There’s probably not a place name in Australia that conjures up such immensely evocative images as Alice Springs or ‘The Alice’.
With a population of some 25,000 or so, the ‘capital of the Outback’ is truly at the heart of this beautiful country. Sur¬rounded by magnificent red desert, the Northern Territory town is full of contrasts. Bustling cafes line the Todd Street Mall in the centre of town, station cowboys in wide-brimmed hats saunter the streets and Aboriginal paintings splashed with ochre and vibrant colours adorn gallery walls.
Most grey nomads pass this way between May and September, when cloudless skies and warm days are followed by … well surprisingly cool nights. Rain can bring the area’s landscape alive with an explosion of colourful wildflowers but, for most of the year, Alice is exceptionally hot, and dust storms are common.
There is a good selection of caravan parks in town and, of course, there are also numerous excellent camping spots to enjoy to the east and west in the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges. The natural wonderland that surrounds Alice is part of the reason many grey nomads come back again and again … magnificent mountain ranges, gorgeous gorges, wonderful waterholes, endless desert plains, and, of course, the amazing flora and fauna.
Just outside the centre of Alice Springs, at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, you can learn about more than 300 of the Red Centre’s natural plant spe¬cies. The award-winning Alice Springs Desert Park is nestled in the foothills of the MacDonnell Ranges, with gardens full of ghost gums and native wildflowers like the Northern Territory’s famous floral emblem – the Sturt Desert Rose.
Alice Springs owes its existence to a cross-section of plucky pioneers and today, you can ponder various historic milestones at a number of key heritage sites in and around the town. Visit the Overland Telegraph Station, the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, the original base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air. These places can help give you an insight into how people, past and present, have learned to live in their ultra-remote locations.
The area in and around Alice is on the traditional lands of the Arrernte people, and a visit the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre offers a greater insight into their ancient culture.
There’s a good reason why the town that only changed its name from Stuart to Alice Springs in 1933 is well and truly on the grey nomad map … it’s pretty much the centre of everything.