With its soaring red walls and impressive pound formation, the very photogenic Ormiston Gorge is a highlight of the West MacDonnell National Park. It’s a perfect spot to explore the amazing quartzite formations of the West MacDonnell Range. As it’s only 135km along a sealed road from Alice Springs, the gorge is still very popular with day-trippers, although it’s not usually as crowded as some of the park’s other gorges.
Probably the most well known of the gorge’s attractions is the waterhole, which is a very popular spot to enjoy a swim. It’s just a five minute walk to the waterhole from the visitor centre, and even on the hottest days the cold water is likely to take your breath away.
To explore a little further, take the popular 20 minute Ghost Gum Lookout Walk for amazing views through the gorge.
More serious hikers may like to consider the Ormiston Pound Walk, which is a three to four hour circuit over rocky terrain through this natural amphitheatre. However, anyone wanting to tackle this walk should plan to start out early to avoid the midday heat. The end of this trail loops back across the waterhole, which makes for a refreshing wade after your exertions.
As the gorge is the trackhead for sections 9 and 10 of the Larapinta Trail, it’s also possible to sample just a bit of this multi-day hike from Alice Springs to Mt Sonder. If you don’t have the setup or stamina to tackle the whole thing, then the walk from Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen Gorge is actually one of the easier bits to try.
If you want to spend a little more time just relaxing around the gorge then there’s also a campground with toilets, hot showers and barbecues. Fees do apply, and just be warned that it’s generally very busy in the cooler months. So, if you’re visiting in the winter months and wish to camp, make sure you get in early. If you do decide to camp, don’t miss the opportunity to see some early morning birdlife around the campsite too.
Just 110km from Alice Springs, the Ochre Pits site is an intriguing blend of history, Aboriginal heritage and geological interest. As one of the attractions of West MacDonnell National Park that’s fairly close to Alice Springs, the Ochre Pits is a popular stop for day-trippers. It’s easily accessed off the sealed Namatjira Drive, just a little further west than Serpentine Gorge.
The bands of yellow, white and red of this 10m ochre outcrop are a striking sight amid the gums of the dry creek bed. Once the floor of a massive inland sea, these layers of mudstone and siltstone were moved around 340 million years ago by a mountain building event into their current near-vertical position as part of the MacDonnell Ranges. The mix of white clay and iron oxide has created the predominantly yellow colour of the cliff, while the red hues are created by higher levels of oxidised iron. Over millions of years the stone has weathered to the colourful swirling patterns you see today.
Before you wander down the sealed 300m pathway to the creek to explore for yourself though, take some time to learn about the varied uses of the many different colours of ochre in Aboriginal culture on the information boards. The use of ochre has always been an essential part of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories of creation. Although ochre is probably best known for its use in paintings and body decoration, it was also used to decorate and protect weapons. The Western Arrernte Aboriginal people have mined the ochre at this spot for generations, and rarer colours were even traded with other groups. The national park is now jointly managed by the area’s traditional owners and ochre is still collected for cultural practices.
As well as the informative boards, the site has barbecue facilities, making it a nice spot to have some lunch.
If you wish to explore the rugged landscape further, then follow the Arrernte Bush Track past the pit for 3km along a narrow, spinifex-lined path to Inarlanga Pass. You’ll need to allow three hours to tackle the return walk and remember to take plenty of water.
The instantly recognisable shape of Uluru, bathed red by the setting sun as it sits majestically amid the surrounding sandy plain, is definitely one of Australia’s most photographed sights. Once known as Ayers Rock, Uluru always appears in overseas visitors’ lists of Australia’s top three attractions, usually alongside the Sydney Opera House and the Twelve Apostles. Yet no matter how many times you’ve seen images of this imposing 348m high monolith, nothing compares with standing in front of it for the first time. It’s a sacred site in Aboriginal culture and Tjukurpa stories tell how Uluru was formed by ancestral beings at the beginning of time.
Various sunrise and sunset viewing spots provide great vantage points to see the amazing colours wash over Uluru at these particularly special times of day. However, they can be very popular, so if you’re looking for a quieter way to enjoy the experience then take a walk to locate a more secluded viewpoint. One little-known viewing point with great vistas over the rock is accessed just a short distance from the Cultural Centre along the Liru Walk.
Walking really is the best way to get up close to Uluru, and a clockwise wander around the base on the Mala Walk is an excellent way to see the rock from every angle. At 10km this walk is one for those with plenty of time, as you’ll need to allow about three and a half hours to do the entire circuit. If you have less time, it’s possible to just do some shorter sections to highlights like Kantju Gorge and Mutitjulu Waterhole. The peaceful waterhole is a beautiful spot to sit and relax for a while and there are rock art sites to see as well.
As a sign of respect for the beliefs of the traditional owners, the management of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park asks visitors to not climb Uluru. As of October 26 2019, the climb to the top of Uluru will be permanently closed.
Another great option for exploring around the rock is to hire a bike from near the Cultural Centre and cycle around instead of walking. Or for an even different mode of transport, try a Segway tour. Whatever you choose, remember to head out early to avoid the hottest part of the day.
