The Red Centre Way: Part 1


We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of Country throughout Australia. We recognise the continuing connection to land, water, language and community. We pay our respect to the cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.

We are committed to walking lightly on the land of your ancestors, only taking knowledge and understanding, only leaving footprints and the whisper of our spirits, breathing in the awe of this great land we are privileged to call home. 

We come from the land of the Yugara and Yumambeh peoples and have stopped to rest and learn in the lands of the Arrernte, Matutjara, and Aṉangu peoples this last week.


The Red Centre Way is road that takes you on a journey from Alice Springs to Watarrka to Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. It guides you further into the heart of Australia and introduces you to the diverse landscapes of the Red Centre, uncovering the raw beauty of a number of our most precious land marks. It includes a short section of unsealed road (approx 150km) known as the Mereenie Loop Road between Glen Helen and Kings Canyon.

Mparntwe/Alice Springs (Arrernte Country)

Almost everyone we spoke to in the lead up to our trip warned us of the dangers of Alice Springs and the enormity of the unrest. People were somewhat alarmist. Even shocked that we were going to risk it. One Indigenous friend of mine was worried about us coming. Not because she feared for our safety, but rather, feared the opinion of her people we would walk away with. I assured her I was confident that even if our experience involved some unpleasantries, that we would leave with a deeper understanding of the hurt, not a more negative view of her people.

We stayed at the Discovery Park. It was huge. There was a lot for the kids to do inside the park: An enormous jumping pillow, a games room, a very decent pool area with a lap pool, a main pool with a slide, as well as a spa. And a nice laundry. I never thought a laundry would excite me. But washing in a bucket is not a fun time.

While driving through town and subsequently in the park, there was absolutely no reason to feel unsafe other than the very regular reminders. There are a lot of 2m high metal fences and you naturally wonder why they’re necessary, the park information has a lot of direction about keeping valuables secured and out of sight, we were cautioned about ‘visitors’ who may enter the park of an evening searching for money, cigarettes or alcohol (or electronics that could be sold to buy these things), we received daily texts from park administration reminding us of the police number, and so on. This was disconcerting. However, had we not had these reminders, we would have felt entirely safe.

After setting up and settling in, we spent some time at the pool. That evening we walked to the observatory on top of the hill to enjoy some star gazing guided by a local astronomy enthusiast. Teddy looked through the powerful permanent telescope they have, focusing on one of the stars in the handle of Orion. He said the nebula looked like an eagle.

The next morning, Tuesday, we were treated to a visit from a bunch of pretty Australian ringneck parrots. I glared at Leon feeding the birds from the safety of the camper.

Later in the morning we set out to experience the Alice Springs Desert Park. The weather continues to be perfect. The park delivered some amazing wildlife. The birds were particularly impressive as was the nocturnal house. Leon’s favourite was the bilby, Joey enjoyed the tawny frog mouth, Malachi loved the snakes, Teddy found it difficult to choose between the bilby, the thorny devils and bustard (which gave him an awful fright as he rounded the corner). I loved the red tailed black cockatoos. We spent about three hours in the park and loved it. It was a joy to see the zebra finches alive and frolicking rather than kamikaze into the bull-bar and being wedged in the grill of the Troopy as was the case along the highways.

We went back to the caravan park for an afternoon swim before a trip to the Alice Springs Brewery. Delicious beer, great pizza, and a lawn for the kids to run and play on… all just a short walk from the park. We visited the observatory again this evening, this time unguided. The boys enjoyed throwing the football. I took some time to just lay on the grass and enjoy the uninterrupted views of the starlit sky. This was also our first experience of Joey being ‘on the brink’ and me channeling the messages of my self aware shirts, remembering to breathe.

