Alice Springs is the perfect base from which to explore the heart of Central Australia. Whether you are looking for a simple road trip or a some more hardcore 4WD exploration, there are so many attractions within an easy day's drive.
Just a short trip are Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, the first highlights of the dramatic West MacDonnell Range. As you head further west you'll find even more spectacular gorges and intriguing sites like the Ochre Pits.
Continue exploring beyond the West MacDonnell Ranges to the astounding Kings Canyon. Even a short walk here gives amazing views over the sheer sandstone cliffs, but a helicopter tour gives the best views of these astounding rock formations.
Although not as well known as their western counterpart, the East MacDonnell Range is another destination jam-packed with amazing formations, like Emily and Jesse gaps, and significant Aboriginal sites. If you have more time, you can venture off the seal and explore the historic buildings at Arltunga.
It's a bit of a drive up the Stuart Highway to reach Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles but well worth the effort to see these dramatic boulders. The red glow of sunset really brings these granite formations to life. On the drive north you'll pass the giant sculptures at Aileron and the unique UFO Centre at Wycliffe Well.
An easy drive south along the highway is Henbury Meteorite Craters. There's an easy walk around the 12 craters to discover the impact of the meteorite crash about 4900 years ago. While you're in the area, book in to enjoy a camel ride through the arid landscape at Stuarts Well.
Only an hour's drive south of Alice Springs, Rainbow Valley is certainly worth the minor discomfort of the rough dirt access road off the Stuart Highway. As with a lot of the Red Centre's geological attractions, the magnificent red and ochre-coloured sandstone here really looks its best in the golden rays of a remarkable outback sunset.
The truly adventurous can tackle the unsealed road to Chambers Pillar, past the rock carvings at Ewaninga and relics of the Old Ghan Railway. The track in to this striking sandstone pillar is definitely 4WD-only.
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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.
An ever-present backdrop to Alice Springs, the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges stretch for more than 100 kilometres to both the west and east of the town.
To the west, this dramatic formation is protected in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. The first highlights you reach, just a short trip from Alice Springs, are a tantalising glimpse of the amazing gorges for which the ranges are renowned. Two of the most accessible sites, Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, are understandably also among the most popular.
As you head further west, you’ll find Ellery Creek Big Hole, which is a perfect spot to stop for a refreshing dip in the remarkable waterhole. Not far away is a popular picnicking place at Serpentine Gorge and the intriguing Ochre Pits site.
The gorges just keep coming as you continue west, with the towering walls of Ormiston Gorge and some welcome facilities at Glen Helen. Redbank Gorge, at the base of Mt Sonder, is another great spot to cool off with a swim after tackling some of the walks.
Over to the east of Alice Springs the East MacDonnell Range isn’t as well known as its western counterpart, but this can be a boon for travellers seeking to avoid the crowds. However, the area is still packed with interesting sites to explore, like Emily and Jesse gaps.
For an insight into the area’s Aboriginal history and culture, stop off at Corroboree Rock, which is a sacred men’s site. The rock art at Trephina Gorge offers another taste of this ancient culture. Beyond Trephina you’ll need a four-wheel drive, so this is a popular spot to stop for a picnic or camp overnight.
With a four-wheel drive it’s possible to explore some of the East MacDonnell Range’s lesser known attractions, including N’Dhala Gorge and Ruby Gap. With its numerous rock engravings, N’Dhala Gorge provides another insight into the Aboriginal history and culture of this area. If you’re up for even more exploration, then see the ruins of Central Australia’s first town at Arltunga. There’s also more mining boom history at Ruby Gap, which is only accessible to high clearance four-wheel drives.
A once-in-a-lifetime trek along the spine of the spectacular West MacDonnell Range, the 223km Larapinta Trail is fast hitting the worldwide top hikes lists. End to end, the trail requires at least 14 days. But if you don’t have the inclination, time or ability to tackle the entire route, rest easy because the proximity to Alice Springs makes it simple to do smaller sections with no trouble. That said, the sections range from moderate to very hard, so you’ll need to be reasonably fit and well prepared to take on any of them.
The route is split into 12 sections that together run from the Alice Springs Telegraph Station as far west as Mt Sonder. Before you even head off, take a little time to explore the area’s early European history at the station.
The rugged track winds through the arid landscape, giving access to some of the West MacDonnell Range’s best-known features, including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Serpentine Gorge, Ochre Pits and Ormiston Gorge. Another highlight is Counts Point, which provides distinctive views along the quartz ridges of Heavitree Range out to Mt Zeil and Mt Sonder.
