Your flight from Sydney to Australia's Red Center passes over the Simpson Desert, and from the air the ground appears amazingly close and clearly detailed. Vast expanses of red earth stretch into the blue sky-dusted horizon, impressing upon you the vastness of Australia's heartland. You're headed to Alice Springs and an Australian Outback adventure. To get to Australia, itself, book flights with ANZCRO.
Named for the quantity of underground springs that make the town the oasis of the Outback, Alice Springs is also the only town named after an Australian woman. Citrus fruit blossoms easily, and after a rainfall, the air here smells clean and fresh, and a multitude of rose-colored wild hops carpet the ground.
Believe it or not, Alice Springs isn't the end of the world. Accommodations here can be quite luxurious. Hotels have tropical gardens with swimming pools, offering you some respite from the nearly 100-degree (F.) desert heat. And surprisingly, a number of art galleries, featuring the work of local and aboriginal craftsmen and artists, flourish here.
Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice," Alice Springs sits on a site known as Mparntwe to its original inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in this area for thousands of years. Surveyor W. W. Mills named the town after Lady Alice Todd, wife of Sir Charles Todd, thus the Todd surname pops up everywhere.
To truly understand this wild, arid land, you should first visit Alice Springs Desert Park, located just outside of town. Here, you'll find examples of local flora and fauna. You can also attend one or more of the park lectures, such as the one on the aboriginal use of local plants for food. Be sure to see the nocturnal exhibit, housed in a low-light building with offset day and night schedule to induce the nocturnal critters to come out during the day so people can see them. The best time to go to the park is in the early morning, before it gets hot. But you can spend a day walking the trails, going to the birds of prey exhibition where they fly the local aerial predators overhead, and participating in the bush foods and medicine tour.
When the early pioneers came to this area, they did so on camels. You can experience what it was like for them by taking a 90 minute ride aboard one of these "ships of the desert," through the scenic Ilparpa Valley, located in the famous MacDonnell Ranges, with at Pyndan Camel Tracks. They'll even pick you up at your hotel.
If you prefer something with a little more power, you can rent a bicycle and tour around town on your own. Or for a bit of a rush, how about a trip out into the desert on a Harley or join a safari of quad bikes across the spinifex plains.
You can explore the 12 craters, formed when a meteor hit the earth's surface 4,700 years ago, at the Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve, southwest of the city. The Henbury Meteor, weighing several tons and accelerating to over 24,000 mile per hour, disintegrated before impact. Its fragments formed the 12 craters that you can see today.
If you're into gems, you'll want to head north of town to an area known for its serene beauty and as a setting for gem hunting, bush walking, and four-wheel-driving. Here, you'll discover gem fields with Garnet, Zircon, Tourmaline, Apatite and various kinds of Quartz. After obtaining a permit, you can go hunting for any of these, but Garnet is the easiest to go for on your first try, since you'll find these chips lying about on the surface.
The Larapinta Trail offers the best in Outback hiking. Trek along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges to attractions such as Simpsons Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. This epic chain of day walks stretches more than 223km from the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station to Mount Sonder and Mount Razorback. Stand on ancient escarpments and look out over vast ochre-colored landscapes. Visit sites sacred to the Arrernte. Scramble down sheltered gorges, swim in cool waterholes, and sleep under a sea of stars.
The ultimate thing to do out of Alice Springs is to take a day trip to Uluru/Ayers Rock, that famous granite outcropping sacred to the Anangu people here, which turns different colors at sunrise and sunset. Take a tour and experience it through their eyes.
One of best things to do in Alice happens every night. If you don't get out of town and watch a sunset, even just sitting off the main highway, you've missed something special. Then stay a bit longer to watch as millions of stars light up the jet black sky. Tip your head back for an unforgettable view of the universe.