Provider: Intrepid Travel
Length: 11 days
Price: about $1,640
Love the American Southwest, with its red rock mountains and canyons, native culture, and Wild West atmosphere? If so, try Australia's Red Centre, a destination that matches the Southwest's beauty but is inhabited by kangaroos and dingoes instead of coyotes and rattlesnakes, and is the realm of Australia's indigenous Aboriginal people.
While planning a trip to the region, Cameron Gaze, a camera assistant from Los Angeles, decided to book an 11-day trip through U.K.-based Intrepid Travel. "I wanted a real adventure and wanted to really experience the Red Centre of Australia, not just see it from a tour bus window," says Gaze who traveled with his wife. "Most other companies offered big bus tours without much on-ground experience or else private tours which were pretty expensive. Intrepid seemed to offer smaller groups and to really get you out there living it."
Starting in South Australia in the burnt umber Flinders Ranges, you'll venture into the Yourambulla caves to see Aboriginal paintings, hike to a natural amphitheater, and then stay with an Aboriginal community where you'll hear "Dreamtime" (Creation) stories and eat traditional foods. Then, you'll follow the Oodnadatta Track, an old Aboriginal trading route, through the desert, stopping at Aboriginal sites, thermal springs, and cowboy outposts en route. Finally, you'll hike around three red-rock icons sacred in the eyes of the indigenous communities: Uluru (Ayer's Rock), the red monolith Australia uses as its calling card to the world; Kata Tjuta, an even larger red rock formation with 36 domes; and Kings Canyon, a nearly 900-foot deep gorge.
"The major sites like Uluru and Kings Canyon were amazing but our leader took us to some off-the-beaten-path areas where we swam in crystal clear water holes, which was just so amazing—it felt like we were the only people on Earth," says Gaze."[This trip] was by far one of the most memorable adventures I've ever had. It was pretty 'out there' at times, sleeping in swags (small, one-person tents) and eating around the campfire each night. By the end of it I was covered in red earth and smiling like crazy."
Trips depart every Sunday, plus every Wednesday from January through March, 2009. Rates cover accommodations (hotels and camping), ground transportation, guides, entrance fees and hikes, and most meals. Optional activities, sleeping bags, and airfare are extra. Open-jaw fares from Los Angeles to the trip's departure point in Adelaide and from the trip end point in Alice Springs back to Los Angeles start at $2,203, including taxes, on American.