Alice Springs – Overview & Things to See and Do
Alice Springs is a frontier town that has seen growth and development over the last 10-15 years due to the boom in tourism. This boom has brought about all the infrastructure you would expect including shopping plazas, resorts and entertainment facilities. It’s appearance however, does not detract from its frontier character and the influence of being surrounded by one of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes.
Alice provides a good base for visitors to explore the surrounding attractions, and is a service community for the surrounding cattle stations and the mine sites in the Tanami Desert.
When arriving in Alice Springs the temptation is to rush off and explore the surrounding landscape and attractions. If however your interests include delving into the local history and aboriginal culture there are some well presented attractions in town.
As with many Northern Territory towns, Alice Springs’ origins can be linked to the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line in 1871. By 1939, Alice Springs was a tight knit small community of approximately 900, then servicing the outlying pastoral industry. With the onset of WWII, the town became the army railhead, central troop reserve and arsenal for the northern operations. Nearly 200,000 troops passed through the town during these war years.
As is so typically Australian due to the tyrany of distance and the unique requirement innovation played a big part in the pioneering years. Many of the attractions such as the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service are typical example and excelent tributes to these pioneering days.
Things to See and Do
Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre: The Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre in Todd Street includes a gallery showing Arrernte culture and an Aboriginal music museum. Learn to play a didgeridoo at the only Didgeridoo University in the world. You can have a go at spear throwing, boomerang throwing, try billy tea and damper and experiment with bush tucker. Open 9:00am to 5:00pm but closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Ph (08) 8952 3408
Adelaide House Museum: This building was the first hospital opened in 1926. Designed by Rev. John Flynn it incorporated an air-cooling system that pushed cool air from the cellar up into the building. Today it now houses extensive biographical details on Flynn. There is also a monument to Alfred Traeger, engineer and inventor of the ‘pedal radio’ which was housed and tested at the rear of this building. Worth the visit for the historical sentiment as opposed to the visual delight. Located in Todd Mall and open from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Ph (08) 8952 1856
Alice Springs Cultural Precinct: The Precinct presents a wonderful array of culture and history on one site. Wander through the Araluen galleries which include work by the famous Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. The centre has a 500 seat theatre showcasing local interstate and international acts. In the same precinct and included in price of entry visit the Museum of Central Australia with impressive displays of local geology , including meteorite display and fossils of extinct animals of the outback. The precinct and entry price also includes the Aviation Museum of Central Australia or simply sit back and relax in the Frank McEllister Park. On the corner of Larapinta Drive and Memorial Avenue, it is open 7 days 10:00am to 5:00pm but closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Ph (08) 8951 1122
Alice Springs Desert Park: A highlight of any trip to Alice Springs, This unique and well presented park showcases the landscapes, animals and plants of Australia’s deserts and their traditional use by Aboriginal people. Animals and plants are presented together in habitats as they would appear in their natural environment along with the stories of their inter-relationships, with a Nocturnal House showcasing animals of the desert night. Situated in Larapinta drive to the west of the town centre, it is open from 7:30am to 6:00pm daily. Ph (08) 8951 8788.
Alice Springs Golf Club: The Alice Springs Golf Club is rated as one of the top 10 desert courses in the world. The McDonnell Ranges act as a picturesque backdrop to most holes. Play 9 or 18 holes with all the facilities and services you would expect from a highly rated golf course including driving range. Located on Crowell Drive Ph (08) 8952 1921.
Alice Springs Reptile Park: A small but informative display of the unique and interesting reptiles of outback Australia including a Salt Water crocodile caught in Darwiun Harbour. The Park conducts a snake presentation 3 times a day typically at 11am 1pm and 3pm Open 9.30am to 5:00pm. Ph (08) 8952 8900.
Alice Springs Turf Club: Racing has always been part of the pioneering history of Alice Springs. Today, 125 years after the first race meeting was conducted, racing takes place almost weekly at picturesque Pioneer Park Racecourse. Open 11:00am to 10:00pm.
ANZAC Hill Lookout: The most visited landmark in Alice Springs, the panoramic views from the top of Anzac Hill look right over the town down to the MacDonnell ranges. Sunset is an ideal time to visit as the ranges make a stunning backdrop to the town. You can make the sharp ascent to the top on foot, or there’s vehicle access from the western side. It is located off Wills Terrace and is open daily.
