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.
- Discover Aboriginal art and dine under the Milky Way with Aboriginal chef Bob Pernuka from RT Tours
- Take a helicopter ride over the West MacDonnell Ranges
- See sunrise or sunset over the red rocks of Uluru and Kata Tjuta
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.
Things to do and top attractions 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. In 1971 a schoolteacher, Geoffrey Bardon, saw the impermanent art being created just north-west of Alice Spring at Papunya. He introduced paints and canvas to the community and many locals began taking advantage of these new, Western mediums. Today 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. Explore the 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
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 and 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 history, art and culture. The precinct's attractions include the Albert Namatjira Gallery and the Museum of Central Australia. For dinner, dine under the Milky Way stars with RT Tours on their seven-hour Mbantua Sunset and Starlight Bush Dinner, where you enjoy an amazing three-course meal infused with native ingredients hosted by Aboriginal chef Bob Pernuka Taylor. It's a meal and atmosphere you won't forget.
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
Between Alice Springs and Uluru lies Kings Canyon, an ancient formation of 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 Parkarea home for more than 20,000 years. Climb to the top of Kings Canyon at sunrise or sunset. The challenging six-kilometre (3.7-mile) Kings Canyon Rim Walk takes three to four hours. The easier Kings Creek Walk at the base leads you through lush ferns to a view of the canyon walls above. You can also explore the landscape from the back of a camel, a helicopter or on a quad bike. Near Kings Creek Station, Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience & Tours is an experience not to be missed, where you can discover native foods such as bush plum and honey ants, learn more about dot painting and see how mulga wood can be transformed into weapons and artefacts and seeds into jewellery.
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 wide range of accommodation styles. 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 pillow to see it. Join a Maruku Arts dot-painting workshop at Ayers Rock Resort to learn about the Tjurkurpa creation symbols and then paint your own creation story. Inside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre view an impressive array of art and wooden sculpture at Maruku Arts Gallery. After you’ve explored the famous sites at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, go deep into the heart of the Red Centre with SEIT Outback Australia to visit places like Cave Hill, site of the Seven Sisters creation stories, which is possibly the most significant art site in Central Australia.
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