Our armchair travels have taken us to the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. If you thought that all you would be doing in and around Alice Springs was to walk about the desert you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the town itself has lots to offer such as culture and art and all around is the beauty of nature and amazing landscapes. Lots of travelers discover that this town is their first introduction to contemporary Indigenous Australia.
For your first encounter with nature and the wildlife of this region head for the Desert Park. Here you can see impressive open-air exhibits that re-create the natural environment of the various animals in a series of habitats, inland rivers, sand country and woodland. If you enjoy activity you can take the 2.5 km bike ride around the park.
You can see free-flying Australian kestrels, kites and amazing wedge-tailed eagles. To see everything at night and nocturnal wildlife you can take a guided nocturnal tour. A free audio guide is available in different languages.
At one time messages were sent between Darwin and Adelaide through the old Telegraph Station. Here visitors can get a look at the town’s European beginnings. To get a real look around you can cycle or take a 4 km hike. Nearby is a semi-permanent waterhole in the Todd River after which Alice Springs was named. The Telegraph Station was built along the Overland Telegraph Line in the 1870s and remained in operation until 1932. Afterwards it became a welfare home for Aboriginal children of mixed ancestry until 1963 and then the building was restored and guided tours are available. The station and spring are located in 450 hectares of shady parkland with free barbecues available and walking trails.
The compact museum offers a natural history collection telling people about the days of mega fauna – when hippo-sized wombats and 3 m tall flightless birds roamed around. Among the geological displays are meteorite fragments and fossils and a free audio tour is available. Visitors can also see the work of Professor TGH Strehlow, who was a linguist and anthropologist born at the Hermannsburg Mission among the Arrente people. He is known for collecting the world’s most documented collections of Australian Aboriginal artifacts, songs, genealogies, film and sound recordings. It can all be seen upstairs in the Strehlow Research Center, which also includes a library that is open to the public.
About 10 km south of Alice Springs visitors can fine a couple of museums displaying big trucks and old trains. The Old Ghan Heritage Railway Museum offers a collection of restored Ghan locomotives, tea rooms and railway memorabilia all located in the Stuart Railway Station.
At the National Road Transport Hall of Fame visitors can see a fantastic collection of big trucks and a few ancient road trains. There are more than 100 restored trucks and vintage cars among them outback pioneering vehicles.
Right in the center of Alice Springs you’ll find the Araluen Arts Center with a 500-seat theater and four art galleries focusing on the artwork of the central desert region. The Albert Namatjira Gallery displays artworks by the artist, who began paining watercolors in the 1930s at Hermannsburg. This exhibition draws comparisons between Namatjira and his mentor, Rex Battarbee and other artists from the Hermannsburg School. Visitors can also see 14 early acrylic works from the Papunya Community School Collection. Other art galleries highlight local artists, traveling exhibitions and the latest artwork from the Indigenous Community Art Centers.
Walk the trails of the amazing Olive Pink Botanic Garden, founded by prominent anthropologist Olive Pink. Here you can view over 500 central Australian plant species. They also grow bush foods and medicinal plants such as native lemon grass, quandong and bush passion fruit. Climb up Meyers Hill for fantastic views over Alice Springs and Ntyarlkarle Tyaneme, one of the first sites that were created by the caterpillar ancestors. The small visitor center offers different exhibitions and there is the wonderful Bean Tree Cafe.
In the Connellan Airways Hangar visitors can find the Central Australia Aviation Museum. This is the town’s original aerodrome and include displays of pioneer aviation including the Royal Flying Doctor (RFDS) planes. One of the most interesting displays in the wreck of the Kookaburra, a tiny plane that crashed in the Tanami Desert in 1929 while searching for Charles Kingsford Smith and his co-pilot Charles Ulm. The pilots of the Kookaburra Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock perished in the desert but Smith and Ulm were rescued.
To get a feel of the early days of Alice Springs, you can explore some of the historic buildings, like mini-museums all around town. You can take a look at Adelaide House, built by the founding flying doctor Reverend John Flynn in the 1920s, as the first hospital in central Australia. Then look into a classroom in the Old Hartley Street School dating from 1938 and visit the Residency built in 1927, which is a symbol of the town’s brief legislative independence from the rest of the NT.
For an exciting tour head for the Alice Springs Reptile Center where you can see venomous snakes, thorny devils and bearded dragons. Inside the cave room visitors can see eleven species of NT geckos. On the outside there is Terry, a 3.3 m saltwater crocodile and Bub, an amazing perentie, Australia’s largest lizard. There are handling demonstrations and you can wind up with a python around your neck and you can pet a blue-tongued lizard.
The adventurous can take a 223 km walk through the West MacDonnell Ranges and attempt the walk through 12 sections of ancient landscape. One of the top 20 treks is the Larapinta Trail, that stretches along the rocky spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs Telegraph Station to Mount Sonder. Along the trail you’ll find some key attractions such as Simpsons Gap, the permanent waterholes at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen. Along the way you can see some of the world’s most ancient metamorphic and ingenious rock and almost 600 species of rare flora. If you prefer you can camp under the stars and many of the camp sites have picnic tables and tent sites. All Trailheads have a water supply and there are even some that have free gas barbecues. Fully equipped tours are available.
Ellery Creek Big Hole is one of the most popular sites for picturesque camping, walking, swimming and picnicking in the West MacDonnell Range National Park. The waterhole is surrounded by high red cliffs and sandy Ellery Creek. The waterhole was carved by thousands of years of massive floods. The Aboriginal name for the waterhole is Udenata. It was once a special meeting place for the Arrente people. Camping here is permitted and the gravel road is suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles.
For a really awesome experience you can take a morning ride high up in the air in a hot-air balloon. You’ll have a bird’s eye view of the impressive and beautiful landscape and amazing wildlife. Float over the West MacDonnell Ranges and watch the sunrise stretch over the desert. Look down below to see red kangaroos and wallabies. You can choose from a half-hour to a full-hour balloon flight. At the landing site passengers are offered refreshments, champagne and tropical fruit juice cocktails. Once your flight is over you can get a commemorative flight certificate.
Remote Finke Gorge National Park is home to ancient landscapes and Aboriginal cultural sites. Travel here is accessible only by four-wheel drive. This national park is an important wilderness reserve that protects the Finke River dating back 350 million years and is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in the world.
This park is best known for Palm Valley. It shelters groves of rare red cabbage palms that are botanic remnants from millions of years ago, when Central Australia was lush with tropical forests. You can see a diverse range of plant species, including tall palms and cycads. The main gorge has high red cliffs, stately river red gums, cool waterholes and lots of trails. You can take the popular Finke four-wheel drive route. Walking you can climb the sandstone staircase to Kalarranga Lookout for panoramic views of the sandstone hills. You’ll be able to see ghost gums, rocky chasms and a diverse wildlife.
Australia’s wildlife includes spot kangaroos and wallabies. Dingoes wander about and you can run into unique reptiles such as the thorny devil.
If you enjoy bird watching you can see cockatoos, butcher birds, emus and budgerigars. Altogether around 180 species of birds make their home in the habitat surrounding Alice Springs.
There are many species of small birds to be seen in the desert including spinifex bird, crimson chat, dusky grass wren, painted fire tail, singing honeyeater and the rare orange chat.