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Travel guide Alice Springs

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Alice Springs
  • Annual dry river boat race
  • Came back races
  • McDonnell Ranges

There is no such thing as “A town like Alice.” Okay, yes – there is an interesting novel of that name by Neville Shute. And there was even a movie in 1956 as well as a mini-series in 1981 – both based on and titled after the novel, A Town Like Alice. But nowhere else in the world will you actually encounter a town anything like Alice – a place where locals have such a nutty sense of humour that for decades, they have been running boat races in a completely dry river – only to cancel one year because there was actually water in it. Nowhere else will you find a lively town sitting smack in the middle of a red desert where couples dress in bride and groom attire to race camels each year. Alice Springs, usually just called “Alice”, is a town with unique character, beckoning visitors with a laugh and promise of a good time. Surrounded by the majesty of the McDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs is a town like no other, and well worth the trip for a fun break.  

It’s hard to believe this bustling town was once a lonely little outpost for a telegraph station linking Adelaide and Darwin in the late 1800s. Prior to that, only the Arrernte Aboriginal people could survive the harsh desert landscape using their knowledge of the land, flora and fauna, which has been passed on through generations.  Today, the Arrernte people continue to live in and around Mparntwe (their name for Alice Springs), the telegraph station stands as a monument to Alice’s humble beginnings, and tourism and mining have boomed, leading 28,000 Australians to call Alice Springs home.

The first buildings in Alice Springs were the result of thousands of imported Afghan camels trudging hundreds of kilometers through blinding heat loaded with heavy building supplies and furniture. Those camels that survived were eventually replaced by cars and trains in the 1920s and sent to frolic in the desert, their humps free of any burden. As a result, Australia now has the world’s largest wild camel population.

Until 1933, the town’s official name was Stuart, after explorer John McDouall Stuart, who led the expedition to map the area for white settlement. However, a waterhole near the telegraph station was called Alice Springs, after the wife of Charles Todd who ran the station. Eventually the name of the town was changed to Alice Springs to reflect the name of the telegraph station.    

Things you simply must do in Alice Springs
1. Ride a camel. If you just show up at a camel farm, you can do a quick ride lasting five minutes and tell all your mates that you actually rode the lumpy creature, or arrange a tour lasting hours or even days. Better still, try to be there for the Imparja Camel Cup – it’s a camel’s load of fun.
2. Visit Anzac Hill. From here, you’ll have a panoramic view of Alice Springs and the McDonnel Ranges. Best of all, it’s a very quick, easy trek to the top, which you can also reach by bus tour or car.
3. Watch the movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and then head over to Lasseters Hotel Casino for a meal or a drink. A large part of the movie was filmed in Alice Springs, and in this very casino.
4. Check out the old telegraph station and learn about Alice Spring’s humble beginnings.
5. If you are in Alice Springs during their annual dry river boat race, Henley-on-Todd, it’s a fantastic day out. If you like, you can even join in the fun. Just sign up when you arrive and prepare for a belly-full of laughter as you race with your feet sticking out of the boat, down the river.
6. Take a tour of the rock formations around Alice. You’ll be treated to some fascinating geological wonders, as well as lovely rock pools in which to cool your feet.

When to go
Spring, winter and autumn are the best times to visit The Alice. Summer temperatures frequently soar above 40 degrees Celsius, although the dry heat makes it more bearable.

How to get there
The historic Ghan train can be a fun way to arrive in style, with both sleeper cars and sitting-only cars available. It departs from Adelaide and Darwin several times per week.
Alice Springs also has an airport with flights from major cities every day.

If you’re in the mood for a lengthy road trip, there is a highway in excellent condition linking both Adelaide and Darwin. There is a road from Perth, but it is mostly dirt and a 4WD is necessary.  Travel from other cities will need to at least intercept the road between Adelaide and Darwin, or you’ll be in for a rough ride.

Alice Springs has every type of accommodation, from luxury hotel rooms with refreshing pools, quaint bed and breakfasts, and character homesteads. Find them all at www.takeabreak.com.au 

Ideal length of visit
The town of Alice Springs itself can be enjoyed in a couple of days, but to enjoy the surrounding beauty of Chamber’s Pillar, Rainbow Valley, and the many gorges and water holes of the region would require several more days. Be sure to include a few days at Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon while you’re in the Central Australia.

Further information
To see more attractions in Alice Springs, check out the Northern Territory Official Travel Site.

About the Author
Kylie-Jane Degeling is a freelance writer who has lived in Adelaide, Yulara (Uluru), Alice Springs and Canberra, as well as five different countries throughout the world. After backpacking around Australia, she worked as a tour guide in Central Australia, before training for her Commercial Pilot License and working as a flight instructor, scenic flight and charter pilot. She later worked as a travelling IT trainer for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which involved spending time in each of their 16 District Offices around the country on a rotating basis.

Having experienced Australia as a backpacker, tour guide, pilot and business traveller, Kylie now enjoys family holidays with her husband Alex, and children Jezzy and Jordan. She says, “I have been lucky to see Australia from a variety of perspectives, and as a travel writer can use this experience to inspire others to find holidays they would enjoy.”  Kylie currently works as a travel writer in addition to being a government writer and columnist for two parenting magazines.

About the author
Find out more about Kylie at http://bit.ly/h_experts

More accomodation in Central Australia & Alice Springs
Ayers Rock | Yulara | Alice Springs | Alice Springs Countryside | Simpson Desert | Erldunda | Black Tank | Victoria River |

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  very exact on what i would like to know, thanks
Posted on Jun 03 2009 at 20:10

  good place.
Posted on Aug 15 2007 at 18:13

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