Alice Springs

Town Profile : Alice Springs

Alice Springs

 

After receiving the shocking wakeup call that we we’re suddenly south of the Tropic of Capricorn, we rolled into Alice Springs cold and hungry.  Our first stop was pizza, then a hot shower at the town centre before a beer at the pub.  We then made contact with our first Helpx host.

 

We did two Helpx jobs while we were in Alice.  The first one was a landscaping gig for a family of four.  We stayed in their granny flat for four nights and gave their garden a lovely makeover.  For the remainder of our time in Alice, we stayed with Derren, his housemate and their two dogs.  Dave worked at his steel yard while Juz cooked and cleaned at home.

 

Alice Springs is sits in the heart of Australia’s Red Centre and is flanked by the MacDonnell Ranges on either side.  With a red sandy desert stretching for kilometers in all directions, Alice is an iconic Australian town and is the gateway to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.

 

Alice Springs

 

Fast Facts

  • Alice Springs is the third largest town in the Northern Territory
  • The population sits at around 28,000, which is about 12% of the Territory’s population
  • Alice Springs supposedly has 270 mm of rain a year but 70% of years are below average.  It’s a land of droughts and flooding rains

 

Alice Springs

 

History

Arrernte are the original inhabitants, who refer to Alice as Mparntwe, and believe that the MacDonnell Ranges were carved by giant caterpillar spirits during the creation time.  They took care of the land until European settlement.

 

The town first started off as a telegraph station for the Overland Telegraph Line.  This line follows the expedition route of John McDouall Stuart, who crossed Australia from south to north in 1862.  Just over 20 years later, a boom in population would be caused by the discovery of alluvial gold at Arltunga, about 100km east of Alice Springs.

 

Camels were integral for the survival of people living in Central Australia and were used to transport wool and provisions to Alice and the surrounding sheep and cattle stations, missions and aboriginal communities, as well as to pull ploughs to build dams.  Camel trains would travel over 600km from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs to bring supplies to Alice Springs, but once the railway line between Alice and Adelaide was completed in 1929, the camels were released, and with more motor and air transport flowing through the region, the isolation of Alice dissipated.

 

If it wasn’t for the cameleers and the camels, Alice Springs wouldn’t not have survived, and to celebrate, The Camel Cup is raced every year.

 

Alice Springs 2014-06-24 001

 

Until the early 1930s, the location of the town was actually called Stuart, while a nearby waterhole was called Alice Springs after Lady Alice Todd, the wife of Sir Charles Todd.  The telegraph station was built next to the spring and this caused a bunch of confusion for administrators down in Adelaide, so in 1933, Stuart was officially gazetted as Alice Springs.

 

These days, the town is full of nice hotels, restaurants, Aboriginal art galleries and well over 25,000 inhabitants.

 

Places of Interest

Telegraph Station Historical Reserve

The reserve is where the actual Alice Spring is, a little waterhole named after Lady Alice Todd.  The old buildings of the telegraph station are still there, and you can pay to explore the station, or you can just look at the building from the other side of the fence.  There are a number of walking trails from the station that lead into the bush but beware, they aren’t very clearly marked and you may find yourself walking for hours in the wrong direction.

 

Alice Springs

 

Mount Gillen

If you’re fit and keen for a decent climb, then head west along Larapinta Drive until you come across Flynn’s Grave.  This is the starting point for the trail that challenges Mount Gillen and depending on your fitness, this activity will take 2-3 hours.

 

The peak of Gillen can be seen from town and leans over the landscape like a wave about to break.  The return trip is just under 5km and takes you up nearly 300 metres.  It’s a tough hike but once you hit the peak, you’re on top of the world.

 

Alice Springs

 

Anzac Hill Lookout

If you’re not game to challenge the mountain, then maybe a hill is more to your liking.  Anzac Hill Lookout is right in the centre of town and gives great views of the surrounding area.  It’s really popular at sunset.

 

Alice Springs

 

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

This is a must see attraction in Alice Springs.  You get to meet a variety of reptiles, including snakes, goannas and blue tongue lizards.  We absolutely loved our time at the Reptile Centre – check out our post here.

 

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

 

Todd Mall Markets

Every second Sunday, Todd Mall is lined with market stalls selling clothes, crafts and yummy foods.  It’s a great opportunity to loiter around for breakfast, purchase some Italian biscuits or to grab a coffee and a bargain.  If you’re a market fiend, every alternate Sunday is the Heavitree Gap Market, next door to the tavern.

 

Alice Springs

 

Events

Finke Desert Race

This is Australia’s great desert race. For four days over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, cars, quads, bikes and buggies flood the town and kick up the dirt and attempt the two day, off road, multi terrain race from Alice Springs to the Aputula community.

 

We went along to the Prologue day on Saturday and the Finishing day on Monday to support our mate, Tony from Loveday 4×4 Adventure Park.  While he was coming first in his class on the first day, he busted a shocker on the second day and rolled in last, 3 minutes before the finishing deadline.