The chance to wander along the ancient Finke River is a highlight of section 10, between Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Resort. At just over 10km, this section is one of the trail’s most popular day trips and takes just four to five hours.
If you are up for more of a challenge, then section 4, Standley Chasm return, will reward you with what is regarded as some of the trail’s best scenery. Allow eight to twelve hours to comfortably complete this 20km section, which is rugged, steep and classified as very hard.
The end point of the trail, Mt Sonder rewards the hiker with amazing 360-degree views back to the east across the West MacDonnell Range, west to Mt Zeil, north to the Tanami Desert and south to the Gosse Bluff crater. At 1380m Mt Sonder is the Northern Territory’s fourth highest mountain. In fact, the 15.8km section 12, Mt Sonder return, is another of the trail’s most popular day trips, even though it is a steep walk that is classified as hard. Be warned, you need to make a really early start on this walk.
As well as being sites of scenic beauty, many of the spots the trail visits are also sacred to the Arrernte people. For the traditional owners the land has song lines, or dreaming tracks, that tell the region’s cultural history.
Special campsites are provided along the route for use only by trail walkers. July is the busiest month on the trail, so if possible, try to walk in May, June or August instead. Just remember that winter nights will be very cold. In wildflower season you may even be lucky enough to see the arid countryside come alive with the bright blooms. The trail is very well-organised with options available for as much or little support as you want, including guided treks, transfers and food drops
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.
Groves of rare red cabbage palms reaching tall towards the sun from the shady protection of the Finke Gorge’s red sandstone cliffs are a sight to be remembered from any visit to Palm Valley in the little-known Finke Gorge National Park. An advantage of visiting this park is that you’re more likely to be able to soak up the amazing landscape in relative peace and quiet, as it isn’t as popular with tourists as some of the neighbouring areas, like Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges. So, make the most of the solitude before word gets out about this gem of geological and flora wonders.
To really experience this remarkable park you’ll need to pull on the walking shoes and head off on some of the hikes. Before you reach the main Palm Valley area, take the 45 minute return walk to Kalarranga Lookout for breathtaking views over the amphitheatre. If you have more energy and time, the two hour Mpaara Walk also starts at the Kalarranga car park.
In Palm Valley there are two options to see the amazing palms up close. These tall, distinctive palms are unique to Palm Valley and the only palms found in Central Australia. The one hour Arankaia Walk heads into the main palm groves, but to see even more of the plateau you should tackle the two hour return Mpulungkinya Walk.
A shady campsite with showers, toilets and barbecues is provided in the Palm Valley section of the park. If you’re just doing a day trip, then pop in to the day use area for your lunch break.
Finke Gorge is about two hours drive from Alice Springs and only the last 16km requires 4WD. If you don’t have a 4WD you can visit with a tour from Alice Springs. Experienced four-wheel drivers can explore further beyond the Palm Valley section down the ancient Finke River. The cooler months are the best time to visit because of the searing summertime temperatures. The access roads are closed after rain so always check the latest conditions with rangers before you head out.
Definitely one of the West MacDonnell Range’s must-do sites, Simpsons Gap is only about a 15 minute drive from Alice Springs. Even visitors who are really pushed for time can fit this magnificent gorge in a round trip of a couple of hours. However, to make the most of your visit allow some extra time to take a walk. If you can, try to be there for the early morning or late afternoon light, when the gap is painted with gorgeous reds and oranges. It’s an essential ‘to do’ for keen photographers. If you are quiet and patient, these times of day are also when you’re most likely to spot a black-footed rock wallaby.
After you turn off Larapinta Drive, the first spot to stop and explore is the ranger station. Here the short Ghost Gum Walk gives a great introduction to the area’s geology, plants and animals. Next is the trailhead for the Woodland Walk to Bond Gap. At 17km return the Woodland Walk is one for keen hikers with plenty of time, but it does provide the opportunity to explore further afield than the usual tourist spots. If you don’t have as much time, or energy, there are beautiful views of the West MacDonnell Range along the one hour return Cassia Hill Walk too. If you are up for more of a challenge, then you can tackle section one or two of the Larapinta Trail as well.
Just a bit further along from the Cassia Hill Walk trailhead you reach Simpsons Gap itself and the waterhole. Although you can’t swim in the waterhole, it is still a shady spot to sit for a while and relax in the narrow gorge.
Keen cyclists may wish to head out to Simpsons Gap along the Simpsons Gap Bike Path from Flynns Grave, 7km from Alice Springs. This sealed pathway is 17km one way. It’s a fairly easy ride, but remember to avoid the heat of the middle of the day.
