Alice Springs is the ideal base camp for a long weekend adventure. Just a 3.5 hour flight from most capital cities in Australia, it is also easily within reach by road or the legendary Ghan train. This three-day itinerary will introduce you to the modern city set against the backdrop of the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges. You will be drawn into the rich history of the town and the ancient and prominent Aboriginal art and culture.
There is so much to see and do in and around Alice Springs. If you don’t have your own vehicle, hiring one is recommended to make it easy to get around the region. Many tours offer a transfer from accommodation, but some are self-drive.
Make your first destination the Alice Springs Desert Park. Situated on Larapinta Drive, the Desert Park is one not to miss for every visitor to the Red Centre. Spot rare and endangered animals in the low light of the nocturnal house and discover the star attractions at the free-flying birds of prey show. Stroll along the 1.6 kilometre trail to experience three distinct habitat areas within the park. There are also informational talks throughout the day, including a presentation on Aboriginal Survival. Make your way around the park at your leisure, and then relax with some refreshments at the onsite café.
After some lunch at the park or at one of the cafes in town, take a short drive to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. Learn about the history of the people who established the overland telegraph station, or get your body moving on a mountain bike tour. Tours from the Trail Station leave at 2:30pm daily and are led by an experienced local rider, with all gear provided. You can also organise to go at a time of your choosing if you give the company 24 hours prior notice. With no prior experience required, this is a great activity for people of all ages.
Check into your accommodation this afternoon. There are many lodging options available in Alice Springs, from luxury hotel rooms to camping under the stars. After arranging tomorrow’s activities, get a good night’s rest ready for a big day.
Rise early and take to the skies in a hot air balloon for a magnificent bird’s eye view of Alice Springs and the Red Centre. As you drift into an outback sunrise of pastel blues, purples and yellows, keep an eye out for native wildlife and the iconic Red Kangaroo down below. You’ll need to book a hot air balloon tour a day or two in advance, and all tours are subject to weather suitability.
Once your feet are planted firmly again on the ground again, it’s time to indulge in a cooked breakfast at the Bean Tree Café which you can find nestled in the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. It is Australia’s only arid zone botanic garden and the perfect place to relax for breakfast or lunch amongst the native surrounds. Take the time to wander along the walking trails to see the hundreds of plant species that are native to the Red Centre, or spot some of the 80 bird species which have been recorded at the park.
Next stop is the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Get amongst the interactive displays and step inside a full-sized replica on a modern PC-12 airplane, part of the exciting new collection. Here, you will gain an insight into the iconic Australian outback service established by pioneers in 1928.
There is an onsite café, where you can dine under the original verandah and enjoy the amazing blue skies Alice Springs is known for. Sit back and relax with a coffee especially blended for the RFDS by a local coffee roaster. The ‘Flying Doctor Coffee’ can be purchased from the onsite RFDS Doc Shop, so be sure to pick some up to take home with you while you are browsing through their other goodies!
It is now time to get up close and personal with some of the Northern Territory’s favourite wildlife at the Reptile Centre, which is home to the largest reptile display in Central Australia. Here you will get to meet Terry the Saltwater Crocodile, see huge perentie goannas, thorny devils, frill-neck lizards and some of the world’s most venomous snakes. Join one of the daily shows to learn more about some lizards and pythons, which is followed by a supervised handling session – a perfect photo opportunity! Tonight, enjoy a special dinner cooked in a bush setting and served under the Milky Way. Your host, a local Arrernte man, will introduce you to bush foods and traditional cooking for this spectacular three-course meal set in the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Get to know the outskirts of Alice Springs and hit the road heading 18 kilometres west of Alice Springs along Larapinta Road to Simpsons Gap, which is an impressive opening between the towering cliffs of the West MacDonnell Ranges. The area is also an important spiritual site to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, where several dreaming trails and stories cross. Continue along Larapinta Drive, turning right at Namatjira Drive towards Ellery Creek Big Hole where you can stop for a refreshing swim. This location is one of the most popular and picturesque swimming, camping and picnic spots in the region. You will understand why when you set eyes on the spectacular waterhole surrounded by the high red cliffs and sandy creek.
Driving further west, stop over at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge. The landscape around Glen Helen is truly spectacular with towering sandstone walls greeting you as you arrive. You will be spoilt for choice with the delicious food available on the menu for lunch – however, not many people can go past the famous Glen Helen Burger.
Enjoy your lunch teamed with a cold drink as you relax on the back verandah of the restored homestead overlooking the majestic Glen Helen Gorge. If you are feeling adventurous, sign up for a four-wheel-drive tour or a scenic helicopter flight to discover more of the area.
Make your way back to Alice Springs in time for a sunset camel tour at Pyndan Camel Tracks. A camel ride will definitely be an experience you will want to tell your friends about. The camel tour starts at Pyndan Camel Tracks yard, through White Gums Station and follows an avenue of Iron Bark and Mulga trees across a clay pan flat. You will be led on your ride by one of Pyndan’s camel experts who will tell you more about these iconic animals.
Finish the ride and the end of your journey with amazing views of the glowing MacDonnell Ranges as the sun goes down.