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. See deserts and ancient mountain ranges with rocky gorges and hidden waterholes, sacred sites that date back tens of thousands of years and a thriving modern Aboriginal art scene. This is truly one of Australia’s most fascinating outback destinations, so take a few days to soak it all in.
Here are just a few of the most amazing things to do around Alice Springs.
West MacDonnell Ranges
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 161 kilometres (100 miles) of natural beauty, historic rocks and natural water holes, it makes for a great water hole hopping day trip from Alice Springs. With the breathtaking Simpsons Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge all within reach, it’s easy to spend the whole day here relaxing in the refreshing water.
Alice Springs Desert Park
Bust the myth that the desert is the "dead" heart of Australia 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. For an after-dark adventure join a guided nocturnal tour to see rare and endangered animals by spotlight.
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, 10 kilometres (six miles) east of town along the Ross Highway. You can drive, cycle or join a tour.
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 and even hold a joey. Depending on his filming schedule, you might even get to meet Kangaroo Dundee himself.
Desert Art Trail
Learn about the fascinating world of Aboriginal art by visiting the art galleries of Alice Springs. Start at the Araluen Arts Centre on the edge of town. It has several galleries of Central Australian Aboriginal art as well as one of the country's largest collection of works by the renowned Albert Namatjira. It also hosts the annual Desert Mob exhibition in September and October, showing works from desert communities across the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. The Tjanpi Desert Weavers in Wilkinson Street – 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 (16 Fogarty Street) also produces quirky sculptures as well as beautiful fabrics, blankets and jewellery, all made from recycled metal and wood and abandoned objects found in and around the town camps. In Todd Mall, the pedestrianised shopping strip of Alice Springs, Papunya Tula Artists and Mbantua Gallery (which also has a small museum that focuses on Aboriginal culture) are good places to buy beautiful painted canvases to take home.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Alice Springs happens to be the closest city to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, though that doesn’t make it close by any means. It still requires at least five hours of solid driving time, so if you want to make this a day trip - we suggest you hop on a helicopter. Despite the distance, a trip to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is guaranteed to be an unforgettable cultural experience that will remain with you long after you’ve left. Explore the natural wonders of Uluru at sunrise or sunset with a magical tour, see the Field of Light installation, and hike around the soaring rock domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). If you’d like to stay a bit longer, you can fly to Ayers Rock Airport and book in for a few nights at Ayers Rock Resort, which offers a range of incredible experiences.
Finke Gorge National Park
Another spectacular national park on Alice Springs’ doorstep is Finke Gorge. Home to one of the world’s oldest rivers – of 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 which are endemic to this area.