After spending almost 2 years living in Australia and exploring many parts of this massive country, Dawn and her family were looking for one last adventure to close out their time down under.
They had explored the coasts of Australia but knew that they needed to experience the heart of Australia. 4WD adventure was on the cards.
Find out how to make the most of your 4WD trip with three kids in tow.
Written by Dawn Nicholson www.5losttogether.com.
Alice Springs - Alice Springs
Best Time of the Year
March - November
- 4WDing on the Mereenie Loop
- Seeing Uluru for the first time
- Epic hiking at King’s Canyon
- Learning about Aboriginal culture
Alice Springs to Uluru
Distance 450km - Driving Time 5.5 hours
We drove our Britz vehicle up from Melbourne but starting and finishing your Red Centre road trip in Alice Springs is the most convenient. On your first day, pick up your vehicle and head south on the Stuart Highway towards Uluru. As you are leaving town, stop for the obligatory photo at the Alice Springs sign. Take the sealed Lasseter highway and marvel at the colours and life in the desert. Keep your eyes peeled for camels, kangaroos and dingoes on this stretch of road. Stop for lunch at one of the Outback’s classic roadhouses for a burger with the lot – try Stuarts Well Roadhouse or Erldunda Roadhouse.
As we headed towards Uluru, we saw the impressive Mt Connor, which many mistake for Uluru. After checking into our campground at the Ayers Rock Resort, we headed to Uluru for sunset. Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of this special place.
We got there 30 minutes before sunset and set up a little picnic as we watched the shades of red change on Uluru as the sun went down. It was our first night in our rooftop tent and we felt like serious Aussie campers.
Day 2 was all about experiencing Uluru up close because it is so much more than simply a rock. We started the day with the free Mala guided ranger walk at 8 am. This 1.5 hour long (2 km) walk takes you part of the way around the base as you learn about Anangu culture, the extensive rock art and how the park is managed.
Then we headed to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre where we learned more about the creation stories and saw artists at work in the Aboriginal art galleries. Next up we rented bikes from Outback Cycling and cycled the 10 km around the base. This was a really family friendly activity as they have lots of different bike configurations for kids and it is a great alternative to climbing Uluru. We loved being able to stop whenever we felt like it and going all the way around really allowed us to see all the different features of the rock.
Uluru to Kata Tjuta To Uluru
Distance 125km - Driving Time 1.5 hours
While Uluru gets the majority of the attention, you don’t want to miss Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas. We got an early start to the day so we could do the incredible Valley of the Winds walk. This 7.4 km walk took us 3-4 hours and we were glad we started early because it got very hot. The views were stunning and the rock formations beautiful.
We cooled off at the campground’s pool before our 2 pm Maruku Arts dot painting workshop. Here we met Millie, an Aboriginal artist who taught us about Anangu symbols and tools. We then got the chance to try to create our own dot painting masterpiece.
Uluru to King's Creek Station
Distance 265km - Driving Time 5 hours
After a few days in one spot, it was time to hit the road again. We headed back out on the Lasseter Highway and onto Red Centre Way towards King’s Canyon and Watarraka National Park. We were thrilled to spot some camels and a dingo on the drive.
We had booked in to do the Karrke Cultural tour at Kings Creek and it ended up being one of the highlights of our time in the Red Centre. Peter and Christine were incredible hosts as they shared with us their Aboriginal culture. The kids got to try their hand at grinding seeds and were really impressed when Peter pulled live witchetty grubs out of a tree root. We learned and got to examine the different types of bush fruits and watched as the witchetty grubs were prepared. They patiently answered the kids’ many questions and we felt so fortunate to participate and support this authentic and informative tour.
We arrived at our campground at Kings Creek Station, a working cattle station and a really unique place to stay. After a cold beer, we got some dinner prepared under the incredible stars in this remote location.
Kings Creek Station to Glen Helen
Distance 265km - Driving Time 5 hours
Another early start so we could do the much-raved about Kings Canyon Rim Walk. This 6 km walk is definitely worth the hype. On hot days, you need to start the walk before 9 am when the Rangers close it, due to safety. It starts steep at the beginning, but then levels out and you can enjoy stunning views of the canyon and walk through the contrasting lush Garden of Eden. It was the perfect place to fly our drone for some great photos from above.
Then it was time to relax in the car and enjoy the air conditioning as we headed towards the West MacDonnell Ranges via the Mereenie Loop. This was our first real stretch of Outback dirt road and we were so impressed with how the Landcruiser handled the corrugations. Having the red dirt road to ourselves and feeling so far away from civilization was exactly the Outback experience we were after. We even saw some wild horses!
To screams of joy from the kids, we got to test our 4WDing skills again on a side trip to Tnorala, a culturally significant massive comet crater. Next, we ascended to Tylers Pass Lookout for some beautiful views of Tnorala in the distance.
We arrived at the Glen Helen Resort looking very hard-core with our vehicle covered in red dirt. Sitting on the restaurant’s verandah enjoying a cold drink with beautiful views of the ranges was a pretty sweet way to end the day.
