Region guidefor Alice Springs & Surrounds
Alice Springs, the unofficial capital of Australia’s Red Centre, has plenty to offer all kinds of traveller. From diving into hidden waterholes in the desert landscape, to getting your adventure fix with some Outback hot air ballooning. There’s something for everyone in Alice, including getting up close and personal with some of Australia’s unique wildlife.
Australia’s major cities tend to hug the coastline – meaning many travellers are tempted to do the same. But those who don’t venture inland are missing out on a true Aussie experience in Alice Springs.
So whether you want to immerse yourself in Australia’s rich Aboriginal and European history, or if you want to find out more about contemporary Aussie Outback culture, a visit to Alice is a must.
A few fast facts
- They call it the Red Centre for a reason. Alice is right in the middle of Australia
- Per capita, Alice Springs has the most art galleries of any town or city in Australia – making it one of the most artistic cities in the world. Who needs Paris when you’ve got Alice Springs?
- Alice Springs is the major hub for the entire Red Centre. In fact, it services an area that’s roughly the size of France! This is why you’ll find so many shops and restaurants in town
- According to the traditional Dreamtime stories of the Arrernte people, the land around Alice Springs was created by ancestral figures, two sisters, travelling boys and animals like wallaroos, caterpillars and wild dogs. These Dreaming stories are some of the first ever recorded in Australia.
If you’re after the best Alice Springs tourist information, you’re in luck. Here are the must-sees in and around Alice and some essential do-it-yourself trips to get you clued in on Alice Springs attractions.
Alice Springs Desert Park
Surviving in the semi-arid Aussie desert might not sound easy, but the Desert Park in Alice Springs is simply teeming with life. You will get to know the diverse array of native wildlife, and find out just how these unique creatures survive in the wilderness. Guests should plan their visit around the daily shows and activities: you don’t want to miss the free-flying bird experiences, Aboriginal survival presentations or intimate encounters with iconic wedge-tailed eagles.
Take a walk along the trail to see three different habitat areas, before learning about local Aboriginal culture in the Aboriginal Survival presentation. Discover the kinship of the Arrernte People, learn their ancient customs and how to perform tasks like water gathering and catching food – essential skills in the Aussie bush!
The Larapinta Trail
This is one of the most stunning walking trails that Australia has to offer, snaking along the West MacDonnell Ranges for more than 223km. There are both short hikes and longer treks with overnight camping on offer, as well as plenty of guided walks over the Larapinta Trail.
If you’re feeling fit and firing, why not give the world-famous Larapinta Trail Run a go? Forget crowded city marathons, the four-day, four-stage event lets you run through the open Aussie Outback and take in some of the world’s best scenery.
Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre
The Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre provides an insight into a little known but crucially important aspect of Outback life. The school is “the world’s largest classroom”, covering more than 1.3 million square kilometres (502,000 square miles). There are plenty of families in Australia’s sparsely populated middle, and the Alice Springs School of the Air is an essential service which ensures there are no gaps in learning between the country and the cities.
Learn about daily lessons, how educators have embraced satellite technology to improve the education experience and how the skilled teachers keep the kids entertained and well behaved across great distances. There’s probably nothing more uniquely Australian than the Alice Springs School of the Air.
Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
The vast distances that define the Red Centre mean that not only are telecommunications crucially important; they can be the difference between life or death for local residents.
The Telegraph Station in Alice Springs marks the site of the first European settlement in the Red Centre, so it is the birthplace of Alice Springs. It has a prominent place in Australian history, and was central to the war efforts in WWII. A visit to the Station will teach you all about the realities of communication in one of the world’s most remote communities, in a time before Instagram and Facebook.
And for those who feel like a bit more action, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve offers daily mountain bike tours, allowing you to explore some of the surrounding mountain bike trails. Alice Springs has some of the best trails in the world and holds the three-day Easter in the Alice Mountain Bike Muster every year. Afterwards you can upload all your action shots at the Trail Station Wi-Fi Cafe.
