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Alice Springs, NT

Fascinating town in the heart of the MacDonnell Ranges

In recent times, with the upgrade of the airport at Uluru, Alice Springs has become a bit of a tourist Cinderella. It was once the major entry point to Central Australia. Now it is often by-passed by tourists eager to see sunrise and sunset over Uluru and rush off to their next destination. That is a pity because a committed traveller could easily spend a week in Alice Springs and not see all the sights and attractions. It deserves this amount of time because of the extraordinary beauty of the ancient MacDonnell Ranges, the excellent walks in the area (which only should be attempted in the winter months), the idyllic gorges dotted along the MacDonnell Ranges, and the range of attractions (particularly the flora and fauna of the Desert Park) which are easily accessible from the town centre. It is the second largest town in the Northern Territory and still is an ideal starting point for any comprehensive overview of Central Australia because both Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) are within easy driving distance. Over the years Alice Springs has achieved almost mythical fame and has become a popular subject for poems, songs and novels of which the most famous is Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice in which Joe Harmon describes it as a 'bonza place with plenty of water'. It is much more than that today.

Location

On a sealed road Alice Springs is 1497km from Darwin, 1531km from Adelaide and 293 km north of the South Australian border on the Stuart Highway. From elsewhere it is endless kilometres across desert sands on bush tracks. It is 576 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Alice Springs was named after Lady Alice Todd, the wife of South Australia's Postmaster-General, Sir Charles Todd, who was the driving force behind the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin. The actual springs, which lie north-east of the town, were discovered in 1871 and one of the surveyors on the Overland Telegraph team, either William Whitfield Mills or John Ross, gave the site its name. In his remarkable Geographic Travels in Central Australia, the explorer Ernest Giles refers to Todd as the "scientific and well-known gentleman, Mr Todd, C.M.G., the pushing Superintendent of the South Australian Telegraph Company."

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Things to See and Do

Some Gentle Notes of Warning
Central Australia is not like the rest of the country. It is extremely isolated and prone to strange idiosyncrasies that need to be considered by travellers. Here are a few basic tips:

(1) you will pay much more for just about everything. As a general rule you will find that most goods and services are 30%-100% more expensive. This applies to food, restaurants, petrol, car hire. Everything.

(2) Car hire is prohibitively expensive mainly because all the major car hire companies have decided to provide a limited daily kilometre range of around 100km. There are no major car hire companies offering unlimited kilometres. 100km will get you nowhere. The distance from Alice Springs to Uluru return is approximately 880 km which, at 25 cents a kilometre for the last 780 km means that you will pay an additional $195 on top of the daily rate.

(3) Even in the middle of winter the temperatures during the day can soar above 30°C (which means hats, water and sunscreen should not be considered optional extras) and drop below freezing at night time.

(a) In the town
(b) to the east
(c) to the west
(d) to the south

(a) In the Town
Anzac Hill
A perfect starting point for any exploration of Alice Springs is Anzac Hill with its excellent lookout which offers a superb 360° panorama across the town to the Heavitree Gap and the MacDonnell Ranges. It is an ideal point to orient yourself. The Rev Harry Griffiths, who at the time was the President of the local RSL, designed the Anzac monument on the hill. There are also useful information boards which explain the geology of the area, the Aboriginal language groups who live in the area, and offers an excellent explanation of the Aboriginal names for the main landscape features around the town.

Adelaide House
Adelaide House in the Todd Mall was the first Alice Springs Hospital. The idea for a hospital was the brainchild of Sister Finlayson who arrived in Alice Springs in 1915 and was appalled that patients had to travel, either by cart or wagon, to Oodnadatta over 600 km away.

The hospital was designed and built by John Flynn between 1920-26. Flynn was full of innovative ideas and the hospital was cooled by a combination of air tunnels and wet hessian - this turned the building into a kind of huge Coolgardie safe. Not surprisingly Flynn built walls which were nearly 45 cm thick.

The Adelaide House Museum also includes the radio hut where Alfred Traeger (the South Australian inventor who liberated the outback with his famous wireless which was operated by pedalling a bicycle-like generator) and John Flynn made their first field radio transmission in 1926. It was also the site of the first field radio telegram transmission in Australia. Today Adelaide House has an interesting photographic display which includes the life of Flynn, the history of outback nursing, and the early history of the Central Australia. It is open from 10.00am-4.00pm and admission is by donation.

