Welcome to Alice Springs and the Red Centre!
Almost smack bang in the middle of Australia, Alice Springs began life as a little telegraph station named Stuart linking Adelaide to Darwin.
The waterhole next to the town was named after the Superintendent of Telegraphs’ wife, Alice Todd and eventually, to prevent administrative confusion, the name of the town was officially changed to match that of the neighbouring natural spring.
A hub for flights en route to Ayers Rock, Alice Springs is in itself worth a visit for its rich history, Aboriginal and outback culture as well as its wealth of natural wonders including enchanting mountain ranges, vast blue skies and the iconic red soils of Australia’s Red Centre. Pick up an Alice Springs car rental and hit the road in this fascinating town and we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Or if you’ve got time on your hands, consider hiring an Alice Springs campervan. There’s nothing quite like watching the blazing red sun sink over the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges or falling asleep beneath a blanket of stars as you journey at a leisurely pace along the tarred road which runs right through the middle of Australia.
Read on to learn more about Australia’s dusty red centre. From where to stay, to the town’s most must-see attractions and sights, to where to stop for a quick bite or three-course meal, find out everything you need to know to make the most of your Alice Springs adventure.
Santa Teresa Road, Alice Springs NT 0870
Telephone: +61 8 8951 1211
Alice Springs Airport is located approximately 15km south of the town centre
No. of Terminals: 1
Timezone: GMT/UTC +9:30
Alice Springs Airport (ASP) receives flights operated by Qantas from all major Australian capitals as well as a number of Airnorth services, from Darwin, Katherine, and Tennant Creek. Just 13km south of town, the terminal boasts two runways and is often used to launch stratospheric research balloons.
Handling upwards of half a million passengers a year, the terminal is spacious and more importantly, air-conditioned. Furthermore it is easily navigated, with Alice Springs car hire service desks for Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty situated right next to the domestic baggage collection area. Campervans on the other hand, must be picked up in town.
Pre-book your car hire in Alice Springs on DriveNow to save time and money – DriveNow offers the best deals on car rental in Alice Springs including 4WD hire vehicles and car hire with unlimited kilometres.
Caption: Car rental Alice Springs Airport – terminal map
For a small town so far away from everything, Alice Springs has quite a good variety of places to stay. Virtually all hotels here also have a bar, which functions as a watering hole for locals and visitors alike, where you can get a hearty meal and have a bit of fun especially during the football season.
You can’t go wrong with Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters Source: ihg.com
Alice Springs’ largest hotel adjoins a popular casino and is 10 minutes from the airport. With its swimming pool, day spa, and array of onsite restaurants, Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters is a refreshing oasis in the central Australian outback.
The Chifley Alice Springs is a convenient, comfortable choice
Right beside the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, the down-to-earth Chifley Alice Springs looks out onto lush lawns and stands of red gum. A bar and restaurant provide a taste of the Australian bush, as well as a wide selection of beverages to enjoy after a big day out exploring.
Dive into the refreshing pool at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alice Springs Source: doubletree3.hilton.com
Next to Lasseter’s Casino, this DoubleTree hotel offers same signature service you would receive in any other DoubleTree location in the world. You even get your warm, chocolate chip cookie at check in! As with all good hotels in Alice, expect a great swimming pool. There is also an award-winning restaurant at this property.
On the opposite side of the dry Todd River to the casino, Quest Alice Springs is a great choice for travellers who like a bit more space to stretch out. Units are fully self-contained, with well-equipped kitchenettes so you can whip up a meal or a snack whenever it suits you. This apartment complex also conveniently has a pool and barbecue facilities.
For longer stays, choose Quest Alice Springs
Alice Motor Inn offers good value for money in a peaceful suburban location Source: www.alicemotorinn.com.au
An affordable option for travellers especially groups or families, Alice Motor Inn is a welcoming motel in a quiet residential suburb of Alice just 10 minutes’ east of the town centre. A communal kitchen allows guests to cook up a storm, while the pool and barbecue area provide a great setting for a swim and al fresco dinner.
