It’s easy to enjoy the Red Centre on a shoestring budget, and you don’t have to rough it.
With the Northern Territory’s borders reopening and less people on the road, now is the time to journey to the Red Centre. Fuel prices are down and tourism operators are keen for company, so pack your bags and head to the heart of Australia for a budget-friendly holiday.
Day 1 – Alice Springs
Play: It may be one of the most geographically remote towns in Australia but the people of Alice Springs know how to keep you entertained, and many activities are kind on your wallet. Your first stop should be Anzac Hill, a memorial to fallen servicemen and women with fantastic views. It’s easy to reach and the sunsets here are special (and free). You’ll also want to spend time at Alice Springs Desert Park to learn about outback animals; entry costs $37 per adult. To prioritise money on activities and not just food, it’s a good idea to mix DIY meals with dinners out. Alice Springs Brewing Co. is a cool choice. It opened in 2018 and you can enjoy a burger (try the pulled pork) or wood-fired pizza (super cheese, please) for about $20.
Stay: You may be on a budget but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a few holiday perks, such as glamping. BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park has safari tents sleeping up to four, from $85 per night (minimum two-night stay). Children will love the pool, waterslide and BMX track, while parents will appreciate the camp kitchens, supermarket and access to fuel. Wow the kids by staying on a weekend so you can take advantage of the pancake breakfast held every Sunday.
Pay: $99.50 per person (based on two adults in accommodation)
Day 2 – Alice Springs
Play: Head out into the West MacDonnell Ranges for a morning of wild swimming. Two popular permanent waterholes are Ellery Creek Big Hole and Ormiston Gorge, and the cold water offers a refreshing break from the NT’s warm days. Jump Inn Bar & Restaurant is a fun spot for dinner, with retro lounges and a beer garden. A dish from the Mediterranean and Asian menu will set you back about $20.
Stay: Bed down at Desert Palms Alice Springs. Villas for two start from $145 per night; resort facilities include a pool and licenced mini-mart.
Pay: $92.50 per person
Day 3 – Alice Springs to Kings Canyon
Play: Hit the road early for your next adventure to Kings Canyon, in Watarrka National Park. You’ll be travelling south-west of Alice for about 450km and the easiest route is along the sealed Stuart and Lasseter highways (the other options require a 4WD). Mingle with other travellers over a late lunch at Kings Creek Station; the camel burger will cost about $15. Afterwards, continue up the road to Kings Canyon Resort, where you can catch sunset from a viewing platform and enjoy an al fresco film (for free).
Stay: Kings Canyon Resort has basic lodge rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities for about $155 for two people per night. Take advantage of the resort’s creature comforts, such as the pool, restaurant and bar.
Pay: $92.50 per person
Day 3 – Kings Canyon to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Play: Wake with the sun to make the most of the many walking trails in Watarrka National Park. Kings Canyon Rim Walk is a popular choice. It’s 6km and takes three to four hours, making it perfect for fit and experienced hikers. Kings Creek Walk is a gentler option and at only 2.6km it will take one hour (return). The creek track is great for families, and is wheelchair-friendly for the first 700 metres. For lunch, call Curtain Springs Wayside Inn to check if they’re serving (they’ll open if traffic warrants it). Expect to spend about $25 on a classic homestead meal, such as steak. You should also grab your three-day Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Pass today (adult $25). Entry fees have been waived for travel until 31 December 2020; book here. Cap off your day by watching the sun set over Uluru.
Stay: When it comes to Uluru accommodation, don’t look past Ayers Rock Campground, part of Ayers Rock Resort. If you don’t have camping gear, you can stay in an air-conditioned cabin (sleeps up to six) with shared bathroom facilities from $179 per cabin per night.
Pay: $92.50 per person (based on two adults in accommodation)
Day 4 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Play: Make the most of your park pass by hitting the trails again, this time in the shadow of Uluru. A favourite is the easy 2km Mala walk to Kantju Gorge, where you’ll come across caves and rock art. Also included in your park pass is entry to Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, home to galleries of Aboriginal art, community-owned shops, and free presentations. While it’s currently closed due to Covid, do call ahead in case it’s re-opened when you visit. A not-to-miss experience is the mesmerising Field of Light Uluru art installation. A huge swathe of desert is covered with 50,000 lights, leaving a lasting impression. Pre-book your tickets (adult $44).
Stay: Return to your two-bedroom cabin at Ayers Rock Campground and whip up an easy meal for dinner.
Pay: $133.50 per person (based on two adults in accommodation)
Day 5 – Uluru to Alice Springs
Play: It’s time to loop back to Alice Springs and, if you leave around breakfast, you can arrive in time for lunch at The Watertank Cafe. Cheers to an awesome, budget-friendly Red Centre trip while you enjoy a salad or focaccia and drink (about $25). Spend your afternoon learning about the town’s origins at Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve (adults $15) and then check out the fossils at the Megafauna Central gallery (free entry).
Stay: Spend your last night in a comfortable and modern serviced apartment at Quest Alice Springs. You can grab a studio with kitchenette and queen bed from $140 per night.
Pay: $110 per person (based on two adults in accommodation)