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Alice Springs is a small city in the centre of Australia, surrounded by the MacDonnell Ranges to the East and West. It is a tourist hub, providing access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta to the South, the MacDonnell Ranges to the East and West and to Darwin and the National Parks further to the North.
We found Alice had a laid back yet colourful vibe that has a transient yet ancient aspect. What is it about Alice Springs that is so special?
Lala picked Alice as her favourite destination in the whole of the Northern Territory. It is one of those places that gets under your skin, it has a sort of magical quality, while at the same time it doesn’t seem all that special.
There is a lot to do in town and a lot of history in the area, from the Dreamtime and Indigenous history through to opening the area up to the rest of the world with the telegraph and railway line.
In this post I have tried to focus on the best value things to do in Alice Springs for a family.
Things to Do in Alice Springs
There is heaps to do in Alice Springs town centre itself, and a lot more to keep you busy in the greater area as well. We felt like we got a really good feel for the town just by having a walk around. There are heaps of information boards throughout town with details of history, different buildings and significant sites.
I am devastated that I lost a lot of the photos that we had taken around Alice Springs, so this post may be a bit short on pics.
Alice Springs Desert Park
The Desert Park is repeatedly spoken of as the number one thing to do in town. We didn’t do it as we ran out of time and it was very expensive at $85 for our family. We wanted to spend a whole day there to get value for our money and in the end we just couldn’t spare the time. AND, as we always say, we had to leave something for us to do next time we are in town. I have included it here because I think it would be remiss of me to leave it out completely.
The Araluen Cultural Precinct
The Cultural Precinct includes some Art galleries, theatres, the museum of central Australia, a site of dreamtime significance to the local aboriginal people, a café and is located right next door to a huge kids playground.
It is $20 for a family to enter the gallery and another $20 to enter the museum. We went to the Museum and left the rest for another day.
Museum of Central Australia
We chose to visit the Museum of Central Australia as it included the meteorite fragment from the Henbury Meteorite Crater Reserve that we had stayed at. You can read about the Meteorite Crater in my Comprehensive Guide to the Red Centre.
The museum as a whole had a lot of information about Central Australia including how the area had formed geologically, a lot of the rocks and minerals that are found in the area as well as social history in the area, including a photographic display on Hermannsburg Mission.
Megafauna Central was a complete surprise. This exhibition was completely free which is why it jumped straight to the top of the list of things to do in Alice Springs for us. We were completely blown away by what we found. Based on a dig site approximately 150km north of Alice Springs where a mass extinction occurred of megafauna approximately 8 million years ago.
It is an excellent display with heaps to learn, including a glimpse into the actual lab where they process their findings and a video on the dig site and how it was uncovered.
Is a great place to look over town and a site of significance to the local aboriginal people.
At it’s top is a monument recognising Australia’s involvement in international conflicts.
There is a short walk up the stairs to the top, or a winding road that leads to the top from the other side.
Self Guided Tour Past Historical Sights
You can pick up a brochure from the Visitor Centre in town which outlines a number of buildings of historical significance. We found this was a really good way to get to know town as well as learn some of the history surrounding the region and it was completely free.
Devonshire Tea at The Residency
We came across ‘The Residency’, via the self guided tour brochure. We found the building open and set out like a museum furnished with pictures and displays outlining it’s historical significance.
We learnt that Alice Springs was previously the capital of ‘Central Australia’, when it was it’s own ‘state’ of Australia, before becoming a part of the Northern Territory. We stopped here for Devonshire tea and sat in the lovely dining room which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Todd Mall Markets
The Todd Mall Markets are very popular andis one of the top things to do in Alice Springs. They are held every second Sunday during the tourist season (April to October). There is a good range of stalls including some local aboriginal art as well as second hand books, craft and curios. A few food stalls round out the offering. It is also a good opportunity to browse through some of the Aboriginal Art galleries that line the Mall.
Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
You can enter and look around the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens for free, however donations are accepted. The gardens are beautifully set out and there are a number of Botanic walks that you can do through the gardens.
Within it is located one of the sacred women’s sites of the local aboriginal people (sister hill). You can read about it at the Botanic Gardens. It was here that I learned about the aboriginal caterpillar dream time story that is significant around Alice Springs.
There is also information about Olive Pink herself, who was the founder of the Botanic Gardens and an important figure in the formation of the modern Alice Springs as we know it. She was a strong supporter of Aboriginal rights in the area and fought hard to ensure that their voices were heard.