Flynn Memorial Church and the Royal Flying Doctor Base
Located in the Todd Mall, the Flynn Memorial Church was built to celebrate the life of the Reverend John Flynn. It was completed in 1956 and opened by the Prime Minister. Flynn established the Flying Doctor Service.

Today the Royal Flying Doctor Base is open for inspection at the southern end of Hartley Street. The base started operating in November 1939. The Commonwealth Department of Health provided a doctor and an aircraft was chartered from local identity 'Eddie' Connellan. The base was built with funds raised by the women of South Australia. It commemorates and celebrates the pioneer women of the outback. Today the grounds of the church are used by the local Arrernte people to display and sell their art works.

The Residency
Few people today realise that the Northern Territory has changed its geopolitical position many times starting with its being part of New South Wales, becoming part of South Australia and today having its own parliament. From 1927 to 1931 there was a separate territory called Central Australia and its administrative capital was Alice Springs. In 1928 The Residency was built on the corner of Parsons and Hartley Streets. It is still a fascinating model of how to keep cool in a desert climate with concrete floors laid onto the earth and a breezeway running right through the centre of the house. The first Central Australian Government Resident, John Charles Cawood, lived in The Residency. Today, it is open from 10.00am-2.00pm and contains artworks, items of natural science and territory history. The Museum and Art Galleries Board of the Northern Territory operate it.

Stuart Town Gaol
Located in Parsons Street, the very simple Stuart Town Gaol is the oldest government building in Alice Springs. It is a monument to Central Australian initiative and the difficulty of sourcing supplies. It was built between 1907-1909 with the roof was brought by camel from the railhead at Oodnadatta; the oak lintels being cut from local desert oak; and the stone being quarried from Heavitree Gap by local stonemason Jack Williams. It continued as a gaol until 1938. Before 1909 the town's prison was located at the Heavitree Gap Police Station which was built of local stone in 1888 but was abandoned because it was subject to flooding due to its proximity to the Todd River.

Hartley Street School
The Hartley Street School at 39 Hartley Street is now the home for the Alice Springs branch of the National Trust. It was built and opened in 1929 with a Miss Pearl Burton being the first teacher. In 1950 it was the site where the first School of the Air broadcast was made from.

Further along Hartley Street, between Stott Terrace and Stuart Terrace, there is a row of Old Government Homes which were designed and built in the 1930s when air conditioning was not available. They are an original solution to the harshness of summer in the Alice using a combination of cement with timber verandahs and using planted trees to provide shade from the blistering summer sun.

Memorial Cemetery
Located on Memorial Avenue behind the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct on Larapinta Drive is the Memorial Cemetery which, although a rather barren place, does have the gravestones of both Harold Lasseter (in the Church of England section) and Albert Namatjira (in the Lutheran section - and signposted). The Harold Lasseter gravestone is rather amusing. It depicts a wizened, lumpen, crouching old miner panning for gold with a bronze plaque with a long quotation from President Theodore Roosevelt. It is very strange. The inscription on the side of the grave reads 'Harold Lewis Bell Lasseter. Died in the Petermann Ranges on January 30 1931. His grave was located on December 14th 1957 by an expedition led by Lowell Thomas and Lee Robinson. This is his final resting place.' Lasseter was one of the Northern Territory's most fascinating characters. He claimed to have found huge reefs of gold in Central Australia and during the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, he managed to convince people to bankroll an expedition designed to return to the reef and mine its riches. The expedition failed to discover the reef and Lasseter died in the Petermann Ranges which can be seen in the distance from Kata Tjuka. His remains were eventually found by Aboriginal trackers who buried him in the ranges. In 1957 his grave was discovered; his body was exhumed; and he was reburied in the cemetery in June 1958.

Beyond Lasseter's grave, which is near the main gate, is the clearly signposted grave of Albert Namatjira, the famous watercolour painter who was born and grew up in Hermannsburg. It is in the Lutheran section of the cemetery. The gravestone features a rather beautiful set of nine tiles with one of Namatjira's most famous paintings of a ghost gum on the headstone. In front of the grave is a bronze plaque with the following inscription: "Albert Namatjira was a man of the Western Arrernte people. He was born in Hermannsburg in 1902 and died in Alice Springs in 1959.

