty spot with others. For info on campsites and how to obtain permits, go to www.nt.gov.au/nreta.