The Mereenie Loop Rd, No 7 of Australia’s Greatest Drives
This is as Australian as it gets. All the great icons of the outback in one four-day trip: Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru. From Alice, head west through the ancient, purple West Macdonnell Ranges to Hermannsburg, home of Albert Namatjira, then on to the Mereenie Loop Road. This dirt track will take you to Kings Canyon, where you can hook up with the bitumen road to Uluru.
Highlights along the way include Glen Helen Gorge, the Gardner Range, Finke Gorge, Mount Connor and Palm Valley. 4WD is recommended on the Meerenie, although conventional cars have been known to survive the trip. Don’t even think of setting out without at least two spare tyres, though. The road is unkind, and in the words of one local: “I’ve never had less than two flats on the road.” If you can wait until 2007, it’s going to be sealed. But go now, before the caravans get there. Interestingly, the Loop will take you through areas where ten distinct Aboriginal languages are spoken. Also, a permit is required to travel on the Loop. You can obtain them from the Central Land Council in Alice Springs ( 8953 4345), Glen Helen Resort, Hermannsburg Petrol Station and Kings Canyon Resort. They cost just $2, even though they actually cost more than that to make . . . which is pretty cool when you think about it.
Total distance: around 1080km
Day 1: Alice Springs to Kings Canyon, 330km
Day 2: Kings Canyon to Ayers Rock Resort, 305km
Day 3: Ayers Rock Resort to Uluru, 18km
Day 4: Ayers Rock Resort to Alice Springs, 445km
Slow down for . . .
- Gorge yourself at Serpentine Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm.
- Take an icy dip at Ellery Creek Big Hole. Only in Australia could you find a spot so intoxicatingly beautiful and have the entire place to yourself.
- Join the hundreds of other tourists at the viewing platforms to watch sunset and sunrise over Uluru. But don’t join them on the climb, though: the traditional owners would prefer it if you didn’t. Walk the 9km track around the base instead, it’s much more fun.
- Get up early and tackle the 6km Rim Walk at Kings Canyon and beat the heat and flies. One of the best short walks in the country, the first half-hour or so is a tough climb – but if you can make it that far, the remainder of the two- to three-hour walk is an easy rim-stroll, where breathtaking 300m sheer cliffs cut deep into the rock.
- Spend some time at Alice Springs Desert Park, a zoo, botanic garden and museum all wrapped up in one superb arid landscape park.
Best kept secret
Kata Tjuta, 53km from Ayers Rock Resort, with its huge, weathered domes, is just as impressive as Uluru. The 8km Valley of the Winds walk winds along a rocky trail past sheer rock faces and unusual rock formations to a magnificent lookout.
It’s not cheap, but the Sounds of Silence dinner atop a sand dune in the desert near Ayers Rock Resort is not your average bush BBQ. After tucking into fine wines, fresh barramundi, lamb, kangaroo and emu steaks, bush vegetables and luscious desserts, the lanterns are dimmed, the port poured and the legends of the southern sky are explained by a local astronomer.
Accommodation pick of the bunch
Lost Camel Hotel, Yulara.
phone: 1300 134 044
More info: www.travelnt.com