by Terri Cook and Lon Abbott Monday, August 4, 2014
The Red Center’s gateway airports are Alice Springs and Ayers Rock/Uluru. Neither hosts direct flights from the U.S. but both are well connected to Sydney, Australia’s primary international arrival point, and other major Australian cities.
Distances in the Outback are vast; renting your own wheels is by far the most convenient way to get around, although petrol is very expensive (we paid up to US$8.25 per gallon). Both gateway airports offer a good selection of rental cars, including four-wheel-drive vehicles, from major international companies.
You can rent two-wheel-drive vehicles here too, but because most car rental companies forbid you from taking those vehicles on dirt roads, which greatly limits where in the Outback you can explore, we don’t recommend it. Renting a campervan gives you much greater flexibility in choosing accommodations, as nearly every town and many stations and national parks have at least one holiday park (campground), where there is usually a per-person charge in addition to the site fee. The total cost for our four-person family typically ran AU$40-$70 per night for an unpowered site.
If you do decide to explore off the sealed road, we highly recommend Drive Beyond (http://drivebeyond.com.au/), whose four-wheel-drive campervan vehicles come with everything you need and offer the greatest degree of freedom and flexibility. However, leaving paved roads behind is a serious undertaking; websites such as www.stayontrackoutback.qld.gov.au/ offer important safety tips to read before you start. If you venture out of urban areas, it’s best not to drive between dusk and dawn due to the danger of colliding with kangaroos or other nocturnal wildlife.
If you don’t wish to drive on the left side of the road, operators such as AAT Kings (www.aatkings.com) offer a variety of tours. There are also transfers available to the Ayers Rock Resort if you just wish to explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
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