Hiking in the Australian Outback: red dirt and wild flowers

Sleeping under a sky full of stars

The air is dry and cold, the sky full of stars. The wood gathered and chopped earlier today crackles in the fire in front of us. It’s time to go to bed, but tonight there will be no actual bed. We will be sleeping under the dark blue night skies, in the red dusty soil of the semi-arid desert of the Central – and Western Australia.

I look around the bonfire and see my fellow travellers struggling to roll out their safe haven for the night: a canvas envelope in which you can place your own sleeping bag, better known as a swag. We’re all excited but worried at the same time – what about the cold, what about the poisonous snakes inhabiting the Outback?

As we wake up at 4:30 the next morning most of us have slept surprisingly well. After a long day of driving yesterday, it is now time to continue our way to get closer to the highlight of our trip: we’re off to Uluru – one of the world’s most famous rocks, also known as Ayers Rock.

Endless roads and wild flowers

The endless red soil we had expected to see as we continue our drive on the Red Road – a 3000 km stretch from Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South – is surprisingly green. Semi-arid vegetation is accompanied by wild flowers that have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere. The rain that has come down in the last months has given them an opportunity to flower and shine, and even our guide who’s been here over 100 times over the past 8 years has never seen some of these flowers before. In addition to the fields of wild flowers, the rain brings us another gift of nature: rainbows. Beautiful as always, but purely magical in combination with the stunning landscape and uninterrupted views stretching as far as our eyes can see.

Wild flowers decorating the red soil of the Australian Outback.
Wild flowers decorating the red soil of the Australian Outback.
A double rainbow over the Red Road in Australia's Outback.
A double rainbow over the Red Road in Australia’s Outback.
Our amazing and cool guide Nicole.
Our amazing and cool guide Nicole.

King’s Canyon hike

Our first hike of the trip is in King’s Canyon. As we start our hike rain is pouring and thunder sounds in the distance. I’m a bit worried to be honest, but our guide –  a bright enthusiastic Australian woman in her thirties with a typical strong independent Outback girl appearance – is certain that the thunder is moving away from us. She oozes so much nature wisdom that I trust in her, forget about the thunder and take in the amazing scenery this canyon has on offer.

The rough landscape catches me by surprise in many ways. I am amazed by the colour and size of eroded rocks that where once the bottom of an inland sea. The red layered rocks create an other-worldly landscape and its edgy features look almighty with the threatening grey skies hovering over us. The bare rocks shelter hidden gems of lush green trees and wild flowers, riverbeds are filled with flowing water as a result of the rainfall. I wonder how one famous rock (Uluru) could beat this wonder of nature?

The layered rocks of King's Canyon.
The layered rocks of King’s Canyon.
Stunning view over the green valley of King's Canyon.
Stunning view over the green valley of King’s Canyon.


The next morning skies are bright blue and the red colour of the soil is more intense. It’s hot and dry and exactly how I had imagined the weather to be like on this trip to the heart of Australia.

All of us are eager to get a close look at Australia’s intensely fought rock, a sacred place for Australia’s indigenous inhabitants, the Aboriginals, and a tourist attraction for people from all over the world.

All of us are eager to get a close look at Uluru, and after a couple of hours driving we are all surprised to see a huge flat rock in the distance. Are we seeing Uluru in the distance even though we would only arrive tonight? Our guide Nicole enlightens us: “That my friends, is what we call Fool-uru.” What we see in the distance is Mount Conner, a rock that is in fact much bigger than Uluru itself, but lies on private land, and is mistaken for Uluru by almost all tourists driving in from Alice Springs.

The reason that Uluru enjoys global fame is unfortunately not only its imposing figure that rises 348 above the plain but also its notorious history. In 1958 the government of Australia excised the land (Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta) from the Aboriginal people Anangu that have been living on these lands for thousands of years. It was only in 1985 that the Anangu were recognised as the lands traditional owners and became the owners of the National Park. Since then Anangu have worked together with Parks Australia to maintain the park.

Walking around Uluru is incredible. The bright blue skies make the red rock stand out from the plain even more. As we walk around our guide Nicole brings to live Tjukurpa stories. Tjukurpa is the law of the Anangu and defines the relationship between physical features of the land, plants, animals and people. Tjukurpa also describes the creation period when ancestral beings created the world as we now know it, as they travelled across the lands in a process of formation and destruction that gave rise to the existing landscapes. The Anangu believe that these landscapes are still inhabited by the spirits of those ancestral beings.

A rare sight: Uluru amidst a green field with wild flowers.
Uluru standing out from the plain.

Sunrise over Uluru

Watching the sun slowly appear behind Uluru the next morning it is easy to understand how people would believe that the landscapes are still inhabited by spirits of ancestral beings. Looking at the strange rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the otherwise flat plain, and the mesmerizing colour display performed by the sun and sky, it seems to be something that cannot be explained through logic.

A mesmerising colour display as the sun rises behind Uluru.
A mesmerising colour display as the sun rises behind Uluru.
The first peak of the sun rising over Uluru.

The day continues to amaze us as we hike through Kata Tjuta, an imposing rock formation beguiling us with its tall red domes that make us humans feel incredibly small. We walk through otherwise arid and dry lands that now show off their beauty with fields full of wild flowers and green vegetation, and our steep climb is rewarded by an exquisite vista of the valley.

Tonight, we enjoy another magnificent sunset from the campsite, and make ourselves comfortable with Tim Tams (irresistable chocolate cookies) and marshmallows around the bonfire on our rolled up swags we have all come to appreciate. Our group is a wonderful and diverse group of Malaysian, American, Austrian, Brittish, French, Polish, German, Belgian, Dutch & Australian and we enjoy playing games together in the dark skies of the Australian desert. Tomorrow we will continue our way to Adelaide, passing underground opal mining village Coober Pedy and salt lake Hart in Woomera, but at this moment we all enjoy still being at the dream destination of our trip. When all Tim Tams are finished and we all feel nauseous as a result, we lay back and watch the starry skies.

Enjoying the sunrise from our campsite.
Enjoying the sunrise from our campsite.
Taking in the view over salt lake Hart.

Explore the Australian Outback yourself: go hiking in red dirt and sleep under the stars

How to fit Uluru and the Outback in your itinerary

Depending on the rest of your Australia itinerary, you can choose to visit Uluru on a round trip from Alice Springs, or travel from A to B like we did.

We flew to Alice Springs from Brisbane, and chose to take a tour southwards to Adelaide so we could continue with the Great Ocean Road from there.

Of course you can also take this route the other way around, or start or finish your tour in Darwin.

Should I book an Outback Tour or rent a car?

Exploring the Outback by yourself is an incredible adventure. The area is remote though and driving at night is a seriously risky business due to the activity of kangaroos. The drives are long and petrol stations are sparse. Decent trip planning and a good insurance are required. – We chose not to rent a car in the Outback because of  time constraints and the remoteness of the area.

How to book an organized Outback Tour?

There are many tour operators that will get you from A to B. We booked our tour along with our tickets and camper hire for the rest of our Australia trip through travel organization Kilroy. The Outback tour itself was performed by Groovy Grape Getaways Australia. We thought it was crazy that our guide had to manage the entire trip on her own, but we did love her and would therefore still recommend Groovy Grape.

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