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There are a lot more things to do in Alice Springs than you think, here’s what I got up to on my visit to Alice Springs in the Australian Outback…
Well, 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.
I have already shared my experience with the Uluru, Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta Tour so now I want to share all the things to do in Alice Springs and why I kinda ended up really liking the place, despite its less than stellar reputation.
Introducing Alice Springs
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.
Alice 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.
The 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.
Best Things To Do in Alice Springs
Experiencing the Local Bars and Restaurants
The Todd Mall is the heart of Alice Springs. A shaded pedestrian street lined with cafes, galleries and gift 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 Page 27 Cafe 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.
Another great cafe is the Watertank Cafe on the outskirts of town. They offer delicious healthy dishes, juices, and excellent coffee.
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. 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.
See Black-footed Rock Wallabies at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
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. The resort is now closed so this is no longer an option. This is probably for the best because since my visit in 2014, I no longer believe that feeding wild animals is ethical.
These days, if you want to try spotting black-footed rock wallabies, you have a good chance of seeing them at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. The gardens have over 600 central Australian plant species and is Australia’s only arid zone botanic garden.
Visit Alice Springs Desert Park
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.
You can also see other native Australian animals in the park including emus, echidnas, malas, dingos, red kangaroos, snakes, lizards, and more. Alice Springs Desert Park is also a great place to learn about how Aboriginal people find food and medicine in the desert.
The park does nocturnal tours where you are likely to see a bilby, malas, and echidnas.
Attend a Festival in Alice Springs
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, bikes, 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 favorite, 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 canceled a few times when there was actually water in the river!
Watch the Sunset at Anzac Hill
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 five minute walk to the top but it is a pleasant view over town and out to the MacDonnell Ranges.
People Watching in Alice Springs
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 civilization.
Hike in the MacDonnell Ranges
For 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.
It 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.
The last stretch involved scrambling and pulling ourselves up onto large boulders before finally reaching the top.
It was definitely worth the pain.
The 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 colors warm and comforting. It was truly quite stunning.
Hiking 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.
This hike was a close second of my favorite Alice experiences, after the mini wallabies. Nothing could beat their stumpy-armed cuteness.
My time in Alice turned out to be far more exciting than I had ever expected: Visiting a cool circus bar, seeing cute wallabies, a desert/mountain hike with amazing views, and scooting around town on borrowed scooters with my brother.
I 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.
I traveled to Alice Springs in June 2014, this post has been fully updated in April 2022.
Plan Your Trip To Alice Springs
Safety Tips for Alice Springs
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.
Where To Stay in Alice Springs
In Alice Springs, stay at either Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn or Alice Springs YHA if you are looking for budget hostel accommodation where it is easy to meet other travelers. Both offer private and dorm rooms. The Diplomat Motel is a solid budget motel choice right in town.
Excellent mid-range options include Desert Palms Resort, Squeakywindmill Boutique Tent B&B, Alice on Tood Apartments, and Wilmots on Dixon.
To really treat yourself after your Uluru tour, stay at the eco-friendly DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs, which has mountain views, and has many amenities onsite like tennis courts, a fitness center, a restaurant, and a heated outdoor pool.
For vacation rentals, stay at either Wild Yam Artstay or Studio Five Apartment.
The Best Insurance for Your Alice Springs Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your trip – this is very important! Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
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