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Want a holiday that won’t break the budget? Stay local and explore the amazing land that is Australia.

On a continent where a ‘road trip’ can be anything from a drive to the shop to a summer holiday, this epic heartland journey is the big daddy of them all: 3000km of iconic landscapes, from the wild Southern Ocean, through South Australia’s wine-growing valleys, past Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the central desert, and into the tropical north. Grab some friends and embark on the last great ‘road trip’ through extracts from Lonely Planet’s Central Australia guide.

Start your big drive along the Limestone Coast, past the dunes and lakes of the sea-salty Coorong National Park. Further north, the Fleurieu Peninsula is a decadent weekender for Adelaidians, with expansive (often private) beaches, the magical McLaren Vale wine region, and Kangaroo Island’s wildlife, forests and seafood just offshore. Adelaide itself remains a cultural high-water mark – a chilled-out city of 1.5 million people with world-class festivals, sensational restaurants and a hedonistic arts scene.

Of course, you can’t visit central Australia without seeing Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas): big country, big desert, and some mighty big rocks. As the sun cuts into the horizon every night, 50 buses carrying as many nationalities pull up to watch Uluru glow with deep, bloodlike intensity: red, orange and burnt umber. The air out here is charged with desert ions; the night sky is milky with stars: camping out in a swag is an unmissable experience.

So forget the east and west coasts – if you want a definitive encapsulation of all Australia has to offer, central Oz is it! Crank up Midnight Oil’s Diesel & Dust on the car stereo and hit the wide, open road: this is Australia at its most diverse, challenging and potent.

This is an edited extract form Central Australia 5th Edition, by Charles Rawlings-Way © Lonely Planet Publications, 2009, $39.99

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