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On the Larapinta Trail in Alice Springs.
WA News/Mogens Johansen On the Larapinta Trail in Alice Springs.

Give me a camel burger in the MacDonnells over the golden arches in the big smoke any day.

I'd gladly spend a night in the Red Centre camping under one of the most star-studded skies in the world than bar-hopping in a smoggy city.

It appears there are many others like me. The incentive to experience the great outdoors before it's destroyed by climate change, mining and the invasion of feral pests is growing day by day.

Those of us who are installing energy-efficient light globes, using recyclable shopping bags, timing our showers and capturing grey water to spray on our gardens also like to travel.

A growing number are making holiday choices based on how much carbon they will emit on the journey and whether the tourism operator is eco-accredited.

Many from here and overseas are choosing Alice Springs- well on its way to becoming Australia's first wholly solar city.

Enjoying about 300 days of sunshine every year, the never-ending expanse of shimmering sky and glistening rock formations makes the Red Centre the ideal place to harvest the sun's rays.

In Alice Springs - one of seven cities around Australia chosen to participate in the Federal Government's solar program - more than 50 per cent of all households use solar hot water systems.

Often referred to as the gateway to Uluru, Alice Springs also provides the midway point rest-stop for entrants in the annual Global Solar Car Challenge.

On any given day in Alice Springs, one square metre exposed to the sun at noon will receive about 1000 Watts (1kW) of energy.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel, with its expansive view of the iconic Todd River, in February last year became home to the biggest roof-mounted solar power plant in the southern hemisphere.

With help from the Federal Government, Crowne Plaza installed more than 1300 photovoltaic modules at a cost of $3 million, reducing the hotel's CO2 emissions by 420 tonnes per year and generating enough energy to power 60 homes.

Powering almost everything at the hotel to varying degrees, the installation has significantly reduced the hotel's electricity bill and the load it places on the Alice Springs power grid.

Educating visitors to the hotel about the importance of developing alternative energy sources, Crowne Plaza Alice Springs won the 2009 Brolga Qantas Award for excellence in sustainable tourism.

For those visitors to Alice Springs wanting to gain a greater understanding of solar energy, there is no better place to start than the Desert Knowledge Precinct.

Showcasing a range of solar-power technologies in commercial-scale installations, the centre, located near Alice Springs Airport, enables researchers and members of the public to inspect the panels and track and compare the performance of the individual systems in an arid environment via the internet.

But if the technical "ins and outs" of solar energy production are not your cup-of-tea and you're simply seeking an outback adventure that will enable you to return home with a clear conscience - there is plenty to do in the Australian desert that won't leave you feeling like an environmental vandal.

What sets tourism operators in Central Australia apart from the big airlines is that even the smaller-scale providers will off-set your carbon emissions free of charge.

Wayoutback Desert Safaris is one such operator. It achieved full carbon neutrality last year.

Delivering a wide variety of tours in Central Australia, the Advanced Eco Tourism Accredited 4x4 company eliminates its carbon footprint and will reduce your emissions through investment in a Darwin-based project that produces electricity from methane gas harvested from waste.

Visitors to Australia, who tour the West MacDonnell Ranges with Wayoutback, often marvel at how expansive the setting really is.

The fire-red, emerald-green and sky-blue landscape can be appreciated on foot and by road.

Cultural sustainability is an important part of what makes Wayoutback so successful.

Star guide Phil Taylor shows passion for Aboriginal culture and bush tucker, and native wildlife.

Phil spent a whole day showing me around all of his favourite swimming holes and the striking ochre chasms in the West MacDonnell Ranges.

At the Glen Helen Resort, where you can help conserve native flora and fauna by wrapping your laughing gear around a burger made from camel - a desert-dwelling pest - you'll find stories of a different kind.

The bartender tells me all about the interesting characters who have passed through what is more commonly known as "Albert Namatjira country".

The resort itself is staffed with plenty of enthusiastic backpackers, some like my bartender from overseas, who are there to learn about good old-fashioned Australian hospitality and to walk the Larapinta Trail.

Before you know it, you're back on the road, ready to hear another story from Phil.

After a few more hours of driving - spotting brumbies, camels, lizards, birds and wallabies - a quick stop for an ice-cream is the ideal way to stretch your legs.

Wayoutback makes a point of supporting local businesspeople, in a bid to prevent general stores closing in areas where fresh fruit and vegetables are desperately relied upon by Aboriginal communities.

The first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory, Hermannsburg - now a community - is a must see for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of Australia's indigenous population.

Buy a cool drink from Heidi and browse through the many Aboriginal paintings in the German village.

On the home stretch, Aboriginal dreamtime stories, relayed by Phil, bring the landscape to life.

After an enjoyable day experiencing the best of Australia, the true magnitude will only hit you once you've seen it from the air.

Determined not to drop my camera over the side, the helicopter twists to the right.

The 180-degree views of the West MacDonnell Ranges are breathtaking.

Taking in the vast and rugged beauty of the Red Centre, my Alice Springs Helicopters pilot, Owen Webb, explains the ancient and majestic rock formations and some of the town's history.

Dedicated to recycling, solar energy, carbon emission reduction and community engagement, Alice Springs Helicopters is the only helicopter operator in Australia to achieve Advanced Eco Tourism Accreditation.

The family-owned business can tailor any tour to suit your needs.

A joy flight is certainly the best way to get a quick and easy snapshot of the real Australian outback.

  • The writer was a guest of Tourism NT.