Although this section of Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park has picnic facilities, barbecues and toilets, camping is not permitted unless you are undertaking the Larapinta Trail.
A rugged backdrop to the otherwise flat countryside surrounding Alice Springs, the glorious MacDonnell Ranges stretch for more than 100km to the west and east of the town. Although the East MacDonnell Range has many notable features, its western counterpart has most of the region’s famous attractions, including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge.
Just a short trip from Alice Springs are Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, the first highlights of the dramatic West MacDonnell Range. These popular sites are both great places to see the rugged red-orange cliffs for which this landscape is renowned. (As Standley Chasm is privately-operated an entry fee applies.)
Further west is a great spot for a cooling swim at Ellery Creek Big Hole, then Serpentine Gorge which is a perfect location to stop for a picnic. Just a short drive away is the Ochre Pits site, which is another intriguing place to visit with its bands of yellow, white and red.
The gorges just keep coming as you continue west, with the towering walls of Ormiston Gorge and its waterhole, which is a very popular spot to enjoy a swim.
There are some welcome facilities at Glen Helen Lodge, which offers accommodation and food. It’s also home to Glen Helen Gorge, which is another great location to get some respite from the heat with a dip in the waterhole.
At the westernmost point of the West MacDonnell Range is Redbank Gorge, at the base of Mt Sonder. It’s a bit of a walk to the waterhole, but it is a great spot to cool off with a swim after tackling some of the walks.
Although Redbank Gorge is often the last point visited in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, Tylers Pass Lookout is also worth a stop. The lookout provides panoramic views over the landscape, including Gosse Bluff crater.
Although these highlights of the West MacDonnell Range can all be easily explored by car, an amazing way to experience the less accessible sites is along the 223km Larapinta Trail. Even if you don’t take on the entire trail, there are plenty of shorter sections to try.
Although it may not have the renown of its western counterpart, the East MacDonnell Range is still brimming with interesting sites to explore. The access roads are only sealed as far as Trephina Gorge, so it’s an ideal location to try heading off the beaten track if you have a four-wheel drive.
The first spots to stop and explore are Emily and Jessie gaps. Protected in the Yeperenye/Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park, these areas are important sites for the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal people.
Next, stop at Corroboree Rock for further insight into the area’s Aboriginal history and culture. This sacred men’s site is a good spot for bushwalking and spotting wildlife.
Another taste of this ancient culture is available in the rock art at Trephina Gorge Nature Park. This is a great place to enjoy a picnic, or even camp overnight if you have more time for exploring. The park also contains John Hayes Rockhole, where you can go for a cooling dip. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to get to the rockhole.
If you fancy a stay in the East MacDonnell Range that isn’t basic camping, then head to Ross River Resort. Only a short drive from the resort is the striking N’Dhala Gorge. With its numerous rock engravings, N’Dhala Gorge provides another insight into the Aboriginal history and culture of this area.
If you’re up for some more four-wheel-drive exploration, then see the ruins of Central Australia’s first town at Arltunga. The Arltunga Historical Reserve has self-guided walks for exploring the old mining sites and ruins. If you want to try your luck fossicking, head to the designated fossicking area, which is outside the reserve. Nearby, Hale River Homestead is another option for accommodation while you explore the East MacDonnell Range.
There’s also more mining-boom history at Ruby Gap Nature Park, which is only accessible to high clearance four-wheel drives. This remote location needs an overnight stay to allow enough time to explore properly, and visitors need to be well prepared as there are no facilities. Walks here are only suitable for experienced hikers too.
While Uluru, or The Rock, is definitely one of Australia’s most well known rock formations, many visitors to Central Australia find the nearby Kata Tjuta, or The Olgas, are just as mesmerising. As the bumps of the 36 domes rise up from the surrounding plain, it’s easy to see why the Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara name for the landmark means ‘many heads’.
Just like its more famous neighbour, Kata Tjuta is especially magnificent at sunrise and sunset when the formations are painted by the light. For those iconic panoramic views of Kata Tjuta, head to the dune viewing area at sunrise. Just be warned that it’s likely to be very busy at that time! It’s often not as crowded at sunset though, so you may like to hang out for the end of the day instead. Another quieter place to watch the sunset is from the benches on the track to Walpa Gorge.
If you don’t mind the crowds though, then find yourself a spot at the aptly named sunset viewing area. As the name suggests, this location provides the perfect location for watching the sun turn the domes from pink to red as it sets. Just remember to keep an eye on the time because the entire national park is day-use only, so closing times apply.