"He began painting in water colours at the age of 33 and became famous during his own lifetime for his beautiful painting of the country west of Alice Springs. Other Aboriginal people from the Hermannsburg area followed, founding the Hermannsburg school of water colourists.

Albert's work is internationally known and has become extremely valuable. Not only is he the most famous Aboriginal artist Australia has known, but he was a wonderful Central Australian man who expressed a rare artistic genius in a social context of poverty, discrimination and difficulty."

On the headstone is the inscription "Altjiraka nguangiberantama jinga nama nana jinga namanga" which translated means "By the grace of God I am what I am". It is from 1 Corinthians 15, 10a.

Albert Namatjira died in the Alice Springs Hospital on 8 August, 1959.

Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
In 1871-1872 a repeater station was built at Alice Springs - the first European building in the town and located close to the original springs which give the town its name - to relay messages from Darwin to Adelaide. It was the first European building constructed in Central Australia. It operated until 1932. After that it was used as a school for Aboriginal children and during World War II it was used by the Australian Army. It became an historical reserve in 1962. Today it is open for inspection from 8.00am - 5.00pm. Built of local stone the station consisted of the postmaster's residence, an observatory and store room, the telegraph room and barracks. There are a number of walking trails from Anzac Hill to the Telegraph Station. A downloadable brochure is available at http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/6659/ASTS_000.pdf.

Henley-on-Todd Regatta
Given that the annual median rainfall of Alice Springs is only 237.6 mm the Todd River, which runs through the town, is mostly a dry creek bed. Some wit (actually it was Reg Smith in 1962), thinking of the rather posh rowing regatta on the Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire, decided there should be an Alice Springs equivalent and created the famous Henley-on-Todd Regatta which is held every August. The race is notable because the "boats" have to be raced, or run, along a sandy, dry river bed. It is definitely worth experiencing. For more information check out http://www.henleyontodd.com.au.

Camel Races
If you have never seen the sheer craziness and irrationality of camel racing then make sure you are in Alice Springs when the annual Lasseter's Camel Cup races are on. They are held at Blatherskite Park each July. There is a website: http://www.camelcup.com.au/

John Flynn's Grave
There is a great story which hangs around John Flynn's grave which is located 5 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive. Flynn is a truly iconic outback figure. Realising the needs of people living and working in the outback he successfully persuaded the Presbyterian Church to establish the Australian Inland Mission to bring "medical, social and religious services to isolated outback communities." By 1928 a man named Alfred Traegar had invented the pedal powered radio transmitter and that same year the AIM set up the first flying doctor base in Cloncurry in western Queensland. Flynn died in 1951 and his ashes were brought to Alice Springs. In 1952 a huge 8.13 tonne boulder was taken from Karlu Karlu (the Devil's Marbles) and placed on top of Flynn's ashes. It is a frightening comment on the cultural insensitivity of the time. For over twenty years the traditional owners of the Devil's Marbles, the Warumungu and Kaytej people, fought for the stone's return. Eventually the problem was solved when the Arrernte people, acknowledging Flynn's contribution to life in the outback, agreed to replace the original stone with a similar stone from a local Caterpillar dreaming site. The stones were replaced on 4 September, 1999.

The story has more twists. The original gravestone had a sign with the inscription:  'The Very Reverend John Flynn (1880-1951) Presbyterian Minister and Missionary first visited the Northern Territory in 1912 at the time when the Inland two-thirds of Australia had no minister of religion, no doctor and no nurse'. It has been removed because it was just plain wrong. The Lutherans had been at Hermannsburg since 1877 and the remarkable Pastor Carl Strehlow has been ministering to the Arrernte Aborigines since 1894. Today there is a neutral plaque with a list of Flynn's positions below the rock. It is worth visiting. 'Flynn of the Inland' was a significant figure and the controversy surrounding his burial site says much about changing perceptions and attitudes in Central Australia.

