Finke Gorge National Park
One of the trickiest off-road drives in the Red Centre is the trip into Boggy Hole in Finke Gorge National Park. Just 140km south-west of Alice Springs, Finke Gorge is famous for the oasis of Palm Valley (the only place where Cabbage Palms grow for 850km), but also within the park is a permanent waterhole called Boggy Hole. Despite its name, Boggy Hole is a picturesque place, but the drive in is anything but scenic. The route demands high clearance, low range gearing and off-road experience to undertake, which includes rocky and sandy sections where you can get stuck or damage your vehicle.
Ruby Gap Nature Park
Northeast of Alice Springs is Ruby Gap, a gorge that’s considered to be one of the most picturesque in the entire Red Centre. It was given its name after explorer David Lindsay found what he thought were rubies in the Hale River (they turned out to be garnets) in 1887, but today is known for its beauty and remoteness.
A 150km drive from Alice, the 38km 4WD-only track from Arltunga to Ruby Gap is not for the faint-hearted. The track requires you to negotiate the bed of the Hale River, which is filled with large rocks, sandy sections and water (after which it remains just as difficult). However, after some white-knuckle moments you’re rewarded with a spectacular combination of steep gorge faces and cool waters once you’re in the Ruby Gorge proper.
Owen Springs Reserve
While it’s little-known and often-overlooked, Owen Springs Reserve is a scenic gem that’s only 50km west of Alice Springs. There is a 2WD access point to the reserve off the Stuart Highway, however that course denies travellers the chance to do some true off-road driving. There are sandy sections along the way that can test your 4WD skills, however the main attractions within the reserve are a little off the track.
The main highlights within Owen Springs are Redbank Waterhole and the Old Owen Springs Homestead. The former is a broad waterhole that’s tailor-made for relaxation, while the latter holds the ruins of a circa-1870 homestead for you to explore. In between are classic Outback landscapes and numerous pieces of evidence from local tribes of years gone past.
Huge Gorge from Namatjira Drive
One of the Red Centre’s most famous drives is the sealed Namatjira Drive, which runs parallel to the West MacDonnell Ranges and the Larapinta Trail (a 223km walking trail that follows the crest of the range). A link between Namatjira Drive and the Larapinta Trail is Pastoral Road, a 4WD-only track that puts travellers in touch with various scenic spots on the eastern side of the range.
Along the track is Birthday Gap Waterhole, a small but idyllic spot, as well as Reedy Hole Waterhole, which is located off the main track and is generally quiet. The end of the 4WD track is a trailhead for the Larapinta Trail, however reaching the end requires some clever driving – especially across the rockier sections and dry creek beds that pop up along the way.