Alice Springs_ Not the crap hole I expectedWell what can I say – I didn’t hate Alice Springs.

I went there fully expecting to. I had heard pretty much all bad things so my expectations were extremely low.

As I have mentioned before, I am not that into desert landscapes so Alice Springs simply wasn’t that appealing to me. But when my brother Robbie got a job as a tour guide to Uluru based out of Alice Springs, I decided to give this dry and desolate region of Australia a chance to wow me.

And wow me it did.

P1180450I have already shared my experience about the Uluru, Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta Tour so now I want to share my thoughts on Alice Springs and why I kinda ended up really liking the place, despite its bad reputation.

Alice Springs didn’t turn out to be the barren desert town that I had envisioned. There are actually a lot of trees dotted around town as well as numerous green spaces, although it is still pretty dusty.

P1180878Alice is surrounded on one side by the craggy MacDonnell Ranges, so it isn’t flat like I thought it would be either. The town straddles the Todd river which is as dry as a bone for about 90% of the time, just a sandy squiggle lined by trees.

P1180883The area where Alice Springs is now located has been settled for over 30,000 years by the Arrernte aboriginal people. The town itself started off as a Telegraph Station in 1872, named after the wife of the former Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd. It wasn’t until the train line to Alice was built in 1929 that the town’s European population began to grow.

The Todd Mall is the heart of Alice Springs. A shaded pedestrian street lined with Cafes, Art Galleries and Souvenir shops, it is alive with the sound of live music from the numerous buskers performing along the Mall. Al fresco dining options line the street and it buzzes with people.

We had brunch at Establishment on the Mall my first morning in Alice and I was really impressed. It was just as good as my regular brunches in Sydney. The coffee was amazing too. Sitting outside in the sunshine, surrounded by people, I was surprised how vibrant and chic Alice could be.

There are a number of bars and restaurants including my favourite, Monte’s. With its extensive craft beer selection, delicious menu and fun circus décor, it is the place to go out in Alice. They also have live music and other special events on a regular basis. The Rock bar is a good spot for a fun night out too and they do a ripper Aussie burger. We went there on the last night of our tour and there was a live band then a DJ played in the beer garden later in the evening.

The absolute highlight of my time in Alice was feeding the black footed Rock Wallabies at Heavitree Gap, a Resort and Camping Ground just out of town. They come down from the rocky hillside where they live around sunset. We purchased a bag of Wallaby food from Reception and these little furry T-Rexes with their adorably stumpy arms, came right up to us to get some delicious pellets.

P1180894They are less than a metre tall and very eager to be fed. They clung on to my hand when they were feeding and pawed at my knees, begging for more.

P1180895A couple of them even had tiny little joeys in their pouches.

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They raised their short little arms like they were reaching out to hug me.

P1180889Well I would like to think that that is what they were doing.

Cutest Australian animal in existence? I think so.

I was interested in visiting another Australian cutie, the bilby, an endangered desert dweller that can be found in the Alice Springs Desert Park. It is a nocturnal creature, similar to a bandicoot but with longer rabbit-like ears. The park does night tours where it would be likely to see a bilby, but unfortunately only in summer so I didn’t end up visiting the park.

Alice Springs has a full schedule of quirky festivals and events such as the Finke Desert race, which was on when I was there. A two day off-road race for cars, bike, buggies and quads, people camp out in the desert to watch the vehicles go past. This would only take a few minutes so not sure what they would do the rest of the time, guess they probably get drunk. There is also a Beanie Festival, the Camel Cup (camel racing) and my personal favourite, the Henley-On-Todd Regatta.

The Regatta involves a boat race on the Todd River. As I said earlier, the Todd very rarely has any water in it so this boat race is comprised of bottomless boats, with competitors running along the sandy riverbed to victory. It had to be cancelled a few times when there was actually water in the river!

The Alice locals are an interesting bunch. The isolation that is part and parcel of living in the middle of a largely uninhabited desert attracts all sorts of people including hippies, backpackers, entrepreneurs, hipsters and bikers. Coupled with the large Arrernte aboriginal population, it makes for an interesting mash up of cultures and personalities.

I think that is another reason why I liked the place. It feels like anything is possible out there, so far removed from the rest of civilisation.

A popular spot to watch the sunset is atop Anzac Hill in town. We went up there about a half hour before the sunset so as not to have to scoot back in the dark on the scooters we borrowed from Robbie’s flatmates. It is only a 5 minute walk to the top but it is a pleasant view over town and out to the MacDonnell Ranges.

P1180465For a waaaay more impressive view, we drove the scooters out to hike up Mount Gillen, the highest point in the MacDonnell Ranges. We started the hike at the boulder marked grave of Rev. John Flynn, who founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The walk wasn’t signposted but we managed to find the trail fairly quickly, just to the right of the grave.

P1180426It took us just under 90 minutes return and was hard going. The path was steep and gravelly and as we got closer to the top the heat intensified. I couldn’t even imagine doing it in summer! I quickly drunk most of my water and my throat was dry and parched.

P1180444The last stretch involved scrambling and pulling ourselves up onto large boulders before finally reaching the top.

P1180461P1180446It was definitely worth the pain.

P1180453The incredible views over the mountain range as it stretched in a long, curved line. The low buildings of Alice dotted over the burnt sienna desert. Straggly, green trees floating in the rocky landscape. More shades of orange than I have ever seen. I found the colours warm and comforting.  It was truly quite stunning.

