The first time I visited Australia on my working holiday visa, I spent my time fruit picking and messing around on diving boats. 10 years later, I was back for 3 weeks travelling in 5 star luxury!
This trip focused on visiting the Red Centre and Uluru from Alice Springs and my journey on the Ghan train from Alice Springs south. After this, I visited Adelaide and Kangaroo Island before exploring some of South Australia and driving the Great Ocean Road by campervan to get back to Melbourne at the end of my trip.
Our first taste of Australian Luxury was the centrally-located Langham Hotel, beside the Yarra River. Despite being a little early for check in, we were just in time for breakfast and had the chance to use the health suite and indoor rooftop pool over-looking the city.
We only spent one night in Melbourne to get over our jet lag and because I’d visited Melbourne before. But saying that I enjoyed walking around the CBD reminiscing on the old days sampling the endless array of quirky bars and cafes – there’s plenty to keep you in Melbourne for a longer stay and Melbourne is also a good jumping off point to start exploring the Great Ocean Road, which runs over to Adelaide or to twin with other destinations.
From Melbourne, we flew up to Alice Springs to begin our week long Red Centre adventure. Basing ourselves first in Alice Springs, then near Ayers Rock itself, I planned a number of day trips out by coach so I could see exactly what I wanted. I’m quite independent when travelling, but in some parts of the world like the Red Centre, I think you really benefit from a local guide.
After our morning flight up from Melbourne, we landed in Alice Springs. As a city, it doesn’t have too many fancy hotels so we opted for the 4* Chifley Hotel which has a great location on the edge of town next to the Todd River.
For the afternoon, we booked a half day tour of the city which helped us understand the history of Australia’s most famous outback town. After visiting the old Telegraph Station, we headed to the Reptile Centre (a great place for kids of all ages!). You can see and handle all kinds of reptiles including lizards, thorny devils and crocs.
For our journey over to Ayers Rock, we booked a coach transfer. Travelling by road, you’ll journey through outback desert scenery and through the McDonnell Ranges so it’s very scenic.
The tour takes you to a working camel farm, where you can meet the animals or even take a ride, but throughout the journey, your local guide will talk to you about the history and geology of the place and fill you in on plenty of interesting Aboriginal history too.
For our second night in the Red Centre, we stayed in Yulara village, about 11 miles from Uluru. We stayed at the 5* Sails in the Desert, which has the best pool in the area. All three of the hotels above have the same owner you are free to use the facilities at any of the other hotels and there are lots of free activities on offer, including bush walks, dot painting workshops and how to throw a boomerang.
In terms of other options, the 3* Outback Pioneer is home to the only bar, plus they offer a DIY BBQ. The 4* Desert Gardens has a very good a la carte restaurant and offers ‘Rock view rooms’. If you’re travelling with kids, there are also some apartments and a decent campground too.
For a seriously luxurious stay and a truly unique outback experience, I recommend the tented camp of 5* Longitude 131 as the ultimate pick. Nestled away in the bush right beside the most famous rock in the world, from here you’ll have unrivalled views.
To make sure we fitted everything in, we planned a full day tour that visited 3 of the Red Centre’s main sights. First up was Kata Tjuta (‘The Olgas’) which is a rock formation not dissimilar to the Bungle Bungles in the northern region of the Kimberley. These beautiful, rounded sandstone rock formations are hugely sacred to the Aboriginal people so our guide was able to tell us plenty of stories as we walked – I loved hearing about the significance of every detail of the landscape.
We heard so many fascinating aboriginal stories, walked through the sacred Valley of the Winds and tried our hand at throwing boomerangs!
The day’s touring finished on a spectacular note when - armed with a celebratory glass of bubbly – we watched the sunset over Uluru. Seeing this magnificent monolith change colours as the sun dropped is truly a spectacular sight. Once the sun goes down, we gazed in awe at the stars in the night sky. Being in the middle of nowhere with no light pollution means Uluru makes for one amazing ‘dark sky sight’ for star gazers and astro photographers.
Next, we took a morning guided walk around the base of Uluru. You can in fact walk all the way around the base, but that would be a full day tour. Our guide was able to explain why the rock is so sacred, interpret some of the Aboriginal rock art and tell us about the Dreamtime stories which are so interesting. It was fascinating to discover that every bit of landscape here as a story attached to it and those songs help indigenous people to navigate when they go on a walkabout.
In the afternoon you have some free time to go for a swim at the hotel, or take a guided bushwalk –or even learn to throw boomerangs – which we did!
For our final day’s exploration the coach tour made a very early start so we could reach Kings Canyon before the sun got too high and made it uncomfortably hot to walk around.
We booked the canyon rim walk and really anyone who can walk should be able to do this, it doesn’t require much fitness. If you prefer and cooler option, you can also go for the creek walk which is mostly in the shade and also reasonably flat. Wherever you walk through this baked landscape, you’ll have similar views from both over the river creek, waterholes and sense palm forests. If walking sounds too much like hard work and you want to inject some more luxury – you can always pick the helicopter tour for aerial views!
After the walk, the tour returned us to Alice Springs where we spent the night. As we were catching the Ghan train which leaves at lunchtime, we stayed another night in Alice Springs, but you could choose to spend that night in the Kings Canyon area if you prefer.
If you’re keen to explore in more depth, you could also consider joining a guided smaller group tour with a company like Wayoutback, which I can arrange for you.
The Ghan train takes its name from the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the 19th century to explore the remote interior – and this accounts for the wild camels that still roam around. It’s considered one of the great train journeys of the world, so I was excited to experience it!
The full length of the Ghan route runs between Darwin in the North and Adelaide in the South, with a stop in Alice Springs half way. These trips run once a week in each direction throughout the year (excluding the Christmas period) and last for days/2 nights.
There’s a slightly different itinerary between March and October (autumn/winter in the Northern Territory), the Darwin to Adelaide section is called ‘The Ghan Expedition’. It’s the same itinerary but it includes an additional night on the train and a stop in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, taking the total length to 4 days/3 nights.
Your luxury experience begins when you’re welcomed on board with a glass of champagne, with as many refill as you choose, I must add! You bags will be taken to your cabin whilst you unwind in the lounge as the train prepares for departure.
On board you can relax completely as all food and drink is included – plus the food is absolutely top notch, featuring Australia's finest produce and local wines. If you book a Platinum or Gold Superior cabin on The Ghan, you’ll have the benefit of your own mini bar, so if you wish to enjoy the rolling scenery from the privacy of your own cabin you can.
After enjoying the scenery and our evening meal, we were gently rocked to sleep by the motion of the train. After waking up to an amazing 3 course breakfast, we had arrived in Adelaide.
Adelaide is a lovely city to explore either at the beginning or end of your journey on the Ghan, so we stayed here for a while before continuing our trip. It’s quite unique in that the central business district is surrounded by beautiful parks and open spaces.
From Adelaide you can take a day trip into the Barossa Valley for cellar door wine tasting, or head over to explore the abundance of native Aussie wildlife on Kangaroo Island, which is what we decided to do.
If you’re interested in seeing Australia in style there are plenty of options, including the scenic Ghan train or a luxury campervan or even by coach. I can tailor-make every aspect of your Australia holiday to suit you, including flights and stopovers, transfers, accommodation, campervans and touring, and recommend things to do along the way.