Alice Springs Desert Park
An excellent opportunity to experience the flora of the desert in all its diversity by following an easy and flat walking trail which winds through three distinct desert habitats. Here are representative examples of Desert Rivers, Sand Country and the Woodland habitat. There are moments when you see a small clay pan or saltpan surrounded by the flora unique to that environment. There are also excellent displays of birds and reptiles (the bird show in the amphitheatre twice daily is a not-to-be-missed highlight) but it is the flora which is special. It is a perfect introduction to the vast deserts which spread out in every direction from Alice Springs. In summer the Desert Park should be visited in the early morning or the cool of the evening. Check out http://www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au/ or tel (08) 8951 8788.

Other attractions in the region:
(a) To the East
1. Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park
Located only 10 km east of Alice Springs, the Emily and Jessie Gaps are small gaps in the Heavitree Range. They are a sacred site for the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal people and are central to the Caterpillar Dreaming story which explains many of the surrounding features. The caterpillars are credited with creating both the gaps in the MacDonnell Range. Visitors can inspect a large rock paintings on the right hand side as you enter Emily Gap.  It depicts the caterpillar dreaming. It is common to see large flocks of native budgerigars drinking from waterholes. For more information check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/emilyjessie#.U19dzOaSwk4

2. Trephina Gorge Nature Park
Located 85km east of Alice Springs is Trephina Gorge Nature Park which is known for its dramatic quartz cliffs and rivers and creeks watercourses lined with River Red Gums. There is also a glorious Ghost Gum which is believed to be the largest in the eastern MacDonnell Ranges. Many consider Trephina to be the finest of all the gaps, gorges and big holes in the ranges.  A detailed map and extensive information is available at http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/10606/Trephina-Gorge.pdf

3. N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park
Lying beyond Ross River Resort, N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park is only available to those visitors with 4WD vehicles. The gorge, a vital part of the culture of the Eastern Arrernte people, is worth inspecting as it contains some 5,900 rock carvings, art and shelter sites. Some of these petroglyphs may be 10,000 years old. There is a 1.5 km walking track (one hour return) goes into the gorge and is complemented by interpretative signage. For more information check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/10593/NdhalaGorge.pdf

 4. Arltunga
Arltunga, or more correctly, Arltunga Historical Reserve, is a 5,000ha area of desert which lies 110 km east of Alice Springs. It has the distinction of being the first substantial European settlement in Central Australia. It is now a thoughtfully preserved mining ghost town.

The explorer, David Lindsay, making his way from Port Darwin to the coast of South Australia, passed through in 1887 and noted that there appeared to be 'rubies' in the area. That year miners found alluvial gold downstream from Paddy Rockhole and fossickers started arriving. Many of them had to walk the 600 km from Oodnadatta. The goldrush was short lived and by the early 1890s the town was deserted. It was revived when a Government Battery and Cyanide Works was constructed in 1896. The battery kept operating until about 1916. It was never large and the desert conditions were harsh and unforgiving. By 1911 the population of Arltunga was only 56 and by 1933 it had dropped to 25. The problems of the town were a lack of water, extreme desert isolation and the difficulty of obtaining equipment and supplies. If you head left from the Arltunga Bush Hotel there is a loop road which leads firstly to the Visitor Centre, the Old Police Station, the Government Works, the Mines and the White Range Cemetery. Remarkably, because of the intense dryness of the area, many remnants of the original town - old tin cans, bottles, bits of houses - are still in evidence. It is a reminder of what gold fossickers would put up with when the prospect of gold was in a district. For more information check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/10578/Arltunga.pdf . The Arltunga Ranger Station can be contacted at (08) 8956 9770.

(b) To the West
1. Simpsons Gap National Park
You can get totally "gapped" out if you drive and stop at every Gap, Gorge, Pound and Chasm but this is the closest 'gap' to Alice Springs and is worth a visit because it is easy and, if you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you are likely to see rock wallabies on the scree slopes at the beginning of the gap. Simpsons Gap is located only 8 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive. It is part of the Simpsons Gap National Park which covers 30,950 ha of typical MacDonnell Ranges landscape. There is a short walk from the car park to the waterhole. Visitors can admire the ghost and red river gums and experience the silence of the gap. Over the years the gap has changed its name. It was originally known as Simson Ga. Then in 1939 Dr. C. T. Madigan made the minor change to Simpsons Gap, a nod towards A. A. Simpson who had helped to organise an expedition across the desert which was named Simpsons Desert.

2. Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm is a privately owned 'gap' or 'chasm' which is located 50 km west of Alice Springs. Located 9 km from Larapinta Drive on a sealed road, it is owned and managed by the Angkerle Aboriginal Corporation and Iwupataka Land Trust and a $10.00 entrance fee (in 2013) is charged.  There is a kiosk and a picnic area near the entrance. The walk into the chasm along the river bed takes about 20 minutes and during that time the walk becomes more difficult as the gorge becomes narrower and narrower and the boulders become larger. If you want to get a sunlit photo of the gorge you really do have to walk at noon. Otherwise the sun is on one of the sheer cliffs but the other is hidden in shadow. Although now owned and run by the local indigenous community the chasm still has the name of Mrs Ida Standley, Alice Springs' first school teacher and, according to local folklore, the first white woman to walk through the gorge.

3. Ellery Creek Big Hole
There is no better way to understand how ancient Australia is than to stand at Ellery Creek Big Hole. Above the waterhole is a cliff face which has been twisted into improbable shapes. A notice board near the car park explains that 'All around you there is evidence of a great mountain building episode in the formation of Central Australia. You can see tortured folds of rock which formed deep in the earth and when great heat and pressure pushed up 10 000 metre mountains but 350 million years of erosion have almost worn them away exposing the deeper folded rocks. These rocks were formed from mud and sand which were deposited as flat layers on the bed of an inland sea.' If Australia is not the oldest continent it is certainly the flattest. Only 6 per cent has an elevation above 700 metres. It is located 88 km west of Alice Springs on a sealed road. The first European to reach the 'Big Hole' was the explorer Ernest Giles in 1871 who named it after "our well-known and esteemed astronomer, Mr Ellery, F.R.S."

4. Serpentine Gorge
Many people bypass Serpentine Gorge simply because they have been so impressed by Glen Helen and Ormiston. This is a pity because Serpentine, known to the locals as Ulpma, is a sacred site to Western Arrernte people. It can be reached by a short, easy walk (1.3km/30min) to the gorge and the waterhole. The Gorge is home to several rare plant species including the Centralian flannel flower and MacDonnell Ranges cycad. The walk to the water hole is easy. It’s great for a quick paddle or swim to escape the summer heat.

There is also the Lookout Walk which takes the visitor to a viewing spot which not only looks up the gorge but also offers panoramic views across the West MacDonnells. Check out http://www.macdonnellranges.com/Serpentine-Gorge-visitors-information-guide.htm for more details.

5. Ormiston Gorge and Pound National Park
Ormiston Gorge is located 135 km west of Alice Springs and only 11 km from Glen Helen. It is located on Ormiston Creek a tributary of the mighty Finke River. Many regard Ormiston Gorge as the most beautiful of all the gorges in the West MacDonnells. Certainly the gorge attracted the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira who depicted it in a number of his paintings. The park comprises the Gorge itself and beyond it the Ormiston Pound. In both the visitor can expect to see spectacular river red gums and ghost gums as well as euros, rock wallabies, reptiles in the summer months and dingoes if you decide to camp for the night. The park has a number of excellent sign posted walks ranging from the five minute waterhole walk near the Information Centre through the popular Ghost Gum Lookout walk (about 20 minutes one way - it offers dramatic views of the gorge) and the 3-4 hour Ormiston Pound walk. It is also possible to swim in the waterhole but it is very cold. Check out http://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/places/ormiston-gorge and download their excellent Ormiston Gorge and Pound Fact Sheet.

6. Glen Helen
Glen Helen, located 132 km west of Alice Springs on Namatjira Drive, is one of the natural wonders of Central Australia. A truly beautiful waterhole edged by red quartzite cliffs. Although the name originally referred only to the glen through which the Finke River flows today it has come to mean the Glen Helen Resort, the gorge and the surrounding 368 ha Nature Park. Apart from the obvious beauty of the gorge and its cliffs the fauna includes black-footed rock wallabies, euros and reptiles.