A great starting point for your explorations of Alice Springs would be the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve – the reason for the town’s being. Situated 4km north of the town centre, this site was where communication was first established between England and Australia in 1871. There is also a cute little café here, which sells a selection of ice creams, snacks and killer vanilla slices.
If you ever wondered how kids went to school in the outback, head to the Alice Springs School of Air Visitor Centre next. Opened in 1951, this wonderful place once relied on two-way radios to educate children in remote areas. Today, it utilises satellite technology to conduct classes for just over 100 students living in an area covering 1.3 million square kilometres. A real eye-opener.
Also worth a visit is the legendary Royal Flying Doctor Service, which contains a brilliant small museum where you can peek inside a replica aircraft and look at historic medical equipment. The café has a reputation for making the best coffees in town, and the meat pies are truly mouthwatering so maybe make time here for lunch!
Inspect aircraft used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service Source: rfdsalicesprings.com.au
Todd Mall is Alice Springs’ main street, lined with Aboriginal art galleries, souvenir shops, and cafés. The excellent Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre can be found here, and if you feel a need to stretch your legs, take a stroll to the lookout at the top of Anzac Hill. Known as “Untyeyetwelye” to the Central Arrernte people, this prominent mound offers great views over the town.
For anyone with an interest in Central Australian wildlife, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre off Stuart Terrace is a must. This excellent facility houses over 100 reptiles on grounds carefully landscaped to resemble natural habitat. Some 40 individual species are represented here, including frill-necked lizards, thorny devils and saltwater crocodiles. There are also opportunities for visitors to handle some of the friendlier ones – under supervision of course!
See interesting reptiles such as the thorny devil at the excellent Alice Springs Reptile Centre
Across the Todd riverbed on the west side of town is the Olive Pink Botanical Garden. Founded by an extraordinary woman in 1956 to conserve the area’s spectacular native fauna, this serene little garden now bears her name. It contains over 600 plant species, including 40 rare ones, which you can inspect by following the network of walking tracks that thread the premises. If you’re getting hungry, park your Alice Springs hire car and stop in at The Bean Tree Café to feast on generous home-style meals while watching western bowerbirds forage for food and pretty things to line their nests with.
If you have a half-day to spare, consider driving out to the Alice Springs Desert Park, which lies along Larapinta Drive around 8km west of town. This brilliant educational facility is situated on 52 hectares, and showcases a number of different Central Australian habitats ranging from river beds and sandy desert to woodland. The excellent Nocturnal House lets you observe endangered native animals that prefer the cover of darkness, whilst guides provide an insight into how the local Arrernte People survive even in the harshest desert environments. You’ll have the opportunity to see emu and kangaroo in their natural habitat, as well as view a large variety of birds including raptors and cockatoos. Plan to go early to avoid the hot afternoon sun.
There are over 1,000 works in the Araluen Cultural Precinct
On your way back to town, consider dropping by the Araluen Cultural Precinct. This well organised facility showcases Aboriginal art and culture, with significant works from Central Australian artists including renowned watercolourist Albert Namatjira. The property is built around a culturally significant corkwood tree that is the focal point of the Sculpture Garden.
There is much to see and do outside of Alice Springs, particularly if you enjoy the great outdoors. Going outside of town is where car hire in Alice Springs comes in very handy. The good news is that a 4WD rental in Alice Springs isn’t strictly necessary unless you’re planning to follow designated 4WD tracks such as the Finke River track or take to the celebrated Red Centre Way (also known as the Mereenie Loop Road).
Simpsons Gap is approximately 20 minutes’ drive out of town, comprised of a dramatic break in the West MacDonnell Ranges. A small creek flows in between the reddish gorge walls, and in the cooler hours, you might even spot small black-footed rock wallabies resting in the shade. This lovely site offers a number of trails, ranging from a short walk down to the Gap to half-day treks that take you to the more remote Bond Gap for instance, where you’ll find pristine stands of Mulga woodland.
