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The ultimate rock show: What to expect on a 4-day AAT Kings short break in the Red Centre

Travellers short on time can see the best of the Red Centre with AAT Kings during its new 4-day short break.

Travellers short on time can see the best of the Red Centre with AAT Kings during its new 4-day short break.

I didn’t expect to be in awe of star power and walk the red carpet in the Australian outback. With limited time on my hands, it was the perfect opportunity to hop aboard coach touring specialists AAT Kings’ new short break exploring Australia’s Red Centre, home to World Heritage wonders, rich ochre sands, and dark skies.

In a whirlwind four days, I experienced ancient formations – Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon – in remarkable ways while gaining insight into the local Anangu culture.

I sipped on wine while watching the shifting shades of Uluru at sunset; wandered the luminous Field of Light; and enjoyed a gourmet barbecue and learned of the cosmos and trekked along the legendary Kings Canyon Rim Walk. These are some of the few add-on tours that beautifully add to the magic of Australia’s Red Centre.

Ready to become starstruck?

Day 1

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Seeing the base of Uluru on a guided walk. Credit: Julia D’Orazio

Adios Alice Springs! We leave urban life behind to journey to Yulara – the springboard to World Heritage-listed sites (Uluru and Kata Tjuta), 446 kilometres south. Before arriving, we stretch our legs at Erldunda Roadhouse, dubbed the ‘Centre of the Centre’.

I feel humbled to be here. I didn’t expect to pose with a monument honouring the heart of Australia. For another quirky photo op, I head to the neighbouring emu enclosure to observe the flightless birds, enticing them to come closer with emu snacks purchased from the roadhouse. What a fun pitstop.

We arrive in Yulara  and quickly refresh at Outback Hotel & Lodge before entering the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Our AAT Kings guide Jim leads us on a guided walk around the base of Uluru, admiring the formation’s geological characteristics and cultural significance for the Anangu people, the Traditional Landowners. I’m moved by ancient rock art in overhangs while learning Tjukurpa (the foundation of Anangu culture) and the figures used.

It’s time for the ultimate spectacle: Uluru at sunset. We enjoy sparkling wine and nibbles at a designated viewing area while becoming entranced by the sacred site’s slowly morphing hues from fiery red, orange, and purple to blue. This has to be the best happy hour I have ever experienced.

We continue to be spoiled with an exclusive barbecue banquet under a shimmering night sky. I feast on steak cooked to my liking (medium-rare, thanks), kangaroo, chicken, and salads. After our meal, an AAT Kings guide leads us to view our relationship with Earth in a new light with a stargazing experience. The only thing sweeter than dessert? Spotting shooting stars.

Day 2

Kata Tjuta National Park. Credit: Julia D'Orazio_AAT Kings
Kata Tjuta National Park. Credit: Julia D’Orazio

We visit Central Australia’s other natural wonder, Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas). The sacred site’s name is a Pitjantjatjara term, meaning ‘Many Heads’. It refers to the 36 dome-shaped sandstone formations looming large (546 metres) over the desert. After savouring panoramic vistas from a lookout, we follow a 1.3-kilometre trail between Kata Tjuta’s two tallest domes (Walpa Gorge).

I enjoy having my own time with an icon back in Yulara. I grab takeaway lunch from Kulata Academy Café – which empowers Ayers Rock Resort’s National Indigenous Training Academy trainees – and savour it at Imalung Lookout, my eyes transfixed on Uluru.

At sundown, we see Anangu culture taking flight in a storytelling experience like no other. I am gifted an individual gourmet hamper to feast on while watching the immersive sound and light show Wintjiri Wiru (additional cost).

The multi-sensory experience features more than 1,100 drones, projections, lights, and lasers to depict the ancient Mala story with Uluru on the horizon – it was simply magical.

Day 3

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Bruce Munro’s Field of Light. Credit: Julia D’Orazio.

We continue to experience Uluru in brilliance, walking the Field of Light at sunrise (additional cost). The vivid art installation by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro features more than 50,000 coloured lights illuminating desert plains. 

There’s no better way to channel our inspiration of the Red Centre’s many hues than to unleash our creative side. We head to Maruku Arts at the foothill of Uluru to be guided by a local Anangu artist creating a dot art painting  masterpiece.

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Dot painting class at Maruku Arts. Credit: Julia D’Orazio

After our outdoor art class, we journey to Watarrka National Park, 272 kilometres northeast. We stretch our legs at the base of Kings Canyon following the easy 1.5-kilometre Kings Creek Walk – it’s a good excuse to walk off all the good food!

It’s time to unwind at Discovery Parks—Kings Canyon Resort. We join other road trippers at Luritja Lookout to revel in another rock show, observing Carmichaels Crag and George Gill Range changing colours at sunset.

The ethereal experience continues with Bruce Munro’s second light and sound installation in the Red Centre, Light Towers. It’s exciting to wander, closely inspecting 69 neon-lit turrets made from recycled glass bottles, switching shades under a starry sky (additional cost).

Day 4

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Hiking the pathway at Kings Canyon Rim Walk. Credit:Julia D’Orazio.

It’s an early start but it’s worth it to grasp the rugged beauty of Watarrka National Park from all angles along the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. The legendary six-kilometre moderate loop trail begins with a staircase climb (albeit brief!) to the top of the ochre-coloured canyon. The ancient plateau is a head-turner at every bend, seeing rocky cliffs, sandstone layers, dead sea ripples, and a lost city of beehive-like sandstone domes.

The waterhole at Kings Canyon. Credit: Julia-D’Orazio.

Within the red earth’s crumpled depression is The “Garden of Eden. The hidden oasis is flecked with native fig trees, trickling streams, and elusive wildlife. At the end is a sacred waterhole, which we deem a scenic stop to replenish the energy stocks before descending the canyon.

We celebrate achieving the fitness goal of the day with lunch at Kings Canyon Bar & Grill. I can’t go past ordering the camel burger as my last exotic bite before returning to Alice Springs. The Red Centre really does have the wow factor.

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The writer travelled as a guest of AAT Kings.