In the heart of Australia lies Alice Springs, an oasis in the true sense of the word.
By Stephanie Williams
Surrounded by red dirt and hauntingly beautiful mountain ranges you'll find Alice Springs, a city of arts and events. Alice Springs – known to locals as simply "Alice" – is the beating heart of Australia's Red Centre. It's a great base for exploring the natural wonders of the Northern Territory's outback, including Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, the West MacDonnell Ranges and their iconic Larapinta Trail, the red sands of the Simpson Desert and the haunting sight of the Devils Marbles. It's also a fascinating spot to explore Australia's Aboriginal culture.
HOW TO GET THERE
Qantas has direct flights to Alice Springs from most major cities in Australia. Virgin Australia offers direct flights from Adelaide and Darwin. Alice Springs sits between the capital cities of Darwin and Adelaide, with a major sealed highway connecting the three destinations. It's about 16 hours from Alice Springs to either city, and the road has regular gas stations, small towns and roadhouses. Another popular way to experience the area is via The Ghan, a comfortable and scenic train journey between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs and Katherine.
- Discover Aboriginal art in the city's galleries
- Take a helicopter ride over the West MacDonnell Ranges
- See sunrise or sunset over the red rocks of Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Alice Springs highlights
TOP THINGS TO DO IN ALICE SPRINGS
Visit Aboriginal art galleries
Australian Aboriginal art is the oldest ongoing art tradition in the world. Early Aboriginal stories and culture were expressed in rock carvings, body painting and ground designs, some dating back more than 30,000 years. In 1971 a schoolteacher, Geoffrey Bardon, saw the impermanent art being creating just north-west of Alice Spring at Papunya. He introduced paints and canvas to the community and many locals began adapting their styles to take advantage of these new, Western mediums. The Western Desert art movement was born. Artworks are displayed in galleries across Alice Springs, such as the Papunya Tula gallery, owned and directed by traditional Aboriginal people from the Western Desert. Lose yourself exploring the range of private and collectively owned galleries lining Todd Mall, a pedestrian-only shopping strip in the centre of town, or visit the collection at the Araluen Arts Centre. The Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a social enterprise that takes basket weaving to the next level.
Get to know the city's outback culture
Climb to the top of Anzac Hill for sweeping views over Alice Springs and the distant MacDonnell Ranges. Breakfast in one of the bustling cafés along Todd Mall, then join the hop-on/hop-off bus to the town’s main attractions such as the Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, part of the revolutionary telegraph system that connected England with Australia in 1872, or the School of the Air Visitor Centre, where you can sit in on a virtual lesson with Australian children who live in remote parts of Australia's centre. Wander through the Araluen Cultural Precinct, learning about Central Australian mythology, art and culture. The precinct's attractions include the Albert Namatjira Gallery and the Museum of Central Australia. Return to Anzac Hill to catch the mesmerising, lava-like sunset before enjoying a dinner at one of the buzzing restaurants in town.
Explore the MacDonnell Ranges
Stretching out hundreds of kilometres each side of Alice Springs are the caterpillar-like East and West MacDonnell Ranges. They’re full of incredible views, hiking, 4WD tracks, freshwater swimming holes and camping spots. Spend a day in the West MacDonnell Ranges (home to the Larapinta Trail) to discover Simpsons Gap and black-footed rock wallabies. See the soaring red cliffs and swimming holes at Ormiston Gorge and Pound, or visit Finke Gorge National Park. Hire a car and explore the region yourself, take a day tour, or jump on board an unforgettable scenic flight over the area.
Trek the Larapinta Trail
Starting just outside Alice Springs city centre, the 223 kilometre (139 mile) Larapinta Trail has 12 sections that can be walked in part or in full. A number of companies, such as World Expeditions and Trek Larapinta, offer guided multi-day walking adventures along the trail. You'll find varying grades and terrain along the trail, which is dotted with freshwater swimming holes at various points, and takes in several stunning gorges and scenic mountain peaks. The best time of year on the trail is from May to August.
Explore the grandeur of Kings Canyon
Halfway between Alice Springs and Uluru lies Kings Canyon, an ancient formation of soaring red rock faces with dense palm forests below. About 600 species of plants and animals live here, alongside the Luritja Aboriginal people, who have called the Watarrka National Park area home for more than 20,000 years. Climb to the top of the rim of Kings Canyon at sunrise or sunset. The challenging six kilometre (3.7 mile) Kings Canyon Rim Walk takes three to four hours. You can also take a guided rim walk with an Aboriginal elder and learn about the significance of the area to its traditional owners. The shorter and easier Kings Creek Walk at the canyon base leads you through lush ferns and eucalypts to a platform with views of the sheer canyon walls above. If you'd like to rest your legs, you can explore the landscape from the back of a camel, take the scenic route on a helicopter flight, or tour Kings Creek Station by quad bike.
Spend some time at Uluru
There really is nothing else on earth like Uluru or its sister rock formation, Kata Tjuta. Stay at Ayers Rock Resort, which offers a range of accommodation styles from camping and hostel-style accommodation, through to the five-star Sails in the Desert hotel. Or check in to the exclusive Longitude 131, which is so close to Uluru that you don't even have to lift your head from your fluffy pillow to see it.
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Red Centre Highlights
You may know it's sacred to the Aboriginal people here, and that it turns some spectacular colours at sunrise and sunset. You might not know that you can experience it through Aboriginal eyes, or that there are many other sacred and breathtaking sites here in Australia's vast centre. Uluṟu's cousin Kata Tjuṯa is just 40 kilometres away and you'll find the awe-inspiring Kings Canyon not far from Alice Springs. You might not realise that this landscape has green vegetation and lush waterholes as well as dusty red roads and huge slabs of rock. And what you won't really understand until you get here is the magic, majesty, silence and splendid isolation of Australia's Red Centre.
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