On Wednesday we headed into town to do some grocery shopping. We also visited a small art gallery, as well as the library. It was different to home. Interesting. Most unfortunate differences seemed to be a result of a lack of facilities and things for locals to do in town, and a lack of resources to keep things in good condition. However, this is an assumption and my knowledge of what activities are available for people to engage with is limited to tourist information and what I saw as I drive around. It was school holidays and I expected there to be more obvious advertising if there were events or activities to engage with. There were people loitering, but they mostly just seemed to be enjoyed each others’ company in an unusual location such as a carpark, rather than causing any harm or unrest. The way the locals interacted with each other was different and interesting, but not in the least unpleasant or concerning. The behaviour of the travellers at the pool in the caravan park was far more unpleasant and concerning than any behaviour I observed of the locals as we wandered through the streets of town. The kids asked questions about various things, but they were genuinely curious and never seemed uncomfortable. Theodore concluded that people in Alice Springs seem to yell at each other, but not in an angry way. There does seem to be an unfamiliar harshness about how the local indigenous people communicate with each other, but there doesn’t seem to be animosity. Just a different cultural norm. There is a bit of graffiti around town, but often it is correcting the western names of towns on signs to the Arrernte language. For example, Alice Springs is regularly corrected to Mparntwe using spray paint on the town’s signage.

After running all of our errands, including getting all the information we needed about permits to explore Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges) and to travel the Great Central Road, we again headed back to the park for some time at the pool and to get some washing done.

Rungutjirpa/Simpsons Gap (Arrernte Country)

At about 4:30 that afternoon we headed out into the ranges to experience the magic of Rungutjirpa (roong-goo-chir-buh). The Arrernte people believe it was the mythological home of a group of giant goanna ancestors.

Today is our first overcast day. I thought it would detract from the experience of Simpsons Gap. Maybe it did. But it’s hard to believe the experience could have been greater. The walls of rock extend far above, widening as they near the sky. The rock face is jagged with horizontal plates of red earth stacked to the top of the gorge. There is at times a want to explore and see more. I wondered what it would be like to swim to the other side of the gap and look back. But this is a sacred site, and we respected the request to not swim in these waters.

The spiritual experience transcends the physical. Laying on a warm rock on the floor of a gorge is overwhelming if you allow it to be, especially if you have the place to yourself. There’s an indescribable presence. I can feel it deep in my chest. It would be difficult to ever feel alone in a place like this.

To be the only family at this site was special. To sit as a family on one of the flat surfaces on the bank of the water hole at the bottom of the gorge, where the river then runs dry, and watch as a family of tiny black footed rock wallabies enjoyed their afternoon, was a beautiful end to our time here. To watch juvenile animals playing as their parents watch and intervene when necessary is strangely validating.

Driving at dusk through Tjoritja (Choor-it-ja), from Rungutjirpa (roong-goo-chir-buh) back to Mparntwe (M-barn-twa), I’m aware that the outback Australian landscape is equal parts gentle and abrasive. The ancient history and the dreaming live and breathe in these ranges, and as we live and breathe within them it’s difficult not to feel a genuine sense of belonging and connection. You feel, not just see, the grandeur of the ranges; they’re chasms and gorges, the jagged shards of rock. There’s an uncanny unity to the randomness. You can’t help but visualise their creation and the scale of the natural environment millions of years ago. 

Parrtjima: A festival in light

Parrtjima (par-chee-ma), a festival in light, is currently on in Alice Springs. It’s a free event that celebrates the ways in which artists evolve and experiment with different styles and materials, while staying true to Country and culture. Of an evening, can experience artwork, light shows, storytelling and more. All visitors are invited to step in and become a piece of the art, be immersed in the atmospheric soundscape, and listen with an open heart.

We stopped in to Parrtjima to see the 7pm light show after Simpson’s Gap, before returning to the caravan park. We walked through the installations before sitting in an outback grandstand to watch the MacDonnell Ranges be lit up and listen to the story. 

While listening with my heart open, I was reminded that to the traditional owners: “Culture is everything. Everything is interconnected. Everything is living and alive. We are connected, and culture is everything. The Arrernte have always looked up and down and through country. They have shaped their country and it’s in the stories, the language, the songs and the art.” I was grateful to have this immersive experience with my family.

One thought on “The Red Centre Way: Part 1

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  1. Such a great read. Beautifully expressed. Your feeling pulse through your words. My heart is full reliving this through your writing.


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