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  • Overview

    Alice Springs, the vibrant hub of central Australia, grew up around a permanent waterhole that was a key terminal for the Overland Telegraph Station in 1870. It became a tough frontier town serviced by camel trains from the railhead at Oodnadatta, until the railway reached it in 1929 and it became a transport centre. Today the small city, with a population of roughly 26,000 and stylish shopping and dining facilities, thrives on tourism and provides a perfect base from which to access all of the surrounding natural wonders, including Uluru (Ayer's Rock). Alice Springs also invites visitors to learn more about the local Arrernte Aboriginal tribal group who have inhabited the area for 20,000 years. The city is also the point from which intrepid adventurers popularly strike south to explore the Simpson Desert, or east to visit the ghost towns of the MacDonnell Ranges. Alice Springs has good connections to Australia's capital cities; there are daily flights to and from the capitals and road and rail access from all capital cities is possible.

    Anyone who has a fascination with the rough and ready life of Central Australia will enjoy a holiday in Alice Springs, which is an ideal base for excursions into the surrounding desert.

    Tennant Creek

    Now a popular holiday resort, the old mining town of Tennant Creek, about 300 miles (500km) north of Alice Springs, was allegedly born when a beer wagon en route to an Overland Telegraph Station broke down in 1934 and the driver, Joe Kilgariff, decided to set up a store and pub at the breakdown site. Such legends abound in the Tennant Creek area, which was the site of Australia's last gold rush.

    At the Battery Hill Mining Centre visitors on holiday can take a mine tour and hear the miners' stories, before enjoying a nature walk and a picnic. The small holiday town is situated at the junction of the Stuart Highway, which runs between Darwin and Alice Springs, and the Barclay Highway that travels east to Mt Isa.

    Tennant Creek is an excellent point from which to make an excursion to the fascinating signature landforms of the area, the granite boulders known as the Devil's Marbles. Thousands of huge, red boulders, some nestling together and others poised on top of each other, are a compelling spectacle in this shallow valley 60 miles (100km) south of Tennant Creek. The local Aboriginal people regard the Devil's Marbles site as a sacred place, believing that the boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.

    Devil's Marbles, near Tennant Creek Devil's Marbles, near Tennant Creek David Taus
    Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

    Formerly known as Ayres Rock, Uluru rises from the surrounding plains, protected within the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, and belongs to the Anangu Aboriginal people, for whom it holds a special spiritual significance. In an isolated spot 280 miles (450km) from Alice Springs, the power of the rock draws hundreds of visitors taken on tours by Aboriginal guides who explain the monolith's importance in Aboriginal culture. A visit to this monolithic rock, the world's greatest, is an awesome experience. It is composed of a type of sandstone that has been exposed through folding, faulting, the erosion of rock and infill. At the base are caves, inlets and overhangs formed by chemical degradation and erosion.

    Some opt for the 1,142ft (348m) climb to the top, which takes about 45 minutes and is not for the faint-hearted; however, it should be noted that for spiritual reasons the Anangu people request that visitors not climb the rock. Visitors should try to view Uluru at different times of the day - part of the magic of the rock is its constant colour changes in different lights, particularly at sunrise and sunset. Visitors can take a camel tour of the Outback at Uluru, or enjoy an unforgettable flight in a light aircraft or helicopter for a bird's eye view of the monolith.

    About 19 miles (30km) from Uluru is another fascinating geological formation on the desert landscape. Known as Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas), these comprise 36 domes of red-brown earth, the tallest of which, Mount Olga, is 656ft (200m) taller than Uluru. There is a range of accommodation at Uluru, from luxury resorts to campsites. There is also an Aboriginal cultural centre and an arts and craft centre, along with restaurants, swimming pools, galleries, a supermarket, a medical centre and a post office.

    Address: Ayers Rock, Uluru
    Uluru, formerly called Ayres Rock Uluru, formerly called Ayres Rock ptwo
    Outback Ballooning

    Surely the most iconic image of Australia is the blood-red dust of its sere and sparse Outback - and what better way to experience it than from a hot air balloon, in the dawn hours, with the sky full of a million colours? Alice Springs' Outback Ballooning company has been offering this once-in-a-lifetime experience to eager visitors since 1986, and has built a solid reputation for itself as a high-quality, and dependable tour operator (with an impeccable safety record). You'll be accompanied on your hot air balloon ride - which also includes refreshments and a light breakfast - by an informative guide, to ensure you appreciate the full impact of the unique landscape spread out beneath you. Visitors of all ages, sizes, shapes and fitness levels are welcome, and are all bound to leave with a memory they'll cherish for the rest of their lives. Don't forget to pack your camera.

    Address: 35 Kennett Court, Alice Springs
    Deflating an Outback Balloon Deflating an Outback Balloon Arturo Pardavila III

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    The climate of Alice Springs is arid; hot, dry and dusty nearly all year round, except for winter nights, which can have temperatures dramatically plummeting to below freezing. Summers are blisteringly hot with the mercury regularly rising to over 104ºF (40ºC), with winter daytime temperatures remaining pleasantly warm. Rain is infrequent and unpredictable, with heavy showers occurring sometimes during summer.

    The most popular time to visit Alice Springs is in the cooler months between April and September.

    Useful Contacts:

    Once a remote outpost, it is now easy to travel to Alice Springs, situated in the heart of the Australian Outback. A holiday in Alice Springs is a true Australian experience, its proximity to the desert and the remarkable natural monolith, Uluru (Ayers Rock) drawing tens of thousands of tourists every year. 'The Alice', as it is known, is also the focus of Aboriginal culture in Australia. Apart from the famous Uluru, one of Australia's most iconic landmarks, visitors to Alice shouldn't miss an excursion to Tennant Creek, an old mining town which has become very popular with tourists, and the nearby Devil's Marbles, some stunning red rock formations.

    The city has an exciting and slightly odd events calendar so it is a good idea to plan your Alice Springs holiday to coincide with one of these, like the Camel Cup tournament, Finke Desert Race or Alice Springs Beanie Festival.

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