Araluen Arts Centre: The Araluen Centre houses two major art galleries including the Albert Namatjira Gallery featuring some of the original work of this famous Aboriginal artist. The centre hosts major travelling exhibitions throughout the year and also has a permanent collection. Live theatre and cinema are a regular feature, with details published in the local newspaper. Located in Larapinta Drive, the public display areas are open from 10:00am to 5:00pm.
Central Australian Aviation Museum: The Aviation museum is located in the original Connellan Airways hangar on the site of Alice Springs’ first aerodrome and runway. The museum houses two of the early flying doctor planes, a restored DC3, as well as accounts of aviation history and memorabilia. Part of the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct: Ph (08) 8951 1122
Date Gardens: Australia’s oldest date plantation, The Date Garden continues to produce juicy dates you can sample in ice-cream and muffins, or au naturel. Date palms were bought to this country by the Afghans in the 1800s and the conditions couldn’t have suited them better. in Palm Circuit, admission is free and opening times are Mon-Fri 9:00am-5:00pm, Sat 9:00am-1:00pm. Closed Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Frontier Camel Farm: 4km from Alice Springs on the Ross Highway, you can get a closeup look at the animals originally used by our pioneers for outback exploration and supply and hear an informative talk about camels in Australia, their characteristics and curiosities. Enjoy a short camel ride, find out how a modern camel farm operates and about other uses for camels today. There is also a reptile house and a kangaroo enclosure, and tours depart twice daily at 10:30am and 2:00pm from April to October. Open 9am to 5pm Ph (08) 8953 0444 Closed Christmas Day and Good Friday and Sundays.
John Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve: This tiny Reserve is the resting place for the ashes of the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Flying Doctor Service and the Australian Inland Mission. The monumnet is on a low hill 7km west of Alice Springs at the foot of the MacDonnell ranges with a sign detailing some of his achievements and the dispute over the original rock used for his monument.
Larapinta Trail: An exciting long distance walking trail through the West McDonnells starting at the Overland Telegraph Station and crosses a variety of terrain from high exposed ridgelines with spectacular views, to sheltered gorges, home to many of the arid zones rare plants. It also joins the Ranges’ established and better known visitor attractions, using these as access points where walkers may start or end their adventure. When completed, the trail will continue 220kms to Mt Razorback, but with regularly spaced entry and exit points, day and overnight treks are possible along shorter sections. Walkers must register with at a Parks and Wildlife Commission Ranger Station before attempting to walk the Trail, and the Trail may be closed in times of extreme heat during summer. Admission is free.
MacDonnell Siding: The Old Ghan is the legendary train whose name commemorates the Afghan cameleers and which from 1929 until 1980 travelled the narrow gauge from Alice Springs to Adelaide. For over 50 years the Old Ghan travelled this track, sharing a history of hardship and adventure with the pioneers who opened up the vast Outback. MacDonnell Siding is a re-creation of an Outback rail centre, complete with station building, loco shed and a comprehensive museum of railway artefacts. 10 kms south of Alice Springs, MacDonnell Siding is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily. Added interest now that the new Ghan and railway have been completed between Alice and Darwin. Norris Bell Avenue 10km south of Alice Springs Ph (08) 8952 7161
Minerals House: Fossicking information advice and permits can be obtained from this office. Contains a display of gems and minerals, interpretive display on geology and mining activities of the Northern Territory. Geological maps and publications are also for sale. In the NT Department of Mines and Energy office at 58 Hartley Street, admission is free and is open Mon-Fri 8:00am-4:00pm. Closed public holidays.
Museum of Central Australia: Explore this fascinating museum full of Central Australia’s natural history, science and culture. On display are replicas of local, ancient mega fauna including the largest bird that ever lived, a large collection of Central Australian fauna, and an impressive meteorite display. The museum also includes a display relating to Professor Ted Strehlow and his fascinating work with the Arrernte (Aranda) people of Central Australia capturing their culture and customs in what is a very valuable and significant contribution. Open daily 9:00am to 5:00pm. Part of the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct: Ph (08) 8951 1122
National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame: This heritage listed buliding houses a major exhibition on women who fought social convention to become first in their profession, either in Australia or in their state or Territory. In addition, Women at the Heart tells the story of teh women who helped pioneer Central Australia. In the Old Court House, corner of Hartley and Parsons Streets, it is open 10:00am to 5:00pm but is closed mid December to end of January. 27 Hartley St Ph (08) 8952 7161
Native Gap: This small reserve is a scenic stopping place on the Stuart Highway, just north of Alice Springs, where travellers and day visitors can enjoy the shaded picnic area and the sweeping granduer of the MacDonnell Ranges.