A great way to spend some time when it’s hot is to drop in to the Cultural Centre. Here you’ll learn about Anangu culture and the long history of the importance of Uluru to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people – the area’s traditional landowners. You’ll want to allow at least two hours to explore the centre, which includes art galleries and cultural displays. A must-do is a walk through the Tjukurpa Tunnel where you’ll be transported back in time with ceremonial songs, Anangu art and fascinating documentaries.
Another fun way to learn more about the area’s culture is to participate in a dot painting workshop with Maruku Arts. While you’re there you can also pick up a punu (wooden carving), painting or piece of jewellery as a special memento of your trip. Paintings are also available from Walkatjara Art, which is the art centre run by the Mutitjulu community.
The opportunity to see important rock art sites that show fascinating Tjukurpa stories is another big drawcard of a visit to Uluru. Along the Mala and Kuniya walks there are several rock shelters where visitors can get up close to these fascinating artworks. To gain an even greater understanding of the images you are seeing, take the ranger-guided Mala Walk.
For further insight into the culture and history of the region, take a guided tour. As well as walks there are a number of other ranger-guided activities on offer too, including tours around Uluru, bushtucker talks and presentations on the park’s animals. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime way to experience this amazing place you can take a tour on a camel, or even a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Thrillseekers can also take to the skies on a helicopter trip or go for a tandem skydive for unforgettable aerial views of Uluru.
Uluru is part of the World Heritage–listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is jointly managed by Anangu and Parks Australia. Park entry fees apply, and permits can be purchased online. There is no camping permitted in the park, with the nearest available at Yulara. It’s only a short drive on sealed roads from Uluru to Yulara, which has plenty of accommodation and restaurants as well as an airport.
The central location of Alice Springs acts as a great starting point to take a tour to explore the area. Choose your preferred travel style between camping, bushwalking, hot air ballooning, or camelback, and get set for the choice of adventures.
Starting with Indigenous tours, explore Australia’s rich history with Aboriginal cultural tours and stories of the Arrernte people, the traditional owners of Mpwante (Alice Springs). For a complete experience camp under the stars in the hinterland with an Aboriginal guide welcoming you into the local community and sharing their culture and customs.
For an adrenaline hit, take a helicopter joyride over the MacDonnell Ranges and explore the incredible desert landscape and rock formations from above. Down on land take a cycle tour, quad bike or trek across the terrain and visit the many waterfalls in close distance of Alice Springs.
For something unique to the desert, enjoy a tour on camelback, guiding you to the scenic Temple Bar Gap. Choose the best time of day to suit you, between morning, afternoon or sunset and experience first-hand local wildlife like wallabies, kangaroos and native birds. The Alice Springs Desert Park also provides a choice of tours to experience the incredible wildlife and the Alice Springs Reptile Centre gives you the chance to view reptiles in a more controlled environment - feed lizards and handle pythons.
Alice Springs is the perfect base to take a tour to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Here you’ll have a chance to explore Uluru (Ayers Rock), sacred sandstone that began forming around 550 million years ago and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) about 360 kilometres southwest made up of 36 red-rock formations. Depending on your trip duration, there are many tours to choose from ranging in lengths of time, with some longer journeys even taking you to Darwin.
While Alice Springs provides its very own entertainment, when you’re ready for something more, there are a variety of tours available departing directly out of town. Uncover the incredible scenery and natural sites surrounding and make the most of Australia's stunning red landscape all with a local tour guide leading the way.
Experience the many gorges, open red desert landscape and vast array of wildlife on the numerous treks surrounding Alice Springs.
If discovering land on foot is your preferred way to explore, then this town is the perfect base for you. Choose from a short walk out or an extended hike through the ranges to experience the colourful landscape of Australia's Red Centre.
Start with the Larapinta Trail in town, which traces from town centre through to the West MacDonnell National Park. Voted by the National Geographic as one of the top trekking experiences on the planet, this walk is one that can't be missed. Depending on your time frame, the trail can be split into 12 sections, so you can choose which areas you’d like to experience, whether it’s a seven-day hike or just a few hours, explore the many water holes and campsites set along the trail.
Once you’ve ticked off the Larapinta Trail, next up is Ormiston Pound Walk, about a two-hour drive from Alice Springs. This trail is not only about the journey, but the destination too, as it leads you into the dramatic gorge and sparkling waterhole to cool off in, which is Ormiston Gorge. The trail is moderate with a slight climb, so come prepared.
If two hours outside of town is too far, take a 45-minute drive from Alice Springs to reach the Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve, a very sacred site. Experience the walk around the rock formations, just a short 15-minute walk but equally as stunning. Or if you want to ditch the car and stay in Alice Springs take a wander through the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, with a choice of short walking tracks showcasing views across the town centre and West MacDonnell Ranges. For something a bit longer, the Hill Walk takes about 40 minutes return and provides incredible views. The well-known Alice Springs Telegraph Station also has many historical walks departing from the landmark, try the Riverside Walk to reach the station for a glimpse of Alice Springs cute wildlife - and look out for the wallaroos hiding in the rocks.
