A gateway to some of the Red Centre’s most soulful landscapes, Alice Springs is far more than a desert outpost. This small town has a seismic personality – one that buzzes through its stable of cafes, stays and things to do.
Planted right at the foot of the East and West MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs is a place of contrasts. Here, stunning natural surrounds mix with a growing and forward-thinking community, and pioneering history foreshadows an arts culture known for its character and quirkiness. In a nutshell, it’s a town that never fails to intrigue. And, happy news for travellers: Alice offers the ideal base for dalliances with outback adventure, while its knot of hip, peaceful, and artsy stays and eateries are havens at which to recoup your energy.
Fuel up for a day of exploring with a hearty breakfast at Page 27, a charming, bustling cafe beloved by locals, foodies and beanie-clad folk. It’s hidden down a Todd Mall alleyway, serves some of the best coffee in town and features brekkie delicacies such as smoothie bowls and wild mushroom omelettes.
Address: 89 Todd Mall, Alice Springs
Bean Tree Café
For lunch, stroll over to the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Olive Muriel Pink, an early activist for Indigenous rights, founded this beautifully chilled and expansive Australian arid-region flora reserve around 75 years ago. The garden features a rustic outdoor eatery, the Bean Tree Café, known for its fat burgers and fresh salads.
Address: Tuncks Road, Alice Springs
As the streetlights spring to life, swing by Monte’s Lounge. Run by famed local Matt Mulga, Monte’s is not what you would expect to find in the outback, but that’s where its charms lie. It’s a circus- and cabaret-themed bar and restaurant, with a cracker outdoor area and more atmosphere than you’ll find at a grand final. Here, Alice’s technicolour character is on full show and, should you fancy a chat with a local, you’ll be spoilt for friendly faces.
Address: Corner Todd Street and Stott Terrace, Alice Springs
Alice Springs’ foodies flock to Hanuman, a Thai and Indian food hub with a sister restaurant in Darwin (the only Top End restaurant to score a hat in the Good Food Guide). Run by Jimmy Shu, Hanuman is based at DoubleTree by Hilton.
Address: 82 Barrett Drive, Alice Springs
Go glamping on the fringe of the West MacDonnell Ranges – and gaze up at the stars and birdlife from your deck – at eco accommodation offering Squeaky Windmill Boutique Tent B&B. With only three tents in total, this intimate stay best suits couples, friends or solo travellers. It’s open from March through to October.
Address: 971 Ilparpa Road, White Gums
Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters
You don’t have to wander far from town to get up close with the MacDonnell Ranges, however. Check in to a Premium Suite at Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters for more accessible views of this iconic vista. Crowne hosts a sun-filled restaurant, Tali, as well as a pretty sizable pool – a must for cooling down in summer.
Address: 93 Barrett Dr, Alice Springs
Pleated among the quiet streets of Braitling in northern Alice, Vatu Sanctuary is a six-minute drive from the town centre. Comprising four brightly painted units, this enchanting private residence is owned by a former art-gallery director, lending it an eclectic, homely feel.
Address: 18 Knuckey Ave, Braitling, Alice Springs
To really drink in the beauty of the outback, see it from a bird’s-eye perspective via a hot-air balloon ride. Outback Ballooning stops in at your hotel in the wee hours and transports you to Owen Springs Reserve, an old cattle station 15 kilometres south of town. The flight is surprisingly peaceful and meditative, allowing ample time to breathe in the vast, like-a-picture landscapes below. Keep your eyes peeled for passing clouds of fluorescent budgies, or for kangaroos leaping through the spinifex and mulga scrub.
Address: Owen Springs Reserve, Larapinta Dr, Alice Springs
Alice Springs Telegraph Station
Hitch on your history hat and amble four kilometres north to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the town’s first European settlement. Built in 1872, it later became an Aboriginal school called The Bungalow. Hire a mountain bike from the station’s kiosk here and explore the bike trails that wind through the backcountry; you’re bound to spot a wallaby or five on your two-wheeled adventure.
Address: Herbert Heritage Dr, Stuart, Alice Springs
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Venture a further 75 kilometres out of town for a water-borne fling with desert beauty. Local swimming spot Udepata (known as Ellery Creek Big Hole) cuts through a gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges. The scenery en route to this sometimes-chilly creek recalls the paintings of mid-century Aboriginal artist, Albert Namitjira. You’ll be serenaded by an expanse of ochre soil, soft green eucalypts and skies etched in royal blue.
Address: Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park