P1180457P1180455P1180454Hiking back down had its own risks, namely the loose gravel which kept me on high alert for slips as I slowly edged my way sideways down the steeper sections of the track.

P1180462This hike was a close second of my favourite Alice experiences, after the mini Wallabies. Nothing could beat their stumpy-armed cuteness.

The biggest downside to Alice is the alcohol abuse problem faced by a number of the local Arrernte people, and the violence that comes from it. This makes the downtown a dangerous place to walk around at night, and even in the day sometimes. With a lot of the hostels about a 20-30 minute walk out of town, taxis are a must after dark to ensure you get back safely from town.

My time in Alice turned out to be far more exciting than I had ever expected: Visiting a cool circus bar, hand feeding cute wallabies, a desert/mountain hike with amazing views and scooting around town on borrowed scooters with my brother.

P1180881I really enjoyed myself.

I don’t know if I could live out there but I loved discovering a uniquely different part of Australia, far removed from life in Sydney.

Alice Springs is an outback town with a lot of soul. And a lot of characters.

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23 Comments on Alice Springs: Not the crap hole I expected

  1. Rodrigo
    August 20, 2014 at 10:34 pm (2 years ago)

    I couldn’t help but guffaw when I read the Henley-On-Todd Regatta bit. A regatta that gets cancelled because there is water in the river! 😀

    Not sure I’d like Alice Springs, but I do find deserts fascinating, and those were some beautiful pics. But you’re right: the wallabies take the cake!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      August 20, 2014 at 11:32 pm (2 years ago)

      I know, its a crazy place! I had expected to hate it but was pleasantly surprised. Loved those cute lil wallabies

      Reply
  2. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling
    August 8, 2014 at 3:13 am (2 years ago)

    I clicked on this post because the title made me laugh! I think I’ll share it on my FB page for the same reason, haha.

    I’ve never been to the red centre (the opportunity has just never come up). I must admit, the alcohol problem in the area is kind of the first thing people in big cities think about when we think of Alice. It’s a shame because I think it stops some people from spending much time there.

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      August 8, 2014 at 5:25 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks Karyn! The alcohol problem is definitely prevalent but I still really enjoyed my time in Alice none the less. I hope you make it out there one day – it is a special place 🙂

      Reply
  3. rebeccacreativenomad
    August 7, 2014 at 1:16 am (2 years ago)

    This is awesome! what a great time! the hike looks really cool and the festivals.. well quirky indeed. Would love to go to the Regatta one

    Reply
  4. Ranthambore
    July 26, 2014 at 10:03 am (2 years ago)

    Ha ha ha! A couple of them even had tiny little joeys in their pouches. Really nice collection here!!

    Reply
      • Admin
        August 1, 2014 at 7:41 am (2 years ago)

        Yep!!

  5. bekyc
    July 25, 2014 at 11:43 am (2 years ago)

    Those wallabies are ridiculously adorable. What a great landscape too!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 26, 2014 at 12:13 am (2 years ago)

      I know right! Too cute! The landscape was really spectacular, it surprised me how much I loved it

      Reply
  6. Jules and Christine (@DontForget2Move)
    July 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm (2 years ago)

    Haha. I title of your post made me laugh out loud! So funny. That place looks great, I love it when places are better than expected. And the wallabies are so cute!!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 24, 2014 at 11:57 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks guys! It did turn out to be a surprisingly cool town. Wish we had rock wallabies in Sydney. Thanks for accepting me into the Under 1000 Club – happy to be a member 🙂

      Reply
  7. Amy
    July 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm (2 years ago)

    Any place that has wallabies is pretty awesome in my book. So cute! I had to Google a bilby to see what they looked like (also cute). My personal favorite is the wombat. I can’t get enough of them. It’s a sickness. Anyways, I love being surprised by a new town. Sometimes it’s a good thing to go in with low expectations – it can only get better from there 🙂

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm (2 years ago)

      Wombats are super cute too – so many cute animals in Australia! I agree, sometimes it is better to go in with low expectations – you aren’t as disappointed if it does turn out that you don’t like it and if you do like it – it’s a bonus

      Reply
  8. Packing my Suitcase
    July 24, 2014 at 6:14 am (2 years ago)

    Ohhhh I would totally go to see the Wallabies, how cute are those? 🙂 Its a beautiful place!!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 24, 2014 at 6:28 am (2 years ago)

      I know, they are so cute! Definitely highlight of my time in Alice 🙂

      Reply
      • Packing my Suitcase
        July 24, 2014 at 10:32 am (2 years ago)

        hahaha and I totally understand why!! too cute 😀

  9. zirconiumrose
    July 24, 2014 at 5:36 am (2 years ago)

    I love the colors of the outback- hope to make it there someday!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 24, 2014 at 5:41 am (2 years ago)

      It is beautiful isn’t it. I hope you make it there too 🙂

      Reply
  10. thetravellush
    July 24, 2014 at 4:10 am (2 years ago)

    The black footed rock wallabies are the cutest things I’ve ever seen. And their little joeys…how tiny!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 24, 2014 at 4:20 am (2 years ago)

      I know! The Wallabies themselves are so tiny so their babies were pocket-sized. So cute!

      Reply

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