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Top 10 places to see on Australia's Red Centre Route

Alia Parker's picture
Aboriginal art at Ubirr Rock, Kakadu. Cycle Traveller

It's a long ride through the centre of Australia, and it's also a long way between stops. Just as well that the scenery is spectacular. After cycling from Adelaide to Darwin on the inaugural Red Centre Route ride in 2014 (we'll be releasing the route maps in the coming months), here, listed from north to south, are our favourite attractions for cyclists to stop and soak in the atmosphere of Central Australia.

1. Kakadu National Park

Never before had we seen so many crocodiles and birds in the one place, made all the more magical by the afternoon glow of the setting sun over the tranquil wetlands of Kakadu. Yellow Water in Kakadu is a truly beautiful place and the best way to see it is by boat. The wildlife kept us entranced for the entire two-hour boat journey and, if we could, we would go back again and again. For many cycle travellers, a Yellow Water cruise will likely be the most costly attraction of the Red Centre Route, but there's a very good chance it will be up there among the most memorable things you have ever done.

Yellow Water sunset Kakadu National Park. Cycle Traveller

Ubirr Rock Lookout was also another highlight of the park. Here were some of the most beautiful Aboriginal rock art sites we have had the privilege of seeing (pictured above). A wide-open rock shelter forms an ancient classroom, with images of turtles and fish intricately painted. Some of the art in this area is possibly tens of thousands of years old. What made this experience all the more amazing was that these teachings were shared with us by Marcus, an indigenous and local guide. As part of Kakadu's free ranger tours program, Marcus walked us through the art and then up to the top of Ubirr Rock from where there is a wonderful view out over Arnhem Land. Learning the stories attached to the land was quite an emotional journey and something all visitors to Kakadu should experience.

Bitter Springs Mataranka. Cycle Traveller

2. Bitter Springs, Mataranka

We came for the afternoon and stayed for three days. Bitter Springs, part of the Roper River at Elsey National Park, is a natural hot river near Mataranka that will transport you from the Outback into a tropical oasis. Its crystal clear waters run at 32-34 degrees Celcius and carry you gently downstream under a canopy of trees and sparkling webs of golden orb spiders. The river is free to visit. Bitter Springs is the more 'natural' option for experiencing the region's hot springs, with the hot bathing pools at Mataranka also nearby. May to September are the best times to visit as the river floods in the Wet Season and may be closed. To get to Bitter Springs, turn east off the Stuart Highway onto Martins Road at the northern end of the Mataranka township and head 2.6km to the National Park.

3. Nitmiluk National Park

Leliyn Falls (Edith FAlls) Northern Territory. Cycle Traveller

Nitmiluk National Park is home to two popular attractions: Katherine Gorge and Leliyn Falls (Edith Falls). Katherine Gorge is a 30km side-trip along sealed road from the town of Katherine and can be explored by kayak or by hiking along the rim. We enjoyed a hike along the edge before descending down to a quiet swimming spot – the perfect place to take a dip on a hot Northern Territory winter's day. Leliyn Falls is another beautiful swimming spot, with tiered swimming holes cascading down above the plains. The large pool at the base of the falls is impressive, but those who make the effort to take the short hike up to the more intimate higher pool will be well rewarded. Leliyn Falls is accessed via a different entrance. Turn off the Stuart Highway 42km north of Katherine and ride a further 19km into the falls. For those who enjoy multi-day hikes, the 56km Jatbula Trail links Katherine Gorge to Leliyn Falls.

Macdonnell Ranges, Australia. Cycle Traveller

4. MacDonnell Ranges

These beautiful desert ranges stretch for 644km, running west to east through Alice Springs and makes for one very scenic bike ride. The section to the west of Alice is home to one of the country's most popular long-distance hiking trails – the Larapinta Trail. On a bike, it's possible to cycle up Larapinta Drive, riding alongside the scenic mountain range and taking side trips in to explore its many hidden gorges and chasms, such as Standley Chasm. A bike path runs out of Alice to the nearby Simpsons Gap, which is the first of the sights along Larapinta Drive.

5. Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Hiking the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta (the olgas). Cycle TravellerA journey through the heart of Australia isn't complete without a visit to Uluru, and by default, the nearby and just as beautiful Kata Tjuta. We walked around the base of Uluru, the gigantic rock, curved and weathered, changing its shape with every step; as did the rounded mountains of Kata Tjuta (meaning big heads), where we enjoyed a loop hike through the Valley of the Winds. They really are sights to behold and while it's quite a big side trip in to see the attractions, it would be a crime to go past here without making the journey. From Erldunda on the Stuart Highway it's 263km in to Uluru and a further 54km to Kata Tjuta, making for a 634km round trip. If you don't feel up to the ride in, you can pick up a tour from Alice Springs. A good option for those on a budget is one of the three-day hiking and swag tours, which also includes a trip to Kings Canyon.