Visitors are attracted to the Glen Helen Nature Park because of the opportunities for walking (it is part of the Larapinta Trail - the trail is best travelled from April to October. For more information check out http://www.larapintatrail.com.au.); to go swimming in the waterhole (remarkably it can reach depths of over 30 metres and is never used by the local Aborigines who see it as sacred and connected to the Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent); to take photographs of the spectacular scenery which characterises Glen Helen gorge and waterhole; and to enjoy the grandeur and beauty of this remarkable section of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

7. Hermannsburg
The Hermannsburg Mission, as it was originally known, is the most famous of all of the religious missions to Aborigines largely because of the iconic role played by the settlement's most famous son, Albert Namatjira, whose landscape watercolours were an integral feature of the lounge room wall of so many Australian middle class homes during the 1960s and 1970s.

Located 127 km south-west of Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive, Hermannsburg is the centre of a significant Aranda Aboriginal community with some 300-400 living in and around the township and another 600 living in camps beyond the community. It is an important historic settlement which can boast that it was the first Christian community in Central Australia; it was a monument to the building skills of the Lutheran missionaries; and it was a vital part of the early understanding of the culture of the Arrernte people.

The National Trust classifies the heart of Hermannsburg, known as the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct, because it contains a number of significant buildings and it is the first European-built settlement in Central Australia. The Heritage Precinct consists of 16 remaining buildings and a cemetery on 2.5 hectares of land. Although the Lutheran missionaries first arrived at Hermannsburg in 1877 the buildings, most of which were build by Pastor Carl Strehlow, date from the 1890s. Using galvanised iron, stones from the nearby Finke River, mulga logs and lime made in a locally constructed kiln, Strehlow built a school, mess house, manse and living quarters. The church, which is now a museum, is distinctive because Strehlow planted two gums in front of it and erected the church bell between them.

Hermannsburg is an excellent place to purchase authentic Aboriginal art. The artists (mostly elderly women from the local community) work on their art and the end products are sold without the commercial intervention which characterises all the art sold in the galleries in Alice Springs. There are watercolours in the style of Namatjira and dot paintings.

8. Finke Gorge National Park
Located 19 km south of Hermannsburg and 138 km from Alice Springs, the Finke Gorge National Park was declared a national park in 1967. It covers an area of 45,856 ha. The major attraction in the park is the unique Palm Valley with its 12,000 palms (of which 3,000 are adult specimens) of the genus Livistona mariae (a variety of cabbage tree palm). The palms, which are an anomaly in such a harsh desert environment, date from about 15,000 years ago when the centre of Australia was much wetter. The nearest similar palms are found on the coasts of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The explorer Ernest Giles was the first European to see the palms. In 1872 he attempted to cross Australia from South Australia to the coast of Western Australia and during that journey he travelled up the Finke River. He saw Palm Valley but decided not to enter it because of an impending storm and the realisation of the dangers if the Finke River flooded. Consequently Palm Valley was first explored by Europeans in 1877 when people started travelling into the lands around the Hermannsburg mission.

As early as 1923 parts of Palm Valley were designated a flora and fauna protection area. The park has over 400 plant types and more than 30 of those are considered rare. For both a useful fact sheet and a 4WD Route Information Sheet which can be easily downloaded, check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/finkegorge#.U19ef-aSwk4

10. Palm Valley Walk
The Dreamtime story of Palm Valley, known to the Arrernte people as Pmolankinya, is connected to a disastrous bushfire in which many ancestors were burned. The younger men were carried off in flames by strong winds and dropped in this area where they became palms and cycads. According to Arrernte laws the palms blackened trunks represent the suffering of these fire ancestors while the palms leaves represent the long hair of the young men.

The Palm Valley Walk is 2 km long and takes about 1 hour. It is an easy walk along the creek bed and to the main concentrations of the rare red cabbage palms (Livistona mariae). There is a longer 5 km walk.

