If you’re booked on the life-changing Desert Brumby Safari in the red heart of Australia, you’ll most likely be meeting your hosts in Alice Springs to be transferred to Kings Creek Station – and returning to ‘Alice’, as she’s known, on your way home, too.
Rather than simply passing by, why not take the opportunity to dig beneath the surface of this remote, culturally rich city? Much like the opals the region is known for, once you get beneath her surface, Alice Springs is absolutely spellbinding. Read on for our take on the best things to do and see, places to eat, transport and accommodation in Alice.
A public bus service operates in and around the town from Monday to Saturday (excluding public holidays). You can find a timetable at the visitor information centre, or download it here. As far as taxis go, there’s Alice Springs Taxis and 13Cabs – trips from the airport to the town centre cost around $30. There’s also an airport shuttle bus, which will transfer you between the airport and your hotel (or anywhere else in Alice!) for a fair price, with discounts for multiple passengers and trips. A number of car hire companies have desks at the airport, too, should you wish to self-drive. Or, if you don’t want to hire a car but are keen to explore the sights further afield, check out the bus tours offered by Alice Wanderer.
Sights and activities
Alice Springs sits smack bang in the middle of Australia and services an area the size of France! It’s rich in culture and history, with a thriving Indigenous culture and a generous helping of small-town charm in spite of its booming population. It also has the most art galleries per capita of any Australian town or city – so don’t forget to visit a couple! Australian Aboriginal art is the world’s oldest ongoing art tradition, and here in Alice it is absolutely thriving. The Araluen Cultural Precinct is a great place to get a grounding in the region’s Indigenous culture and history, as well as its vibrant arts scene.
If you’re a sucker for cute animals, you can’t go past The Kangaroo Sanctuary, where owner Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns rescues and rehabilitates orphaned and injured kangaroos. Better known as Kangaroo Dundee since the documentary series of the same name brought him into the limelight, Chris is a kangaroo-loving, true-blue Aussie character who will inspire you, make you laugh, and satisfy all your fluffy native animal-cuddling needs. Sadly, ‘Roger the Ripped Kangaroo’ has passed on, but the role of alpha male has been adopted by some pretty huge roos, so we hear. Book a guided sunset tour to top off a beautiful day in Alice. Or, if you prefer animals of the scaly kind, Alice Springs Reptile Centre will keep you happy with an amazing collection of native reptiles and amphibians, including crocodiles, goannas, snakes and lizards.
The natural beauty of this desert region is what truly sets it apart, so we highly recommend getting out and about to discover the flora, fauna, varying landscapes and jaw-dropping views that surround Alice. There are countless walking tracks, from the paths winding through the Olive Pink Botanic Garden to the Larapinta Trail, a 250 kilometre pilgrimage through the wild mountains. Cycling and walking are both popular pastimes for locals and tourists alike, with well-made trails catering to a range of fitness levels and interests. We recommend exploring the MacDonnell Ranges, where the local Dreamtime story of giant caterpillars forming the ranges will suddenly make a lot of sense! Whether you trek a portion of the Larapinta Trail or just find a beautiful swimming hole to cool off in, you’re guaranteed a memorable day.
For a different perspective on the Australian outback, why not experience a hot air balloon flight over the MacDonnell Ranges? Outback Ballooning sees you take to the air before sunrise, putting you in a prime position to watch the sun emerge over the horizon and gradually flush the whole landscape golden. The scale of the scene will blow your mind.
And for the history buffs, while you’ll have plenty of museums and historical trails to choose from, you can’t go past the Telegraph Station, which also marks the site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. Established in 1872, the telegraph station itself relayed messages between Darwin and Adelaide, ultimately joining up with an undersea telegraph network that allowed messages to be sent between Alice Springs and London in as little as five hours – a vast improvement on the three to four month journey of messages sent by boat! The Alice Springs School of the Air is also well worth a visit, offering some amazing historical insights as well as the chance to see a lesson taking place. And if you’re not yet historied-out, pop in to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum and meet ‘John Flynn the Hologram’!
Places to eat
For a real taste of the outback, you MUST book yourself a place at the Mbantua Starlight and Bush Dinner Tour. This immersive tour sees you drive out along the Western McDonnell Ranges in the afternoon, with time for a short walk, a drink and a bush tucker demonstration as the sun sinks closer to the horizon. Then your host, Bob, will cook up a three-course meal featuring native bush tucker and local produce in a bush oven or barbeque. Over the course of the evening you’ll learn about these native foods and how to cook them, as well as some of the Aboriginal history, culture and Dreamtime stories of the area. As dusk fades and the Milky Way shines bright, you’ll have a good chance of spotting some wildlife before travelling back into town.
For the rest of your meals, there’s the trendy Page 27 Cafe and its sister restaurant, Epilogue Lounge, which has a buzzing live music scene. There’s also renowned South East Asian restaurant, Hanuman, and Italian restaurant Casa Nostra, which serves up a vanilla slice so lusted-after that you have to reserve a piece when booking!
Places to stay
Our top pick for hotels is Aurora Alice Springs, which is both affordable and central, with well-equipped, comfortable rooms. There’s also Desert Palms, a 3.5 star motel on the banks of the Todd River offering free-standing villa accommodation.
If you’re after a touch of luxury, try DoubleTree by Hilton, an eco-friendly hotel with views of the McDonnell Ranges located an easy walk from the centre of town.
On the other hand, if you fancy a more social, communal experience, we recommend checking in to Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn. This small, family-run hostel is tucked away next to the Botanic Gardens five minutes’ walk from the town centre. Private rooms and dorms are both on offer, but it’s the well-equipped kitchen, comfortable communal spaces and overall friendliness that makes this hostel a stand-out.
We wish you a safe, enjoyable and – above all – unforgettable journey into Australia’s red centre. If you have any tips to add for Alice Springs, please share them in the comments!
Image credits: The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs, Outback Ballooning, Adventure Mumma, AWOL/Junkee, northernterritory.com.au