Unexpected Alice Springs: a 4-day itinerary
Enjoy the capital of the outback, Alice Springs. It will surprise you with its natural wonders, undeniable charm and unexpected experiences.
By Paige Richardson
Sitting right in the geographical heart of Australia, Alice Springs – or simply ‘Alice’ as the locals know it – is the true-blue capital of the outback. It’s remote, sure, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting how far you are from civilisation thanks to its many hip cafés, galleries and stays.
What you won’t overlook is its undeniable charm, observed in every quirky character you meet, in every ‘how I got here’ story told and at every far-out festivity you’re lucky enough to experience.
To make the most of your Alice Springs adventure, fly into the city (direct from most Australian capital cities) and hire a car from the airport. Schedule your visit for autumn (March to May) or spring (September to November) if it’s warm days and cool nights you’re after. But, with a packed cultural calendar spanning the entire year, the truth is there is no one best time to visit Alice Springs.
This unlikely city is host to a cracker calendar of events: there’s a beanie festival; an a capella concert in a gorge; the world's only dry river bed regatta (Flintstones-style); and a three-day ‘ex-drag-vaganza’ of parades and cabaret performances eerily reminiscent of the hit movie filmed here, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Check what's on and plan your trip to coincide with one of these offbeat events.
Here’s how to explore Alice in four days.
Day 1: Exploring Alice
Sipping a single-origin espresso alfresco probably isn’t how you’d expect to spend your first morning in the desert – which is exactly why you should. In Alice Spring’s main street, Todd Mall, you’ll find a string of worthy café contenders including Page 27 (an Alice institution), Epilogue Lounge, café-cum-patisserie The Bakery, and The Goods – known for its bottomless batch brew and a smashed avo to rival Melbourne’s best. Work it off with a walk up Anzac Hill for panoramic views over the city.
Go exploring this afternoon at the Kangaroo Sanctuary, where Chris ‘Brolga’ Barnes – star of the BBC’s Kangaroo Dundee series – rescues orphaned joeys and injured adult red ’roos, and cares for them at his 76-hectare wildlife reserve 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the city. The sunset tour follows Chris and his colleagues on their evening rounds armed with bottles of milk for the orphaned joeys, who are more than happy to jump into your arms for a cuddle and a feed. Tours can fill up fast, so be sure to book ahead.Show more
Day 2: On your bike
Day two is spent challenging another Alice misconception: that it’s all pancake-flat terrain and red dirt as far as the eye can see. In actual fact, it’s a mountain biker’s paradise, with some of the best hand-built singletrack trails in the world. Pop into Outback Cycling to hire a bike and set off for the main trailhead at Telegraph Station, or book the sunrise tour with Canadian-born-now Alice Springs-resident Jenn Rajher for a customised ride.
While the adrenaline’s still high, drive eight kilometres (five miles) west of the city to Alice Springs Desert Park to see birds of prey free-fly overhead at the Nature Theatre’s daily show before wandering the park’s carefully recreated desert habitats. Stay for an after-dark adventure on the Nocturnal Tour to spot foraging bilbies, malas and echidnas.
Day 3: Looping the West Macdonnell Ranges
Stretching 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Alice Springs, the majestic West MacDonnell Ranges National Park is a true inland oasis ripe for exploring. Set off before sunrise to Simpsons Gap to see the rocky peaks turn 100 shades of red and purple before making your way to Standley Chasm to wander through the alleyway cut in the quartzite rock. Continue on to Ellery Creek Big Hole for a gasp-inducing dip in its glacial-cold waters, then waterhole-hop from here to Redbank Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and Ormiston Gorge before looping back to Alice Springs. If you want to leave the driving to the experts, book a day tour with Emu Run Experience.
After a busy day, treat yourself to some fine-dining South East Asian fusion at Hanuman. The slow-cooked Madras goat curry with house-made garam masala is the standout!
Day 4: Alice from the air and the ground
For a bird’s-eye view of the desert landscape surrounding Alice Springs, wake early for a hot-air balloon adventure. Outback Ballooning picks you up from your hotel in the wee hours and takes you 15 kilometres (nine miles) south of town, where you’ll quietly rise with the morning sun. Drift peacefully over the historic Owen Springs Reserve, an old cattle station, and alongside the rugged caterpillar ranges, with never-ending views of the red-dirt and spinifex-tufted desert carpet below.
Use your free time in the afternoon to peruse Alice’s many fascinating art galleries. Start at the Araluen Arts Centre – home to several galleries of Central Australian Aboriginal art and the largest collection of works by the legendary Albert Namatjira. Todd Mall houses several more galleries; namely Papunya Tula Artists and Mbantua Gallery, while Tjanpi Desert Weavers and Tangentyere Artists sell beautiful hand-made baskets, blankets, fabrics and jewellery.Show more