The Great Australian Outback: Uluru to Alice Springs

The Outback is something Casey and I have both seen in movies and it was a surreal to experience it ourselves. What we didn't see or realize from watching the movies was the amount of time we'd spend driving through the desert or just how hot it would get here. It's an experience we will never forget and likely one we'll never experience again in our lifetime. We have A LOT of pictures to share from the Outback so be sure to get through this entire post and check out the gallery at the end.

Before you read on about our adventure, I have a pop quiz.

Which of the following animals did we see in the Outback?

a: kangaroos

b: cows

c: emus

d: camels

e: all of the above

Keep reading to find out what animals we saw!

We made it to the Northern Territory (aka the Outback) of Australia


In all we spent six days in the outback with most of our time spent driving through flat desert plains and the “bush” as the Australians refer to it. We were surrounded by many cows and kangaroos throughout our journey and we passed very few cars. It took 16 hours to drive from Adelaide to Uluru and we split this up over two days. Half way through we stopped in Coober Pedy, a small mining town. We pulled in at noon and it was already 115°F. Coober Pedy appeared to be somewhat of a ghost town. There were houses built into the hills underground, known as “dugouts” and we learned most of the town was built underground to keep cool. Lonely Planet recommended a few museums and attractions to visit in town but due to the extreme heat, everything was closed. It was too hot to stay in town, so we fueled up, and got back on the road.

Coober Pedy is famous for opal mining. We hoped to check out an underground museum

or property but unfortunately everything was closed when we passed through because it was too hot.

30km north of Coober Pedy is The Breakaways Conservation Park. The Breakaways consists of large, colorful mounds which appear to be trying to “breakaway” from the surrounding desert. The area is also known to be sacred among the aboriginals and locals in the area. We had a quick stop for sandwiches to enjoy the scenery but didn’t stay more than 20 minutes because of the heat.

A nice break for lunch and pretty views of the Breakaways

The van needed a wash after driving through the desert

The Breakaways

We didn’t make it to Uluru that evening and eventually pulled off at a campsite and set up camp for the night. We cooked a quick dinner, then retreated to the van to escape the flies as dusk was setting. With no lights in sight, the stars were really amazing. Similar to what we experienced in New Zealand, you could see the milky-ness of the milky way, and thousands of stars in every direction you looked. Another reason we retreated to the van was to avoid any dingos that might be out. We heard their howls but didn’t actually encounter any in the desert.

The next morning we made it to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock and Kata Tjuta. Uluru is an ancient, sacred landscape and is a very important part of the Aboriginal history. Kata Tjuta is also an important part of aboriginal culture. Kata Tjuta, meaning ‘many heads’ is made up of 36 large domes. The park offers activities for everyone, whether you’re into hiking, biking or just learning about the rich cultural history. We opted for hikes and a walk around the cultural center but we did see they offer segway tours, bike rentals, camel tours and helicopter tours. They also have a nighttime light exhibit for those wanting to see Uluru after the park closes.

During the summer, most trails are only open 5am to 11am due to the extreme heat, so be sure sure to plan accordingly and wake up early. Because we arrived after 11am our first day, we were limited to the few trails open but we still managed to do 3 easy hikes around Kata Tjuta.

The first hike was to the the main dune viewing platform. This is an easy 30 minute round trip hike. Once you reach the viewing area, there are wonderful panoramic views of Kata Tjuta in the distance. We didn’t see anyone on this hike and had the viewing platform to ourselves.

The beginning of the Kata Tjuta Dune Walk

Selfie with Kata Tjuta in the background (and bug nets of course to help keep the flies off our faces)

Views of Kata Tjuta

The view of Uluru from the first viewing platform

Valley of the Winds was our second hike of the day. It’s a loop around and through Kata Tjuta. Unfortunately the full loop closed at 11am but the track to the first viewing platform was still open. This was a moderate, 1 hour roundtrip hike. At the top, there are breathtaking views into a valley. Once again, we didn’t spot anyone during the hike. Had the full track been open, we would have continued down into the valley and into the heart of Kata Tjuta.

It was tough hiking in this extreme heat, but the view at the end was worth it​

Taking in the views

It was crazy being the only two people on the trail. This was a first for us compared to other hikes we've done while traveling.

​​Shots from the Valley of the Winds hike

Views of the valley at the end of the hike. We couldn't continue into

the valley because it was 2pm and this part of the trail closed at 11am.

More beautiful valley views

Our final short hike was to the Walpa Gorge - a moderate, 1 hour round trip hike. This was our favorite hike of the day. The trail takes you along a natural creek between two of the tallest domes of Kata Tjuta. Hiking here makes you feel small right between the enormous red rugged dome walls.

The beginning of the hike. Hannah's up there in the distance

Mid hike

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" - a motto we try to live by daily and a simple reminder on our hike

A quick rest before continuing toward the gorge

Nearing the end of the hike, the gorge in the distance and domes on both sides towering over us

After our hikes, we hurried back to our campground for a dip in the pool, before heading back to Uluru to enjoy the sunset. The sunset was nothing short of picturesque. As the sun set on Uluru, the rock changed from a bright orange color, to lighter shades of purple and red.

Waiting for the sun to set on Uluru

Uluru in the palm of our hands. Our Aussie friends and my

Hoover grandparents told us a lot about Uluru. We're so glad we got to see this!

Beautiful Uluru behind us as we wait for the sun to set

We were in awe of this beautiful sight. Watching the sun set on it was even more amazing. As the sun sets, the color of the rock changes.

