Things to Do in Alice Springs
The MacDonnell Ranges are a 400-mile (644-kilometer) stretch of mountains offering spectacular views and some of the top natural attractions in Australia’s Northern Territory. Visit the ranges to experience Simpson’s Gap, Standley Chasm, and the secluded water holes of Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole.
Standley Chasm, also known as Angkerle Atwatye, or just Angkerle, is a place of great significance to the local Aboriginal people. A spectacular slot gorge, the deep, narrow chasm cuts through the tough quartzite of the native stone and puts on a magnificent display of color and form as the sun passes through the sky.
Surrounding the chasm is a lush valley and an abundance of walking trails. A short walk from the kiosk to the chasm is particularly rewarding at midday when the sun shines directly overhead. Another walk from the kiosk heads west and climbs to a saddle with views of the area's mountains and valleys. For more avid hikers, sections 3 and 4 of the Larapinta Trail meet at Standley Chasm and can be hiked as either long day trips or overnight hikes.
Standley Chasm is the easiest place to access the Chewings Ranges for those who do not wish to hike the Larapinta Trail. The Chewings Ranges are home to some of the most rare and threatened wildlife of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
The Alice Springs Desert Park showcases the three main desert environments in Australia. Wander through sand, woodland, and river deserts and learn about their different plant and animal inhabitants. Take the short walking route through the park or explore further afield to find kangaroos and birdlife.
These days it’s commonplace for many schools to offer programs online, where you can receive a degree without ever seeing a teacher. Well, before the age of the internet, there was radio-- the means of how School of the Air in Alice Springs, Australia, nobly pioneered the idea to reach out to kids in obscure destinations without proper schools. One visit to the school premises, which is now complete with its own visitor center (Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre), and you can share a moving experience that shows how the utilization of technology we take for granted has not only brought people together, but shaped lives.
Teaching primary and secondary level students since the 50’s, today students are outstretched as far as 502,000 square miles from the school. You can watch a film about the history of this truly unique school, and even listen in on live classes, which have since switched from the radio era to a highly more modernized and efficient broadband internet model. If you happen to arrive when sessions are closed, you may listen in on pre-recorded lessons, with interpreters on site to help you with translations and to field any questions.
Around 79 miles (137 kilometers) west of Alice Springs, the settlement of Hermannsburg (Ntaria in the local language) is more than just the gateway to Finke Gorge National Park. Historic whitewashed buildings date from the 19th century, artist Albert Namatjira’s home invites visitors, and Hermannsburg potters craft unique terra-cotta.
In downtown Alice, the intimate Alice Springs Reptile Centre offers the chance to get up close and personal with some of the Northern Territory’s most fascinating inhabitants. The collection of over 100 reptiles includes pythons, goannas, a saltwater crocodile, and the bizarre thorny devil lizard, with interactive shows three times a day.
Covering around 114,000 acres (46,000 hectares) of central Australia, Finke Gorge National Park is one of the Red Centre’s most startling wilderness areas. The Finke River formed around 300 million years ago, and some sights, such as Palm Valley with its rare red cabbage palms, seem to re-create the landscapes of that lost world.
Offering sweeping views over Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges, Anzac Hill is named for its war memorial commemorating World War I ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers. Known to Aboriginal people as Untyeyetweleye or Atnelkentyarliweke, the hill plays a role in the Caterpillar Dreaming and Corkwood Dreaming stories.
The Royal Flying Doctors Service is the largest air medical response team in the world. The doctors fly an average of 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) a day attending to sick people in the remote outback of Australia. They have 53 aircraft operating out of 21 bases with 964 staff and attend to around 750 patients a day.
Alice Springs houses the Central Operations of the service and at the Royal Flying Doctor Service Alice Springs Tourist Facility (RFDS Museum) you can learn all about the incredible history of the RFDS and how it has shaped life in the outback. There is an interactive museum where you can find out what it is like inside the planes, you can even fly one in the flight simulator. Experience life in the early days of the service and try your hand at the Traegar pedal-powered radio which was the primary means of communication for many years.
One of the 12 stops along the Australian Overland Telegraph Line, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a great place for a picnic. The reserve has walking paths, swimming holes, a bicycle path, and shady spots to rest. There are also free electric barbecues.
More Things to Do in Alice Springs
One of Australia’s defining long-distance walks, the Larapinta Trail runs 139 miles (223 kilometers) along the spine of central Australia’s West MacDonnell Ranges, from Alice Springs to the summit of Mt. Sonder. Each of its 12 sections can be reached by 4WD, and highlights include Ormiston Gorge, Simpsons Gap, and Ellery Creek Big Hole.
Tnorala/Gosse Bluff Conservation Reserve is a site of great cultural significance to the local Western Arrernte Aboriginal people. According to belief, the low, circular range of mountains was formed when a woman put her baby in a wooden cradle while she danced across the sky as part of the Milky Way. Forgotten, the carrier toppled to earth and was transformed into the circular rock walls of Tnorala. Scientists believe that the formation occurred when a comet crashed to earth and hardened the land for a six-mile (20 km) diameter before the surrounding earth eroded over time.
