The Coriolis Effect

WRITTEN BY: Carlisle Rogers

PHOTOS BY: Carlisle Rogers

There’s a strange gravity in the hearts of men, woven into whatever defines our spirit, which draws us ever inward in great spiral arcs, mirroring the double-helix of our source code and the languid arms of uncountable galaxies. The universe, and everything in it, is impelled to seek the centre of things.

Yawning across the inner badlands that make up the red heart of Australia’s vast Outback, the Red Centre Way is a week-long looping journey ex-Alice Springs encompassing the hidden oases of Tjoritja/ West MacDonnell Ranges, the majestic cliffs of Kings Canyon, the brooding magnet of Uluru and the wind-raked valleys of Kata Tjuta.

Alice Springs

Every expedition into the Red Centre begins in Alice Springs, a strange outpost and telegraph station built around Heavitree Gap where the Todd River bisects the MacDonnell Ranges.

The story of Alice Springs is a story of survival. For 40,000 years, the local Aboriginal people eked out an existence in this central desert, following food through the bleak expanses of scrub and salt lakes, tending to the fragile oases of permanent water hidden in the folds of the MacDonnell Ranges.

From here, our great widdershins spiral journey begins.


The West MacDonnell Ranges hide glimmering desert gems and ochre serpentine diversions heading west from Alice.

The rocks here, once the bed of the Amadeus Basin, an ancient shallow inland sea, have been twisted and contorted violently, the bones of the mountains exposed: all their secrets laid bare. Oases lie hidden between the walls of towering gorges.

Driving west on Namatjira Drive, the range rises again and again in lightning bolt silhouettes. This is a land of stark colours: high red shade-cloaked walls, black-footed rock wallabies and bone-white gum trunks hanging impossibly above pitch black waterholes, sacred to man for the life they grant and for being the home of serpents numinous and corporeal.

Out on the road west again, the sun silhouettes the lightning bolt ranges. Ellery Creek Big Hole is a must-see out here: a deep, permanent hole flanked by a blood-red massif. You can get hypothermia here in the dead of summer from this water.

Where Ellery Creek is wide open, exposed and full of deep water, Serpentine Gorge to the west snakes through natural cracks in the twisted rock in a narrow, catty-cornered cascade of small rock pools.

Red ochre from the massive natural pits west of here was mined for thousands of years and traded from coast to coast. It was integral to the rite of manhood and stood as, perhaps, a proto-currency in pre-colonial Australia.

Perhaps the best swimming hole along the range is Ormiston Gorge. Open and inviting like Ellery Creek, it is bigger and the gorge is deeper, with red faces that seem to climb the sky, running down into steely gray stone at the water’s edge.

The West MacDonnell Range is a place of dire extremes, of colours, temperatures and experiences.


This scarred and scoured landscape is half a billion years old. Over that time, erosion has shaped it into a sprawling plain littered with breathtaking monoliths, gorges and chasms.

Past Glen Helen, a popular overnight stop on the Red Centre Way, the Mereenie Loop continues another 260km to Watarrka National Park, which contains Kings Canyon.

Striped sandstone domes dominate the country around the canyon. Its sheer walls, sliced ruler straight, reveal marbled crimson colours in the sandstone. Along the crest of the rim intricate designs are cut out of the soft stone, fluid shapes from ancient rains dancing with the sandstone’s lines of cleavage.

The scale is breathtaking here. The rim walk, one of the most inspiring short walks in the country, begins with a test, known as Heart Attack Hill. This gruelling 10-minute hike up stone steps sorts out the men from the boys.

The view from the first lookout out over the eastern wall is the perfect place to watch the sunrise from, as the waxing light paints the 440 million-year-old sandstone.

The last lookout, taking in the western face, is the ideal place to be if you are here for sunset. Here, the walls seem to absorb the afternoon light, redshift it and radiate it back out like heating elements.


Uluru and Kata Tjuta sit at the centre of our grand spiral trek. There is something about these blood orange formations that goes beyond their sacral history, beyond their ethereal beauty—something that tugs on our solar plexus directly. Across faiths, across cultures, it has a lure that is impossible to deny, or to adequately explain.

Here is the heart of the sunrise, the gravity well of the soul—Uluru—connected to every other point on the continent like a heart to every cell.

Beating blood red in the afternoon, the stone is alive, drawing on energy from every direction, refracting the setting sun’s rays into dark bands across the sky, changing blue into indigo, indigo into a violent purple against the ever-shifting oranges, reds and ochres of the stone, pitted and ragged from a millennia of being slowly and inexorably exposed as the surrounding alluvial plain washes away, one grain at a time, an ancient pyramid rising out of the dunes one stone at a time.

The relatively recent drawcards at Uluru of the Field of Light exhibition and the Wintjiri Wiru drone show offer modern interpretations of the age-old wonder this place evokes so easily.

Just 25km east of Uluru sits Kata Tjuta, a huddle of 36 conglomerate domes bubbling out of the plain.

Uluru juts out of the plain, beating its chest and challenging the sky. It is all vertical lines, a wide orange lingam, nature’s yang represented in a self-forming idol.

Kata Tjuta, on the other hand, is all yin: breast-like curves, anthropomorphic shapes in bas relief, the horizon broken by the shapes of totem demigods.

The main hike here is through the Valley of the Winds. It is a place to lose yourself in. Opposites dance fervishly: quick and dead, green and red, light and shadow, desert and oasis.

Secrets unfold around each corner and it’s easy to see why this place would be sacred to anyone, particularly a people used to living in a landscape that, to the untrained eye, is trackless.

Given tens of thousands of years, the first inhabitants must have inherited the gravity here. We seem to live in a world, in the west, of all cultures, of no culture, but the earth is a slow, patient teacher.

The Red Centre Way from here is the road back to Alice—to return home, but not as the same person. No pilgrim ever truly comes back.

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