Sitting in the geographic center of Australia, Alice Springs makes a great base for exploring the magnificent Est MacDonnell Ranges
DURATION: 1 week
BEST FOR: Desert culture, 4WD adventure, hiking trail
ROUTE: Alice Springs • East MacDonnell Ranges • West MacDonnell Ranges
WHY DO IT: Use vibrant Alice as a base for forays into the nearby hills, where resplendent rocks, pools, hikes and drives await
That Alice Springs exists at all – a settlement of more than 25,000 people in the dry, dusty heart of the nation – is noteworthy. That the town is well worth a couple of days of your time is even more so. Take advantage of daily didgeridoo workshops at the Sounds of Starlight Theatre, browse boutique galleries for Aboriginal dot paintings, see local birds of prey at the Alice Springs Desert Park and wander the superlative exhibits of the Araluen Cultural Precinct. Hungry? The Overlanders Steakhouse is renowned for its blow-out meals.
The town’s greatest asset, however, is the little-known but magnificent mountain belt on its doorstep. Head a short distance along the Ross Highway to the East MacDonnell Ranges to discover highlights including the sacred site of Corroboree Rock and scenic Trephina Gorge Nature Park, centred on a sheer-sided ravine and home to the largest ghost gum tree in the country. If you’re in a 4WD, continue along the dry sandy bed of the Hale River to wild Ruby Gap.
Maruku Arts Dot Painting Workshop, Yulara (Tourism NT)
After returning to Alice, head out again to visit the arguably even more beautiful ‘West Macs’. Ports of call should include the cliff s – complete with rock wallabies – of Simpsons Gap, the palm-lined riverbed of Standley Chasm and the peaceful waterhole of Ellery Creek Big Hole (brave a dip in the cold water). Farther on, rugged, pool-filled Ormiston Gorge and the colossal crater of Gosse Bluff raise the scenery bar even further. Keep going to the indigenous township of Hermannsburg, where the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira was born – the MacDonnells feature heavily in his work.
If you have the time, the best way to appreciate the Western MacDonnells is to trek the 223km Larapinta Trail. If you don’t want to walk the whole route, you can pick from 12 individual sections.