The Red Centre is the landscape most closely associated with Australia's Outback -- endless horizons, vast deserts of red sand, mysterious monoliths, and cloudless blue skies. If there is a soundtrack, it is the rhythmic haunting tones of the didgeridoo.
The Centre is home to sprawling cattle ranches, ancient mountain ranges, "living fossil" palm trees that survived the Ice Age, cockatoos and kangaroos, ochre gorges, lush water holes -- and, of course, to Uluru, the massive rock monolith.
Aboriginal people have lived here for tens of thousands of years, but the Centre is still largely unexplored by non-Aboriginal Australians. One highway cuts from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north, and a few roads and four-wheel-drive tracks make a lonely spider web across it; in many other areas, non-Aborigines have never set foot.
Alice Springs is the only big town in Central Australia, which together with the Top End makes up the Northern Territory. And let's get one thing straight from the start: Alice Springs and Uluru are not side by side. Uluru is 462km (286 miles) away. You can get there and see it in a day from Alice Springs, but it's an effort, and in doing so you will miss much of what is on offer, for visiting Uluru is much more than just a quick photo opportunity. It may well be the most meaningful and memorable part of your trip to Australia.
Give yourself a few days to experience all there is in the Centre -- visiting the magnificent domes of Kata Tjuta ("the Olgas") near Uluru, walking the rim of Kings Canyon, riding a camel down a dry riverbed, exploring the intricacies of Aboriginal paintings (either on rock or canvas), swimming in waterholes, or staying at an Outback homestead. Alice Springs gives you a better flavor for the Outback than Uluru. If you base yourself in Alice, it's easy to radiate out to less crowded but still beautiful attractions such as Palm Valley, Ormiston Gorge, and Trephina Gorge Nature Park, each an easy day trip. Too many visitors jet in, snap a photo of the Rock, and head home, only to miss the essence of the desert.