A wander up Walpa Gorge is a must-do to get up close to the sheer walls of this amazing feature. Being the shorter, and easier of the area’s two walks, this one is quite popular so try to slow down and experience it at your own pace. You’ll need to allow at least one hour for the walk, which is rocky and requires good footwear. As you head up the gorge, rest a while on the benches to soak up the atmosphere of this culturally sensitive area. At the far end of the walk, where the walls come closer together, you may even see some wallabies or wildflowers. The walk is often quieter at the end of the day when most visitors have flocked to one of the more popular sunset-viewing areas.
If you want to really get amongst these amazing domes, then tackle the Valley of the Winds walk. To complete the entire circuit takes three to four hours and the going is steep, rocky and difficult in places. The fact that the walk is closed after Karu Lookout once temperatures reach 36°C lets you know just how tough this one is considered. If you’d rather skip the more difficult section, it is possible to just walk to Karu Lookout for the amazing views, and then retrace your steps.
Kata Tjuta 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 about 50km on sealed roads to Yulara, which has plenty of accommodation and restaurants as well as an airport.
150KM east of Alice Springs on the most eastern side of the East MacDonnell Ranges lies Ruby Gap Nature Park – an ideal place for nature lovers to embrace the great outdoors. The drive from Alice Springs takes approximately three hours and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle as the track includes sandy and rocky sections. Once inside the park, cars must cross the Hale River bed which involves deep sand and boulders, therefore this is only recommended for those experienced in 4-wheel driving with a high clearance vehicle. Visitors are advised to take care during wet weather as the river can flood in heavy rain.
Walkers will delight in the bushwalking opportunities, although the rugged terrain requires a degree of fitness and experience. Try the 8KM return hike to Glen Annie Gorge by following the river beds and tracks upstream to enjoy breathtaking views of the spectacular natural beauty that surrounds you. Look out for native birds and other wildlife spotting opportunities, and cool off with a dip in the gorge when you arrive. You will discover plenty of creeks to swim in, although they may dry up during prolonged dry periods. Bush Camping is also available within Ruby Gap, with fees payable on-site.
The park got its name from Central Australia’s first mining rush in 1886 when an explorer named David Lindsay thought he had found rubies here, and others flocked to the park to mine them. However, in 1888 it was discovered that they were much less valuable garnets.
Embrace the rugged natural beauty of the red centre at Kings Canyon, located within Watarrka National Park, 450KM southwest of Alice Springs. The park stretches across 71,000 hectares and has been the home of the Luritja Aboriginal people for over 20,000 years. It boasts a scenic landscape of red rock cliffs, soaring ranges, rock holes, gorges, endless desert views, and over 600 species of native animals and plants.
Within Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon features striking 100-metre tall sandstone walls, rising from an oasis of greenery below. Keen walkers can embark on the 6KM Kings Canyon Rim Walk around the edge of the canyon. Although it takes around four hours to complete, it’s worth the hike for the spectacular views deep into the sandstone chasm.
For a shorter walk, try the Kings Creek Walk around the base of the chasm. Meander through a jungle of eucalyptus and ferns to reach a platform offering dramatic views of the sheer canyon walls above.
Within the canyon, discover the exotic Garden of Eden, a refreshing waterhole surrounded by lush cycads and other plant life. Explore the Lost City, a unique compilation of rock formations, carved out over many years by wind and water erosion.
Enjoy a self-guided visit to Kings Canyon, or choose a guided walk with an Aboriginal elder to hear about the culture, history, geography, and significance of the area to the traditional owners.
If you’d prefer not to explore Kings Canyon on foot, choose a scenic helicopter flight for an impressive bird’s eye view.
Traditionally known as Angkerle Atwatye, meaning the ‘Gap of Water’, Standley Chasm is an area of great geological and cultural significance. The picturesque chasm is a deep red cleft in the West MacDonnell Ranges, carved out by surging floodwaters eroding the sandstone over millions of years. It is located in a private flora and fauna reserve, just a 30-minute drive west from Alice Springs. Once you have parked your car, follow the 1.2KM scenic walking track along the natural creek bed, lined with seating and interpretive signs. The best time to visit is around midday, when the overhead sun strikes the chasm, treating visitors to a magnificent display of colours. However, if you choose to visit in the morning or late afternoon, you may be lucky enough to spot some wildlife. Standley Chasm is owned by the Aboriginal community and is an important ‘women’s dreaming’ site.
