Cultural highlights Red Centre Uluru

Australia’s Red Centre is Australia’s true outback. An awe-inspiring landscape of ancient mountain ranges, desert plains and weathered gorges, including the unmistakable Uluru / Ayres Rock monolith and the nearby rock domes of Kata Tjuta / Mount Olga. This land wears history and myth close to the surface, and for a real connection, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich Aboriginal culture of the region.

Dream mythology is central to Aboriginal culture; a complex and interconnected fabric of stories linking spiritual experiences with the natural world, and a way of life that echoes over 50,000 years of history. Many places in the Northern Territory have spiritual significance, which means that access and/or photography may be restricted. Please respect people’s beliefs and ask guides for advice.

1) Art in Alice

Credit: Discover Central Australia

Many of our Uluru tours depart from Alice Springs – the gateway to the Red Centre. It’s the gateway not only for its access to the striking landscapes of the MacDonnell Ranges and the Larapinta Trail, and beyond to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, but also to gain an insight into Aboriginal Australia. The town boasts an abundance of art centres, museums, and galleries, which are rich with the stories that infuse the land. You might consider arriving the day before your tour, or staying a day after to check them out.

Start your exploration with a visit to Araluen Cultural Precinct, the cultural hub of Alice Springs, and browse the galleries, museums, and sculpture gardens to appreciate the great diversity of traditional and contemporary Indigenous art.

Some local artists offer hands-on workshops from their studios, based in Alice or on nearby Native Title lands, which offers creative types a unique experience to learn new techniques, listen to stories of the artist’s life and culture, and craft an individual memento of their time in the Red Centre.

2) Dusk Dreaming in Uluru’s Field of Lights 

Credit: Ayers Rock Resort

Watching the changing colours sweep the landscape during the famous Uluru sunset (a highlight of our Uluru trips!) inspired artist Bruce Munro to create the Field of Lights installation. Named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku in the local Pitjantjatjara language, “looking at lots of beautiful lights”, more than 50,000 elegant solar spheres sprouting from slender stems sparkle into life as dusk falls across the red dust, tracing the changing evening light and the scattering of stars overhead.

Rhythms pulse and patterns reveal themselves, drawing you into pathways leading through the lights, or you can enjoy a panoramic view with one of several drinks, dining, or performance tour options on offer. Sunset, sunrise, and night-time tours are available.

Following a global tour, the installation will be hosted at the Ayres Rock Resort between January 2018 and December 2020. Admission charges vary depending on the package chosen.

3) Trek the trails at Kata Tjuta/ Mount Olga 

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Around 50km from the monumental monolith of Uluru, the 36 weathered rock domes of Kata Tjuta tower over the desert floor. Like their more famous neighbour, they glow in the light of the rising and setting sun, and the ancient rocks appear to change colour through the day. The whole landscape resonates with a deep power.

The Valley of the Winds circuit is one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding bushwalking trails in Kata Tjuta. The hike is best started in the early morning, avoiding midday heat, but also giving a delicious sense of solitude, with only the sound of birdsong on the wind for company. The trail weaves through gorges, hiding and revealing breathtaking views of ancient, wind-sculpted domes and the red dust desert beyond.

The ancient rocks of Walpa Gorge are bathed in sunlight in the afternoon, and a gentle 2.6km trail winds its way under the towering walls of the gorge to a grove of trees protected from the harsh, hot desert. Look out for kangeroos and rock wallabies seeking refuge from the sun, and rare plants sprouting from cracks in the rock.

You can read more about our tours to Kata Tjuta here.

4) Strike Gold in Arltunga 

Credit: Discover Central Australia

European settlement in the Red Centre was driven by rumours of gold in the desert dust by Outback explorers and camel train drivers crossing from Port Darwin to the coast of South Australia. The first official town in Central Australia, Arltunga was founded in the 1887 gold rush, and boasted a population of around 3,000 in its heyday. Prospectors had to slog 600km from the railway line at Oodnadatta on foot, carrying their belongings, to stake their claim and seek their fortune.

The population dwindled in the next 40 years, as Alice Springs became the commercial centre of the region, and when a mission established for Aboriginal people was relocated away in the 1950s, it was the final knell for Arltunga. The harsh dry climate let to the excellent preservation of the buildings in town, miners camps, and the mine workings themselves.

The visitor centre provides an insight into life in a prospecting town, and you can try your hand at panning for alluvial gold. On the edge of the Historic Reserve is a fossicking area, where serious fortune hunters can try their luck to catch that unmistakable glint of gold.

5) Discover Rock Art at Cave Hill

One of the most significant Aboriginal rock-art sites in the Red Centre, Cave Hill is sacred to the indigenous Angau people, the traditional owners of the land, and only accessible to visitors as part of a small group tour. In a company of a guide, you’ll travel by 4WD into a remote and rarely visited tribal lands to meet your Angau hosts, try some tradtional bush tucker, and learn about the Songlines that cross the land.

Connecting together movement and rhythm, navigation and ancestry, legend and culture, Songlines are dreaming-tracks that reveal the stories of the land and its people, handed down across generations. Through storytelling, song, and magnificent rock art, you’ll gain a unique insight into the history and culture of the indigenous people of central Australia.

From the top of Cave Hill you’ll have spectacular views across the desert plains to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and the towering Musgrave ranges.

Contact us if you have questions about planning your trip to the Red Centre – otherwise, follow this link to learn about our authentic, small group tours that explore the Red Centre’s history, cultural highlights and incredible landscapes.

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