Old Hartley Street School: This was Alice Springs’ first purpose-built school, opened in the 1930s. At its peak in the 1950s, it catered for over 400 students and was the transmission point for the School of the Air. Today it is home to a branch of the National Trust. At 37-43 Hartley Street, open 10.30am to 2.30pm Ph (08) 8952 4516.
Old Stuart Town Gaol: The Stuart Town Gaol was constructed in 1907/8 and is Alice Springs’ oldest surviving building. It received its first prisoner in 1909 and remained in service until 1938. Open Monday to Friday 10:00am to 12.30pm Mar – Oct.
Old Timers Folk Museum: Find out how the early Territorian pioneers really lived. See their photographs, the everyday items they used at home and work and how they travelled and obtained supplies. South Stuart Highway, open 2:00pm to 4:00pm daily March to October.
Olive Pink Botanic Garden: Located in Tuncks Road, this 16-hectare arid zone botanic garden features native plants of Central Australia. The visitors centre presents a graphic interpretation of the evolution of Australian arid zone flora , the significance and usage of local flora for food , medicine and tools by local Aboriginals. Visitors centre also includes the story of the Garden’s founder, Miss Olive Pink. Admission is by donation and it is open 10:00am to 6:00pm daily except Christmas Day and Good Friday. The visitors centre is open 10:00am to 4:00pm. Ph (08) 8952 2154
Overland Telegraph Station: A popular and recommended attraction for people interested in the history of the outback. Alice Springs obtained its name from the waterhole at the Overland Telegraph Station established in 1872 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide. This historical reserve marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. Well presented and preserved with an informative self guide document as part of entry fee. 4km north of Alice Springs, guided tours are available during the winter months of May to September inclusive. Open 8.00am top 5.00pm Ph (08) 8952 3993
Panorama Guth: A 360 degree landscape painting of the surroundings of Alice Springs which stands 6 metres high and sixty metres around accessed by a spiral staircase. A foreground of natural sand and flora completes the illusion of being within the inspiring landscape of scenic areas and natural features found around Alice Springs. Located in Hartley Street, Panorama Guth is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm Mon-Sat and 12 midday to 5:00pm Sunday and public holidays.Closed Dec and January Ph (08) 8952 2013
Road Transport Hall of Fame: The National Transport Hall of Fame has an outstanding display of heavy vehicles, and is unique in its approach to the preservation and presentation of road transport. Recommended for people interested in transport trucks and machinery. Open daily 9:00am to 5:00pm. Norris Bell Avenue 10km south of Alice Springs Ph (08) 8952 7161
Royal Flying Doctor Base: The Royal Flying Doctor Service is a non-profit organisation that has been providing a mantle of safety to those living and working in the remote areas of the Central Australian Outback since 1939. Tours of the base allow the visitor to appreciate the scope of the current operation, while the museum depicts the intrepid spirit of the early pioneers and the history of remote area medical and aviation services in the region. Located at 8-10 Stuart Terrace, the RFDS Base is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm Mon-Sat and 1:00pm to 4:00pm Sunday and public holidays. Ph (08) 8952 1129 Closed Christmas Day and New Years Day.
School Of The Air: Another important part of the history of Alice Springs, the Alice Springs School Of The Air opened in 1951 broadcasting to children of isolated communities throughout a 1.3 million square kilometre ‘classroom’. Interpretive displays demonstrate the important role it has in the Outback and on school days you can hear lessons being broadcast. Located at 80 Head Street, it is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm Mon-Sat and 1:30pm to 4:30pm Sundays. Ph (08) 8951 8934
Strehlow Research Centre: The Centre provides a repository for the lifework of Ted Strehlow who spent many years among the Aboriginal people of Central Australia, tirelessly recording their songs, ceremonies, legends and the complex rules which govern their society. At the Strehlow Research Centre, designers and artists have provided a setting which echoes the colours, sounds and patterns of the Aranda homelands. Join a guided tour and learn about the dream sequence and Aboriginal implements. This exciting and absorbing display will challenge your values and pose questions about human rights, ownership, respect, trust and the role of academics and governments. Open from 10:00am to 5:00pm daily. Part of the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct: Ph (08) 8951 1122