Sarah Motherwell receives a lesson in geography on a trip to Australia's red centre.

Where in Australia is Uluru?

Before my Outback adventure, I thought the infamous landmark was right next to Alice Springs.

I had pictured flat red dust plains, tin sheds, leather-skinned blokes in Akubras, and kangaroo steaks for dinner.

So it came as a shock to this born-and-bred city girl when I learned that Alice is close to Ayers Rock in the same way that Canberra is close to Newcastle - about 450km apart.


But if you're keen to tick a trip to the iconic rock off your bucket list, don't let distance deter you from a visit to the Top End's smaller city.

Alice Springs is nothing like the rough and tough, wildlife-eating town I had imagined.

Its beauty struck me first: grassy plains teeming with colourful birds are skirted by the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges.

There's no better place than the Alice Springs Desert Park to learn about the abundant plants and animals of the Outback. Unless, that is, you've got enough time on your hands to walk all or some of the 223km Larapinta Trail that winds through the ranges' many gaps and sheltered gorges.

But whether you're standing on top of a mountain or on the pavement, you're guaranteed spectacular views of the landscape against a big blue or starlit sky.

If you want a real treat, look down on it all from 900m on a scenic helicopter ride - make sure you ask the pilot to take off the doors.

Back in town, you can unearth Alice's rich indigenous and colonial histories, which collided in the late 1800s when the Overland Telegraph Line that linked Adelaide to Darwin was built..

To gain an appreciation for just how isolated the Outback can really be, visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum for a 3D lesson from founder Reverend John Flynn.

I'm sure you've seen him around: he's on the Australian $20 note.

Admittedly, I did chomp down on novelty meals during my trip - I'd recommend the camel koftas - but I didn't have enough time to visit Uluru.

However, if Alice taught me anything, other than geography, it's that there's so much more to the Northern Territory than a rock.

Once you've got a taste for the Outback, it will stick to you like red dirt.



Virgin Australia flies direct from Adelaide, Melbourne and Darwin to Alice Springs.

• Pack sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat, especially if you want to do outdoor activities like quad biking or a camel ride.

• Learn how to photograph the night sky - you will miss all the stars once you're back in the city.

• Rent a 4WD. It's worth hiring a car to drive around town but a 4WD will open up the MacDonnell Ranges' many off-road attractions.