Luxury Escapes Guide to Alice Springs
They don’t call it the Red Centre for nothing. Outback capital Alice Springs is Australia’s heart, both geographic and spiritual.
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Discover Alice Springs
Things to see and do
Discover the Outback at Alice Springs Desert Park
This stunning multifaceted attraction should be your first port of call – it will help you decode your Outback experience. Part research and conservation program, part cultural centre, part Outback botanical gardens – the park’s curated habitats are alive with birds and animals, including a Nocturnal House where you can see hard-to-spot furry critters like antechinus, bilbies and dunnarts. Local Arrernte people are employed as guides, so you’ll have the chance to learn Dreaming stories, see and taste bush tucker, and learn how Aboriginal people thrived in this harsh – but as you’ll learn, surprisingly abundant – landscape.
Get a culture fix at the Araluen Cultural Precinct
Alice Springs' cultural hub, the Araluen Cultural Precinct demands a good few hours to explore its wealth of sights. The Araluen Arts Centre houses Australia’s most important collection of Indigenous art, presenting a history of its development in Central Australia. It includes the Albert Namatjira Gallery – Australia’s best-known Indigenous artist began painting watercolours near here in the 1930s. The beautifully displayed natural history exhibits at the Museum of Central Australia are also well worth a visit. Make sure you leave time to explore the precinct, which houses some impressive large-scale public artworks and important Arrernte sacred sites.
Take a trip back in time at the Telegraph Station
This historical reserve is the birthplace of Alice Springs and provides a fascinating insight into European settlement here. In fact, these humble stone buildings explain the very purpose of Alice Spring’s existence. Almost equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin, this was the midway point of the pioneering Overland Telegraph Line laid in 1870 to link the country’s south with the north (and ultimately, with the rest of the world). Today you can see historical displays and hear about life for the early telegraphers and their families on daily guided tours, visit the Trail Station café and explore the area on signposted walking paths.
Watch the sun set from Anzac Hill
Clinging to the low banks of the Todd River, Alice is generally a flat place – with one exception. To get a budgerigar’s-eye view of the town, scale Anzac Hill, its most visited landmark. The lookout offers panoramic views across the township and towards the beautiful MacDonnell ranges. The memorial here was originally dedicated in 1934 to the ANZACs of WWI. We recommend taking the trek up here (it’s moderately strenuous; there is a carpark at the top if it doesn’t appeal) to catch the sunset.
Shop for unique Indigenous artworks
Looking for an absolutely one-of-a-kind souvenir? The social enterprise that runs Tjanpi Desert Weavers works with over 400 Anangu/Yarnangu women artists from remote desert regions who create stunning shapes from native grasses. Multicoloured baskets sometimes incorporate sustainably sourced emu feathers, while ingeniously sculpted native animals all seem to have their own personalities.
Take a short trek on camelback
What better way to experience the outback than from the back of a ‘ship of the desert’? Join a camel train at Pyndan Camel Tracks, who offer afternoon or sunset (recommended) camel tours on the privately owned White Gums Cattle Station, about 15 minutes from Alice. The one-hour tours take a gentle path up close to the MacDonnell Ranges, where you’ll enjoy sweeping Outback views and spot kangaroos and other native wildlife while bonding with your camel. A quintessential Alice Springs experience.
Hold a joey at the Kangaroo Sanctuary
Welcome to the number one favourite experience of visitors to Alice – especially overseas tourists, who delight at the chance to spend some quality time with Australia’s most iconic charismatic mammal, the red kangaroo. Brolga (aka Chris Barnes, aka ‘Kangaroo Dundee’) a true Alice character and an inspirational figure thanks to his dedication and endless enthusiasm, takes visitors on roo-spotting sunset guided tours (they tend to sleep during the day). The Rescue Centre here cares for orphan baby kangas before they’re ready to hop back into the wild – visit them for cuddle and an overdose of cute.
Learn about the doctors (and nurses) of the air
When Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service was established in 1928, flying was still in its early days. Now one of the largest services of its kind in the world, the RFDS treats around 275,000 patients each year, flying from 23 bases around the country – the Alice Springs base serves an area of around 1.25 million square kilometres. Visiting gives you the chance to learn about its history and how it operates today, with high-tech hologram displays bringing the lesson to life. Impressive virtual reality technology gets you as close as possible to being on a real-life RFDS mission.
Take a stargazing tour of the night sky
With thousands of visible stars, Central Australia offers some of the best night sky viewing in the world. Earth Sanctuary, 15 minutes south of Alice, offers Astronomy Tours to show you around the constellations and planets visible from their sand-dune observatory, as well as any other celestial events that happen to be occurring. Expect your clearest ever view of the sweep of the Milky Way, and through the telescope, Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons should be visible. There’s a licensed bar onsite and dinner packages are available.
