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Alice Springs, Australia

Beautiful Australian Landscape

Alice Springs, Australia

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

Alice Springs, Australia

Located in the heart of Australia‘s red centre, Alice Springs or ‘The Alice’ as it’s colloquially known, is the only large town in central Australia. With a population just under 27,000, Alice Springs is the third largest in the Northern Territory, with the largest being its capital of Darwin. Alice Springs is home to a thriving hub of Aboriginal culture and art, with the town‘s cultural infrastructure and renown illustrating a national profile that far outsizes the town‘s relatively small size. In addition to its place as a cultural centre, Alice Springs is also well known as a popular tourist destination, being ideally located as a jumping off point from which you can visit some of Australia‘s most iconic sights, including the world famous Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock. In addition to the ancient landscape of the Uluru Kata Tjuta national park, several other national parks and amazing landscapes can be found in the area surrounding Alice Springs, such as the Watarrka National Park, Finke Gorge, as well as the east, and west MacDonnell ranges. This abundance of cultural and natural heritage has earned Alice Springs the unofficial title as the capital of the Australian outback, with an Alice Springs tour being a great way to dive into the wonder of the great Australian outback.

History

The area around Alice Springs has been traditionally inhabited by the Arrernte Aboriginal people, with the region’s Indigenous history stretching back an incredible 30,000 years. Aboriginal settlement of the Northern Territory stretches back even further, with the first recorded evidence dating back an incredible 60,000 years. In relation to this epic timespan, European influence in the region is relatively recent, with the first recorded European contact with the region coming around the year 1861, with explorer John Stuart passing through the region along his journey connecting Australia‘s northern and southern frontiers during his 6th major expedition. The impetus for this expedition came largely from the South Australian government, who funded the expedition in an effort to establish an overland telegraph line, connecting Australia‘s disparate colonies more closely with the wider world. At the time, exploration of this region was an incredibly difficult affair, with multiple parties meeting their ends, with the harsh and arid conditions of central Australia and the Simpson Desert proving a significant barrier. Stuart himself was part of an earlier failed expedition that ventured nearby, lead by Charles Sturt in his quest to find for Australia‘s rumoured inland sea. Following the success of Stuart, a telegraph station was established in the region in 1872, with a large nearby waterhole allowing a small settlement to maintain basic subsistence. This settlement, named ‘Stuart’ after the explorer, was the first European settlement in central Australia, though the population remained tiny for some decades to come.

From this point until 1929, the population of the settlement never numbered more than 40 people or so, with the town‘s largest structure being the small jail, used predominantly to incarcerate Indigenous men for poaching cattle. The year 1929 marked the first real connection with wider Australia, with a rail line connecting the settlement with Adelaide, and providing far easier transport than previous routes, which had relied mostly on camels. Following this, the towns population began to grow and became more recognised, though it remained relatively small as a whole. This change was also reflected in the new name of the town, being officially renamed as ‘Alice Springs’ in 1933, after the wife of Sir Charles Todd, the Postmaster General at the time. The next major chapter in Alice Spring’s history came with the outbreak of World War II, when the town served as a major staging post and supply depot for Australian forces, during this time period the town was host to over 8,000 soldiers, with an additional 200,000 personnel passing through on their way to or from other theatres. This influx of such a massive number of people transformed the small town, which up until this point had a population of only about 500, with new infrastructure and facilities established by the army to support the growing detachment. The town even served as the interim capital of the Northern Territory following the Japanese bombing and evacuation of Darwin in 1942, after which half of Darwin’s population left the city permanently. In the post-war period, Alice Springs retained some military importance with the establishment of the joint U.S-Australian Pine Gap facility, though the towns main development came from the growth of tourism, much of which came from the town‘s unique position in the heart of some of Australia‘s most wild and rugged country.

“An evening view of the Telegraph Station at Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia.”

