Alice Springs – The Vibrant Red Centre

Northern Territory Outback - East MacDonnell

Alice Springs is often considered the unofficial capital of the Red Centre, with a population of approximately 26,000 people, making it the second most populous town in the Northern Territory. Its remote location far from major Australian cities gives it a unique atmosphere.

Surprisingly, Alice Springs is a green and well-maintained town compared to other outback towns like Coober Pedy where trees are scarce. The shops are well stocked, and the town has a more modern feel to it. However, the liquor stores are heavily guarded, and strict purchase limits and identification checks are enforced due to the town being a dry zone.

Despite this, we were pleased with our caravan park’s beautiful location close to the mountains and away from the busy town centre.

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Winter in the Red Centre is not our our cup of tea due to the cold winds, but it provides a great opportunity to explore the surroundings. We started our day by visiting the Alice Alice Springs Reptile Centre.

Hema - Northern Territory

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The centre has an extensive range of reptiles, including pythons, goannas, thorny devils, and other lizards. What impressed us the most was the close interaction with the animals that visitors could have.

Nell patting goanna
Nell patting goanna

Nell didn’t want to leave the Alice Springs Reptile Centre without her new best friend, a goanna. They walked together and Nell was even able to pet the goanna – it was love at first sight.

Marius, on the other hand, had a unique experience with a 7.5 kg python named Zeus. They had a brief moment where they hugged each other, 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 in the late 1800s and connected Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin.

The train was named after the Afghan cameleers who helped to build the railway. Whats interesting the Ghan is one of the longest passenger trains in the world, stretching over 750 meters long.

Nowadays, the journey takes only 48 hours 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 train journey includes a stop at Katherine, where passengers can take a cruise on the stunning Katherine Gorge.

We decided that we definitely have to take The Ghan and enjoy the outback from a different perspective – but will do it once we retire.

Alice Springs Desert Park

Alice Springs Desert Park is a must-visit destination when in Alice Springs. Located 8 km west of the town, we were pleasantly surprised by the extensive range of presentations and activities available.

The park offers a full day schedule that includes bird feeding, dingo dreaming, a fighting extinction lecture, learning about nature’s supermarket (what you can eat in the outback), and educational movies played in the theatre.

It was a fantastic experience that allowed us to learn more about the flora, fauna and culture of the area.

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

The Free Flying Bird Show in Alice Springs Desert Park is an incredible experience that showcases the beauty and skill of some of Australia’s most majestic birds. The well-trained birds, including hawks, eagles, and parrots, fly free around the theater and return to their handlers on command. The show is an amazing display of the birds’ natural abilities and behaviors, and the trainers provide great commentary.

Telegraph Station

Alice Springs - Telegraph Station
Alice Springs – Telegraph Station

In the afternoon, we visited the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, which marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. The history of the town began here, and it was fascinating to see the old telegraph equipment and learn about its significance.

The name of the city comes from the telegraph operator’s wife, Alice, who lived close to the spring. The reserve is situated in a beautiful location and I highly recommend visiting it if you’re in the area.

A few interesting facts about the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve:

  • The station was established in 1872 as part of the Overland Telegraph Line that connected Adelaide to Darwin, allowing for fast communication between Australia and the rest of the world.
  • The station was staffed by telegraph operators and their families who lived in simple huts made of local materials, such as mud and grass.
  • The telegraph line was a vital part of Australia’s history and played a key role in events such as the Burke and Wills expedition and the first transcontinental flight by Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith.
  • The station was also a repeater station for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and was used as a base for exploring the surrounding region.
  • Today, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a popular tourist attraction and museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the early history of the town and the challenges faced by the early settlers.

While exploring, Nell stumbled upon an old piano, which reminded us of the singing dog from the day before and brought some laughter to our visit.

Anzac Hill

At the end of the day we went and enjoyed a view of the city from ANZAC Hill.

From there, we were able to see that Alice Springs is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, which was a beautiful sight. Despite the chilly weather, the view was worth it.

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

Emily Gap is a significant site for the Arrernte people and is located in the East MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs. The Gap is a narrow opening between two tall cliffs, and it is said to be the home of a powerful ancestral being known as Yeperenye or the Caterpillar. According to Arrernte Dreamtime stories, Yeperenye traveled through the land, creating the hills and valleys as it went.

