A friend of ours recently said something along the lines of this: “The first day you’re into a place you don’t do anything. You drive, set up on the site, and talk about what’s there that you want to see. Then you go to the information centre and find out what’s really there.”
Wise words! What would we do without information centres? It always blows my mind when I see how much there is to do that doesn’t find its way into tourist literature.
That’s exactly what it was like at Alice. We ended up with an armload of pamphlets and the realisation that there was no way we were going to fit it all in! The Telegraph Station, the Desert Park, the Transport Hall of Fame, Flying Doctor service, School of the Air, Hot Air Ballooning… and of course, Todd Mall and Bojangles Tavern! (Uh… how many weeks were we allocating to Alice, exactly…???)
Even the MacDonnell Range Caravan Park had a whole bunch of activities on that you didn’t even have to leave the park for, including a didgeridoo player that entertained everyone hugely!
The MacDonnell Range is a backdrop to everything in Alice, and Simpson’s Gap is so close that it’s a ‘must-see’. You can drive there or, if you’re feeling fit, cycle along the well-maintained bicycle track. (Being lazy old geezers, we drove.) Like everyone else, we’re constantly snapping away and adding dozens of photos to our ever-growing file to record our trip around Australia. The red walls of Simpson’s Gap and the red-to-purple colours of the MacDonnell Range provide never-ending photo opportunities. Go out a bit further and you can visit Standley Chasm (which has a café and gift shop) but there is also an entrance fee, since the Chasm is in a private reserve owned by a Land Trust.
Outback Ballooning was a fantastic experience – and surprisingly, not so much because of the experience of ballooning itself, drifting silently across the landscape (well, almost silently… there’s always the occasional roar of the flames sending hot air upwards to keep you aloft) but because of all the preparation and packing up! I’d never even thought about all the palaver that goes along with getting a balloon into the air.
It’s necessary to release small balloons at the airport to assess wind direction, then we had to drive to an appropriate launching spot (chosen on the basis of wind direction), then get the balloon off the trailer and unrolled/filled with air, then get the people on board… and landing is another experience out there on its own!
And we didn’t mind the bubbly and snacks that followed a successful landing, either! By then the sun had come up enough to warm us. (When we left the caravan park it was 8 degrees; at the airport it was only 5 degrees. Brrr. Luckily we’d been warned and we were all snug in thick jackets. (Except for one girl who was clad in a thin, fashionable hoodie and spent most of the time shivering and jumping up and down in a vain attempt to keep warm.)
We also visited the old Telegraph Station outside Alice… which we were intrigued to find is the site of the actual Alice Springs. We were even more intrigued when we read the sign out there and found that it’s not actually a spring at all, but “a depression in which water collects” (or something similar… I’m quoting from memory.) As Rob pointed out, it wouldn’t really have the same effect if you called the town ‘Alice’s Depression’, so I guess they made the right choice!
The Desert Park, only 10 minutes from the centre of Alice Springs, is a terrific place; filled with people who love their work and are delighted to pass on their knowledge and expertise to visitors. There’s a café and a good-sized gift shop so you can take away a memento of your visit, but the real enjoyment lies in walking around the park and seeing the flora, fauna, and desert habitats. You can pick up an audio guide (available in English, German, Japanese and French) to do a self-guided tour. For me there were two things that are definitely ‘don’t miss’: the Nocturnal house and the free flying bird demonstration in the Nature Theatre. You can find out more – including entry fees – from their excellent website at http://www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au
Now, on to something very important… a good pub!
Bojangles Tavern isn’t just any old pub. It has heaps of cool stuff (memorabilia) on all the walls, tucked into corners and suspended from the ceiling. And more outside in the beer garden. There are stools with tractor seats gathered around tables (with holes in the middle so you can throw your trash (and peanut shells, from the free peanuts inside Ned Kelly’s belly just inside the door) into the barrel beneath. And (how cool is this!!!) it streams live to the web, so you can tell your friends you’ll be there and they can look to see what you’re up to. Wine and technology: one of my favourite combinations. (Okay, for Rob it’s beer and memorabilia. One geek in the family is enough.)
As I started by saying, there’s soooo much at Alice that it’s not possible to fit it all into a few days (you’d be pushing it to do it in a few weeks). However, we do plan to come back via Alice, after our trip to Kings Canyon and Uluru, so I’m sure I can catch up on more of it then.
And maybe another meal or two at Bojangles…