Visitors can choose to enjoy a self-guided walk or embark on the half-day cultural experience to gain a deeper insight into the unique relationship the Western Arrernte people have to the landscape and the plant and animal life. This includes a guided tour with a local indigenous guide, followed by a workshop on traditional Aboriginal painting, and a delicious buffet lunch. Should you wish to extend your stay at Standley Chasm, overnight camping is available. Visitors should also make use of the welcome kiosk cafe serving excellent coffee and tasty food, and the gift shop selling genuine Aboriginal products made by the local community.
Often regarded as a highlight of any visit to Alice Springs, The Kangaroo Sanctuary is the perfect way to get up close with this iconic Australian animal. On your relaxing tour through the wildlife reserve you’ll see kangaroos as they rise from their daytime slumber and start their evening activities. As you walk around the property and watch the kangaroos being fed, you’ll have the chance to interact with the joeys that are being rehabilitated. While the tour time is chosen to benefit the kangaroos, who are sleeping in the day, it also gives visitors the chance to see the sun setting over the peaceful landscape of the reserve.
Education is the mission of the sanctuary, so you’ll come away from your visit with a wealth of knowledge about this incredible animal. As rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned joeys is what the sanctuary is all about, visitors learn about what they can do for wildlife in their own local area as well. Teaching visitors what to do should they come across a joey inside the pouch of a dead kangaroo is an important part of what the sanctuary is hoping to achieve.
In 2005 Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns created the Baby Kangaroo Rescue Centre in Alice Springs before developing the 76 hectare wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary was opened in 2011, and since then a wildlife hospital was opened as well. Brolga and the sanctuary have been featured on a BBC/National Geographic documentary, called Kangaroo Dundee. The documentary about Brolga and his family of kangaroos has helped to increase awareness about the tragedy of kangaroos frequently being made orphans by highway accidents.
The sanctuary can only be visited on a pre-booked sunset tour from Tuesdays to Thursdays. (Keep in mind that tours don’t operate from mid-December to the end of January.) The tour runs for about two and a half to three hours, and includes bus pickup from locations in Alice Springs. Each tour is limited to 30 people, so advance bookings are recommended, especially in peak periods when tours book out for months ahead.
If you’ve ever thought that Australia’s central deserts are empty wildernesses, then you must visit the Alice Springs Desert Park to learn all about the varied wildlife and plants that are just waiting to be explored. Just seven kilometres from Alice Springs, the park is an easy way to experience all the surrounding arid region has to offer without travelling too far.
Walking trails meander through the Desert Rivers, Woodland and Sand Country habitats that are designed to give visitors an insight into each of these distinct environments and their inhabitants.
There are plenty of opportunities to see the region’s interesting fauna as well, including the iconic thorny devil. A highlight for most visitors is the free-flying birds in the Nature Theatre Show. So, make sure you plan your day well, so you don’t miss that one. Walk-through aviaries allow visitors to see the many bird species that live in each habitat. These well-designed structures offer plenty of shady spots to sit and quietly birdwatch for a respite from the heat too. Wandering among the red kangaroos and seeing dingoes in their territory are also on the must-do list.
Obviously, a lot of the region’s unusual wildlife stay hidden during the day, so the Nocturnal House is a good way to see these animals. Visitors can also book a nocturnal tour for an amazing way to experience the desert’s night creatures, including the bilby, echidna and mala. Other special experiences available include the Eagle Experience and Living Desert Experience.
To learn about the area’s history, landscapes and Aboriginal culture, watch the 20 minute Changing Heart movie. Visitors can understand even more about the arid environment in the Survival in the Desert tour at 11am daily with an Aboriginal guide.
The park is open daily from 7.30am to 6pm, with the last entry permitted at 4.30pm. Entry fees apply. The Nature Theatre Show is on at 10am in summer months, and 10am and 3.30pm in winter. There are good facilities available here, with a cafe, gift shop and barbecue area as well as picnic shelters throughout the park
If you are fascinated by lizards and all creatures that slither, then make tracks to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Handily located right in Alice Springs, this centre is small, but offers the young, and young at heart alike, the chance to get up close with a fascinating array of more than 100 reptiles. Like a lot of Central Australian animals, these reptiles can be hard to see in the wild because they have adapted to the harsh conditions by hiding out for a lot of the daylight hours. So, even though a lot of these reptiles are quite common in the surrounding area, this will be your best chance to actually see them clearly.
