Located damn near the middle of the continent, the MacDonnell Range forming its southern border, Alice Springs is a true desert town. It is surrounded on all sides by the iron red dirt of the central arid zone. In many ways, it seems like a rather strange place for such a thriving town. Though hot, even in the spring, it was a wonderful little place to spend a few days.
As a visitor, there are a few interesting things to do there. The most impressive attraction is by far the desert wildlife park located on the western edge of town. It was one of the most well organized parks I have been to in a long time. As with any activity in the desert, if you are there during the warmer months, plan on being there at opening time so you can do the walking when it is cooler. Along with all the enclosures for animals many of the numerous different plants are labeled with an info graphic which describes the plant and the habitat. The amount of useful information the park provides is just wonderful.
The park is split up into three sections, each exploring a different ecosystem. There are, of course, enclosures where you can observe emus and dingoes. There is also a lovely little enclosure where you can go in with some western red kangaroos.
A large majority of the other enclosures are bird enclosures. Some of them you can walk through, which is awesome. Each enclosure has different plant life to go along with the different birds. It was really cool to stand amongst the trees and shrubs and watch the different birds flit about. Even in the enclosures where you couldn’t get in with the birds you could see them easily. So many had gorgeous bright colored feathers. We had a wonderful time spotting all the different species and reading a bit about each of them on the info graphics. There is also an amazing raptor show where they introduce many of the local birds of prey and demonstrate many of their habits and explain how they thrive in such a harsh climate.
By far the best part of the park is the nocturnal habitat. It is located in the center of the park and it is all indoors, which means air-conditioning. The room is a series of glass windowed habitats all lit by black light. There were reptiles of all sorts, spiders, snakes, and even a few small mammals to see. There were an amazing variety of night time creatures that we would likely have never gotten to see other wise. We had such a good time that we ended up spending half a day at least at the park.
The royal flying doctor museum is a must do if your in town. The RFDS provides both standard medical care along with life saving emergency response for the two hundred thousand plus people who work on the numerous outback stations and mines. In my personal opinion it is one of the most important services ever put together by a group of people. The work that they do makes the often dangerous and lonely life of the outback pastoralist and miner possible. The service runs partly on donations, so every dollar you spend there could help save lives. It is a rather small affair and wont take up more then two hours of your time, but it is more then worth a visit.
I would also recommend getting up early enough to watch the sunrise from ANAC hill at least once. The hill is on the northern end of down town. There is a way to drive to the top, but the hill is not that big and walking there is quite a pleasurable way to start the day during the warmer months. The temperature is very pleasant and everything is quiet and fresh. The sky turns wonderful shades of orange, pink, and red. The red rays of the sun as it creeps over the MacDonell Range spill over the valley turning the iron red landscape an much brighter shade. It is a magnificent sight.
There are also some fun things to do after dark. During the warmer months they have a night market on Thursday nights. Many of the local business and aboriginal artists set up booths. It is a great place to peruse, listen to some music, and get your self some cheap art from the local aboriginals. We got a painting on canvans for $20 that would have cost us three to four times that at a gallery, and we got to talk to the artist a bit, which was cool. Monte’s bar was a fun little spot to hang out and have a few beers and some food. The jugs were only $18 dollars and the out door seating was good place to enjoy the evening and chat with a wide range of folks. They also do movies on a large projector screen which can be a fun way to spend a few hours. The Epilogue has a roof top section they open up for Friday and Saturday nights. They usually have live music and it seemed to be the place for the younger local crowd. It was a fun place to have a few drinks and get some dancing in. It was also the perfect place for me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, people watching. I had more laughs then I can count watching things get sloppy.
As I mentioned it is the starting point for most people journey into the red center, so there is always tour groups coming and going. This means plenty of travelers to talk with and swap stories with, especially at the hostels. During our time there we stayed at two separate hostels. The first was Haven Resort. Haven is much more of what I have come to think of as a standard hostel. It was much more of a party place, with alcohol service until 10pm. Most of the tours that come through Alice spend a night at Haven, so you frequently have people coming and going at odd hours of the morning. The place looked like it was used to seeing a lot of younger folks coming through and while it was not exactly dirty, it had the feeling of being thoroughly used by people who were not so much concerned with keeping the place nice. They did have a nice little pool and we had some wonderful conversations with other patrons. There was an unmistakable air of fun about the place. They even had a gentleman come by one night and give free didgeridoo lessons, which was great fun. They also had storage bins under the beds to help keep things organized which I thought was smart. Haven was a great place to stay for a night or two if you are looking for a bit of banter and some fun. It is not a quiet place though. You can check out prices and room choices here.
The other hostel that we stayed in, for nearly a week, was Alice’s Secret. Alice’s Secret is set up to be, in many ways, the opposite of Haven. They do not serve alcohol, though you are welcome to bring your own, and they have signs up all over the place discouraging noise after 10 and encouraging a much quieter, more reserved atmosphere. It also has a lovely pool. The best part about this hostel is the multitude of creative out door sitting areas were you can relax. The rooms are quieter because of the lack of tour groups coming in at odd hours, and the generally noise policy of the place. I will say though, the amount of signs and reminders to be quiet and courteous gave the place a bit of a library feel. You almost didn’t want to make any noise even during the day, though we got over that after a day or two. They even had a little hostel BBQ Friday night where we all got together and ate and chatted. It was good fun. A German fellow and his French partner run it, and many of the people working there were German. That may have been a coincidence, but if you speak German it may be a good place to stay.
As with any desert, I recommend going in either spring or fall. The days will be warm but the nights and early morning will be lovely. It frequently gets over 40 during the day in the summer and drops bellow freezing at night during the winter, neither of which are pleasant. In the end however, when traveling, the important thing is really just to do it if you get the chance no matter what time of year it is.