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“Alice” as Alice Springs is affectionately called by Australians is almost smack in the middle of Australia. Its the second largest city in the Northern Territory and a popular gateway for those exploring the Red Centre. Located 1,500 km from both Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north, Alice is a bit of a wild west town.
When planning our Red Centre road trip, I almost underestimated Alice. The main attraction in Central Australia is Uluru but there are so many great things to do in Alice Springs. Allocate at least a few days to explore this frontier Outback town. Set on the northern end of the MacDonnell Ranges Alice Springs embodies the Outback with its red rocks and arid terrain. Here is our complete guide to Alice Springs to help you plan your trip.
For many people visiting Alice Springs, it is their first encounter with contemporary indigenous Australians. Visiting will give you an opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal culture, art and the present-day challenges.
- 1 The Best Things to do in Alice Springs
- 2 West MacDonnell Ranges
- 3 School of the Air
- 4 Astronomy Tour
- 5 Where to Stay in Alice Springs
- 6 Where to Eat in Alice Springs
- 7 Getting to Alice Springs
- 8 When to Visit Alice Springs
- 9 Is Alice Springs Safe?
The Best Things to do in Alice Springs
Alice Springs Desert Park
The Desert Park was one of our favourite things to do in Alice Springs with kids. Here you will learn about the amazing animals that survive in the harsh desert environment. The free-flying bird show is amazing, as is a visit to the Nocturnal house. Arrive early to beat the heat and factor half a day to enjoy the Desert Park. You can read our full review of the Desert Park in this post. The Park opens at 7:30 am and tickets are $32/adult, $16/child (5-15), $87/family (2+2).
If you are short on time, the Nocturnal Tour is a great way to see these desert mammals in their natural environment after dark.
Royal Flying Doctor Service
The RFDS Tourist Facility in Alice Springs is an intriguing place to visit to learn about how medical services are delivered to people of the Outback. A visit starts with a quick introduction to the RFDS where you learn about their history, bases and see a real-time map of planes in transit. Next you can watch a 20-minute hologram video of the founder John Flynn talking about how the RFDS was founded and hearing some historic and modern success stories.
For kids, the highlight will be boarding a full-size replica airplane fully equipped with hospital equipment. There is also a small museum to walk through and learn about the history of the planes, medical equipment, radio communication and what it is like to work for the RFDS.
Plan an hour for a visit. Tickets cost $52/family (2+3) and all proceeds support the RFDS. Open 9-5, with last tour starting at 4 pm. There is also a cafe and gift shop.
You can hike up to the top of Anzac hill or you can drive up the red rocks for beautiful views over Alice Springs, particularly at sunrise or sunset. As you ascend the hill, you will pass the memorials to Australians that have fought in various conflicts over the years. This is a great free things to do in Alice Springs and will only take 20 minutes.
Alice Springs Telegraph Station
A visit to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station is interesting on so many fronts. The Telegraph Station is the birthplace of the Alice Springs township and is significant for providing the link allowing communication to flow between England and Australia in the 1800s. It is also significant because it brought European settlement to the Centre, forever changing the lives of indigenous people in the Outback.
Located just north of Alice Springs town, the Telegraph Station offers 4 guided tours daily (9:30, 11:30, 1:30, 3:30 March-November). You will walk through the historic buildings, learn more about telegram communication and the challenges of connecting the lines from the south to the north of Australia. Children can complete an educational quiz to redeem for a treat at the cafe, which our kids thoroughly enjoyed.
Tickets cost $35/family (2+4) and you will need an hour to visit. Plan your visit to coincide with the tour times. This is also where Outback Cycling is based if you are planning to mountain bike. The Trail Station Cafe is a great place for a lunch or snack and there is beautiful National Park land surrounding to enjoy.
West MacDonnell Ranges
This range of mountains extending west from Alice Springs should be on any Alice Springs itinerary. If you are doing a longer Red Centre trip, spend a few days exploring the water holes, great walks and rugged scenery of the West Mac Ranges.
Alternatively, you can do a full day trip from Alice Springs on a tour or self-drive. We recommend self-drive so you can be flexible and stop as you like.
Start your day early and make stops at Simpson Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. Bring bathers to enjoy the cool water holes and a picnic lunch. You can also eat at the cafe at Ormiston Gorge or the restaurant at Glen Helen Homestead.
School of the Air
This school opened in 1951 to serve the needs of children living in isolated stations throughout the Outback. Originally relying on broadcasting lessons over radio, the school now uses virtual classrooms to deliver education. Located in the north end of town, you can combine a visit with the nearby Telegraph Station.
On your tour you will watch a 10-minute video on the history and impact of the school and then you will have an opportunity watch a real-time class being conducted virtually. This was especially interesting for our kids to see this different way of going to school.