This is 4WD country. The last 16 km is along the rocky bed of the Finke River and its tributary which flows through Palm Valley. The drive is exceptionally beautiful. The red rock cliffs rise on either side of the gorge in twisted and fantastical shapes. The sky is impossibly blue and the valley has glorious stands of ghost gums. For more details check out http://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/things/activity/50

11. Larapinta Trail
The Larapinta Trail stretches for over 223 kilometres along the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs west to Mt Sonder. It has been created so that walkers, not wanting to complete the 223 km, can join and depart along the way. It has been divided into twelve sections each of one or two day duration.

The trail begins at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station and traverses the gaps, gorges and steep ranges of the West MacDonnells until it arrives at the 360 degree dramatic view from Mt Sonder - the highest point and end of the Trail. All walkers need to have a good level of fitness and must be well prepared and equipped.

Camping out under the desert stars is a highlight of the trail experience. The trail is best travelled from April to October. For more information check out http://www.larapintatrail.com.au/.

(c) To the South
1. National Road Transport Hall of Fame, the Old Ghan Train Railway Museum and the Kenworth Dealer Truck Museum.
Clearly signposted off the Stuart Highway 8 km south of Alice Springs, this three-in-one museum experience claims, with justification, to be "the most comprehensive land transport museum in the southern hemisphere." The first museum on the site was the Old Ghan Train Railway Museum which was completed as a Bicentennial project in 1988. It is a celebration of the old narrow gauge railway from Port Augusta which served Alice Springs from 1929 to 1980. Today the museum consists of a 1930s style railway station (it is modelled on the plans for a station at Alice Springs that was never built), a tea room, a book and souvenir shop and a section of the old train and its carriages. The visitor can hop aboard the old train, explore the train's dining car (built in 1940) and check out both a First and Second Class sleeping compartment.

Just beyond the Old Ghan museum is the National Road Transport Hall of Fame which was opened in 1995. It is an unusual museum. The collection's "policy is to show vehicles as they were in their working lives, including the crude modifications and adaptations that "bush mechanics and engineers" had to undertake to ensure they could perform in Australia's harsh working environment ... Our charter is to cover all forms of transport, from the camel strings of old through to today's modern road trains and stretchliner coaches." It has a huge range of trucks and can, quite literally, keep an enthusiast engrossed for hours.

The third museum is the Kenworth Dealer Museum, a huge area devoted entirely to the history of the Australian designed and built Kenworth trucks. It records the company's history from the first truck in 1971 to the 30,000th in 2005. For more details check out http://www.roadtransporthall.com.

2. Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve
Located 39 km south of Alice Springs on the unsealed Old South Road, the Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve is a small area (only 6ha) which contains a large number of impressive Aboriginal petroglyphs. Because of the weathering of the soft sandstone it is not known how old the engravings are. For many years it was believed that the carvings were so old that the traditional owners did not know their meaning but in recent times the senior Arrernte custodians have claimed that the carvings are sacred and too dangerous to reveal to people not initiated into Aboriginal law. Most of the carvings are abstract designs of circles, spirals and wavy lines which have been pecked into the sandstone. The custodians request that visitors do not climb on the rocks.

3. Pine Gap
You won't find Pine Gap listed on any of the tourist 'must see' lists for Alice Springs but its place in Australian history is so significant that it is certainly worth noting. It is about 20 km south of Alice Springs and for those who weren't around in the 1960s and 1970s it is a classified Australia and US joint defence space research facility which is, reputedly, one of the most important satellite tracking stations in the USA's global defence. It became operational in 1969 and is characterised by huge white balls which can't be seen from the road. It is operated by the CIA and specialises in collecting information military operations in Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Intelligence is gathered by satellites and collected at Pine Gap. It has almost certainly been used extensively during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

4. Camels Australia
Camels Australia is located 90 km south of Alice Springs at Stuarts Well on the Stuart Highway. The farm offers three easy camel rides - a short ride around the enclosure, a half hour journey into the desert and an hour trek - for those who are prepared to brave enough to clamber onto the back of a camel. Why do it? Because for nearly a century, courtesy of the great Afghan camel drivers, this was the most effective mode of transport available in Central Australia. For more details check out http://www.camels-australia.com.au.

