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Alice Springs

Alice Springs Travel Guide

From 1869 to 1872 using Stuart’s charting, the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin was completed. Farmers eager to exploit already meagre water supplies now began to settle the area, followed in 1887 with the discovery of alluvial gold in nearby Arltunga, hundreds of hopeful prospectors. The modern town was born, and another sacred part of the Aboriginal peoples land was lost.

The next link in the communication chain to Alice, then named Stuart, was of a rather peculiar nature, hundreds of immigrant Afghan Cameleers, and their camels, drove supplies the 400 miles from the new railhead at Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. The cameleers continued their epic journeys up until 1929 and the opening of the railway from Adelaide to Alice Springs via Oodnadatta.

Many of the camels were abandoned when trade for the Afghanis dried up and the animals dispersed to start a feral life in the harsh “Red Centre”. Today the progeny of these hardy, purebred camels are bred for export to all parts of Arabia. In 2002 over 100 of them were sent to Saudi Arabia where they are highly prized for their racing abilities.

In 1933 after dropping the name Stuart, the town officially became Alice Springs, and slumbered on until the Second World War. The advent and aftermath of war have underpinned the prosperity of modern day Alice. During the war some 8,000 American troops were stationed in the town to defend and supply troops in Darwin from Japanese invasion. Instillations left after the war were re-established in the 1960’s by the signing of the Joint Australian – United States Defence Facility located in nearby Pine Gap. Today some 2000 Americans live in and around Alice and contribute enormously to the town’s prosperity, which is now emerging as a centre for global communications technology.

Despite, and probably because of its location, 21st century Alice Springs must be the envy of every small town planner around the world. With what is by any standard a fairly small population Alice has communal riches other towns could only dream of.

Recreation is taken very seriously in Alice; the town has an internationally acclaimed 500 seat Performing Arts Centre where top class acts and performances by local, national and international players take place. Sport is probably afforded the most serious recreational attention; the town has state of the art Aussie Rules, soccer, cricket and hockey stadiums, and several swimming pools including one of Olympic size. Alice Springs also has a horseracing track and a superb irrigated 18-hole golf course, which ranks globally as one of the top ten desert courses.

But it is to none of these munificent municipal marvels that Alice owes its global sporting reputation. In September each year tens of thousands of people from around the world descend on the town to witness the Henley On Todd Regatta.

At this time of the year the bed of the River Todd is usually bone dry, but this is not something that deters the intrepid boat crews. They simply use bottomless boats and run a series of arduous races along the dried up riverbed. Slightly less madcap, perhaps, is The Camel Cup, a series of annual camel races that takes place in July. August witnesses the towns yearly Alice Springs Rodeo, an event that errs on the ‘possibly’ side of serious. Visitors to any of these events will need to book accommodation well in advance.

For entertainment of a less cerebral or physical nature Alice Springs is the ‘Pub Crawlers’ dream venue, packed into the compact town centre are enough pubs to see off all but the hardened drinker. One of the busiest, and possibly noisiest in town, is the Rattle n Hum at Malenka’s Backpacker Resort.

The unashamedly British looking Firkin and Hound carries a range of about a dozen international beers, and serves good value Brit style pub food. But perhaps the towns most celebrated pub is the Todd Tavern, which despite futile attempts to make it to make it look acceptable always retains that pioneering Australian air of unpractised untidiness. Other hostelries to visit should include Bojangles and the Alice Junction Tavern.

Lovers of fine epicurean or gastronomic delights should head off to Melbourne or Noosa; Alice Springs does good food and plenty of it without much evidence of primadonna chefs or ‘food designers’. Dining out in Alice you may also see close relatives of last night’s menu choice gambolling around the Outback on your way to Uluru or the Olgas the next day. With no fresh seafood to offer many Alice restaurants have a slightly disturbing range of local fauna on the menu, taking ‘bush tucker’ to new heights.

The Overlander Steakhouse offers all your favourite Antipodean pets on one plate in the shape of their  “Drovers Blowout ” meal, comprising buffalo, kangaroo, camel and emu, and delicious it is too. Regular diners should try Oscar’s Italian restaurant at The Todd Mall Cinema complex, good value authentic cooking. And probably the best Indian restaurant for a thousand miles is in Alice; the Sri Devi on Gregory Terrace has an imaginative menu of classic and modern Indian cuisine with a good choice of vegetarian dishes.

Because of Alice’s proximity to visitor attractions such as Uluru, the town whilst having ample accommodation can get very busy at peak times, booking well in advance will ensure visitors are able to reserve the type of accommodation they require. The town offers a great range of places to stay from campgrounds to Luxury hotels, although the emphasis is on backpacker or budget hotels and motels. Kasbah’s Hotels or Hostels page has a good range of accommodation in the town.

Many visitors to Alice Springs, at least half a million a year, use the town as a staging post to visit Uluru, The Olgas and other wonders of the Outback, but it is well worth scheduling a day or to into your itinerary to discover Alice and the immediate area. Anzac Hill is a worthy excursion offering spectacular panoramic views across the town, the Todd River and the MacDonnell Ranges. The Ewaningo Petroglyphic Rock Carvings are worth a short 4x4 drive to view these fascinating ancient animal carvings. Alice Springs Desert Park is a great place to wile away an afternoon in the company of Central Australia’s native flora and fauna. Managed by the Parks and wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, the park is also an important research and conservation facility. The town centre has a number of interesting colonial buildings, with a large cluster of them centered around the Railway station.

A fitting way to end a visit to Alice Springs is to take a 4x4 trip in the late evening on one of the plentiful tracks leading up to the MacDonnells. Stop your car in a suitably elevated spot, turn off the engine, look up at the stars and just listen to the almost deafening sound of silence. Alice Springs is still a long way from anywhere!

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