A trip to Central Australia is all about culture and outback exploration. Home to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, Alice Springs is a remote outback town located in the Northern Territory and halfway between Darwin in the north and Adelaide (South Australia). It is exactly halfway between the two capital cities, equally 1500 kilometres each way. Best known as the gateway to Australia’s Red Centre, it also played a significant role in our telecommunications history. In 1872, Alice Springs linked the Overland Telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin. The old telegraph station is just one of the historic sites you can visit on your trip to Central Australia.
Arriving and Getting Around
The most popular option to get to Alice Springs is by airplane. Our main airline, Qantas, has regular flights from most Australian cities. Once borders open up, a more scenic and relaxing journey is on board the historic Ghan railway which you can catch from either Darwin or Adelaide.
For the more adventurous, a four wheel drive all terrain vehicle will allow you to slow travel your way into Alice Springs. However, unless you are experienced in outback travel this option is not recommended.
When to visit
There’s no question that Central Australia is hot. If you have travelled through Europe in the middle of a balmy, hot summer day; this may prepare you. But an Australian summer can be brutal. The sun is a lot hotter than one might expect, but summer is also when you are more likely to come across a few of our most deadly desert critters.
While it is possible to experience Alice Springs all year round, the most comfortable time (climate wise) is between June and September.
There are a number of accommodation options to satisfy all budgets in Alice Springs from five star hotels to self catering motels and campgrounds. If you are driving into the town, a motel with onsite parking like the Desert Rose Inn located near Anzac Hill is a great choice. If you want a little more luxury then Alice Springs also has the bigger hotels such as Crowne Plaza and Mercure to choose from.
Eating out and Eating in
For self catering accomodation, Alice Springs has two main supermarkets, and several smaller ones, in its town centre fully stocked with all you need to make home cooked meals.
If you are staying in a hotel, there are a few Aussie pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants located in and around the Todd Mall area. Highly recommended is Sporties which is a sports bar and restaurant with friendly service and delicious meals. However, there is no WiFi as the intention is to encourage you to talk with your dining companions.
Things to do
While most people stay in Alice Springs as a base to explore the outback, there is still a lot to see in this small town.
A lookout above the town, but also holds a memorial to not only the Anzacs but all wars which Australia was involved in. Set up around the hilltop perimeter are information boards which set out each war and the role Australia played. It is also the place to be for sunrise and sunset views over the McDonnell Ranges.
Todd River and Todd Mall Precinct
While the river has not seen much water over the last couple of years, you can still take a walk and imagine how it once flowed. Today, it is used for the annual dry river bed boat race. The Todd Mall is the heart of Alice Spring’s shopping and dining area, including a street market. It also has a two popular Aboriginal art galleries which you can browse through art done by local artists. All proceeds go directly to the artists so you can confident your souvenir purchase is giving back to the community.
The Araluen Cultural Precinct
A whole gallery dedicated to Indigenous art and culture with a museum, independent theatre and art gallery. Take a walk through the Albert Namatjira gallery where his paintings are displayed. Albert Namatjira was the first Aboriginal artist to gain international recognition as an artist for his water colour paintings.
Adelaide House Museum
Built in 1926, it was the first hospital in Central Australia and designed by Reverend John Flynn the man on our $20 note. A museum, located in Todd Mall, dedicated to the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service which continues to provide valuable medical assistance to residents in outback communities. It was also where the first pedal radio was developed, connecting Outback residents to Australia.
Alice Springs Reptile Park
The largest collection of reptiles in the Northern Territory you would find in the Australian Outback. The centre is devoted to Indigenous reptiles and passionate keepers will share stories about the reptiles connection to the land. The centre also includes a snake call centre which has rangers on hand to rescue snakes which have wandered into a residents’ back yard.
Olive Pink Botanical Park
Founded in 1956 by Olive Pink; an artist, early native plant gardeners, anthropologist and activist for Aboriginal peoples rights. A 16 hectare botanical garden of native Australian plants which you can wander through. For more information visit the website https://opbg.com.au.
Finke Gorge National Park
Alice Springs is the gateway to many beautiful landscapes with experienced tour operators taking visitors out to explore daily. It is not recommended to attempt to visit these national parks on your own. Finke Gorge is not only popular for hiking, it also is home to the unique cabbage palms hidden away in Palm Valley.
A small group, personalised tour is the best way of seeing not only Finke Gorge, but other national parks around Alice Springs. A reliable tour operator with experienced guides is Way Outback Tours (wayoutback.com.au)