6. Kings Canyon

Hiking the rim at Kings Canyon, Northern Territory Australia. Cycle Traveller

Those who put in the effort to get to Kings Canyon won't be disappointed. We hiked around the canyon walls, looking down over steep cliffs, walking down into hidden pools, and looking out over the ancient red mountain tops, rounded by the weather, rolling on for as far as the eye can see. The Kings Canyon rim walk is up there among the best day hikes I have done anywhere in the world. Getting there by bike on the sealed road will add another 400km return to the journey to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta, making it a 1,000km return side trip. There is a dirt road via the Mereenie Loop, which can get quite sandy and corrugated. It may save you kilometres and avoid back tracking, but depending on its condition, it may not save you any time.

7. Woomera

Missile museum at Woomera, South Australia. Cycle TravellerStep into a time warp. Woomera is a defence town built between 1947-53, and while its hey-day has passed, it is still a functioning Air Force support base for rocket testing. Located just a few kilometres off the Stuart Highway, it makes a much nicer place to spend the night than the highway roadhouse. And the pub at the end of town, the Eldo Hotel, has been refurbished inside to become quite a trendy bar with a great menu. The manager there is also a keen cycle tourer. The base does have a link to a very dark past, with the rocket testing facility involved with the 1956 atomic tests at Maralinga. About 1,200 Anangu were affected by nuclear radiation and their land and its intrinsic connection to their way of life destroyed. There is a small museum and heritage centre in the town. Woomera was also where many refugees were held in detention between 1999-2003.

Cycling through the opal mines of South Australia's Coober Pedy. Cycle Traveller8. Coober Pedy

Known as the opal-mining capital of the world, Coober Pedy is truly unique. On the northern edges of town, mounds of yellow and white earth stretch for as far as the eye can see, each dug up by the small-time miners who come here. There are no big companies digging on these fields meaning Coober Pedy is more like the mining towns of yesteryear than the big operations found throughout other parts of Australia. And no visit to Coober Pedy would be complete without descending into its famous underground buildings, designed to avoid the scorching summertime heat.

9. Flinders Ranges

Bunyeroo Gorge, Flinders Ranges South Australia. Cycle Traveller

As you ride through the Flinders Ranges National Park, the landscape transforms from the most beautiful of outback ranges, glowing in reds and yellows, to rolling green tree-covered ranges near Wilpena Pound. A scenic sealed road runs into Wilpena and up toward the town of Blinman. Wilpena Pound is a large crater with both a strong indigenous and pastoral history. We took the short walk up to the lookout from where we could see the ring of mountains unfold before us. However, it's the dirt adventures that the Flinders Ranges National Park has to offer that blew us away. The road through Bunyeroo Gorge and up to Brachina Gorge was fantastic and the section around Razorback Lookout has to be one of my favourite stretches of road to cycle, ever. It's a hard, bumpy, but spectacular ride, well suited to mountain bikes but doable on a strong touring bike with careful riding. The Brachina Gorge Geological Trail is also quite amazing. As you ride along the dirt road, you essentially travel through time, courtesy of the ancient layers of earth bent sideways as they were pushed upwards to the surface, creating a visual geological timeline spanning 130 million years. And last but not least, the Mawson Trail also runs through this neck of the woods and is a great option for those looking for some off-road adventure.

10. Barossa and Clare Valleys

Bicycle touring in the Barossa Valley rail trail. Cycle Traveller

Not only do the Barossa and Clare Valleys produce some of the country's best wines, but you can relax as you ride through this region on two rail trails: The Rattler and the Riesling Trails. The Barossa is generally considered to be the spiritual home of Australia's wine industry, with the early European settlers, many of whom where German, bringing their traditional wine-making methods to the area around Tanunda, Angaston and Nuriootpa. The Barossa continues to produce many of the country's best wines, particularly Shiraz. The neighbouring Clare Valley has also emerged as an international favourite, producing award-winning Riesling. There are many cellar doors to try, so take your time.

Images copyright Cycle Traveller.



Always love a good trip down to Bitter Springs. Glad to see it on the list.

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