The Central Australian Tourism Industry Association can send you a brochure pack. It is your best one-stop source of information.
Most of the Red Centre lies within the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Tourist Commission, Tourism House, 43 Mitchell St., Darwin, NT 0800 (tel. 13 67 68 in Australia, or 08/8951 8471; www.travelnt.com), can supply information on traveling in this region. The website has special sections tailored for international travelers (choose your country) and for the self-drive market. It can help you find a travel agent who specializes in the Northern Territory and details many hotels, tour operators, rental-car companies, and attractions, as well as lots of information on local Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal tours. The Commission's Territory Discoveries division (www.holidaysnt.com) offers package deals.
Buzz Off! -- Uluru is notorious for plagues of flies in summer. Don't be embarrassed to cover your head with the fly nets sold in souvenir stores -- there will be "no flies on you, mate," an Aussie way of saying you are clever.
If you plan to "go bush" in remote regions not covered by this guide, you may need a permit from the relevant Aboriginal lands council to cross Aboriginal land. This can be a drawn-out bureaucratic affair that takes weeks, so plan ahead. The Northern Territory Tourist Commission can put you in touch with the appropriate council. All good road maps mark Aboriginal lands clearly.
Other Travel Tips -- Always carry drinking water. When hiking, carry 4 liters (about a gallon) per person per day in winter, and a liter (1/4 gal.) per person per hour in summer. Wear a broad-brimmed hat, high-factor sunscreen, and insect repellent.
Bring warm clothing for chilly evenings in winter. Make sure you have a full tank of gas before setting out and check distances between places you can fill up.
The Automobile Association of the Northern Territory, 79-81 Smith St., Darwin, NT 0800 (tel. 08/8925 5901), offers emergency breakdown service to members of affiliated overseas automobile associations and dispenses maps and advice. It has no office in the Red Centre. For a recorded report of road conditions, call tel. 1800/246 199 in Australia.
Only a handful of highways and arterial roads in the Northern Territory are sealed (paved) roads. A conventional two-wheel-drive car will get you to most of what you want to see, but consider renting a four-wheel-drive for complete freedom. All the big car-rental chains have them. Some attractions are on unpaved roads good enough for a two-wheel-drive car, but your car-rental company will not insure a two-wheel-drive for driving on them.
Normal restricted speed limits apply in all urban areas, but speed limits on Northern Territory highways (introduced only in 2006) are considerably higher than in other states. The speed limit is set at 130kmph (81 mph) on the Stuart, Arnhem, Barkly, and Victoria highways, while rural roads are designated 110kmph (68 mph) speed limits unless otherwise signposted. However, drivers should be careful to keep to a reasonable speed and leave enough distance to stop safely. The road fatality toll in the Northern Territory is high: 27 fatalities per 100,000 people each year, compared with the Australian average of 8 per 100,000.
Another considerable risk while driving is that of hitting wildlife: camels, kangaroos, and other protected native species. Avoid driving at night, early morning, and late afternoon, when 'roos are more active; beware of cattle lying down on the warm bitumen at night.
Road trains (trucks hauling more than one container) and fatigue caused by driving long distances are two other major threats.
Numerous coach, minicoach, and four-wheel-drive tour operators run tours that take in Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, and Uluru. They depart from Alice Springs or Uluru, offering accommodations ranging from spiffy resorts, comfortable motels, and basic cabins to shared bunkhouses, tents, or swags (sleeping bags) under the stars. Most pack the highlights into a 2- or 3-day trip, though leisurely trips of 6 days or more are available. Many offer one-way itineraries between Alice and the Rock (via Kings Canyon if you like), or vice versa, which will allow you to avoid backtracking.
Among the reputable companies are AAT Kings (tel. 1300/228 546 in Australia, or 08/8952 1700 for the Alice Springs office; www.aatkings.com), which specializes in coach tours but also has four-wheel-drive camping itineraries; Alice Springs Holidays (tel. 1800/801 401 in Australia or 08/8953 1411; www.alicespringsholidays.com.au), which does upscale soft-adventure tours for groups; and Intrepid Connections (tel. 1300/422 183 in Australia, or 03/9277 8444 for the Melbourne office; www.connections.travel), which conducts camping safaris (or if you prefer, hotel, motel, or lodge accommodation) in small groups for all ages. Tailormade Tours (tel. 1800/806 641 in Australia or 08/8952 1731; www.tailormadetours.com.au) offers public tours as well as customized luxury charters.