Leap into a waterhole in the West MacDonnell Ranges
Waterhole swimming is one of the desert’s great adventures, and one you may have extreme need of, depending how hot it is when you visit the Red Centre. Some of the best can be found out west from Alice, along Namatjira Drive, in the West McDonnell Ranges. Ormiston Gorge, with its beach-like sandy banks, is one of the local favourites – plus it’s permanently filled (not all waterholes are – always check with locals before you make the trip). Other idyllic spots out in the same direction: Ellery Creek, Glen Helen Gorge and Redbank Gorge.
Top places to eat and drink
Put your preconceptions about Outback dining aside: the delicious Asian-influenced cuisine at this stylish restaurant is as good as anything you’d find in the big smoke. Chef Jimmy Shu (known for his Taste of the Territory television series) has built a spice-driven menu around Thai, Indian and Nonya (Chinese Malay) influences with a Top End twist. Try the signature meen moolie: wild barramundi in a turmeric, curry leaf and coconut sauce – and leave some room for the black rice crème brûlée. Located in the Hilton DoubleTree, this is the place to make a reservation if your stay demands special-occasion dining.
The Bean Tree Café
For location, the Bean Tree Café can’t be beat. In the midst of the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, the café’s external tables are surrounded by beautiful native flora, open to the antics of western bowerbirds – and the 80-odd other bird species who call the gardens home. Home-made burgers, salads, tarts and cakes are on the menu. Work it off with a wander through the gardens’ self-guided walking trails, continuing up to Annie Myers Hill, where you can catch views of the town, the Todd River and the MacDonnell Ranges. Interpretive signs around the gardens tell you all about desert plants and Miss Pink, the founder of this enchanting place.
Join Alice’s cool kids at this funky retro-urban restaurant-bar-nightclub famous for its epic share plates and pumping rooftop. Stop by in the morning for a big hearty breakfast, at lunch for a halloumi burger or steak sanga, and settle in at night (it’s open until the wee hours) for a spread of tapas and a decent wine selection. Get your dance on to DJ sets and live music on the rooftop – depending on the night expect hip hop, funk, house, Afrobeats – or maybe you’ll hit open mic comedy night.
A self-confessed ‘travelling circus in the middle of Australia’, Monte’s is a local institution and an Alice must-visit. Part restaurant, part pub, part carnival, it hits the sweet spot between laid-back and lively, with that quintessential NT vibe. The menu covers the pub-style gamut from burgers and pizzas to curries and seafood. The leafy beer garden is a big drawcard – it’s family friendly, with a kids’ play area. Dogs are also welcome.
Tucked away in an arcade off the Todd Mall is this hidden gem, Alice’s very own little slice of Melbourne laneway coffee culture. With its kitschy-cool Instagrammable style, Page 27 is loved by locals for its all-day breakfast and top-rated coffee and chai lattes, with milkshakes and fresh juices for the kids. There’s a huge range of vegan, organic and gluten-free options, like buddha bowls and fancy salads (the corn fritters are not to be missed), nicely balanced by an awe- (and greed-) inspiring cake and pastry cabinet.
Alice Springs Brewing Co
The craft brewing scene arrived in Alice in 2018, with the establishment of its very own brewery creating beers custom-made for local conditions. Brews include the easy-drinking Centralian Ale, for example, or the light, fresh Almost Summer Ale – because it’s always ‘almost summer’ in Alice. Get a tasting paddle to sample as many of the current brews as possible. All that drinking is hungry work and here they focus on offering just one thing done well: luckily for us that’s thin-crust pizza, made with as much local produce as possible. If beer's not your thing, there’s also a great selection of boutique Aussie gins and other spirits.
If you’re planning a big night at the casino, the Lasseters complex on the south side of town has four restaurants as well as bars, a nightclub and poolside café. Our pick is Tali, the French-inspired fine dining restaurant – think pan-fried barramundi with salsa verde, slow-cooked pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta and a wagyu rump with caramelised onion jus for two. Forgo (if you can) the scrumptious selection of sweets to opt for the platter of premium Australian cheeses.
An unexpected corner of Italy in an Alice Springs carpark, serving up classic pizza from a Neapolitan-style wood-fired oven on the back of a trailer. It’s all about authenticity: dough (made using Italian flour) naturally fermented for up to 48 hours, a sauce of Italian San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and fior di latte cheese to top. Simple, well-sourced ingredients and a perfect, bubbly-blackened crust. This food truck is a local favourite: go early because they sell out.
Float above the desert in a hot-air balloon
There’s no better way to get a sense of the vastness of this majestic landscape than in the profound silence of the desert at dawn, by hot-air balloon. The price to pay: a very early-morning transfer to the launching place, around 15km south of Alice. But as the balloon gently lifts to its cruising altitude of around 1000 feet (depending on weather conditions), you’ll have the chance to snap once-in-a-lifetime sunrise pics and perhaps see kangaroos and wild camels rising to start their day. Float on the breeze for 10 to 20km, and celebrate your safe return to the red earth with a light sparkling wine breakfast.