The site is also known for its rock art, which is believed to be thousands of years old and shows various symbols and figures. Emily Gap is a sacred place to the Arrernte people.

East MacDonnell
East MacDonnell – Emily Gap

We had some issues to get to some areas due to the standing water in parts of the dry riverbed.

Marius suggested there was a shallow section where we could easily cross, and he encouraged me to try it. I went trough, but the water was deeper than anticipated, and it rose up to my knees, soaking my pants well above the knees. We had a good laugh and wet shoes…

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

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 were finally able to see the stunning caterpillar paintings on the red rocks, considered sacred by the Arrernte people who view themselves as direct descendants of these creatures.

The gallery displaying these magnificent artworks is open to everyone and is truly remarkable, with a dry river winding between colossal blocks of red rocks. This captivating view left us enchanted.

We had to keep moving. And the next place left us speechless.

Trephina Gorge is spectacular

There are several short walks around Trephina Gorge, and the river flows in a wide bed, with water reaching up to our ankles, and has some impressive rock formations. The gorge’s sandstone walls create a dramatic backdrop for the flowing water and the lush vegetation that surrounds it.

We took the Ridgetop Walk, which offered spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The track winds its way through the hills, and at the top, we were rewarded with panoramic views of the gorge and the surrounding mountain ranges.

East MacDonnell Walk
East MacDonnell – Trephina Gorge

Nell enjoyed the walk and bravely overcame any obstacles that came her way.

We decided to prepare our lunch in the park, we took with us potatoes, vegetables, and grilled meat.

However, there was a bit of commotion as we were not familiar with using the park’s BBQ. The first one we tried to use had no gas, and the next had gas, but we forgot to bring matches.

Luckily, some friendly soul came to our rescue and helped us start the BBQ, preventing us from going hungry or having to eat raw meat.

Travel Spiced Life

It’s always a good idea to carry matches. You never know when it could be useful.

East MacDonnell - Lunch Break
Preparing lunch at Trephina Gorge

After a satisfying dinner, we made our way to the old gold mine located 110 km from Alice Springs. The journey to Arltunga Historical Reserve gave us a glimpse of the real Red Centre.

It was a dirt road and full of surprises, with a dry river bed appearing every few dozen meters. It was our first experience of crossing a flowing river, and we were thrilled by the challenge.

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

East MacDonnell - River Crossing
East MacDonnell – River Crossing

The dirt tracks were so corrugated that the radio antenna unscrewed itself and fell to the side of the road! Fortunately, we noticed it and with the help of the duct tape were able to fix it quickly.

Learn more about off-road driving and 11 Tips about outback camping from our guides

Arltunga Historical Reserve

Arltunga Historical Reserve
Arltunga Historical Reserve

At the Arltunga Historical Reserve, we discovered a well preserved police station and prison, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the town’s gold rush past. Originally established during the late 1800s, the town experienced a period of growth and prosperity as a result of the gold rush, with a population of around 300 people at its peak.

During our visit, we witnessed Nell attempting to extract gold by crushing rocks in a large mortar and pestle. Unfortunately, her efforts were unsuccessful, highlighting the challenges and difficulties that miners faced in their search for precious metals.

Arltunga Historical Reserve-Gold
Arltunga Historical Reserve

Marius proposed trading our truck for the latest model of a miner’s car, which he claimed was in mint condition. However, I had my doubts about his idea.

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

As the sun began to set, we realised we still had 130 kilometers to travel before we reached our campsite. However, our journey back was not without its challenges.

It was getting dark and when we made our way down the road, we suddenly encountered a kangaroo and several cows blocking our path.

We made it back to camp safely and recounted our adventure over a hot meal and a few cold drinks, grateful for the unique experiences that the outback had to offer.

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

Although not as well-known as the West MacDonnell Mountains, the East MacDonnell range is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. The breathtaking scenery, unique geological formations, and abundant wildlife make it a must-see destination for nature lovers and adventurers alike.

I highly recommend taking the time to explore the East MacDonnell Mountains and experiencing its beauty.

One of the highlights of the East MacDonnell Mountains is the abundance of wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, and a variety of bird species.

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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

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