For one of the world’s most isolated towns, Alice was crucially important in World War II as a communication outpost. Placed right in the centre of the town, Anzac Hill in Alice Springs offers panoramic views of the town and is an absolute must at sundown. See the sun set over the MacDonnell Ranges and watch the country-style hustle and bustle down below.
The Kangaroo Sanctuary Guided Sunset Tour
There’s no better way to meet Australia’s most famous locals than the Kangaroo Sanctuary Guided Sunset Tour. Hop on in to cuddle and feed a baby kangaroo and learn more about the Sanctuary’s efforts to shelter orphan kangaroos at the No. 1-ranked ‘thing to do’ in Alice Springs on TripAdvisor.
Alice Springs Reptile Centre
The next stop on your central Australia animal tour is the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Meet plenty of local Northern Territory wildlife, like goannas, frilled-neck lizards, thorny devils, a wide variety of venomous and non-venomous snakes – and of course, Terry the Saltwater Crocodile.
Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility
Like the School of the Air, the Royal Flying Doctor Service is a feature of Outback life. Learn about the important job that the RFDS does in the Outback community while interacting with the displays and exhibits – including a life-size hologram of founder John Flynn. Step inside a replica of the RFDS PC-12 aeroplane, or relax under the blue sky with a specially blended cup of coffee from local roasters at the RFDS Cafe.
Pyndan Camel Tracks & Outback Ballooning
Take it easy on the back of a surprisingly comfortable local as you traverse the Ilparpa Valley and take in the sights of the MacDonnell Ranges. Thank your new best friend by feeding him afterwards.
A camel’s back not high enough for you? What about an Outback hot air balloon? Take off before dawn and watch the sun rise over the rugged landscape. You might even spot a red kangaroo or two! Finish your balloon experience with a glass of sparkling and some delicious baked goods. Perfection!
RT Tours Australia
The Northern Territory is not just a feast for your eyes and your ears – your tastebuds are set for a treat too. RT Tours take you on a culinary adventure with Aboriginal chef Bob Taylor, where you can sample bush tucker and authentic Aboriginal cooking in a traditional setting. Bob’s three course meals are simply mouth-watering. We recommend the Mbantua dinner tour under the stars at Simpsons Gap, which is his signature experience.
Do it yourself
Whether you’re staying 24 hours or 24 days, you won’t get bored in Alice Springs – but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check out the glorious surrounds. If you want to hire a car and explore the surrounding areas, then trips to the West MacDonnell Ranges, Uluru and King Canyon are absolute musts.
Of course, if you really want to do Alice right, then settle in for a week or two, and explore everything the region has to offer, using Alice Springs as your base. From Uluru to the Larapinta Trail to the East MacDonnell Ranges, there’s heaps to see and do. You can embark on self-guided trips to Finke Gorge National Park, home to the flora-filled Palm Valley, the Finke River and heaps of opportunities for camping and bushwalking. Or just an hour’s drive from Alice Springs is Rainbow Valley, a red and ochre wonderland chock full of trails and wildlife.
If you don’t have much time, we’ve outlined a couple of the more popular options.
The West MacDonnell Ranges (Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek, Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen)
Alice Springs sits nestledat the foot of the West MacDonnell Ranges, with the rolling hills providing an excellent backdrop for your budding travel photography career.
If you want to experience the magic of the desert at dawn, get up before sunrise and make it out to Simpsons Gap, where you can see the colours change over the towering ranges in the changing light of sunrise – and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Gap’s most famous resident, the black-footed rock wallaby.
Drive along to Standley Chasm, where the rock appears to have been split by a giant pickaxe, before continuing to Ormiston Gorge where you can cool off from the early afternoon heat in one of the world’s most beautiful natural swimming holes.
Ellery Creek and Glen Helen are also in close proximity. Renting a car is the best way to see all the sights in your own time – or better yet, take a load off and book a tour with one of the expert local tour operators, like Alice Wanderer Day Tours or the Emu Run Experience.