Travelling to Alice Springs

When it comes to exploring Central Australia, a tour of Alice Springs is far and away the best way to explore Australia‘s red centre, being ideally situated as a regional hub around some of the Northern Territory‘s most incredible national parks, as well as being a vibrant cultural centre in its own right, particularly for those interested in exploring Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal Art. The town itself has a number of galleries and museums visitors can find, with the town‘s central arcade around Todd Mall being where many of the town‘s private galleries and shops are located. Notable among the town‘s galleries is the Araluen Arts Centre, as well as the Albert Namatjira Gallery, collectively Alice Springs’ galleries make it the place with the largest collection of Aboriginal Art in the world. For art enthusiasts travelling a little further afield, you may also consider visiting Hermannsburg, here you can find what was once a Lutheran mission, now home to many of Namatjira’s most famous originals. Alice Springs also has a number of museums which showcase the town‘s unique history in the heart of the Australian outback, among these are the Museum of Central Australia, which showcases the region’s natural heritage, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum, the Women’s Museum housed in the town‘s old gaol, and the Old Timers Traeger Museum, which showcases what life was like for early European settlers in Central Australia. Depending on what time of the year you visit, you may also catch some of Alice Springs’ unique events, such as the Henley on Todd Regatta, where locals engage in a mock ‘boat’ race along the dry, sandy riverbed of the Todd river, unsurprisingly, this ‘boat’ race is the only of its kind in the world, being one of Alice Spring’s funniest and most cherished traditions. While not unique to Alice Springs, camel racing is another local event not often found outside the middle east, and is definitely something to see if you have any time on your Alice Springs tour. Also be sure to take a walk up to Anzac Hill during your time in town, which provides a good spot from which to look over above the town.

Didgeridoo handicraft is a popular form of artistic expression.

Perhaps the most iconic image that comes to mind when you think about Alice Springs, or even Australia as a whole, is the ancient landscape of Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock. Located in Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, about 450km away from Alice Springs, an Uluru tour is perhaps a bit further away than a simple day trip, with the drive taking about 5 hours each way. With this in mind, travelling to Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park is best taken as an experience unto itself, or as part of a multi day tour, with nearby accommodation allowing visitors to watch the iconic Uluru sunset, or sunrise as night and day rolls over, not to mention the incredibly clear night sky. The sheer scale and drama of this ancient landscape is an impressive sight, imbuing the landscape with a sense of the sacred one can visibly see, as well as learn about through its important place in Aboriginal culture. Moving on to the north east of Uluru, another National Park worth visiting is Watarrka National Park, here you can find a number of amazing natural wonders, including the dramatic King’s Canyon with its red stone cliffs, or Kathleen Gorge with its serene waterfall in the heart of the Australian outback. Moving east and you’ll come to Finke Gorge National Park, which is known for its beautiful Palm Valley, the Palm Trees growing here are an anomaly for central Australia, with the next closest trees of its kind located almost 1000km away in Queensland. Despite this, the unique environment with its semi-permanent spring fed pools allow Palm Valley to flourish as an oasis in one of the mot unlikely of places. While near Finke Gorge, this is also a good opportunity to stop by the town of Hermannsburg, where visitors can find some of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira’s most famous works. The last two natural attractions are twins of one another, each located about 150km east and west of Alice Springs, ideal for those looking for a day trip into the wilderness, namely the East, and West MacDonnell Ranges. Full of undulating landscapes, replete with gorges, canyons, and springs, the MacDonnell ranges are a great and easy way to have a desert adventure relatively close to the comfort of town, the ranges are a great place for spotting wildlife, camping out, watching the night sky, and then sunrise in the morning, encapsulating the kind of outback adventure that makes a tour of Alice Springs special. One of the best way to experience what Alice Springs, and the Northern Territory has to offer is with a small group tour. Odyssey specializes in this kind of tour, offering an engaged and intimate tour to Alice Springs ideal for seniors, solo travellers, and couples heading to Alice Springs and the Northern Territory.

Landscape view of Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory, Australia.