Alice Springs is one of the best places to base yourself for some quintessential Outback experiences.
Alice and the Macdonnell Ranges have provided lots of the highlights of our four years in Australia. I don't think you can come to this area and not be moved by the landscape, there's just something about it. From gorge hiking to wildlife watching, to those incredible sunrises and sunsets, this region has it all. It's a must for any nature lovers itinerary.
Here's our suggestions for the best things to do on your trip to Alice Springs.
The 10 best things to do in Alice Springs
1. The Kangaroo Sanctuary
Who could resist that little face?
We had been dying to visit The Kangaroo Sanctuary ever since we started watching the BBC series 'Kangaroo Dundee'. Despite having incredibly high expectations we're happy to say they were exceeded.
Having the chance to cuddle kangaroo joey's Milly and Tilly was a dream come true, especially because in order not to disturb them by passing them around too much you get to hold them for 10 minutes at a time! : ) There is also the opportunity for some lucky people to feed some of the older joeys their milk which was another amazing experience.
You spend your visit walking through the beautiful bush land as the sun sets. To be honest it would be worth the visit just for that, it really is an incredible part of the world! You are constantly surrounded by the mob of kangaroos as Brolga (The KI Sanctuary owner) chats to you about the roos, wildlife conservation and anecdotes from years spent living in the bush.
You will also get the chance to see the huge male kangaroos, Monty is the current alpha, though for your safety during tours they are fenced off.
This wasn't just our favourite experience in Alice Springs, it was one of our most treasured experiences from the last four years exploring Australia. It's also a great cause, all the roos have been rescued by the sanctuary, most are saved from the mothers pouch after the have been knocked over by a car.
2. Simpson's Gap
Less than 20km from Alice Springs town centre you come to Simpsons Gap.
If you go at dawn or dusk there is a great chance of seeing the black footed rock wallabies.
They are quite difficult to spot so keep your eyes peeled.
It's a sacred spot for indigenous communities and a special place to sit quietly and take in the atmosphere. It's a very short 5 minute walk from the car park to the gorge.
Check out the National Parks website for details on their ranger led walks. We found it really brought the area to life.
3. Trephina Gorge
Trephina gorge was so good we visited twice.
There are a couple of different walking tracks to choose from. We did the Trephina Gorge walk (2km loop) and the Panorama walk (2.5km loop).
There is a third which takes you to John Hayes rockhole but it's a 9km one way track so you need the whole day for this one.
If you only have time for one track pick the Trephina Gorge walk, it gives you a great overview of the whole area and the views are breathtaking. There are plenty of incredible photo opportunities so make sure you've got plenty of space on your camera.
4. Float in a tube at Glen Helen
Tubing had a whole different meaning for us when we were living in London, and it's fair to say we wholly prefer the NT version.
If you're staying at Glen Helen Resort you can use their tractor tyres for free but if not grab yourself a floatie in advance and hit the water hole. It is a majestic place to while away the afternoon, the peace and serenity is like nowhere else.
5. Take in sunset at the Mount Sonder lookout
We visited the Mount Sonder lookout at sunset and also later in the evening for star gazing. It's worth doing both if you have the chance.
The view of the West MacDonnell ranges and Finke River are staggering, especially as the light turns the rock vivid red.
At night you can see the milky way, a spectacular sight set against the backdrop of the mountains.
Top tip for The Mount Sonder Lookout: it's only a 2 minute drive from Glen Helen Resort. Spend the night at Glen Helen so that you can catch a sunset and watch the stars. Driving back to Alice in the dark is not recommended due to wildlife on the roads.
6. Emily & Jessie Gap
Emily and Jesse Gaps are located close together about 10km east of Alice Springs.
Both give the opportunity to wonder through the sandy gorges in the dry season and take in some history through the aboriginal rock art that adorns the gorge walls.
The art has been preserved quite well and signs explain the 'Caterpillar trail' dream time story explaining how the landscape was formed.
Top tip for the gaps: If you're visiting in any season but Winter take a fly net. The flies were particularly bad around the gap but didn't bother us a bit with the nets.
7. The Telegraph Station
The telegraph station is just 4km north of the town centre, you can actually walk there on a dedicated walking/cycle path if you want to ditch the car for a day.
There are also a number of short but very worthwhile walking tracks. We completed a couple of them, our favourite being the Trig Hill walk. Not only is the scenery fantastic, especially from the trig itself, but there is plenty of wildlife too.