If you have the time, camping in the West MacDonnell Ranges is a real treat. A couple of favourite places are the Ormiston Gorge and the Ellery Creek Big Hole camping sites. But always remember to come prepared with plenty of food, water and warm gear for those cold desert nights.
Uluru, Kata Tjuta & Kings Canyon
No visit to Australia’s Red Centre would be complete without a visit to the stunning Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. ‘The Rock’ is a sight to behold, particularly at sunrise or sunset when you can watch the sandstone merge from rich purple, through to brilliant reds, before turning a familiar sandy brown. The best time to visit Uluru is from April to September, when the air is cooler, the colours come to life and the plants and animals emerge.
The journey from Alice Springs to Uluru takes roughly 4.5 hours, so we recommend leaving Alice early, and it’s best if you spend at least a night at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, so you can enjoy its true beauty. Pack yourself plenty of water and morning tea before heading off at 5am, watching the sun rise as you drive through the peaceful surrounds. There are plenty of rest stops and roadhouses along the way, and you definitely don’t want to miss the Mount Conner Lookout for an early lunch. Some tourists mistake Mount Conner for Uluru, which explains why the locals call it ‘Fool-uru’!
With full tummies, set off for Uluru, knowing that nothing can prepare you for the grandeur as it begins to peak above the horizon. Take in the kaleidoscope of changing colours at sunset and you leave truly inspired.
Enjoy a traditional Aussie dinner at the Ayers Rock Resort – every meal is infused with native Australian flavours. All meals are fresh and delicious.
There are also Uluru day tours available if you don’t feel like driving, with Uluru Tours Australia offering a one-day trip from Alice to the Rock and back. If you have more time, take a longer road trip or book a multi-day tour with Mulga’s Adventure Tours, Sandrifter Safaris or The Rock Tours to take in the surrounding sights, travelling from Kata Tjuta to Uluru to Kings Canyon.
Need to know
Best time to visit: Australia’s Red Centre is prone to extremes, with hot summer days and cold winter nights. If you want warm days and cool nights, autumn (March to May) or spring (September to November) are just right. Of course, the extremes in summer and winter bring some must-see weather events. Have you ever seen a desert covered in a thick layer of snow-like frost? Or a spectacular thunder storm over Uluru?
How to get here: Alice Springs Airport (ASP) connects daily with a range of Australian capitals, so it’s well served wherever you’re flying in from. There are car rental options and taxi services from the airport, along with a shuttle service directly to town, run by Alice Wanderer Airport Transfers. If you’re the adventurous type, there are some spectacular self-driving routes through the Aussie Outback, or you can take the Ghan Railway from Adelaide or Darwin
Getting around: You can get most places around Alice Springs in just a short walk. Or why don’t you hire a bike from local rental operator Outback Cycling? For trips outside the town, either rent a car or book an experience with one of the fantastic local tour companies.
Passes and permits: The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has an entry fee of $25 for anyone over 15 years old, and if you’re going on a road trip, check with the Central Land Council because you might need an Aboriginal Land Permit.
Plan ahead: If anyone wants to explore the surrounding region, make sure you have a plan. Pack water, sun protection and fly/insect protection; stock extra petrol for the 4WD; get to know a map of the area; check with Secure NT about dangerous conditions like fires; bring a satellite phone; make sure you tell someone about your itinerary; pack clothes for hot and cold; and buy a pair of walking shoes.
Safety: At the risk of sounding repetitive, if you’re heading out into the surrounding areas, make sure you follow the above advice. Plan ahead, tell a friend, bring supplies, and you’ll be fine.
Where to go next: You’ve seen the Red Centre, now it’s time to head north for some tropical fun and adventure. Why don’t you explore Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park or Arnhem Land? There are daily flights connecting Alice Springs to Darwin, where you can explore the Top End of the Northern Territory.