With its rugged scenery, vibrant Aboriginal art and craft scene, and surprisingly good restaurants and cafés, Alice Springs is a welcome stopover for those on their way to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Car rental at Alice Springs Airport is simple and the town centre is only 14 km away.
Alice Springs was originally founded in 1872 as a telegraph relay station, linking Adelaide and Darwin. The historic site has since been turned into the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve boasting shady picnic stops, free barbecues, walking tracks and lovingly restored buildings. It is just a short drive in your hire car from Alice Springs and it’s also the start of Australia’s most spectacular hiking paths, the Larapinta Trail. The path stretches for 223 km but it is possible to do day walks.
Alice offers myriad ways to immerse yourself in the subtle beauty of the desert. Why not start your day drifting over vast remoteness with a dawn balloon flight from Outback Balloons. The terrific Desert Park, with its native animal and bird exhibits, is only a ten-minute drive from Alice Springs in your rental car. For reptile lovers, the Reptile Centre offers hands-on-fun and is a hit especially with kids. Alternatively, marvel at the glorious colours of the desert during a sunset camel ride with Pyndan tours.
Since the Papunya Tula community first took the arts scene by storm in the 1970s with their dot paintings, Alice Springs has become a centre for Aboriginal arts and crafts. Araluen Arts Centre is the perfect place to see the latest in contemporary central desert art. It also houses the Albert Namatjira Gallery, with its permanent collection of Albert Namatjira paintings alongside those by other artists of his era. Works by Papunya Tula artists can be found at the Aboriginal owned and controlled Papunya Tula Artists’ centre in town. If you stroll down Todd Mall, you’ll find numerous galleries specialising in Aboriginal art, ranging from the high-end Muk Muk gallery to Mbantua Australian Aboriginal Art Gallery and Cultural Museum, which also sells craft items.
For a unique taste of Australia’s native and wild foods, the Dreamtime and Bushtucker tours give visitors a chance to snack on witchetty grubs and bush bananas. Alternatively, sample Australian game such as emu and camel at the Red Ochre Grill. The Watertank Café, tucked into a plant nursery, is a great spot for a coffee or meal during the day, especially for vegetarians.
For those keen to drive their rental car out of Alice Springs, 135 km west of town is the stunning Ormiston Gorge. Snuggled in the MacDonnell Ranges, it’s a fantastic spot for a desert picnic and swim in the startling cool waters of the waterhole.
Of course, a visit to the legendary Uluru, Kate Juta and King’s Canyon in the Watarrka National Park is a must. The 3-4 hour King’s Canyon circuit walk is stunning but should be avoided in summer. At Uluru, don’t forget to take some time to simply sit watching the world’s largest monolith as it changes colour, which varies from deep ochres to blues and purples. At sunset, rusty oranges fade to deep ochres in a dramatic play of light and shadow. For some extra pampering, book a Sounds of Silence dinner to watch the sun set over Uluru while feasting in the desert under a canopy of stars.