Why the Red Centre needs to be on your travel bucket list

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After over two years of no travel at all, I would have jumped at the chance to travel anywhere. But being invited to experience the best of Alice Springs (and the Red Centre) in the Northern Territory was even more than I could have asked for!

With incredible adventures, breathtaking views and a true connection to the land, the Red Centre needs to be on your travel bucket list. Here's four of our favourite must-do experiences:

1. Parrtjima - A Festival in Light

This event is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Think Sydney’s Vivid, but instead of the city, it's in the desert. The immersive music and stunning light installations celebrate culture, people and land. This year’s theme, ‘Sky Country’, focused on our place in the universe and the relationship First Nations people have with the environment.

Parrtjima - A Festival in Light is a 10-night, free event in Alice Springs, and it’s the only Aboriginal light, art, culture and music event of its kind… in the world! Running from 8-17 April 2022 (its seventh year so far), Parrtjima offers an incredible program of light installations, artworks, performances, interactive workshops, music, film, talks and nightly projections.

Opening weekend performances included the East Arnhem band King Stingray. Workshops included screen printing with House of Darwin, and seed jewellery making with the Ikuntji Artists.

My favourite part of Parrtjima was the jaw-dropping 'Ranges Show' that runs multiple times an evening. Stunning light projections are displayed on the ancient MacDonnell Ranges, turning them into a 300-million-year-old canvas.

2. Pyndan Camel Tracks Tour

Did you know Australia has the largest wild camel population in the world? I didn’t, and I was shocked when I found out! But camels are all the rage in Central Australia, so it was a must to experience them first hand.

Our camel's name was 'Good Boy' and he certainly was! What an awesome way to travel around the Red Centre.
Our camel's name was 'Good Boy' and he certainly was! What an awesome way to travel around the Red Centre.

Pyndan Camel Tracks Tour was an awesome way to travel the desert. Our cameleers were extremely knowledgeable, with information passed down from experienced Afghan cameleers. The tour lasted around an hour and consisted of a relaxing, scenic walk in the desert with remarkable views of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

The tour is totally family-friendly, although the camels are high up and can be a bit bumpy at times, so make sure you’re prepared!

3. Sunrise Outback Ballooning

If you’re wondering if hot air ballooning is worth the money: it is. Nothing can compare to the breathtaking views you get while floating in the sky. If you’re going for a sunrise tour, it’s an early wake up - we left around 5am - but it’s completely worth it.

Our tour was with Outback Ballooning, and they were fantastic. The shuttle picked us up from our hotel and took us straight to the take-off site (this changes every day, depending on weather and wind). Once you’re in the basket, the take-off is fast and smooth, and then you’re up in the air!

As the sun starts to rise, more and more of the Red Centre comes to life. The basket spins slowly as you’re flying, allowing you to see 360 degree views of the land and sunrise. The flight lasts for about an hour, and every second is spectacular.

Such an incredible way to experience Alice Springs.
Such an incredible way to experience Alice Springs.

4. West MacDonnell Ranges

If you’re keen to get in touch with nature, the West MacDonnell Ranges are the place to be. Filled with hidden gems around every corner, there is so much to explore.

Standley Chasm was a dream. The stunning orange tones of the rock were so vibrant, you couldn’t look away! We ended up sitting in the chasm for a while, taking in the sights and sounds of the bush. Guided tours are available too, if you’re keen to learn more about the history. We got to join in on an Aboriginal art class, where we painted our own wooden animals using traditional Aboriginal symbols to tell our story. The class was run by Traditional Owner and Elder, Colleen, who shared her stories as we painted.

It’s hot in the desert, so if you’re looking for a natural place to swim, visit Ellery Creek Big Hole. The Red Centre had a lot of rain in January, so everything was lush and green and the swimming holes were full. The water was crisp and fresh, making it a perfect way to experience the outback while staying cool!

Simpsons Gap was the last stop on our West Macs adventure and I could have stayed here forever! Only a short walk from the carpark, it’s a quick and easy, but spectacular thing to see. As you walk closer towards the Gap, you become surrounded by the ranges and feel completely immersed in the land. If you’re looking for a good photo op, Simpsons Gap over delivers!

If you’re looking for a good photo op, Simpsons Gap in the Red Centre over delivers!
If you’re looking for a good photo op, Simpsons Gap in the Red Centre over delivers!

Wondering where to stay?

We got to stay at the gorgeous Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters, just a short drive from town. Surrounded by the stunning MacDonnell Ranges, the hotel has a great variety of facilities and amenities including a beautiful resort pool, spa and sauna and fitness centre. The staff were helpful and friendly, making us feel at home for our entire stay.

You’ve got to get in quick though, Alice Springs is almost completely booked out for the next few months!

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