The Outback Made Personal

We unveil the myriad tourist trappings of the Red Center—and how to avoid most of them en route to Kings Canyon, the Olgas, and that big ol’ rock known as Uluru
Uluru Outback
The Outback's Eiffel Tower?: This all-natural landmark makes most tourist itineraries—and with good reason. (courtesy, Tourism Australia)

One week in Australia and I found myself sandwiched into a khaki-colored 4x4 owned by Wayoutback Safaris in the all-female company of a German, an Austrian, a Brit, and four—count 'em, four—Aussies. Admittedly, hanging with the locals on their home turf should be expected when one travels, but my situation was peculiar for the very simple fact that we were heading into Australia's tourist-dense Red Center, and Aussies are perhaps best known for traveling anywhere other than their native land. And yet there we were, all part of a four-day, three-night tour of the Outback.

As our 4x4 departed the pre-dawn streets of Alice Springs, the main gateway city to the Red Center, the Aussies confirmed my suspicion. None of them had really traveled within Australia. Folks like me may cross half the world to explore the land Down Under, but with flights to the South Pacific, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia typically less expensive than a domestic flight from, say, Sydney to Perth, it's understandable that most Aussies yearn to explore places other than their own backyard. True to form, my Aussie companions had traveled extensively—India, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, all over Europe and South America.... But as their wanderlust settled and they returned to their homeland, their traveler's eye eventually shifted to their native locales. And eventually all gazes fall upon Uluru, that massive rock in the middle of the Outback known for decades as Ayers Rock.

Like France and the Eiffel Tower, New York and the Statue of Liberty, India and the Taj Mahal, this massive rock is the universal icon of the Australian Outback. Its red-hued profile assaults you the moment you enter the country from every conceivable tourist trinket—T-shirts, lighters, posters, coffee mugs, mouse pads.... Talk to someone who's been and they'll insist that you simply must go, that you have to see Uluru at dusk as the rock shifts from red to pink to purple in a kaleidoscopic reflection of the setting sun. It's more a demand than a request, delivered with the kind of near-religious conviction that eventually converts even those travelers who pride themselves on avoiding the tourist traps. For the Aussies on my tour, this aversion to Uluru was amplified by a lifetime exposure to the icon. Two admitted to me that they were more interested in the Outback's other main attractions—Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)—than that hunk of rock. But all tours to the Red Center converge on Uluru, and thus so would we.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 15 Sep 2005 | Last Updated: 6 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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