Stretching east and west from Alice Springs in two parallel lines of mountains, the MacDonnell Ranges host some of the most stunning scenery in the world. The 139-mile long Larapinta Trail threads much of the area, however, a guide is strongly recommended, if only to point out the poisonous snakes and lizards.
It may not sound it, but the desert is a very lively place. Alice Springs Desert Park, set on 3,212 acres (1,300 hectares) just outside of town, is home to owls, crocodiles, burrowing frogs, and dozens of rare birds. The Nocturnal House displays some of Australia’s cutest night-loving species, including the endangered bilby and mala.
The most popular day trip from Alice Springs remains visiting the spectacular red rock monolith, Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as the sandstone formation is called by the Aboriginal people. Seeing it at sunrise or sunset is an unforgettable experience; to complete the experience you can take a helicopter ride above or have dinner under the stars with a view of the mountain.
In Alice Springs, you can literally rise with the sun. As the sky turns gold, soar up several hundred feet above the seemingly endless MacDonnell Ranges and vast scrubland that literally hops with life, especially the mobs of red kangaroo. Direction of the journey depends mainly on the wind, but wherever you land, someone will be there to catch you.
With so much open space around Alice Springs, the need for speed may prove too hard to resist. Perhaps the best way to feel the rush is atop a 4-wheel quad bike as you race along bush tracks, dry riverbeds and mountainsides. No license or previous experience is required and training is provided beforehand.
Held on one Thursday each month from August through to November, Alice Springs Night Markets lets visitors shop the Outback. Located along Todd Mall, the official main street of Alice Springs, the market hosts dozens of stalls selling everything from indigenous arts and crafts and handmade clothing to local culinary specialties. Be sure to look for Tinh and Lan’s produce, grown from their famous garden on the outskirts of the town. Otherwise, just groove to the live music from local singers and bands.
A labor of love, Alice Springs’ Starlight Theater was founded by Andrew Langford, one of the world’s top masters of the didgeridoo. For 13 years, he’s performed several 90-minute shows per week to both promote and expand the ancient aboriginal instrument. Accompanied by other instruments and a light show, he leads the audience on musical and visual journey to reveal the spirit of the Outback.
In the middle of the largest land area without lights on earth, the Milky Way doesn’t just twinkle, it positively illuminates the night sky above Alice Springs. That’s why you’ll see so many locals hauling telescopes up to places like the Jessie Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges. But eyes are certainly enough to see the Southern Cross blaze above all. Add even more magic to the experience with an open-air Sounds of Silence dinner in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes a “star talker” to lead diners through the canopy.
Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artist and first native to be granted citizenship, Albert Namatjira, left behind a body of work that celebrates the Central Australian Outback in a panoply of vibrant color. It’s his capturing of the light though that generates the most admiration. Located inside Alice Springs’ main performance and visual arts venue, the Araluen Arts Centre, the gallery also includes paintings and ceramics by Namatjira’s sons alongside other aboriginal artists.
Ever since his BBC wildlife documentary broadcast “Kangaroo Dundee,” Brolga (as he prefers to be called), has been inundated with visitors as well as marriage proposals at his sanctuary for baby kangaroos in Alice Springs. Serving as a surrogate mother to an ever increasing family of orphaned and injured joeys, he continues to expand the refuge, mostly with his own two well-worn hands. Tours are by appointment only and take place at sunset, when the resident animals awake from their day-time slumber. For most, the highlight is the photo-op with your own baby ‘roo.