The beating heart of Australia is the perfect place for avid adventurers. This 5-day itinerary has everything for your inner thrill-seeker – from sky dives and hikes, to hot-air balloon rides and mountain biking adventures.
Day 1: Uluru, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
After witnessing the sun rise over Australia’s most moving massif Uluru– and enjoying a lazy breakfast inside Ayers Rock Resort – ramp up your adrenaline levels with a late-morning skydive.
This 10,000-foot drop ends with a serene float beneath a parachute and accompanying bird’s eye views of Uluru, Kata-Tjuta, Lake Amadeus and Mount Connor (known to locals as ‘fooluru’ owing to the site’s knack for fooling visitors into believing it is Uluru).
Cost: $403 (minimum two people)
As evening engulfs the Red Centre, cruise the rock’s perimeter on a Harley Davidson tour.
Harleys draw flack for their amplified engine noise and disturbance of the peace, yet surprisingly riding through the park on the back of one of these muscle machines can prove meditative. As you’re unable to talk for most of the tour’s one-hour duration, the only thing left to do is sit back, take in views of the rock and frame up your photos.
Riders often describe the experience as ‘flying through the air’.
Day 2: Kata-Tjuta, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
The name of this formation means ‘many heads’ and a trip to the park isn’t complete without exploring Kata Tjuta’s wondrous collection of domes and its ancient surrounds.
The best walk here is the 7.4-kilometre Valley of the Winds trail. The loop route leads through walls of towering rock into a valley bedded with bright green grass. The hike is challenging but rewarding – pack plenty of water and fly repellent for the journey.
For a shorter stroll, choose the 2.6-kilometre return Walpa Gorge walk. Kata Tjuta is especially stunning in the afternoon when sunlight fills the gorge.
Cost: park entry only, $25 per adult
Later still, as sunset falls over this site, hues appear in shades such as a gentle yellow, through to a blazing red, kidney-toned purple and smoky shade of charcoal. Look out for the two designated viewing areas – both locations are ideal platforms for taking in this impressive natural show.
Time: 6–7pm in winter; 7–8:30pm in summer
Cost: park entry only, $25
Day 3: Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park
Scenic flights operate from Yulara (Uluru), and if you’re willing to peel your eyes away from Uluru and Kata Tjuta, these tours can jet you as far away as Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
A half-day tour glides you over the great salt lakes of Lake Amadeus and pulls up stumps at the base of Kings Canyon. Here, you can stroll the canyon’s creek bed walk, or take the ‘slow flow’ option and have a coffee break.
Time: departures from sunrise
Heli-tour + Stroll
Drive into Kings Canyon (three hours from Uluru) and combine a 30-minute scenic flight – over Carmichaels Crag, George Gill Range and Hidden Valley – with the six-kilometre Kings Canyon Rim Walk.
The latter begins with a sharp ascent over rose-coloured rocks and boulders, then leads to the ‘The Garden of Eden’: a peaceful pool flanked by ferns and cycads. A black cockatoo’s flight from here lies the ‘Lost City’ – a series of domes that resemble giant beehives.
Time: departures from 8:30am
Day 4: Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park
Leaving Kings Canyon it’s time to hop from waterhole to waterhole in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park.
Two-and-a-half hours north-east of Kings Canyon, Ormiston Gorge is famed for its rugged four-hour Pound Walk and its ravishing waterhole, carpeted in white sand. Among the gorge’s cast of wildlife sits more fluorescent budgies, plus the once-thought-to-be-extinct central rock rat and long-tailed dunnart.
If you want more waterhole glory travel 30 minutes up Namatjira Drive to Ellery Creek Big Hole. Wedged between two rocky red cliffs rests a waterhole fringed by ghost gums. Head back toward Ormiston Gorge and recoup your energy with a pub meal at the nearby Glen Helen Lodge.
Time: up to you
Day 5: Alice Springs
Set off early for Alice Springs, which is 90 minutes away, to drink in the beauty of the outback from up high. Your 60-minute early morning balloon ride begins 15 kilometres south of Alice adjacent to the MacDonnell Ranges and over historic Owen Springs Cattle Station.
The flight is surprisingly silent and peaceful, allowing ample time to breathe in the vast, art canvas-style landscapes below. Keep your eyes peeled for passing clouds of parrots or for kangaroos leaping through the spinifex and mulga scrub.
Time: approx. 5:45am
Stretch your legs and amble four kilometres north to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the town’s first European settlement.
Built in 1872, this stone collective of buildings later became an Aboriginal school called The Bungalow.
Hire a mountain bike and glide along the series of winding trails that cut through the backcountry here – you’re bound to spot a wallaby or five on your two-wheeled travels.
Time: up to you
Cost: $65 for full-day mountain bike hire