The heart of Australia’s Red Centre

‘Alice’ or ‘the Alice’, as Australians often call Alice Springs, is the unofficial capital of the Northern Territory’s Red Centre and a gateway to the world’s largest monolith, Uluru (Ayers Rock).

A sprawling small town at the heart of the Aboriginal Arrernte people’s country, it makes the ideal base for exploring this outback region, which is characterised by its indigenous culture and natural attractions ranging from wild camels and kangaroos to one of the world’s best desert golf courses, the Alice Springs Gold Club.

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Top things to do in Alice Springs

Named for Alice Todd, wife of engineer Charles Todd, who won the tender to construct the Overland Telegraph line in 1871, this is a town that wears the quirky tag well. Today the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is one of the top attractions here, and the dry bed of the Todd River is the venue for the annual crazy Henley-on-Todd Regatta in August, when people from hundreds of miles around arrive to cheer as ‘sailors’ take to the Todd in outrageously decorated, homemade bottomless ‘boats’ and race down the river bed in aid of charity.

Every July, the Camel Cup races are a reminder that the camel’s ability to survive without water was the key to discovering the arid inland parts of Australia in the 1800s. The imported camels were later released, and today more than 200,000 roam Central Australia. For a different perspective on this land book a camel ride in the desert but don’t wear your best clothes; you’re likely to get dirty.

Some of Alice’s most interesting attractions are clustered around the Araluen Cultural Precinct. The Albert Namatjira Gallery (part of the Araluen Arts Centre) showcases works by local indigenous artists; the Museum of Central Australia exhibits fossils and meteorites; and the Central Australian Aviation Museum has a collection of old aircraft and wrecks. Wander among the gravestones in the cemetery next door, where Afghani camel herders (from what is now Pakistan) are buried facing Mecca.

Alice is a rich source for Aboriginal art and culture, with no shortage of paintings, didgeridoos, spears, clapping sticks, carvings, jewellery, and baskets available to buy. Two of the best galleries are Mbantua Fine Art Gallery and Cultural Museum, which presents art from the desert region of Utopia, and Papunya Tula Artists, which sells works from Western Desert communities.

Reminders that isolation has shaped this town can be found at The Royal Flying Doctor Service visitor centre and at the School of the Air, which broadcasts by radio to a 1.3-million-sq.-km ‘schoolroom’ of about 140 children on Outback cattle stations. On a tour of the School of the Air, you can listen in to classes (on school days), and look at the students’ artwork, photos and videos. The RFDS has a small museum, guided tours, replica ‘ambulance’ planes and a short film about the work of the Outback doctors.

Finally, don’t miss Alice Springs Desert Park, home to around 120 desert-dwelling species such as kangaroos, small mammals (including the elusive Bilby), reptiles and birds. This is a great place to see animals that live in the surrounding desert that you won’t spot too easily in the wild. Alice Springs sits close to a dramatic range of rippling low red mountains, the MacDonnell Ranges, which conceal pretty gorges with shady picnic spots. Plenty of day trips run to these areas, but Uluru is 462km away and at least three days should be allowed to do this magnificent monolith justice.

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