The Central Australian Tourism Industry Association is your best one-stop source of information.
Most of the Red Centre lies within the Northern Territory. Tourism NT has a great website (www.travelnt.com) withspecial 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, car-rental companies, and attractions, as well as lots of information on local Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal tours. Tourism NT’s Territory Discoveries division (www.holidaysnt.com) offers package deals.
When to Go
April, May, September, and October have sunny days (coolish in May, hot in Oct). Winter (June–Aug) means mild temperatures with cold nights. Summer (Nov–Mar) is ferociously hot and best avoided. In summer, limit exertions to early morning and late afternoon and choose air-conditioned accommodations. Rain is rare but can come at any time of year.
The Automobile Association of the Northern Territory, 14 Knuckey St., Darwin, NT 0800 ([tel] 08/8925 5901; www.aant.com.au), 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 130 kmph (81 mph) on the Stuart, Arnhem, Barkly, and Victoria highways, while rural roads are designated 110 kmph (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. For details on safe driving, review the tips in the “By Car”section of “Getting Around”in Chapter 9.
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.
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 repellant.
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.
Numerous coach, minicoach, and four-wheel-drive tour operators run tours that take in Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, and Uluru. These 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 08/8631 1331; www.alicespringsholidays.com.au), which does upscale soft-adventure tours for groups; and Intrepid Connections ([tel] 1300/018 871 in Australia; www.intrepidtravel.com), which conducts camping safaris (or if you prefer, hotel, motel, or lodge accommodation) in small groups for all ages. Tailormade Tours ([tel] 08/8952 1731; www.tailormadetours.com.au) offers public tours as well as customized luxury charters.