Whichever story you believe, visiting Tnorala is an awesome sight. A short walk to a lookout on an adjacent ridge gives views into the crater, while a longer loop walk takes visitors higher still to get an even more expansive view. As the traditional owners manage Tnorala, access to the site is in accordance to their wishes. Visitors are not permitted to enter the crater or walk along its rim.
In the heart of Australia’s Red Centre lie the West MacDonnell Ranges. 1,500 kilometres south of Darwin and just west of the infamous Alice Springs, the western MacDonnell Ranges offer an enchanting look into an ancient culture and an even older landscape.
The best ways to explore the often rugged territory are by 4WD, motor-home, or even on bike -a mode of transport that is surprisingly well catered for, with even the famous Simpson’s Gap providing a seven kilometre section of sealed bike track.
Covering an area of just over 2,000 square kilometres, the canyons, gorges, and waterholes in the West MacDonnell National Park area provide a stunning and insightful backdrop for any number of outdoor activities, including camping, swimming, and hiking, to name a few.
Hiking enthusiasts should consider the 250 kilometre Larapinta Trail, which traverses the ranges from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder. This trail can be hiked either with a guided tour or independently, but independent hikers should seek expert guidance before their tour as the conditions can be harsh. Those not wishing to undertake the full length of the famous trail can choose to do shorter sections.
Dingoes, native fish, carpet pythons, and endemic birdlife frequent most areas of the Western MacDonnell ranges, especially those that are more obscure and located off the well travelled roads. The summer months see the Ormiston Gorge, in particular, a haven for a large assortment of native reptiles.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are rich in indigenous culture and historical locales. The Ranges, like the rest of the Territory, are most pleasant in the cooler months of April to September. Camping facilities are well maintained and modern, and the National Park is accessible year round, with the exception of short periods of sporadic road closures following heavy rain.
The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs shot to fame in 2013 when the TV series Kangaroo Dundee aired in England. Showing the daily life of sanctuary owner Chris “Brolga” Barnes, the series depicted the ins and outs of running a wildlife sanctuary and rescue center for baby kangaroos.
The site was founded in 2005 before expanding from a small rescue center to also include a wildlife sanctuary four years later. More expansion is expected, and Central Australia’s first wildlife hospital is currently being built on the site. Covering 90 hectares, the sanctuary is home to more than 25 kangaroos.
On a guided sunset tour of the Kangaroo Sanctuary, visitors can get up close to an Australian icon, the red kangaroo. Travelers walk the grounds and meet many kangaroos while learning about their care.
Mt. Gillen is located within John Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve, which was named to commemorate Reverend John Flynn, who established the lifesaving Royal Flying Doctor Service. The grave is a memorial to both the man and the bridging of the gap between outback communities.
The Flynn’s Grave memorial lies at the foot of Mt. Gillen, where an informal and unposted trail leads to the summit. Although not an officially recognized track, it is a popular one and is quite well worn. A walkers’ gate approximately 150 feet (50 meters) from the Flynn’s Grave memorial marks the beginning of the track.
With a second branch in Darwin, Mbantua Fine Art Gallery and Cultural Museum (Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery) is a privately owned gallery in the heart of Alice Springs specializing in Aboriginal artworks. Buy everything from affordable souvenirs to investment-grade pieces by noted artists, via bark paintings, boomerangs, and gifts, or browse their permanent collection.
Simpsons Gap is one of the most prominent areas in the West MacDonnell Ranges, home to one of the most well-known waterholes of the Alice Springs region.
There are a few bush walks nearby, including the short Ghost Gum Walk and longer Cassia Hill Walk, which takes one hour each way. Longer walks around Simpsons Gap include the Woodland Trail, which connects Simpsons Gap with Bond Gap on an 11-mile (17-km) return track, and sections one and two of the Larapinta Trail. Visitors also have the opportunity to picnic at Simpsons Gap, with gas barbecues available for free use, or opt for a bicycle ride along a sealed track.
The rare black-footed rock wallaby is often seen at Simpsons Gap, best seen in the early morning or late afternoon. The wallaby is one of several creatures unique to Australia’s Red Centre.
One of the star attractions of central Australia’s West MacDonnell Ranges, Ormiston Gorge has stark red walls that house an almost permanent waterhole and attractive ghost gum trees. Facilities include a visitor center, a campground, and a kiosk, while the gorge forms the trailhead for sections 9 and 10 of the Larapinta Trail.
Devoted to desert flora, the 40-acre (16-hectare) Olive Pink Botanic Garden is home to more than 600 central Australian plant species, a network of walking trails, a visitor center with exhibitions, and the Bean Tree Cafe. It takes its name from its founder, the illustrator, activist, gardener, and anthropologist Olive Pink.