The centre has recreated natural habitats that display everything from dramatic-looking thorny devils to distinctive frilled-neck lizards, and tiny geckoes to huge perentie. Inland taipans, death adders and brown snakes are just a few of the venomous snakes also on display, as well as many skinks and frogs. There are even underwater views into the home of their saltwater crocodile Terry, so you can see the power of this prehistoric predator in his usual watery environs.
One reptile that gets the star treatment is the gecko, which has its own Gecko Cave featuring species of geckoes distinct to the Central Australia, Barkly Tableland and Top End regions. Specially styled enclosures in the cave are little habitats that were designed to make it easy to see these reclusive, nocturnal reptiles.
The daily interactive sessions are a great way to gain even a greater understanding of these fascinating reptiles from the knowledgeable staff. Visitors may even get to handle a python or other reptiles, which is certainly a highlight. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who is a little bit squeamish to conquer their fears too.
The centre is open from 9.30am to 5pm daily, with the talks at 11am, 1pm and 3.30pm. During the winter months, it’s a good idea to visit between 11am and 3pm when the heat-loving reptiles should be at their most active
Just a 15 minute walk from the Alice Springs CBD, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden is the perfect spot to gain an understanding of Central Australia’s arid zone flora. You’ll need to allow a couple of hours to wander around the garden, following the walking trails, picnicking and watching for birds and euros. There’s even a cafe where you can enjoy breakfast or lunch, or just relax with some morning or afternoon tea.
The garden contains 600 plants from Central Australia, including 40 rare or threatened species. Visitors can learn all about these incredible arid zone survivors on the interpretive signage around the garden.
To explore the garden, take one of the self-guided walks, like the Mallee Walk or Wattle Walk. Along the way, you can take some time to chill out on one of the many benches thoughtfully located under shady trees.
For lovely views over the Alice Springs township, Todd River and MacDonnell Ranges follow the 40 minute return Hill Walk up Annie Myer Hill (Tharrarltneme). If you take the walk early enough in the day you may even spot some wallabies. The top of the hill is also an important cultural site for the Arrernte people, so please be respectful and follow all signage.
Interpretive signs also tell about Miss Olive Muriel Pink, who founded the Australian Arid Regions Flora Reserve here in 1956. A prominent anthropologist, Miss Pink had lived in the Tanami Desert for more than 30 years before moving in to Alice Springs. Miss Pink and her Warlpiri assistant gardeners developed the 16 hectares to preserve the native flora of the central desert region. Following her death in 1975, the reserve was taken over by the NT Government who further developed the site and opened it as the Olive Pink Flora Reserve in 1985. In 1996 it was renamed the Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
The garden is easily accessed from the Alice Springs CBD by bike or foot along pathways along the Todd River. It’s open daily from 8am to 6pm, and entry is by donation.
Located at the original working base, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum allows visitors to learn all about the activities and history of the RFDS in the most engaging way. Learn the experiences of patients, doctors, nurses, pilots and engineers, and why the RFDS is essential for those living in isolated outback areas.
Take a journey through time as you view a display of model planes used by the RFDS over the decades. Step inside a replica of a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to see what it’s like to be a patient. See the range of previously used radios to get a feel for communication prior to the invention of telephones, and view a display of medical equipment used by the RFDS in years gone by. Meet Alf Traeger and Nurse Kathy through interactive technology, and let children learn through interactive games and digital artwork.
The most impressive attraction at the museum is John Flynn the hologram. Founder of the RFDS, Reverend John Flynn is brought back to life in a pioneering life-size hologram, to tell the story of how the RFDS began. This must-see attraction is one of very few life-size human holograms in the southern hemisphere.
Purchase a souvenir before you leave in the Doc Shop which sells official merchandise. All profits from the shop and the museum assist with the upkeep of aircrafts and medical supplies for the RFDS.
The museum is open from Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, and Sundays and public holidays from 1pm-5pm. The final tour is at 4pm.
No visit to Alice Springs is complete without indulging yourself in local culture by experiencing Aboriginal Art. Embark on a unique art gallery experience at Yubu Napa. This gallery offers so much more than just the chance to view beautiful artwork – visitors can meet and engage with talented indigenous artists as they work. Learn the fascinating stories behind the artists and their creations, and watch them work in the on-site studio. This is a rare opportunity, creating a unique cultural experience, and the chance to properly understand the stories that are being painted.
The name Yubu Napa comes from the top end of the Northern Territory and means both ‘beautiful’ and ‘doing the right thing’. The gallery dedicates itself to providing the highest quality artwork available and features some of the most celebrated artists in the area. Artists are encouraged to tell their stories in new, unique ways, and the result is a contemporary take on traditional Aboriginal art, and creations that represent a modern, personal interpretation of the Dreamtime stories passed down from the elders.