Enchanting scenery typical of the West MacDonnell Ranges
For some really well-preserved examples of Aboriginal rock art, the Napwerte / Ewaninga rock Carvings Conservation Reserve is a relatively accessible site to visit, just 45 minutes to the south of Alice Springs along Old South Road. The meaning of the petroglyphs is a secret known only to senior Arrernte men, but fortunately visitors of any gender are welcome to visit provided they do not touch or otherwise interfere with the sandstone carvings.
Around 2 hours and 45 minutes by road west of Alice is the Finke Gorge National Park. This spectacular park is one of those places accessible only by high-clearance 4WD vehicle. If you haven’t arranged Alice Springs 4WD hire, definitely consider arranging a full day tour out here. Finke Gorge is home to an ancient river, a labyrinth of pinnacles and canyons, as well as Palm Valley, a lush oasis harbouring centuries-old red cabbage palms, a species endemic to the area. Bring good walking shoes to negotiate rugged rock faces as you make your way to stunning viewpoints. En route home, you might even stop for tea in charming Hermannsburg, a thriving Aboriginal settlement where painter Albert Namatjira was born.
For a town whose closest neighbour is almost 700km away (Coober Pedy, South Australia in case you were wondering), Alice Springs has a surprisingly wide array of dining options.
Start the day with coffee and breakfast at funky Page 27 Source: Page 27 on Facebook
Located in an arcade off Todd Mall, this hip little air-conditioned café cheerfully serves up quality coffees, fresh juices and hearty, wholesome breakfasts and lunches. Page 27's eclectic furniture and tempting window display wouldn’t look out of place at all in Melbourne or Sydney.
For a delicious modern take on bush foods, look no further than Kungka’s Can Cook, run by professional caterer Rayleen Brown, who spent her childhood living in places all over the Northern Territory. This is the place to go for Roo burgers, wattleseed brownies, and lemon myrtle scones.
Indulge in a delicious ice cream or milkshake from Uncle Edy’s scoop shop Source: Uncle-Edys on FaceBook
On a hot Territory afternoon, sometimes all you want is a good ice cream, and Uncle Edy’s delivers. This friendly, family-run shop scoops up generous portions of frozen treats, with a selection of alcoholic options for adults. There’s also a cute little jukebox so you can enjoy a cone to your favourite tune.
Inside the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Hanumans has been cooking up Thai, Indian, and Nyonya specialities for years. Owned by renowned chef Jimmy Shu, this much loved restaurant takes its inspiration from Jimmy’s heritage and travels, with some of the most popular dishes being the oysters, chilli baked reef fish, and deep fried soft shell crab served with a tangy tamarind sauce. Pricey but worth it!
For an ice-cold beer and reasonably priced pub grub you can’t go wrong with Sporties. On Todd Mall, this casual eatery is full of Motorsports memorabilia and has an extensive menu. More importantly, it has large fans that spray a curtain of cool mist onto diners sitting on the pavement outside, making the desert heat a little more bearable.
It’s no surprise that peak travel season coincides with some of Alice Springs’ biggest events. July and August offer delightfully dry, cool weather and also clear skies, making stargazing an easy proposition.
One of the biggest social and agricultural gatherings of the year, the annual Alice Springs Show always falls on the first Friday and Saturday of July, with that Friday being a Northern Territory-wide public holiday. Watch dog shows, horse competitions, and show jumping, or spend your time walking around tasting country-style cooking. Kids are well catered for with a petting zoo and lots of educational activities to keep them occupied.
Held every year on the third Saturday of August, the iconic Henley on Todd Regattasees teams race in bottomless boats along a sandy riverbed. Competitors – often hilariously dressed – kick off the day with a parade, starting from the Town Council lawns. Training isn’t required – all you need to do is to have a crew of four, and supply your own “boat”. So much fun!
Camel racing is a popular sport in Alice Springs
This annual event began in 1970 as a result of a duel between two mates, with camels comprising the weapon of choice. This race proved to be so popular, it was held every year every since. Now held in the custom-built Blatherskite Park, the Camel Cupis a family affair, with rides, races, and challenges that visitors of all ages can enjoy.
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