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About Alice Springs - Accommodation - Tours & what to do - Transport & car hire - Photos - Street map

Alice Springs

Alice Springs (also known locally as "the Alice") is one of Australia's most remote and isolated
tourism destinations, an oasis in Central Australia's vast desert located in the almost exact centre of the Australian continent.
Its nearest neighbouring sizeable population centres are Darwin at 1600 km away and Adelaide at a similar distance. Although the small town is located in an extremely remote place in the outback, it is a popular place to visit being an ideal base to explore some of Australia's greatest natural wonders; Ayers Rock or Uluru, the Olgas or Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell Ranges.
Aborigines make up about 18% of the town's population of 28000.

For many thousands of years the Alice Springs area and most of Central Australia was the territory of the Arrernte tribe. They used to call this area Mparntwe, and believed this area had been created by ancestral figures Ayepe-arenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye.

First European exploration in this area was in 1862 when John McDouall Stuart's expedition passed through on his way to the north coast, mainly for the purpose of mapping the country for future white settlement. His name lives on in the Stuart Highway that connects Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin.

The next major step in Alice Springs' history, and the main reason for the town's establishment at the time, was the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin. It was completed in 1872 and a telegraph repeater station was built at a permanent waterhole named Alice Springs.
Sir Charles Todd was the Postmaster General of South Australia at the time and the river that ran from the waterhole was named after his wife, up till then the official name of the town had been Sturt. Having a different name for the river and the town was found to be confusing and in 1933 the town name was offically changed from Stuart to Alice Springs. Another change had come to the town in 1929; the railway from Adelaide was completed and mechanical trains took over from the Afghan camel trains.

Europeans found it hard going doing the long distances through the hot and harsh outback desert terrain and a solution was found in bringing Afghans and camels to Australia.
This proved to be a brilliant idea and for many years between 1860 and 1929 Afghans used to drive their camel trains across the vast deserts to transport essential supplies to settlers, cattle stations, gold miners, and railway construction crews all over Central Australia. Evidence of this crucial part of the centre's history is still visible, date palms planted by the Afghans now grow wild and have become part of the landscape, and camels now also run wild and are estimated to number about half a million.
The ones in captivity are used to carry tourists on camel rides and they are also exported to Arabia, Aussie wild camels are actually of a better quality than they can find in Arabia or Africa!

Apart from a boom-and-bust gold rush period when gold was discovered at Arltunga in 1887, the town slowly grew over the years. The town got connected to the outside world in 1929 when the Adelaide to Alice railway line was completed and the famous Ghan started its service, it still took until 1987 for the town to be connected by a bitumen highway to Adelaide, and even longer for Alice Springs to be connected to Darwin by rail.

In October 2003, after more than a hundred years of talking about it, the 1420 km. N.T. railway from Alice Springs to Darwin was finally built and completed at a cost of $ 1.3 billion. Workers had to battle the desert heat and at times worked under big lights in the night and slept in the day, and had to negotiate with Aborigines to avoid sacred sites. The first freight train, measuring 1200 metres in length and carrying 4000 tonnes, left Adelaide on 15 January 2004 for the 43 hour and 2979 km. journey.
A crowd of 10 000 people welcomed the train on its arrival in Darwin on Saturday 17 January.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said the first journey along the 3000km railway was ``a dream for Australia come true'' , Prime Minister John Howard said; "this is a great moment is the history of Australia, this is a reminder of Australia at its best." Chris Corrigan, (a man who has made his fortune in the transport industry and could be better qualified to judge) said; they've spent $2 billion building a railway for five trains a week and a few cartons of beer and I expect the financial returns on that to be smaller than ticks' testicles. But for the first year of operations they carried more freight than had been anticipated.
It certainly provides a great way for travellers to see the Northern Territory outback in comfort. You can learn more about the amazing history of the Ghan at the Old Ghan Museum and Transport Hall of Fame.

Alice Springs is also home to a U.S/Australian Pine Gap joint defense satellite monitoring base that was built about 20 km. from the town in the 1960s, employing about 700 people that inject $12 million a year in to the local economy.

Nowadays Alice Springs is quite a modern town, to get your bearings go to the top of Anzac Hill for a great view over Alice Springs, and further out to the Eastern and Western MacDonnell Ranges.
The town is intersected by the Todd River, which is a dry sandbed for most of the year, but when the wet season rains hammer down flashfloods can change this rapidly, temporarily cutting access to parts of the town, and flushing out people that live and sleep in the riverbed. This river is also the location of one of Australia's interesting annual events, the Henley On Todd Regatta, a boat race in a dry river. Contestants run in boats that have no bottoms.
Todd Street Mall is the centre of Alice Springs and this is where you will find plenty of shops to buy your souvenirs, book your tours etc, and there are also some historic buildings worth looking at; such as Adelaide House and the John Flynn Museum. This man founded the Flying Doctor Service, a uniquely Australian institution providing medical care to vast outback areas too far from any other medical facilities.
A visit to the Flying Doctors visitors centre is a worthwhile thing to do, here you can learn about this amazing Australian institution and all proceeds of entry fees help to keep the Flying Doctors flying. You may have seen them in action in the Aussie TV series Flying Doctors that was popular in the 1980s that gave a pretty realistic view of the magnificent work they do.

Getting around the small town of Alice Springs is easy on foot, but there is also the bus called the 'Alice Wanderer' that stops off at the major attractions around the town, and places like Elkes Backpackers have a free shuttle bus to take you around the town as well.

Though it is a small town you may need at least a week here to fully appreciate this area, there is a wide variety of things to do in this small town, from camel riding and horse riding to hot air ballooning and four wheel drive safaris to Ayers Rock, the fascinating outback and Aboriginal settlements.

The weather in this desert town are predominantly dry with brilliant blue skies, most of the rain usually falls in the hotter months, roughly from October till March. The annual rainfall is only around 275 mm. Be aware in summertime that the heat can be extreme in the surrounding outback and make sure to drink plenty of water and to take it easy, heat exhaustions and dehydration are not uncommon this time of year, and Ayers Rock is closed to visitors when temperatures go too high, statistically the chance of suffering a heart attack here are higher than anywhere else in Australia. Alice Springs holds Australia's record for the hottest average temperature at 35.5C. The dry season is the best time to visit when temperatures are pleasant with mild evenings and warm days in the mid 20s. Be prepared for some other extremes too, if you camp in the desert in the dry season temperautures can drop to near frost levels!

Be aware that Ayers Rock or Uluru is not at Alice Springs, as some people think, it is a 450km drive from the town, see our Tours page for options on how to get there.

During your stay in Alice Springs you will get to see varying aspects of the local Aborigines, ranging from Aboriginal art at the local galleries, tours out to remote communities to learn about their culture, bush tucker etc. and a more unfortunate side of heavy drinkers living in the dry Todd River. With Alice Springs being a regional centre for a large area this is where Aborigines end up living who have been expelled from their tribe for misbehaviour. Locals often warn visitors to the town to avoid the area near the Todd River after dark.


Temperatures can jump up and down 20°C from minimum to maximum any day. In the summer the temperature often goes a bit over 40 C (but can go up to 48), while in winter it can plummet to as low as -7°C minimum (and has been reported to go as low as -10). The climate is arid, with an average rainfall of 275 mm, but the amount of rain can vary enormously from one year to the next. Although not much rain falls when it does fall then the Todd River often runs wild and camping Aborigines get washed downstream.
Today's weather:

Click for Alice Springs, Northern Territory Forecast


About Alice Springs - Accommodation - Tours & what to do - Transport & car hire - Photos - Street map

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