Alice Springs: Overnight in the ‘big smoke’ of central Australia

With a population of under 30,000 people, when our tour guide joked that Alice Springs is sometimes referred to as ‘the big smoke’ of the Northern Territory, I did have a chuckle.

However, after days of seeing barely any other people and little else but red dirt along the Stuart Highway I had to secretly agree that arriving into a town with proper shops and *gasp* restaurants was pretty exciting.

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Alice Springs is somewhat of a gateway to the outback of central Australia and many tours bound for Uluru leave from here, since the town has an airport with flights to all major Australian cities.

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Being an Australian I have to admit I wasn’t too keen to visit the Alice Springs Reptile Centre having seen most of the species before, but as the majority of my tour group was European/British the novelty was there for them and it was lovely seeing their excitement at witnessing native animals for the first time.

A highlight for me while in town though was a visit to the top of ANZAC hill, which offers a wonderful view of Alice Springs.

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Our tour guide then took us to Simpson’s Gap just before sunset, a nice location with a permanent waterhole within the MacDonnell Ranges.

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A few of our group actually opted to do a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the ranges and said it was a truly breathtaking experience.

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Included in our Contiki tour was an Aboriginal Dreamtime and Bushtucker tour, located on the outskirts of the town.

The guide offered so much insight on how the local indigenous people have lived off the land with explanations of their foods and cultural heritage.

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Traditional damper- a sweet bread, cooked in the bush 

There were also a few Aboriginal people offering their art for sale and their works are beautiful – buying from the artist directly means you know they are getting a good price for their pieces and the prices were about a third of every shop we entered in the NT!

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We spent a couple nights in the Alice and for one of them tried out the Rock Bar for dinner and some drinks.

I was really impressed with the price for food – a huge and delicious chicken parmigiana with sides for $10!

Expect to pay the standard amount for drinks in Australia, at least 8 AUD for a pint but to be honest for somewhere so remote in location, I still don’t think that’s too unreasonable when you would pay the same in a large city here.

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One of the guys on our tour even ate a witchetty grub!

Most interestingly, a lot of Americans live in Alice Springs since the US government has some sort of base here – pretty random!

The town is quite a pleasant place (I actually preferred it much more than Darwin) and makes for a good base if you’re out to explore Uluru and beyond.

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