Friday, January 25, 2013

Alice Springs, little known city in the center of Australia

Driving to Alice Springs from Uluru,
we stopped at this red sand dune that leads to a salt lake.
Before deciding to visit Australia, I did not know much about Alice Springs, the largest city in central Australia. After leaving Uluru (Ayers Rock), we drove on the Stewart Highway for about six hours to reach this city of 28,000 people (stopping once at the only gas station/road house along the way). Alice Springs is a modern town with a pioneering history and hardy people: It’s a long way on a lonely highway to anywhere else, and for many, the heat, flies, and remoteness are causes enough to leave.
Why go there?

The drive between Uluru and Alice Springs includes several iconic outback parks with stunning scenery. If you want a vacation spot where you can truly get away from everything, Alice Springs is the perfect starting point from which to explore this unique and diverse region.
As we approach the city, we expect the semi-arid landscape. But we’re amazed by the magnificent and picturesque West MacDonnell MountainRanges that stretch to the east and west. These mountains form a backdrop for Alice Springs and provide many recreational and sight-seeing opportunities.

A variety of plants grow in the desert.
Visit the Desert Park
Don’t miss the Alice Springs Desert Park, one of the world's finest nature parks and a wonderful place to discover flora and fauna of this arid region. See the film called “The Changing Heart” which tells how the land developed. It ends with a dramatic lowering of the screen from the top to reveal the mountains outside--a spectacular vista previewing what we’ll see when walking through the park. Our audio devices explain that what seems to be dry and barren is actually full of life, and we begin to notice the variety of plants and animals that inhabit the desert.

Colorful birds live
in the desert, too.

Despite the heat--the temperature approaches 100 degrees near noon—the park is an excellent venue to educate visitors about the ecology of sand country, woodlands, and desert rivers. At the end of the trail we find a kangaroo area where the marsupials roam freely.
Other worthwhile experiences

Because of the city’s remoteness, the Royal Flying DoctorService opened in 1939 to provide routine medical services and evacuations to the indigenous communities in the isolated outback. “The World’s Largest Classroom,” a virtual learning center at the Alice Springs School of the Air, is another big enterprise in the city. Both of these are worth a visit.
Sculpture in Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
We walk from our hotel to Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, then follow trails through a wide array of native plants before heading to the Desert Park. We view the city from Anzac Hill, a memorial to lives lost in world conflicts, and imagine a superb sunrise or sunset view of the mountains from this vantage point. Other activities in the area include visiting historic buildings, riding mountain bikes, trekking, and dining or gambling at Lasseters Hotel Casino (check out Tuesday night specials).

Our stay was short, but if you’re there longer, you can take helicopter tours, ride emus or camels, play golf, or see the scenery from a hot air balloon. Take time to visit galleries that share Aboriginal stories through paintings and diverse artworks at Todd Mall, a downtown shopping area that covers multiple blocks.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read other travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel


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