Teen Territory – Uluru and Alice Springs with teens

Sometimes in life you need a reset, time to examine what it is you’re working towards. A reality check of sorts. Teenagers need this more than ever as they navigate their final years of high school. There’s incredible pressure over that final mark, the one they are told will determine their future path. While I’m a fan of achieving goals and performing well, I think life needs to be balanced. As a family we’ve found travel is a great pressure reliever. Keen for my teen to leave the stresses behind in the long summer holidays, we headed for the outback. Far away from her usual life and to a place where she could be reminded of what it is that she’s working towards. 

Arriving in Central Australia. Credit: Julie Jones

When my daughter was 14 we travelled to Central Australia and the trip left an indelible impression on her. Now 17, and with social work earmarked as her future career choice, she applied to volunteer in a childcare centre near Uluru. We knew the heat and flies would be intense in January, but tourist numbers are low for the same reason, giving us time to appreciate the quiet of this remote region of Australia. We snapped up a discounted accommodation deal at Voyages Resort and stayed in a one bedroom apartment. From previous mother-daughter travels, I know we both like our space and having a kitchen is good for the budget. 

Julie and her daughter walked part of the base of Uluru every day, before the worst of the heat! Credit: Julie Jones

Most people allow only a couple of days for a visit, but we had a week of exploring. Our daily commute to the childcare centre involved a drive around the base of Uluru. Although a distance from Voyages Resort, traffic was non-existent and we had the privilege of seeing Uluru in all its moods. From 8am to 1pm my daughter worked in the childcare centre, leaving us free to roam for the rest of the time. Wearing our unattractive, but necessary, fly nets, we’d walk a small portion around the base each day before taking refuge in the cool overhangs of the rock. By afternoon, the heat was so intense we were often lone explorers. Although dwarfed by the size of the UNESCO World Heritage listed site, it wasn’t until we took to the skies in a helicopter that we could comprehend the true size of the monolith.

You’ll be grateful you have fly nets in summer at Uluru! Credit: Julie Jones

Early one morning, we booked a flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. As keen photographers we asked for a ‘doors off’ flight ensuring no reflections in our photos. It proved an exhilarating choice with the cool air rushing the cabin and the knowledge the seatbelt was all that held us in as we leant out for that perfect shot. While Uluru was impressive, it was much as I’d imagined, but Kata Tjuta was a surprise with its 36 rock domes visible from the air.    

The view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta is unparalleled from the air. Credit: Julie Jones

Sunrise and sunset are much anticipated events in the national park. While I enjoyed our evening picnics at the various viewing areas, the highlight of our stay was the magical ‘A Night at Field of Light’.  Our evening began with canapes and chilled sparkling wine (for me) served on a viewing platform overlooking Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. As the sun set, we watched the 50,000 lights, which make up the Field of Light art installation, begin to twinkle in the darkness. In the distance the sound of a digeridoo signalled it was time for us to make our way to one of the candlelit tables for dinner.  

Picnics at sunset watching the rock change colour before your eyes. Credit: Julie Jones

It was lovely seeing my daughter delighting in the company of the fellow travellers at our table. We dined on a bush tucker inspired buffet while watching a local star expert point out the Southern Cross, signs of the zodiac and the Milky Way in the starlit night sky. We finished the evening with a walk through the magical Field of Light. 

Our week long immersion in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was far richer than a regular holiday. It heightened our senses and sparked many conversations about Indigenous culture and the children we met at the centre. It wasn’t easy to leave, but another adventure awaited us in Alice Springs. 

We felt every bit of the remoteness of the desert during our 5 hour drive with long stretches of highway with not another car or building in sight. Snacks, a good playlist and a game of spotto helped pass the time. We reached the Erlunda Roadhouse where we took a break and bought feed for the resident mob of emus. The sight of many hungry emus with sharp beaks coming towards us left us squealing, retracting our hands, and spreading the food on the gate for them. 

The cheeky residents of Erlunda Roadhouse! Credit: Julie Jones

Our last stop before Alice Springs was Camels Australia at Stuarts Well. We picked up ice creams and fell in love with a gorgeous orphan camel who had been rescued from a cattle grid. Unlike the emus he was calm and eager for a pat. 

We were relieved to arrive in Alice Springs and find a comfortable family room awaiting us at the quirky Alice Springs YHA. Although I’m a 5-star loving girl, I believe travel should involve varied experiences and staying in a youth hostel located in an old movie theatre is a unique opportunity. As a nod to the building’s history a movie is screened under the stars in the courtyard each night. 

At Stuarts Well, meet the rescued orphaned camels for a pat. Credit: Julie Jones

Much of Alice Springs was closed for summer but our goal was to return to the West MacDonnell Ranges to swim in the beautiful gorges, which were too cold in winter. We swam, chatted and giggled our way around Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston and Glen Helen Gorges. The West MacDonnell Ranges stretch 161km west of Alice Springs and no matter the season the colours and picturesque gorges makes this a spectacular day trip. 

A swim in the stunning Ellery Creek Big Hole at West MacDonnell Ranges. Credit: Julie Jones

Our trip to Central Australia achieved what I set out to do. While my daughter had some school work to do when we were away, I saw a carefree girl relishing the opportunities travel offered and the experiences were a reminder that there’s more to life than that final mark. 

Other Teen Approved Activities

  • Take a camel ride at dawn at Uluru
  • Tour Uluru from the back of a trike
  • Learn how to do dot art from a local indigenous artist at Voyages Resort
  • Cuddle a joey at the Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs
  • See the incredible bird show at Alice Springs Desert Park
  • Learn how children on remote properties access schooling through Alice Springs School of the Air
  • See the incredible work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the museum in Alice Springs.

READ MORE:

Top 5 multi-day hikes for teens in Australia

Victoria’s great outdoors for teens

Stunning film locations you can visit in the Northern Territory

Top End adventures you need to try

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