One of Australia’s best known country towns, Alice Springs was named after a telegraph official’s wife.
It is a town of 25,000 beside the perennial dry Todd River, home of the famous Henley-on-Todd Regatta held every August, a dry-river race where teams race through the deep coarse sand in a motley collection of bottomless yachts, bathtubs and other weird and wonderful ‘floats’.
Today ‘The Alice’ is the centre of a booming tourism industry based on the strength that it is close to Uluru (Ayers Rock). It is, in fact, a 4.5-hour drive. But as far as 4.5-hour drives go, it’s a fairly quick and easy run due south along the Stuart and west along the Lasseter highways on an all-sealed highway.
Alice Springs is a place loaded with contrasts. Hip, even hipster, cafes are dotted throughout its centre; while looming large over the township are the majestic MacDonnell Ranges – one of the most peaceful, awe-inspiring and gentle landscapes our country has to offer.
How to get there
Flights to Alice Springs
You can fly to Alice Springs from all Australian capital cities – it’s around a three-hour flight from the east coast, around two hours form Darwin. You can also fly direct to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in around 45 minutes.
Train to Alice Springs
Alternately, take a journey with an all-inclusive rail holiday upon The Ghan from Adelaide or Darwin to Alice Springs. Great Southern Railways operates the Ghan from Adelaide north to Alice Springs, then on to Darwin twice a week; return services from Darwin to Adelaide are also twice a week. The journey takes roughly 24 hours in either direction.
Driving to Alice Springs
Alice Springs is more or less (give or take a few hundred kilometres) halfway along The Explorer’s Way is an epic trans-continental road trip from Adelaide to Darwin. For most of its 3000 or so kilometres it follows the footsteps of John McDouall Stuart, who took on the huge challenge of exploring the land in preparation for the Overland Telegraph in 1862.
The sealed route in its entirety runs sea to sea, from Adelaide north to Darwin, and if you want to drive the whole thing – allowing a few stops to explore along the way – you’ll need at least two weeks.
Alice Springs is 1540km north of Adelaide, 1513km south of Darwin on the Stuart Highway.
Australia’s best outback road trip
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Top things to do in Alice Springs
Where to eat, stay, and play in Alice Springs
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Hot Air Ballooning
Float over the Red Centre as the first morning light illuminates the rugged MacDonnell Ranges on a hot-air ballooning adventure. Keep an eye out for native wildlife and gain an appreciation of the outback’s remoteness as the balloon glides over this arid land.
There are more than a million wild camels currently roaming around central Australia and no trip to the red centre is complete without a camel ride. Tours range from half-day morning rides to one-hour rides throughout the afternoon, although the best time to go if you want to see the red desert at its most vibrant is at sunset.
Explore the MacDonnell Ranges
Alice Springs is a great base from which to explore the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges, which fan out from the edge of town in two directions. Head to the West Macs for fantastic swimming holes and rocky gorges, or to the East Macs to explore forgotten gold rush ghost towns and gorges like Trephina that are just as spectacular as those in the West Macs, but hardly anyone goes there.
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Best things to see in Alice Springs
If your stay is short, or if you can’t get out of town, a trip to Alice Springs Desert Park offers an insight into Central Australian fauna and flora. A gentle walking trail takes you through three distinct ecosystems – woodland, sand country and desert rivers. See the oldest building in town at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, have a peek inside the world’s largest classroom – the world’s first School of the Air was established in Alice Springs in 1951and it’s something you’ll only see here in Australia. If you like big trucks and road trains (another uniquely Aussie thing) don’t miss the National Road Transport Hall Of Fame.
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Alice Springs accommodation
You’ll find plenty of choice when it comes to places to stay in Alice Springs.
Lasseters, next to the casino, is the most luxurious option, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs, which is just next door, is home to one of the town’s best restaurants, Hanuman’s (which also has an outpost in Darwin).
If you want to stay in the centre of town the Diplomat Motel is a great choice, and for those on a budget, try the Alice Springs YHA – it used to be an outdoor movie theatre before it was transformed into a hostel.
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Best restaurants and foodie experiences
There’s no better place than the Red Centre for bush tucker, Australia’s endemic regional food. In September each year, the Alice Desert Festival offers the chance to sample the Red Centre’s indigenous ingredients, with part of the festival focusing on wild bush foods.
For a Westernised take on these, eat at Red Ochre Grill in Todd Mall, a restaurant that combines traditional outback-style grilled meats such as kangaroo, camel and crocodile with bush tucker essentials like wild lime, quandong, Kurrajong flour, Illawarra plums and bush tomatoes.
For good coffee head to Page 27, you’ll find hiding down a laneway off Todd Mall.