5. Rainbow Valley
The Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is located 75 km south of Alice Springs. It is accessible either by guided tour or by 4WD. It has three great attractions: (a) it is rich in Aboriginal history with excellent Arrernte rock carvings and paintings. Also the rock formation called Ewerre is a registered sacred site (b) it is excellent for walking (particularly in the winter months) with unusual and dramatic rock formations of which Mushroom Rock is the most notable and (c) it is called Rainbow Valley because of the different bands of rock which include red, orange and purple and the sandstone cliffs and rocky outcrops look superb in the early morning and at sunset.

6. Henbury Meteorite Conservation Park
Henbury Meteorite Conservation Park is located 145 km south of Alice Springs (132 km on the Stuart Highway and then the last 13km is on dirt road. There are a number of meteorite craters and the two largest ones have left depressions in the ground which are 180 metres across and about 15 metres deep. Scientists estimate that the meteorite, made up of nickel (8%) and iron (90%), crashed about 4,700 years ago.

There is a self-guided walking tour around the craters which takes about twenty minutes. A signpost at the site explain how 'one meteorite entering our atmosphere at over 40 000 km/h survived its flaming fall and slammed into the ground here several thousand years ago...the Henbury Meteorite split into several pieces as it sped through the atmosphere...As each of these pieces was only the size of a fuel drum you can imagine how great was the impact that formed such large craters. Eight lighter fragments fell short gouging out smaller craters to the southwest in line with the meteors flight path.' For detailed information check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/henbury#.UZmtexwtZS8.

7. Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve
Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve is located 160 km south of Alice Springs on an unsealed road and it is only accessible by 4WD. It lies on the edge of the Simpson Desert. The sight of a solitary 50m high red and yellow sandstone outcrop is worth the effort. For early explorers this was a vital landmark. It was first sighted by John McDouall Stuart in 1860 who named it after one of his expedition sponsors, James Chambers. Alfred Giles and John Ross who, in 1870, led the second expedition to traverse the country carved their initials on the Pillar (early examples of vandalism?) and if you look carefully you can find 'AC 1870' and 'J Ross'. In Aboriginal mythology the pillar is the Gecko ancestor Itirkawara who took a woman of the wrong skin group, was banished and, in humiliation, rested in the sand dunes where he turned into the pillar. For more details check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/chamberspillar#.UZmv8BwtZS8.

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History

* Before the arrival of Europeans the Alice Springs area had been the home of the Arrernte Aborigines for at least 10 000 years. This is the equivalent of 330 generations of indigenous people in the area.

* The first Europeans through the area were John McDouall Stuart and his expedition who passed through the MacDonnell Ranges to the west of Heavitree Gap during their 1861-1862 expedition.

* It wasn't until 1871 that the men building the Overland Telegraph first discovered the Todd River. They also located the springs, after which the town in named, which lie to the north-east of the town. The surveyors for the Overland Telegraph were William Whitfield Mills and John Ross. Mills wrote that he had discovered a pass through the MacDonnell Ranges (Heavitree Gap) which led to an area 'with numerous waterholes and springs, the principal of which is the Alice Spring which I had the honour of naming after Mrs. Todd.' At the time Sir Charles Todd was the Postmaster-General of South Australia. In that role he had been influential in the construction of the Overland Telegraph. Lady Alice Todd was his wife.

* In 1871-1872 a telegraph repeater station, the first European building constructed in Central Australia, which was built near the actual Alice Spring. The station, which lies 3 km north of the town, was the catalyst for the formation of the town.

* In 1888 the town was formally surveyed and named Stuart, after the explorer, John McDouall Stuart. The name was changed to Alice Springs in 1933.

* The goldrush at Arltunga in 1902 saw a brief boom but the population was less than 50 as late as 1927.

* The town's importance as an administrative centre for Central Australia can be measured by the arrival of government services. A gaol was built in 1907, a school in 1914 and the first Australian Inland Mission nurse arrived in the town in 1915.

* In 1929 the railway, known as the Central Australian Railway ('The Ghan'), saw the population increase to 467 by 1933.

* Today Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory and a thriving tourist destination.

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Visitor Information

Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre, 60 Gregory Terrace, Alice Springs, tel: (08) 8952 5800.

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Useful Websites

Northern Territory Tourism has a useful site: http://www.travelnt.com/alice-springs-and-surrounds and Tourism Central Australia has a detailed site at http://www.discovercentralaustralia.com/

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