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The region north of Alice Springs is known for its rugged beauty. It is a great place to try your hand at gem fossicking, go bushwalking, to camp in a bush setting or drive a four-wheel drive track.
Get off the beaten track to experience the vast, flat and sandy red landscape of the central Australian desert via the Tanami Desert. The Tanami Track cuts a 1,050km sandy course from Alice Springs to Halls Creek in Western Australia's Kimberley region. It should only be tackled by experienced four-wheel drivers.
Fossick for gems
Gemtree is about 140km east of Alice on the Plenty Highway, and the gateway to the Central Australian gemfields where you can fossick for garnets and zircons. Set up camp in the quiet bush caravan park and visit the onsite gem room that displays a selection of jewellery, gems and minerals. From March to October a resident gem cutter is at work there – take in your finds to have them turned into sparkling gems. Join a tour (leaving daily) to follow an expert around the gemfields.
If you're keen to venture further afield to try your luck fossicking, pick up a mud map of the scenic four-wheel drive tracks that go into the beautiful Harts Ranges. If you prefer to rely on local knowledge, join a tag-a-long tour and follow the convoy.
Alternative route east
For an off-road alternative to the Plenty Highway, take the Sandover Highway. Unsealed from the turn-off, this route extends from central Australia to Mount Isa in western Queensland. The road has large sections of sand and corrugations, so a four-wheel drive is essential. There are a number of Aboriginal communities along this track, which is not a major thoroughfare so traffic is infrequent.