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Visiting the Heart of Australia...

Updated on April 26, 2012

Whilst Central Australia is oft described as the heart of Australia, Alice Springs is definitely the heartbeat. It is here in this famous outback town that provides the sustenance and economic survival for those who opt to live in the arid desert region. For most residents who choose to live here, there is a certain magic that make them call this home. It is the same feelings that draws visitors from around the world, with some choosing to revisit more than once. It is the same hold that have made some travellers visit and stay.

'The Alice' as it is often spoken of in affectionate terms, is named after a woman who has never been here, and after a spring that never existed. It is one of those curiously typical Australian phrases, that makes for an interesting start to your stay in Alice.

Indeed, whilst many an international visitor fly in to Uluru, which stands as the spiritual heart of this wonderful nation, many travellers miss out on coming to Alice Springs and staying a while to explore the beautiful surrounds. Whilst Uluru may be just down the road to us locals, it is actually 465 km (289 miles) away, and not something to be done in one morning. So for those planning a visit, you can either make Alice Springs your base, or if you are flying into Uluru, book on a coach tour for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Watarrka National Park (home to the famed Kings Canyon), then finish the tour at Alice Springs.

As there is so much to see and do in Alice Springs, make sure you plan at least five days for your stay, a starting point being sunrise or sunset from Anzac Hill. From here you can see the MacDonnell Ranges stretching east and west of Alice, a series of ranges stretching some 644 km. These ranges were named after an Anglo-Irish lawyer, judge and colonial governor of South Australia, Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, although visitors are welcomed to 'Arrernte country', the spiritual home of the Arrernte people, who as the traditional owners of the area share their dreamtime stories. Whilst there are storyboards signage scattered around Alice, doing a guided cultural tour does provide a deeper insight into this beautiful region and the original custodians.

Sunrise view from ANZAC Hill of the MacDonnell Ranges stretching east and west of Heavitree Gap.
Sunrise view from ANZAC Hill of the MacDonnell Ranges stretching east and west of Heavitree Gap. | Source

Attractions, Festivals and Events
Alice Springs has many local attractions from the world renowned Alice Springs Desert Park, where you can discover many of the secrets of the Central Australian deserts, to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, an iconic institution that services some of the remotest locations in Australia. There is also the Alice Springs School of the Air, meeting the educational needs of primary school children living in the outback, and Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, the original site of the first European settlement in the region. For the motoring truck enthusiast, there is the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, and something for the children (and adults) is the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, where a planned visit must include their daily shows, where you can get up close and personal with some real Australians. These are just a sample of the many local attractions, and I have not even touched on some of the unique festivals and events, from the wonderful Henley-on-Todd, boat races without water, and the Alice Springs Beanie Festival, a growing fun filled event with participation from around Australia and a growing number of overseas entries.

Standley Chasm honours Mrs Ida Standley who became the first school teacher in Alice Springs.
Standley Chasm honours Mrs Ida Standley who became the first school teacher in Alice Springs. | Source

Then there are the many attractions either east or west along the ranges. With many world renowned destinations such as Palm Valley, a narrow gorge home to remnant tropical rainforest of Red Cabbage Palm and the special Standley Chasm. The ranges are dotted with gorges and waterholes - as you travel west there is our Alice Springs Beach where even our local wildlife have been sighted taking a dip.

There is an incredible number of attractions along the MacDonnell Ranges, that stretch from Glen Helen and Mount Sonder in the west to Arltunga Historical Reserve and Ruby Gap Nature Park in the east. The range is also home to the world class Larapinta Trail, listed as one of the top ten walks in the world. The trail allows for the more adventurous traveller to hike the 223 km from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder along the West Macs, as it is known by the locals. This spectacular hiking trail takes in a number of attractions along the West MacDonnell Range taking in gorges and waterholes and spectacular views from the ridges and peak views.

Heading east and west from Alice Springs is not all there is for the traveller. As you head north pass the Tropic of Capricorn, there is the fun Gemtree for fossicking, Aileron roadhouse where you can see the gigantic statues of an indigenous family. Heading south, there are a number of roadhouses onroute to Uluru, as well a detour to the magnificent Rainbow Valley or just 160 km south the spectacular Chambers Pillar.

 Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve - free standing bluffs and cliffs form part of the James Range
Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve - free standing bluffs and cliffs form part of the James Range | Source

Indeed, this beautiful region requires that you also view it from the air, with a number of scenic flights available from Alice Springs and Glen Helen. From the air you can understand the dreamtime stories that talks about the ‘dreaming trail’ associated with the ‘Caterpillar Dreaming’ of the Central Arrernte Aboriginal people.

So, far I have only touched on a number of attractions in the Alice Springs region and the wider Central Australia, with many more not mentioned, only because this article must have an end. Indeed, it is sad that many travellers only fly in to the 'rock' missing out entirely on the numerous attractions and events to be found just up the road. For those planning a visit, I hope this wets your appetite to explore, experience and enjoy what is here in the heart of Australia. I know, because we were passing through and now call it home.

Alice Springs - Central Australia

West MacDonnell Range
West MacDonnell Range | Source
Thorny Devil, one of the unique wildlife to be found in Central Australia.
Thorny Devil, one of the unique wildlife to be found in Central Australia. | Source
Simpsons Gap
Simpsons Gap | Source
Palm Valley in the Finke Gorge National Park
Palm Valley in the Finke Gorge National Park | Source
Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve
Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve | Source

Alice Springs

A markeralice springs australia -
Alice Springs NT 0870, Australia
get directions

Australia's heart... Alice Springs...


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    • profile image

      Angus Pryor 4 years ago

      Great article. We were in Alice Springs 2 years ago and very much enjoyed our time there. We chose to drive from Adelaide which took a while.

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 5 years ago from Southern Spain

      I enjoyed your hub & we must visit Alice Springs after we leave the top here in Kununurra , so much to see everywhere !

    • Suelynn profile image

      Suelynn 5 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

      Love the photo of Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve with the long shadows of the people behind the camera! :)))) Very useful and interesting article... great idea! Bravo! Voting up... p.s. love that Thorny Devil!