Street Art Self Guided Tour
The streets of Alice Springs are lined with street art and it contributes to the colourful vibe in town. You can pick up a brochure from the Information Centre with a map and a number of street art sites. The brochure does add some additional information, however you could just enjoy what you see as you walk around town.
Western MacDonnell Ranges
Many people do the Western Macs as a day trip from Alice Springs, which is easy enough to do. You could easily do the whole loop, hop out of the car at each spot and have a quick look at each site in one day.
There is heaps more to do though if you have more time, with almost every spot offering at least one or two longer walks to do. We also like spending a bit of extra time and getting to some of the sites when no one else is around.
My favourite two sites in the Western Macs was Ellery Creek Waterhole and the Ochre Pits.
My least favourite site was Ormiston Gorge, but when I look back at the photos, I think it looks amazing!
All I have to say is that the day we were there is was absolutely freezing. I am pretty sure it was hovering around 2 degrees when we did the rim walk which made the experience seem like torture. Just goes to show how much other external factors can influence your impression of different sites.
I am in the middle of writing a more detailed post on the MacDonnell Ranges (East and West), so check back soon if you want some more information.
Eastern MacDonnell Ranges
The East Macs are the less popular of the two ranges, mostly because it is a little harder to access with many sites requiring a four-wheel drive. There is still a lot that you can do with a 2wd and most of the sites that we went to are accessible by 2wd.
We camped at Trephina Gorge which was one of our favourite campsites and had our favourite walk in the MacDonnell Ranges (either East or West).
You can easily do the drive to Trephina Gorge from Alice Springs in a day trip and stop at Jesse’s Gap and Ruby’s Gap, which both have some examples of Aboriginal rock art.
Again, check back soon for a more detailed post on the Eastern Macs.
You could easily fill a week in Alice Springs. In total we spent 2 and a half weeks in the region and still left with so much more that we could have done.
Where to Stay in Alice Springs
There is a whole range of places to stay in Alice Springs, ranging from hotels, motels, caravan parks to campgrounds. We stayed at three different caravan parks during our time in Alice Springs. They were all good, but we did definitely had our favourite.
Heritage Caravan Park
Heritage Caravan Park was our favourite of the 3 parks that we tried while we were there. It started with check in – they didn’t charge us for Lala to stay, even though she was 5 and right on the age that they do start charging.
We stayed on an unpowered site. The site was huge with heaps of room to spread ourselves around. There were also a number of ‘bush camping’ sites which were not allocated. It looked like a great place to camp as well with heaps of trees for shade.
They had a nice pool area, although it was far too cold to swim while we were there. They also had a playground which Lala made good use of and made a bunch of friends at, which was a bonus.
Heritage gets an extra tick from me as it provided a playground for kids but didn’t charge extra for Lala. The other 2 parks we stayed at did not have a kids playground, but one of them did charge us extra for Lala (a pet hate of mine – charging extra for kids, but providing no extra facilities for them).
Heritage allowed pets, although we don’t have one, there were plenty of people that did. We also felt that it was the friendliest of the three caravan parks.
G’day Mate Caravan Park
G’day Mate Alice Springs has all the facilities that you would expect at a Caravan Park and the showers were amazing.
They did charge us extra for Lala, but provided no extra facilities for kids (there is a pool, but no playground). We were camped next to a permanent who woke us up at 3am one morning having a screaming match with his partner when they returned home from the pub.
It was our least favourite, but they do provide an additional discount to the G’day members (which we are not) so that probably provides a good chunk of their business.
Wintersun Caravan Park
Wintersun Caravan Park was a clean, well thought out park which was closer to town than the other two. It had a good feeling about it, great showers and friendly people.
The kind man at reception decided not to charge us for Lala. We enjoyed our stay here and did not have anything negative to say about it.
Other Places to Stay
There are a couple of other caravan parks in town that we did not try as well as numerous hotels, motels and hostels, etc.
How to Get Around
Most people are using Alice Springs as a jumping point to explore the rest of the Red Centre. The best way to do this is as a self drive. The whole town is covered in rent-a-cars and campervans as these are generally the most cost effective way of getting around to see everything if you are travelling with more than one person. If you are travelling solo, then it may be a good idea to jump on a tour, or a couple of tours to get around and see the MacDonnell Ranges and Uluru Kata Tjuta.
If you are heading to Uluru from Alice Springs, check out my post on Uluru and Kata Tjuta for more details. If you are planning on taking the time to explore the Red Centre, check out my Comprehensive Guide to the Red Centre. If you are heading north, make sure you stop in Mataranka (one of our favourite places in the NT), Litchfield NP and Darwin.