Alice Springs – The Vibrant Red Centre

East MacDonnell

Alice Springs is the informal capital of the Red Centre with a population of 26000 people, and it is the second populated town in Northern Territory. Also, Alice Springs location is so far from the biggest Australian cities that make this place really unique.

Alice Spring surprised us positively as it is a green and well-maintained town. 

In Coober Pedy, we could count trees on the fingers of one hand. In Alice Springs, shops were very well stocked compared to what you can expect in other smaller outback towns. 

Only liquor stores looked like a war zone. Normally, outside of the shop, there were two security guards and inside, another two. The driver licence is scanned at checkout, and the purchase limit is in place. So, again – a dry zone with full restrictions this time.

Hema - Northern Territory

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We arrived in our caravan park that was beautifully situated close to the mountains and away from the town centre.

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Winter in the Red Centre is really not our cup of tea (cold winds every day), but it’s a perfect time to explore the surroundings. We started in the morning at Alice Springs Reptile Centre.

They really have an extensive range of reptiles, including Python, Goanna, Thorny Devils, and other lizards. What was amazing was that everyone could have really close contact with animals.

Nell patting goanna
Nell patting goanna

Nell didn’t want to leave this place without her best friend Goanna. They walked together. Nell could even pat her – it was love at first sight.

On the other hand, Marius had his five minutes with a 7.5 kg python called Zeus. They hugged each other a bit, and both seemed to enjoy it.

Marius with Python
Marius with Python

The Ghan

On our way back to the town we passed the famous The Ghan, a train that is already an Australian legend. The Afghan Express (as it was called in the past) was built late 1800’s and connected Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin. 

Nowadays the journey takes only 48th and covers a distance of nearly 3000 km.

Alice Springs - The Ghan
On our way back to Alice Springs we passed the famous The Ghan…

The Ghan takes its name from the 19th-century Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia and helped explore its remote interior.

We said that we definitely have to take The Ghan and enjoy the outback from a different perspective one day.

Alice Springs Desert Park

Alice Springs Desert Park is a must-go when visiting Alice Springs. It is located 8 km west of Alice Springs. When we arrived, we did not know they have so many presentations and activities. 

The whole day is made with a full schedule that includes: bird feeding, dingo dreaming, fighting extinction lecture,  learning about nature’s supermarket (what you can eat in the outback) and enhanced with some educational movies that are played in the theatre. 

Falcon in Alice Springs Desert Park
Falcon in Alice Springs Desert Park

However, my favourite was Free Flying Bird Show. They have well-trained birds like hawks, eagles and parrots that fly free around the theatre and return as commanded. It is really awesome. Definitely, it was well-spent money to visit Desert Park.

Telegraph Station

Alice Springs - Telegraph Station
Alice Springs – Telegraph Station

In the afternoon we went to see the old Telegraph Station as the history of the town began just there. The Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. 

The name of the city comes from the telegraph operator’s wife, Alice, who lived close to the spring. The place itself is fabulously situated and I highly recommend visiting it if you plan to be nearby.

Nell discovered an old piano. I immediately remembered the dog from the day before and we had some laughs.

Anzac Hill

In the end, we enjoyed a view of the city from the ANZAC hill. We clearly saw the town lies in a valley surrounded by mountains. Now I understand why it’s so cold here. Just kidding. It is winter, so it must be cold. 

East MacDonnell

We planned a day trip to the picturesque and less visited East MacDonnell mountain range. We went there in the middle of winter, so it was empty and, in my opinion, magical. These ancient mountains with beautiful brick tints made a huge impression on us.

Emily Gap – Aboriginal Paintings

East MacDonnell
East MacDonnell – Emily Gap

The information board promised us wonderful Aboriginal drawings. Unfortunately, the water standing in the dry river bed made it impossible for us to see them. We were really looking forward to seeing the dreaming stories of three ancestral caterpillars. 

Marius said that there was a very shallow section where you could easily walk, and he made me do it. I went, but the water was up to my knees, and my pants were wet well above the knees…

East MacDonnell - wet to my knees
East MacDonnell – wet to my knees

It’s good that my shoes were tight enough that I didn’t get wet at all. Unfortunately, my intelligent husband saw it and still didn’t care to take his shoes off, and he followed in my footsteps too! He ended up wringing his sock. 

But all this madness was worth the sacrifice because we were finally able to see a sacred place full of paintings.

East MacDonnell aboriginal paintings
East MacDonnell aboriginal paintings

We could finally see the caterpillars painted on the red rock. Arrernte people consider themselves direct descendants of them. It looked phenomenal! This gallery (open to everyone) is really worth mentioning: a dry river “flowing” between huge blocks of red rocks. This view enchanted us.

There were so many things to see, but we had to move on. The next place of interest knocked us off our feet.

Trephina Gorge is spectacular

The river flows in a wide bed (water reaching up to our ankles) and has some wonderful rock formations. There are several short walks around Trephina Gorge.

East MacDonnell Walk
East MacDonnell – Trephina Gorge

Nell was full of joy and bravely overcame the obstacles. We also decided to prepare our dinner there – potatoes, vegetables and grilled meat. There was a little bit of commotion because we wanted to use park BBQ and had no experience in this matter (we always use our own). 

The first one turned out to have no gas, the next one had gas, but we didn’t have any matches. Fortunately, some fellow travellers saved us from being hungry or eating raw meat.

Travel Spiced Life

Always take matches with you. You don’t know when they can be useful.

East MacDonnell - Lunch Break
Preparing lunch at Trephina Gorge

After a delicious meal, we headed straight to the old gold mine located 110 km from Alice. The route to Arltunga Historical Reserve gave us a foretaste of Kimberly, to which we were heading: a stone road, full of surprises, crossed by a dry river bed every few dozen meters. It was a flowing river and our first independent experience of crossing it. 

We had to use our Hema Navigator to make sure we did not lose track.

East MacDonnell - River Crossing
East MacDonnell – River Crossing

The dirt tracks were so corrugated that the radio antenna unscrewed itself and fell on the side of the road! Duct tape proved to be handy again. However, the inconvenience of the road was played by the views – they were phenomenal!

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Arltunga Historical Reserve

Arltunga Historical Reserve
Arltunga Historical Reserve

On-site at Arltunga Historical Reserve, we found a well-preserved police station with a prison. The town was born out of the gold rush, and during its “peak” time, 300 lived there. Nell tried to crush some rocks in a big mortar and pestle in her search for gold but ended up unsuccessful.

Arltunga Historical Reserve-Gold
Arltunga Historical Reserve

Marius considered trade in our truck for the latest model of a miner’s car, which was in mint condition, but I thought otherwise.

Arltunga Historical Reserve miners car
Marius considered trade in our truck for the latest model of a miner’s car…

It was getting dark, and there was still 130 km to return to our camp. What a day! On our way back, we met a kangaroo and countless cows wandering on the way. Marius mesmerized them with his eyes and asked loudly not to make any sudden moves. It worked.

Alice Springs - Successful Day Celebration
Alice Springs – Successful Day Celebration

After returning, we made a dinner of canned meat stew, which was so tasty (or we were just starving). It was a long day, and we were exhausted. 

The mountains of East MacDonnell may not be as popular as West MacDonnell, but they are worth a visit. I recommend going to see this beautiful scenery.

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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters

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