As well as meeting and interacting with artists, visitors can wander through the gallery and marvel at the impressive creations, and purchase souvenirs from the gift shop.
Yubu Napa is located on Hartley Street, close to Todd Street Mall. It is open Monday-Friday from 10am-5pm and Saturdays from 10am-2pm. On-street parking is available. It is recommended that visitors allow around 1.5 hours to enjoy the gallery.
Located at the heart of the Araluen Cultural Precinct, the Araluen Arts Centre is Central Australia’s hub of performance and visual art. It’s a must-see for visitors, as art and culture are an essential part of the community in Central Australia. Araluen Arts Centre is designed and built around a sacred 300-year old Corkwood Tree, which stands proudly in the sculpture garden.
The centre houses four galleries and a theatre. The galleries display a program of exhibitions featuring local Aboriginal art, and contemporary art from Central Australia, or by artists with a strong connection to the region. Visitors can wander through and enjoy the diverse collection of 1,100 artworks.
The theatre exhibits exciting performances by world-class touring companies as well as high-quality local productions. Araluen’s Arthouse Cinema Program showcases national and international arthouse films and film festivals.
Check the calendar to time your visit with the most appealing temporary art exhibitions, performances, films, and festivals. One of their largest events is Desert Mob. Held annually, Desert Mob is an exhibition of Aboriginal Art, attracting artists, artwork, and visitors from desert regions around the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. Another popular festival is the quirky Alice Springs Beanie Festival, a unique experience which promotes handmade textile arts, and in particular the beanie.
Once you have wandered the vibrant exhibitions, and maybe taken in a show or a film, enjoy lunch or coffee in the cafe on site. Visit the shop to purchase a unique souvenir of your visit.
Step back in time to learn about Australian road transport through the ages. Discover an impressive collection of photos, memorabilia, and vehicles that were once in use. The Road Transport Hall of Fame is proud to present one of the world’s most unique collections of trucks.
What sets the Road Transport Hall of Fame apart from other comparable memorials is that rather than presenting pristine vehicles, they are shown as they actually were when they were in use. Modifications and adaptations made to allow vehicles to perform in Australia’s often harsh conditions are proudly presented. Because of this, it is truly representative of Australia’s transport history, covering all industries and all parts of the country. See the Shell Rimula Hall of Fame, celebrating the people who have contributed to the road transport industry and the impact this has had on the economic wellbeing of Australia.
Once you have explored the exhibitions, recharge with lunch in the cafe or picnic area. The Hall of Fame is open daily from 9am-5pm.
Admission includes entry to the Kenworth museum, where you will learn about the history of the Kenworth in Australia, the role it has played in developing the country, and the dealers who make it possible.
No visit to Alice Springs is complete without indulging in a little art, culture, and history. There’s no better place to do this than the Araluen Cultural Precinct. Within the precinct are seven registered Aboriginal sites and trees of significance, as well as galleries, museums, and more. In the heart of the precinct is the Araluen Arts Centre, regarded as Central Australia’s hub of visual arts. The arts centre is home to a theatre, an arthouse cinema, and four galleries, hosting an insightful and entertaining program of films, performance, and exhibitions. One such gallery is the Albert Namatjira Gallery. Named after renowned Aboriginal water colourist Albert Namatjira, the gallery showcases his work alongside artwork from other Central Australian Aboriginal communities.
The Araluen Cultural Precinct also houses the Central Australian Aviation Museum. Visit the museum to see early flying doctor planes alongside other historic aviation and aircraft memorabilia. You will also discover the Yeperenye Sculpture, a collaborative public artwork celebrating the Yeperenye caterpillar, which is of great cultural significance to the Aboriginal communities of Alice Springs. Explore the Museum of Central Australia to learn about the region's natural and geological history through a fascinating range of exhibitions. Within the museum, you will also find the Strehlow Research Centre, which is home to an important collection of objects and records relating to Indigenous ceremonial life. To immerse yourself in art and crafts, visit Central Craft, which is home to studios, workshops, a gallery, and a retail outlet selling the creative works of members.
Alice Springs Telegraph Station plays a crucial role in the history of the town. It was originally constructed to send communications between Adelaide and Darwin via Australia’s overland telegraph line in 1871. The station also connected with the British Empire’s undersea telegraph lines, so messages could be relayed to England much more quickly. This is also the location of the original European settlement in the area, making it the birthplace of the Alice Springs Township.