Discover the incredible landscape and wildlife surrounding Alice Springs on the many walking trails available.
Experience the natural wonders surrounding Alice Springs, through one of the various cycling and mountain bike trails. There's no better way to find peace and quiet than see this incredible landscape up close and personal.
The first thing to note that Alice Springs climate plays by its own rules, and the desert is no place to be seen in the heart of summer at midday. So adopt the local lifestyle and plan your ride at either end of the day when the sun starts to fade. Winter, on the other hand, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world’s idea of winter. Out here, winter is the prime time to explore as temperatures drop, blue skies shine above, and there's little to no rain. This time of year is the best way to have complete flexibility and freedom, with weeks of riding on the cards to truly explore the land in all directions.
Starting in Alice Springs, you’ll have a choice of routes to take. The Larapinta Town Path is a 6.5km track, which will lead you to Simpsons Gap, and the total distance is 24 km, which will take you to Cassia Hill Walk. This comfortable 1 km loop walk to the summit of Cassia Hill is a great place to stop and have a rest. Or take Flynn’s Grave, the path trails through the West MacDonnell National Park, where you’ll encounter Central Australia’s unique habitat and open land. From The Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the path is a 52 km round trip.
Alice Springs is a central hub for mountain biking and cycling however in the area you’ll find a choice of trails through the national park area too. When it comes to picking the right set of wheels for your journey a mid-level tread tyre is recommended with good sidewall protection from the rocks.
Carry extra water especially in the warmer months, as you can expect to ride for kilometres in somewhat barren land. The temperature can soar, and many come unprepared for the intense heat, so always plan your distance and check the weather before your journey.
Allow a network of pathways to guide you through a wonderland of enchanting waves of colour at the Field of Light. As darkness falls over the outback, the desert is brought to life by an immersive art installation consisting of over 50,000 illuminated spindles in a multitude of gentle colours beneath the starry night sky. The display covers a staggering 49,000 square metres on a canvas of red sand.
In the local Pitjantjatjara language, the name of the installation is ‘Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku', which in English is ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’. However, the Field of Light is so much more than that, as it perfectly combines art with culture in the most captivating way.
The concept was inspired by Uluru itself when renowned artist Bruce Munro was camping there in 1992; however, it wasn't until several years later that the sketches in his notebook were brought to life at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exhibit has travelled around the UK, the US, and Mexico, before arriving at the base of Uluru in the heart of the Northern Territory in 2016. This is the largest recreation of the exhibition to date. Originally intended to remain there until 2017, its stay has been extended twice due to overwhelming popularity. Since 2016, visitors from all around the world have been mesmerised by this unique artwork.
A number of different tours and experiences are on offer to those lucky enough to witness the magic of this breathtaking installation.
Celebrate Australian art and culture at the quirky, weekend-long Alice Springs Beanie Festival. This unique event began in 1997 as a beanie party organised by a group of friends in an effort to sell beanies crafted by Aboriginal women in remote areas. Since then, it has grown into an annual festival where both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists can exhibit their creations and share their culture and stories.
The Beanie Festival strives to showcase the textile creations of Aboriginal women, exhibit women’s culture, and promote handmade textiles, with a focus on the beanie as a regional art form. It is a community event, and the sheer level of community participation, along with the organisers’ relationships with various local Aboriginal organisations are what make the event unique. 150 volunteers work tirelessly to run the festival, which attracts over 7,000 visitors from around the world. Over 500 beanie makers from all around Australia and further afield contribute over 7,000 handmade beanies.
Visitors can shop for beautiful, unique beanies created by independent artists, and celebrate the winners of the beanie competition. Furthermore, there are free workshops available where guests can learn to make a variety of textiles including beanies, baskets and more, from inspiring and talented crafters. As well as plenty of beanies, there is fantastic live entertainment, delicious tucker from an array of community food stalls, and a bar where you can quench your thirst. Entry is free with a gold coin donation, meaning you can save your dollars for beanies and snacks!
Alice Springs is proud to be home to one of Australia’s quirkiest race days: the Camel Cup. Around 20 riders bring their camels from farms around the region to race eight heats throughout the day, building up to a finale. You may not be surprised to hear that camels are not the easiest animals to ride, which is one of several factors that make the races so exciting to watch, providing endless fun and entertainment for both riders and viewers. Camels have a long history in Australia, however, this event is about more than racing camels – it's more of a carnival. Aside from the races, visitors can enjoy an array of vibrant live entertainment, delicious food stalls and bars, and market stalls.
The origins of the Alice Springs Camel Cup can be traced back as far as 1970 when a bet between two friends led to a camel race in the dried up Todd River bed. The popularity of the race led to it being made into an annual event. Although the venue has temporarily changed for essential upgrades, the races generally take place in Blatherskite Park, which is the only venue within the Southern Hemisphere built specifically for camel racing. Within the park is the Noel Fullerton Camel Racing Arena, named after the man who originally challenged his friend to a camel race, without whom this thrilling event would not exist.
If you ever happen to be in Alice Springs in July, the Camel Cup is not to be missed.