Stuart Highway, Alice Springs Region, Northern Territory © Sam Earp, Tourism NT
Day trips around Alice Springs
Alice Springs is the perfect base from which to explore the Red Centre.
Flying into Alice Springs can feel like you’re travelling to another planet. A city surrounded by a vibrant red vastness, it looks as though it’s been dropped from the sky. Alice Springs is the only city in the Red Centre, making it a convenient base to spring off and explore the awe-inspiring surrounding landscapes.
Here are just a few of the most amazing things to do around Alice Springs.
West MacDonnell Ranges
Where: A one-hour drive west from Alice Springs.
Floating in a refreshing, natural plunge pool in the middle of the desert is one of outback Australia's most memorable experiences. You’ll find ample opportunities to do just that in the spectacular Tjoritja West MacDonnell National Park (otherwise known as the ‘West Macs’), located just outside of Alice Springs. With over 161km (100mi) of natural beauty and natural water holes, it makes for a great water hole hopping day trip from Alice Springs.
Alice Springs Desert Park
Where: A 15-minute drive from the centre of Alice Springs.
Bust the myth that the desert is "dead" at the Desert Park on the outskirts of Alice Springs. This stunning park – part wildlife sanctuary, part botanic garden – is a mix of carefully re-created desert habitats (sand, woodland and desert rivers) and is bursting with life. Get up close to kangaroos, watch birds of prey in free flight, walk through aviaries, see snakes and animals that normally only make an appearance after dark and marvel at delicate desert wildflowers. You’ll learn how Aboriginal people find food and medicine in the desert and how these plants have cleverly adapted to their dry environment.
Where: A 15-minute drive south-east of Alice Springs city centre.
The area around Alice Springs is associated with the Caterpillar Dreaming (Yeperenye) creation story that tells how the MacDonnell Ranges were formed by great mounds of caterpillars, killed in a battle with their enemies, the stink bugs. The gaps in the ranges, including the one at the southern entrance to Alice Springs, were made when the heads of the caterpillars were bitten off. There are several sacred sites around town, but the most impressive is the caterpillar rock art that covers the rock walls at the East MacDonnell Ranges' Emily Gap, 10km (6mi) east of town along the Ross Highway. You can drive, cycle or join a tour.
Where: A 20-minute drive from Alice Springs.
A baby kangaroo is called a joey, and it's almost impossible not to fall in love at first sight with the adorable orphaned joeys being cared for by Chris Barnes (better known as "Brolga", star of the hit television series, Kangaroo Dundee). Chris's Kangaroo Sanctuary is about a 20-minute drive from Alice Springs, and open for tours Tuesday through Friday in the late afternoons. Tours, which include bus transfers from Alice Springs, last about 2.5 hours and you’ll get the chance to meet some of the beautiful red kangaroos that are typical of the Red Centre. Depending on his filming schedule, you might even get to meet Kangaroo Dundee himself.
Desert Art Trail
Where: The trail starts just a five-minute drive from Alice Springs.
Learn about the fascinating world of Aboriginal art by visiting the art galleries of Alice Springs. Start at the Araluen Arts Centre, which contains several galleries of Central Australian Aboriginal art as well as one of the country's largest collection of works by the renowned Albert Namatjira. The Tjanpi Desert Weavers – a group of more than 400 women artists from 26 remote communities – make beautiful baskets adorned with seeds and feathers, as well as quirky fibre sculptures of dogs and desert animals. Tangentyere Artists also produce quirky sculptures as well as beautiful fabrics, blankets and jewellery, all made from recycled metal, wood and abandoned objects. In Todd Mall, the pedestrianised shopping strip of Alice Springs, Papunya Tula Artists and Mbantua Gallery are good places to buy beautiful painted canvases to take home.
Finke Gorge National Park
Where: About a two-hour drive west of Alice Springs.
Another spectacular national park on Alice Springs’ doorstep is Finke Gorge. Home to one of the world’s oldest rivers – over 350 million years old – this remarkable landscape is lined with unique and age-old nature. Explore Palm Valley by foot or 4WD, where a plethora of distinctive flora and fauna grow including the vibrant red cabbage palms that are endemic to this area.