Our second day we were up by 5am to catch the sunrise and walk around the base of Uluru. As the sun began to rise, Uluru changed colors from a light red to a full dark red color. Around 7am, after the sun was almost fully up, we started on the trail around the rock. The rock was massive and you can really sense this right at the base, compared to seeing it from a distance. The trail is 10.6km and takes 3 hours to hike. We maintained a good pace and walked through the gorges and side trails to get the full experience. The ground was very hard and there are parts of the trail you find yourself walking on the rock itself. For us, it’s still a mystery how Uluru got it’s shape. We read it’s been weathered to get its shape but we never did find out how it came to existence in the first place. Casey thinks it was part of a large asteroid shower - especially because it seems so out of place on its own in the desert.

We loved our early morning hike around Uluru. It was hot and we understand why the trails close at 11am during the hot summer days.

We thought the formation in the rock here looked like Darth Vader

There are so many picturesque spots we found walking around the base of Uluru.

A historical site at the base of Uluru. We learned that aboriginals that lived here used this space to teach young children.

There are certain parts of the rock where you can still see art on the rock.

Looking small next to Uluru

All smiles

Just beautiful. Being here was so peaceful.

A picture of Uluru as the sun was rising. We have so many more photos

of Uluru to share. Check the gallery at the bottom of this post!

If you plan to visit Uluru, we recommend visiting during the winter months (Australia winter months are June through August). Although there will be much more tourists present than when we were there, the temperatures will be much more bearable and you’ll be able to fully enjoy your time there.

In the summer there are also pesky flies everywhere in the outback. We purchased bug nets to cover our face. Without the nets, the flies would've been in our faces the entire time we were hiking. At one point during a hike I counted 20+ files swarming Casey. The locals said the flies die off during cooler temperatures and are usually gone by May.

Protection from all the flies! Bug nets are a must have during the summer in the outback.

If you do find yourself here in the summer months, we highly recommend booking a hotel or campground with a pool. The heat is just too extreme and camping is almost unbearable without AC or a refreshing pool to cool off in. We opted for the Ayers Rock Resort Campground and really enjoyed the pool after hiking during the day.

Even with the heat, our time at Uluru went by fast and before we knew it we were back on the road in route to Alice Springs. The drive between Uluru and Alice Springs was about 6 hours and was our easiest drive through the outback. Alice Springs is located in the Northern Territory (NT), pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country, and has the second largest population after NT’s capital, Darwin.

In Alice Springs we visited the Desert Park, an environmental educational facility home to an array of Australian wildlife. We got up close and personal with kangaroos, dingos, emus, birds and other reptiles. The highlight of the Desert Park is the 11am bird show. The show features many different bird species. The birds do tricks, swoop above your heads, sing songs and more.

A walk around the kangaroo exhibit. All of the kangaroos were resting in the shady areas.

This is one of the largest kangaroos we saw during our 5 weeks in Australia. We were able to walk right up to this big guy.

After the Desert Experience, we were back on the road in route to Cairns. This is where things got really long and really interesting/boring. What we expected to complete in a day (ahem, don't always rely on Google) turned into 2.5 full days of driving through the desert before arriving at our next destination. Friends from Australia has warned us the drive was long, but we didn’t know it would be this long. Luckily we had plenty of food and water. We started with a full tank of gas and filled up on the rare occasions we did see a gas station. Casey posted about this drive on Facebook and I think his commentary sums it up. For those that don't follow Casey on Facebook, I'm sharing it below.

Even though the drive was long, we found ways to pass the time. We played car games - such as 20 questions. I read the same book twice during the drive (once to myself and then aloud to Casey while he drove). We also took it slow to get up close to the wildlife. In addition to the many cows and kangaroos, we were lucky to see emus and camels. The emus were wild and weren’t very bothered by cars. We saw a mother emu and her babies crossing the road as a large semi truck approached. Luckily the driver spotted them and stopped to let them cross. We also came across a camel farm. We were surprised we didn’t see any camels in the wild. Our Australian friends were certain we would, but a camel farm would do. I’ve seen camels before but it was Casey’s first camel spotting and he was excited about it.

Why'd the emu cross the road? Not sure, but luckily they made it to the other side safely

An emu family. Running into these animals was so unexpected and we were excited to witness this

Our first and surprisingly only camel spotting in the outback

To sum up our outback experience, it’s one we’ll never forget! 55+ hours driving. Approximately 2,600 miles. Temperatures as high as 115°F and more cows and kangaroos than we've ever seen before. We also witnessed some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Should we decide to visit again in the future, I think we’ll cough up the extra bucks to fly in and out. :)

An amazing outback sunrise. We woke around 6:15am this morning after sleeping in the van.

The sun was just starting to rise and this was our view from the van.

It only lasted a few minutes but it was SO worth waking up early for this view.

A beautiful outback sunset.

Back to the pop-quiz. By now you've probably figured out which animals we encountered in the outback. If you said (e) all of the above, you are correct! Did anyone guess E?

Did you know?

Uluru is taller than the Eiffel Tower, standing at 348 meters. The Eiffel Tower is 324 meters tall.

Travel Tips

We’ve said it above and we’ll say it again - plan to visit Uluru and the Australian outback during the Australian winter months of June, July, or August. Otherwise, be prepared for the extreme heat. If you’re driving, bring lots of water and make sure you have a full tank of gas or fill up whenever you see a gas station. It is also a very good idea to have a spare tire or two available. A lot of things can go wrong on the remote Outback roads and there are very few people or mechanics around to help.

We also recommend not driving at night. Kangaroos are nocturnal and are known to be more active at night. Sadly there is a lot of roadkill and it’s evident these happen overnight when the critters are out. Free range cattle also roam where ever they'd like, including the roads.

Photo gallery

#Outback #Australia #Uluru #Kangaroos

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