Today, the telegraph station is a historic museum precinct, featuring captivating indoor and outdoor exhibitions, telling the intriguing story of Alice Springs. Visitors can embark on a guided tour, included in the entry price, to learn all about the telegraph station’s fascinating history, the people who constructed it, and the township. See the original Alice Spring, a waterhole named after the wife of Sir Charles Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs, who was overseeing the construction project.
The telegraph station is located 4KM north of the town centre, within the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. It was declared a historical reserve in 1963 and has since become the best restored station along the overland telegraph line, with a dedication to authenticity. Within the grounds, you will also find the Trail Station Cafe, which is a delightful place for a delicious coffee or tasty lunch, and a gift and souvenir shop.
The grounds are also a lovely place for a picnic, and the starting point of various scenic walking and mountain bike trails, including the Larapinta Trail.
Prepare to have your breath taken away by panoramic views of Alice Springs and the surrounding ranges at ANZAC Hill, located in the north of the town. The lookout offers unobstructed 360-degree views of Alice Springs and is one of few vantage points where you can view the majestic MacDonnell Ranges in all their glory. Take note of the interpretive signs bordering the lookout, telling some of the fascinating creation stories of the local Arrernte people. Whilst the view is sensational at any time of day, visiting at sunrise or sunset offers you a rare opportunity to see the red centre glowing with golden light.
Not only does ANZAC Hill offer stunning views and insight into the Arrernte people, but it is also home to the most visited landmark in Alice Springs: the ANZAC Hill Memorial. The ANZAC Hill Memorial was proposed and designed by Rev Harry Griffiths in1933, and unveiled on ANZAC day in 1934. Originally the memorial was dedicated to those who served in World War 1; however, it is now a memorial to all who fought for their country in all wars that Australia has participated in. A memorial wall of plaques sits behind the memorial.
ANZAC Hill is a significant site for both local Aboriginal people, and European settlers who now call Alice Springs home. It has become the centre of ANZAC Day remembrance events, and a popular spot for both locals and tourists. It is located a 20-minute walk or a short drive from the town centre.
Venture to the heart of Alice Springs to discover Todd Mall, the official main street. This is an ideal location to satisfy your need for retail therapy, housing plenty of shops. Here you will find a mix of your favourite Australian brands and chain stores weaved amongst independent shops. Whilst Alice Springs has no shortage of shopping centres, Todd Mall is regarded as the best in town for tourist, souvenir, and gift shops, making it the perfect place to pick up some mementos of your trip. Once you’ve picked up some souvenirs for yourself and those who weren’t lucky enough to come with you, wander through the clothes stores and buy something to read on your flight home from the book shop. Todd Mall is also home to some excellent homeware stores. Soak up some culture at the galleries and purchase authentic Aboriginal pieces. You can even learn to play the didgeridoo. Here you will also find the tourist information centre, which should be your first port of call if you’re unsure of how best to spend your time or if you need to book some excursions. When the coffee cravings hit or your stomach starts to rumble, you won’t have to venture too far. Todd Mall is home to many of the best cafes and restaurants in town. You will even find delightful accommodation right in the heart of Todd Mall. Don’t miss the Todd Mall markets, held on selected Sundays, or the night markets which run on selected Thursdays.
Every second Sunday from March through to November, Todd Mall in the heart of Alice Springs comes alive as locals and tourists alike flock to the Todd Mall Markets. These long-established, outdoor markets have been running for over 20 years, and have become an integral part of the Alice Springs community. The vibrant markets are run entirely by the market committee, made up of stallholders and the market coordinator. They are all volunteers and the markets are not for profit.
Wander through a diverse range of tempting stalls selling all kinds of things. This is an ideal place to buy unique souvenirs and gifts, and to shop for all kinds of items including clothes, jewellery, wellbeing products, food, books, art, and more. Discover one of a kind products, plenty of which are produced by Alice Springs locals, and many of which are handmade. Enjoy the music from local buskers filling your ears as you shop, and when you get hungry, indulge in delicious treats from the food stalls.
The Todd Mall Night Markets are held less frequently on selected Thursday evenings in certain months. If you’re lucky enough to time your visit to suit, it makes a lovely night out under the stars for the whole family to enjoy. Browse a range of stalls selling authentic indigenous art and craftworks, as well as handmade clothing and jewellery, and other tempting goods. Nibble on tasty treats from the many multicultural food vendors, and enjoy fantastic live performances from talented local musicians.