We saw kangaroos, rock wallabies and wallaroos (nope they aren't a cross breed as we had first assumed, they are a whole separate species, otherwise known as euros).
We also heard dingoes calling which was pretty exciting and made us feel like we were out in the wilds despite being so close to the town centre.
In addition, we saw some interesting looking bike tracks but as we didn't do them this time we can't comment further.
Contact Outback Cycling for details on the cycle trails and let us know if we should do them on our next visit!
Top tip for the Telegraph Station: Go early or late in the day for the best wildlife watching opportunities. We saw the majority of wildlife around the rocky sections of the Trig Hill walking track.
8. Take in the stillness of Ellery Big Creek at sunset
This was another spot we loved so much we went twice.
Despite neither sunset being the wild colours of most other sunsets we saw in the Outback we found the subtle purples and yellows mesmorising.
It's the perfect place to sit and contemplate. The above picture isn't posed, Ellery Creek just has that effect on you!
If you visit during the day it's also a great swimming spot and you can camp there at night too.
Top tip for Ellery Creek: Take your bathers and cool off in the perfect, if chilly, water hole.
9. Breakfast at Olive Pink Botanic Garden
Located close to Alice Springs town centre this was our favourite breakfast spot in the whole of the Northern Territory.
So good we actually went four times! Definitely visit in the morning not just for the brekkie but because each time we have we've seen lots of kangaroos and wallabies.
There are a few short walking tracks which offer some lovely views of the town centre and MacDonnell ranges.
Top tip for Olive Pink: We had time on our hands and completed all three walking trails but the one to go for with less time would be the Hill Walk (30-40 minutes return).
10. Cycle to Simpson's Gap
This was an experience we will never forget!
The Simpsons Gap bike path starts at Flynn's Grave, 7km from Alice Springs town centre, and extends for 17km until you reach Simpsons Gap.
We hired bikes from the YHA in town but they no longer offer rentals and advised hiring from Outback Cycling. We checked their website and the bikes look great and you can hire them from the town centre.
The scenery is absolutely beautiful and it feels very special to be cycling through the Outback, surrounded only by bush, with views of the MacDonnell Ranges.
The path is paved and in excellent condition which makes for pretty easy cycling.
We decided to do this cycle on a night with a full moon. It sounded like a very romantic idea, cycling through the desert lit only by moonlight. That is, if part way through the night the moon doesn't vanish behind thick cloud. Lesson learned! It was however pretty magical to be out in the calm of the night when lots of nocturnal animals begin venturing out after hiding from the heat of the day. We'd recommend the full moon cycle but be more sensible than us and check how the cloud cover is!
Top tip for cycling to Simpsons Gap: If we'd have planned more carefully we would have tried to get transport from Simpsons Gap back to town. This will mean you won't have to cycle back the way you came. If you can organise this it would be the ideal way of experiencing the bike path.
Alice Springs is a great base to visit the Outback in the Northern Territory and we've published a blog on our favourite shots of Uluru and the Outback. Your trip there will be a truly memorable experience.
Know before you go
Having a car in Alice Springs makes getting to the West and East McDonnells a lot easier. There’s virtually no traffic in the town (and no parking charges), so driving around is a breeze! We also loved driving on the Outback roads, taking in the views of the desert and mountains all around.
The roads are in great condition, so you can get away with a 2 wheel drive for your trip as well.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
We really liked two places and we couldn't choose between the two! So we made them both our pick!
Our Picks - Squeaky Windmill
Who wouldn't want to glamp in the Outback?! Squeaky Windmill is a little out of town and set has that outback setting you'd always dreamed of. Each of the tent face a huge red cliff and a dried up river bed, giving a perfect view to wake up to. They're kitted out with air con and each tent has their own bbq - it doesn't get more aussie than this.
In the winter the tents can get cold though (the Outback can drop to -1 C at night).
Our picks - DoubleTree Hilton
The Double Tree ticks all the boxes for a trip to Alice Springs: comfortable, clean rooms; central location and a pool to cool down in when it gets hot outside. It also won us over as it has an Indian restaurant in the hotel and it is only a 2 minute drive from our favourite breakfast place: Olive Pink.
Budget - YHA Alice Springs
You can't go wrong with a YHA and the Alice Springs franchise is a solid choice. It's central in town meaning you can get to most of the attractions, plus it is immaculately clean and comfortable. There are private rooms, but sadly none of them have private en-suite bathrooms.
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Have you visited Alice Springs or the West MacDonnell Ranges? Which of our tips would you most like to try out? Let us know in the comments.