Alice Springs is a quintessential Outback town.
They call it the Alice. Officially, its Alice Springs and its right smack in the Red Centre of Australia, with the Tropic of Capricorn just north of the town centre.
From Adelaide in South Australia, you can take the Ghan and go by rail to Alice Springs. You can drive there from the Top End or from South Australia by taking the Stuart Highway. Or you can fly from most major Australian cities. You can even go there, if you wanted to, by camel.
Alice Springs lies in a cleft of the MacDonnell Ranges where the Todd River (when it still lived up to its name) had washed out the edges of the mountains.
Prime tourist destination
The traditional home of the Arrente Aboriginal people, Alice Springs has become a prime tourist destination mainly because of Uluru a half day away, the Olgas, the Valley of the Winds — places within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, one of the World Heritage sites inscribed by the United Nations — and because of its genuinely Outback character.
Intrestingly, its only official sister city in the world is Paghman in the hills just outside Kabul, capital of Afghanistan.
A town called Stuart
Alice Springs was founded in the 1870s when a telegraph station was built near a water hole of the dry Todd River. The Australian overland telegraph lines were to run north to south right through a town originally named Stuart.
The Todd River took its name from Superintendent of Telegraphs Charles Todd. A spring near the water hole was named after Todd's wife Alice. Alice Springs turned out to be the more popular name and Stuart became Alice Springs in 1933.
Heart of the Alice
The Alice Springs town centre remains quite small, lying in a northeasterly fashion with Todd St, its main street, cut by a pedestrian mall in the heart of town.
Almost everything by way of city amenities and attractions can be found in the centre of town: airline offices, car rental agencies, the John Flynn Memorial Church and Memorial Museum, the Old Courthouse and Stuart Town Gaol, restaurants, hotels and motels. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Base is close by, at the southern end of the town centre on Stuart Terrace. Reverend John Flynn founded the service.
The Todd River is east of the town centre, and it is on the dry riverbed that the celebrated Henley-on-Todd Regatta is held in late winter or early spring. All manner of watercraft compete in the regatta, but all the yachts and boats are without bottoms and are powered by feet — if you can imagine that. Only when it rains and water trickles into the Todd is the regatta ever cancelled.
Popular jump-off point
The Alice is a popular jump-off point for desert safaris, by four-wheel-drive or on camels. Or you can go ballooning for a bird's-eye view of the Olgas, Uluru, and the surrounding red desert.
There are Aboriginal culture tours as well, where you may meet some Walpiri Aborigines and learn just a little bit more about the original inhabitants of Australia.
Uluru and the Alice cannot be anything else but the two most popular tourist destinations in the Red Centre of Australia. For many visitors, they are the only ones there.
But, of course, there's more to discover in the heart of Australia.