Tennant Creek to Alice Springs
The gigantic boulders in precarious piles beside the Stuart Hwy, 105km south of Tennant Creek, are called the Devil's Marbles. Karlu Karlu is their Warumungu name, and this registered sacred site has great cultural importance. The rocks are believed to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. A 15-minute walk loops around the main site.
The beautiful, weather-beaten MacDonnell Ranges, stretching 400km across the desert, are a hidden world of spectacular gorges, rare wildlife and poignant Aboriginal heritage all within a day from Alice. There's no public transport to either the East or West MacDonnell Ranges; there are plenty of tours from Alice.
Red Centre Way
The Red Centre Way is the 'back road' from Alice to the Rock. It incorporates an 'inner loop' comprising Namatjira and Larapinta Drs, plus the rugged Mereenie Loop Rd, the short cut to Kings Canyon. This dusty, heavily corrugated road is not to be taken lightly, and hire car companies won't permit their 2WD to be driven on it.
Alice Springs tends to evoke contradiction and polarises travellers – some love it and some hate it. But either way, you'll undoubtedly end up here at some point if you tour the Red Centre. The town has a lot to offer visitors including a wide range of accommodation, excellent dining options and travel connections.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There are some world-famous sights touted as unmissable, which end up being a let-down when you actually see them. And then there's Uluru: nothing can really prepare you for the immensity, grandeur, changing colour and stillness of 'the rock'. It really is a sight that will sear itself onto your mind. The World Heritage–listed icon has attained the status of a pilgrimage.
Katherine to Alice Springs
The Stuart Hwy from Katherine to Alice Springs is still referred to as 'the Track' − as it has been since WWII, when it was literally a dirt track connecting the Territory's two main towns, roughly following the Overland Telegraph Line. It's dead straight most of the way and gets progressively drier and flatter as you head south, but there are quite a few notable diversions.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
The first sight of Uluru on the horizon will astound even the most jaded traveller. Uluru is 3.6km long and rises a towering 348m from the surrounding sandy scrubland (867m above sea level). If that's not impressive enough, it's believed that two-thirds of the rock lies beneath the sand.
Katherine to Western Australia
The sealed Victoria Hwy − part of the Savannah Way − stretches 513km from Katherine to Kununurra in WA. A 4WD will get you into a few out-of-the-way national parks accessed off the Victoria Hwy, or you can meander through semiarid desert and sandstone outcrops until bloated boab trees herald your imminent arrival in WA.
Yulara is the service village for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and has effectively turned one of the world's least hospitable regions into a comfortable place to stay. Lying just outside the national park, 20km from Uluru and 53km from Kata Tjuta, the complex is the closest base for exploring the park.
Tennant Creek is the only town of any size between Katherine, 680km to the north, and Alice Springs, 511km to the south. It's a good place to break up a long drive and check out the town's few attractions. Tennant Creek is known as Jurnkurakurr to the local Warumungu people and almost half of the population is of Aboriginal descent.
Arnhem Land is a vast, overwhelming and mysterious corner of the Northern Territory. About the size of the state of Victoria and with a population of only around 17,000, mostly Yolngu people, this Aboriginal reserve is one of Australia's last great untouched wilderness areas.