Family ticket costs $32. All proceeds from the tours support the School. They have set up a really nice way to contribute to the school where you can purchase a children’s book for their library (books get mailed out to students) or supply package and write a personal message. Our kids enjoyed picking out one of their favourite books available at the School of the Air and writing a message.
The night sky in Central Australia is incredible. Without light pollution, you are treated to a magnificent nature display each night. To understand more about what you are seeing, Earth Sanctuary’s Astronomy tours are the perfect evening activity. Best suited for older children and teens, the passionate brothers at Earth Sanctuary will explain all about the different constellations you are seeing.
We learned how to navigate using the Southern Cross, heard Aboriginal stories of the sky and got to see the stars under a powerful telescope.
The Earth Sanctuary property is just a few minutes outside of Alice Springs. Complimentary transportation to the property is included with your tour. Check the website for tour dates (usually twice weekly). $36/adult, $25/child (8-16), free for under 8s.
Other Great Things to Do in Alice Springs:
- Kangaroo Sanctuary – animal lovers will love to visit the Kangaroo Sanctuary and meet Brolga, star of the popular BBC documentary “Kangaroo Dundee”. Learn more about his work, meet some of the kangaroos and joeys he has rescued and cuddle a baby joey. Tours are held at dusk most evenings.
- Mountain Biking – Outback Cycling offers a number of mountain bike tours that are perfect for adventurous older kids and teens.
- Art Galleries – Alice Springs has a number of art galleries featuring Aboriginal art. Most are located on Todd Mall.
- Camel Tour – Camel Tracks tours are a fun way to experience the desert landscape and wildlife. Three tours daily including a sunset tour.
- Alice Springs Reptile Centre – a fun place to visit for a couple of hours; make sure you attend the show offered a few times throughout the day.
Where to Stay in Alice Springs
Double Tree by Hilton – their rooms with two double beds are perfect for families and offer great value. The kids will love the home-baked cookies at check-in. Click here to check the latest prices.
Desert Palms Alice Springs – Another great value hotel with family villas, an inviting pool and great amenities. Click here to check the latest prices.
Alice Motor Inn – this budget hotel has everything you need with good-sized family rooms, a pool and nice grounds. Click here to check the latest prices.
Big 4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park – if you are camping or looking for cabins, this Park is perfect for families. With heated pools, a huge water slide, jumping pillow, playgrounds and pedal bikes our kids loved it here. Click here to book.
Where to Eat in Alice Springs
- Monte’s Lounge – Todd St/Stott Terrace – retro, funky spot with lots of outdoor seating, great-priced meals and drinks. For kids, they have a good kids menu and fun area for the kids to play.
- Page 27 Cafe – Fan Arcade (off Todd Mall) – Melbourne style breakfasts in a funky setting, this place is always busy. Lots of great healthy and vegetarian options.
Getting to Alice Springs
Alice Springs is a long way from the more populous cities of Australia. We drove from Melbourne to the Red Centre, but most people will fly through the Alice Springs Airport.
Once in Alice Springs, you will want to rent a car to get around as the town is fairly spread out. Alternatively, hire a campervan for your Red Centre holiday.
When to Visit Alice Springs
Alice Springs is located in the desert and gets very hot in the summer months (November-March) with an average temperature in the mid-30s, but sometimes hitting mid-40s. Likewise in the winter, night temperatures regularly falling below zero.
The best time to visit Alice Springs is in the spring and fall when temperatures are more moderate. April-June and September-October are the best months to visit.
Is Alice Springs Safe?
Yes. We felt perfectly safe in Alice Springs. We weren’t out walking at night and we did drive everywhere we needed to go. But, we felt completely safe. However, we think visitors should know what to expect when in Alice.
As a visitor to Australia, I was well aware of the tragic history of Aboriginal Australians but living in Melbourne, it certainly wasn’t front and centre. When visiting Alice you can’t help but see evidence of the affects of colonization and the current challenges in the Northern Territory.
The first thing we noticed when driving into town was that there were lots of Indigenous people on the streets and in public spaces. Alcohol abuse is a major problem in Alice Springs leading to other social challenges and alcohol sales are tightly controlled as a result. It is heartbreaking to see and read about these struggles, but I think it is important to realize the significant challenges that indigenous Australians are facing.
For me, it provoked a desire and interest to learn more about Aboriginal history, the stages and effects of colonization and the more recent attempts at reconciliation. This is what I have been reading since our trip:
- Aboriginal Australians: A History Since 1788 by Richard Broome – heavy reading, but provides an excellent foundation in understanding the different phases of Aboriginal contact during colonization.
- The Secret River by Kate Grenville – a historical fiction that follows the life of a convict couple as they settle in NSW and their early contact with Aboriginal people.
- My Place by Sally Morgan – an autobiography that traces three generations of indigenous Australians and the political and societal issues faced.
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