Rock off to the Red Cen­tre

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

AC­CORD­ING to a re­cent sur­vey, more than half of Aus­tralians rate a hol­i­day in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory high on a ‘‘bucket list’’ of things they would like to do.

Yet re­search com­mis­sioned by the North­ern Ter­ri­tory government shows that just 6 per cent of us say we are plan­ning a hol­i­day in the Red Cen­tre this year while nearly one in five will fly straight over the Top End headed to tourism hot spots such as Bali, Sin­ga­pore or the re­sorts of south­ern Thai­land. Three per cent of Aus­tralians book­ing a domestic hol­i­day last year chose the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. And it gets worse.

We might rate Uluru as our most iconic land­mark, with one in four of us rank­ing it above the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge, the Great Bar­rier Reef and the Syd­ney Opera House, but al­most three in four have never been there. Ap­par­ently that doesn’t stop most of us from rec­om­mend­ing the North­ern Ter­ri­tory as a must-go hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion to fam­ily and friends. A whop­ping 83 per cent of Tas­ma­ni­ans have never vis­ited the North­ern Ter­ri­tory; nei­ther have 68 per cent of Vic­to­ri­ans nor 74 per cent of Queens­lan­ders, even though the North­ern Ter­ri­tory of­fers unique ac­tiv­i­ties such as off-road ad­ven­tures in the World Her­itage-listed Kakadu Na­tional Park, sa­fari-style camps the equal of African game-park ac­com­mo­da­tion and ele­gant din­ing-un­der-the-stars ex­pe­ri­ences at Uluru.

An­drew McEvoy, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Tourism Aus­tralia, says Dar­win’s ho­tels are roar­ing with cor­po­rate trade, but on the leisure side Aus­tralians are vir­tu­ally ig­nor­ing the Red Cen­tre even though mil­lions of dol­lars were re­cently pumped into im­prov­ing its tourism in­fra­struc­ture.

‘‘Lass­es­ters [Ho­tel Casino] at Alice Springs has just done a $30 mil­lion makeover and [the own­ers of] Voy­ages at Uluru have also spent big,’’ McEvoy says.

He adds that a lack of flights from east coast cap­i­tals to the Red Cen­tre could be a sig­nif­i­cant part of the prob­lem, with Alice Springs and Ay­ers Rock air­ports re­cently los­ing ca­pac­ity.

On a brighter note, Tiger Air­ways will com­mence di­rect flights from both Syd­ney and Mel­bourne to Alice Springs on April 9. Vir­gin Aus­tralia flies from Syd­ney to Alice Springs daily and Qan­tasLink from Cairns.

Even the deals are cheap. For ex­am­ple, un­til April 30, a two-night stay at Voy­ages Ay­ers Rock Re­sort, with daily buf­fet break­fast, re­turn air­port trans­fers and in­ter­pre­tive in­dige­nous ac­tiv­i­ties, costs $241 a per­son and chil­dren un­der 12 stay free. Per­haps McEvoy puts it best when he says: ‘‘Do your­self a favour and get on a plane to Dar­win or the Red Cen­tre. We have in our back­yard one of the world’s best [tourism] ex­pe­ri­ences.’’

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