Glen Helen to Ormiston Gorge
Distance 12km - Driving Time 0.25 hours
We love being flexible on a road trip and so we gave ourselves a leisurely day today and covered only 12 km! After a few early morning days, it was nice to sleep in for a change. One of the things we were most looking forward to in the West Macs was the many swimming holes to cool down in. We had a morning swim in the refreshing Glen Helen Gorge before heading a few kilometres down the road to Ormiston Gorge.
We set up camp for the night and then did the 40-minute Ghost Gum Lookout walk where we got to see the gorge from above. The white trunks of the ghost gums that cling to the gorge walls with a backdrop of the red rocks make for a beautiful photo. We then rewarded ourselves with another swim at the gorge.
Ormiston Gorge is a stop on the popular Larapinta Trail, a multi-day hike through the West Macs. We met another family and enjoyed sharing our road trip stories over a campfire.
Ormiston Gorge to Alice Springs
Distance 135km - Driving Time 2 hours
Whilst this may look like a short drive day, we spent the whole day meandering towards Alice Springs as there are so many interesting places to stop along the way. After learning all about how ochre was used by the Aboriginal people at Uluru, visiting the ochre pits was an interesting stop. We got another opportunity to swim with a stop at Ellery Creek Big Hole. We then got our feet moving at Serepentine Gorge as we hiked up the ridge to the lookout for more great views. Seeing the light reflect off the red walls of Standley Chasm was another walk well worth doing. In fact, you could spend days exploring all the interesting places throughout the West Macs.
We checked in to the Big 4 MacDonnell Ranges caravan park in Alice Springs, which was a huge hit with the kids. This well-run park has new swimming pools with a big slide, jumping pillows, trampolines, playgrounds and wonderful amenities.
We treated ourselves to dinner at Monte’s Lounge - an outdoor, retro joint with cold drinks, great kids’ meals and kids play area.
Alice Springs has so many fun things to do with kids that it is definitely worth allocating a few days to explore. We started our day with a visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park where we learned about the wildlife that survives in this fragile environment. The free-flying bird show and the Nocturnal House with the thorny devil were our favourites.
We also visited the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and learned why it was so significant for Australia. At the Flying Doctor’s Service, we were all fascinated to hear about how medical care is delivered to people living in remote parts of Central Australia.
Camping each night throughout this trip had allowed us to see the incredible night sky of the Outback, but it was our Astronomy tour with Earth Sanctuary where we learned all about what we were seeing. Tommy and Danny showed us how to navigate with the stars, explained all about the constellations we were seeing and shared some Aboriginal stories about the sky.
We enjoyed a leisurely morning at the caravan park pool before taking in the view over Alice Springs from Anzac Hill. We had lunch at the stylish Page 27 Café and spent some time shopping along Todd Mall for some souvenirs to remember our amazing road trip.
We loved the freedom of seeing the Red Centre while camping with our Landcruiser. The memories we are taking home of the stunning landscape, cultural experiences and exciting adventures are priceless. This was the perfect active family trip for us and we are already planning a full lap of the country in the future!
Road Trip Highlights
Where was the best view?
The Kings Canyon Rim walk offers up so many incredible views.
Where did you stop for a picnic?
At the sunset viewing spot at Uluru – cocktails as we watched the red reflections off Uluru as the sunset.
Where was your favourite place/town visited and why?
Uluru. You see a million photos before, but nothing prepares you for seeing it in real life. It is so much more than just a rock; every time I caught a glimpse of it, it took my breath away.
What was your favourite experience/activity & why?
Karrke Cultural tour – intimate and authentic learning about Aboriginal culture.
4WDing on the Outback red dirt roads, seeing Uluru for the first time, spotting Aussie animals in the wild, camping in our cool rooftop tent, cooling down in the West Mac swimming holes, learning and appreciating Aboriginal culture, belting out Greatest Showman hits on the road, epic hikes throughout the Red Centre, exploring the many kid-friendly attractions in Alice Springs.
Best café for coffee?
Page 27 Café in Alice Springs for Melbourne-style coffee.
Monte’s in Alice Springs – cool vibe, kid-friendly, good, cheap food and drinks.
Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed in and why?
Ormiston Gorge for beautiful wilderness camping. The Big 4 MacDonnell Ranges (Alice Springs) for amazing amenities and lots of activities for the kids.
What would be your top tip for other campervan travellers?
Take advantage of the freedom of a self-drive holiday where you can stop wherever you like. If something catches your eye, pull over and check it out. If you are travelling with kids, get them involved in some of the pre-trip planning to get them excited.
Can you share a recipe for something you cooked in the campervan?
Vegetarian fajitas with capsicums, onions and black beans and delicious Mexican toppings.
What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday?
So hard to pick just one! 4WDing on the red dirt Mereenie Loop was really memorable. You were so aware of how large Australia is and felt a million miles away from everything.