 

Finke Desert Race

 

Alice Springs Beanie Festival

One of the worlds’ most unique festivals, the Alice Springs Beanie Festival runs for four days and features thousands of the most creative and colourful beanies you’ll ever see.  We were lucky enough to be in town for the event and thought it was really special.  Check out our post here.

 

Alice Springs Beanie Festival

 

Lasseters Camel Cup

This annual fundraising event has a reputation that precedes it.  If you’re lucky enough to be in town for this kooky occasion, attend!  You won’t regret it – check out our post here.

 

Lasseters Camel Cup

 

Henley On Todd Regatta

One of the kookiest events we’ve ever been to, the Henley On Todd Regatta occurs annually in Alice Springs and takes place on the dry bed of the Todd River.  Check out our post here.

 

Henley On Todd

 

 

Food & Drink

There is not a lot of choice in Alice Springs, but there are a few places where you can get a good feed.  Uncle’s Tavern in the centre of town is an easy location for a beer and a relatively cheap feed, Outback Kebabs is good when they’re actually open and ice cream lovers can head to Uncle Edy’s Ice Cream for an awesome selection of flavours to suit anybody.  For great fish and chips, you can’t beat Eastside Fish and Chips, and if you’re craving for pie, Wicked Kneads near Coles will satisfy.  Here are a few of our favourites…

 

Rocky’s Pizza

This was our first stop in town and we happened to hit the jackpot. It dishes out the best pizza we’ve had in a very long time.

 

The Gillen Club

For the truly hungry, you can’t go past the Gillen Club.  Expect to pay around $20 for lamb shanks, chicken parmigiana, or salt and pepper squid, which is a pretty good deal, and with every meal, you get all you can eat at the salad bar.  Check out our post here.

 

Epilogue

Yummy café by day, awesome cocktail bar at night, Epilogue covers all the bases. Check out our post here.

 

Epilogue Cafe & Lounge

 

Monte’s Lounge

The colourful carnival surroundings of Monte’s make it a great place to have a few drinks on a Friday night.  They also do great food.  Check out our post here.

 

Monte's

 

Information & Accommodation

The Visitor Information Centre is located on Todd Mall opposite Alice Plaza.

 

For some conveniently located and great value accommodation, check out Alice Springs YHA on the corner of Leichhardt Terrace and Parsons Street. Check out our post here.
Book your accommodation through TripAdvisor

 

Alice Springs YHA

 

Barrow Creek

Highway Stop : Barrow Creek Telegraph Station

Barrow Creek

 

Barrow Creek is a tiny town along the Stuart Highway, about 280km north of Alice Springs.  In fact, calling it a town might be a bit of a stretch considering the population is less than 10.  On the return journey of his first transcontinental attempt in 1860, John McDouall Stuart named Barrow Creek after a preacher and politician called John Henry Barrow, who was also the current Treasurer of South Australia and a heavy beer drinker.

 

 

Twelve years later, the beginnings of a town were brewing due to the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872.  Barrow Creek’s telegraph station was one of twelve between Adelaide and Port Darwin and is now a historical reserve.  Unfortunately, it never really grew due to a poor water supply but the pub makes for a decent watering hole.

 

We stopped at Barrow Creek for a beer and a feed of homemade noodles and fried chicken from the bar.  You could tell that the place had been around for decades.  The walls of the bar were decorated with various memorabilia such as money, business cards, licenses and passport photos.  We also realised that this place was linked to the disappearance of Peter Falconio, a British tourist who vanished in 2001.

 

Falconio and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, were travelling along the Stuart Highway at night when they were waved down by a man in his car.  The man said their Kombi van looked like it had engine trouble.  When Falconio when to the rear of the vehicle to investigate, he was apparently shot and then Lees was threatened with the gun.  Miraculously, she was able to escape and hide in the bushes for five hours before waving down a truck driver who took her to Barrow Creek.  Falconio’s body was never found and his murder was pinned on a man named Bradley John Murdoch, who is now serving life in prison.

 

Barrow Creek

 

Katherine

Town Profile : Katherine

Knotts Crossing - Katherine

Located on the river of the same name, Katherine is 320km south of Darwin.  It started out as an outpost between Adelaide and Darwin for the Australian Overland Telegraph Line.  These days, it’s a simple town with one major supermarket, a few pubs and acts as the ‘Crossroads of the North’.

 

Fast Facts

  • With a population of just over 10,000 and 60% indigenous, Katherine is the fourth largest town in the Northern Territory.
  • It’s the closest town to the RAAF Base Tindal and provides services to Defence families.
  • Traditionally, Katherine was an important meeting place for the Jawoyn and Wardaman people.
  • In 1845, explorer Ludwig Leichhardt crossed what is now known as the Katherine River and is the first European to be recorded in the area.
  • On his 6th successful journey from the north to south of Australia, John McDouall Stuart crossed the Katherine River in July 1862 and officially named it.

 

We rocked up on Saturday morning, just in time for the markets.  We took advantage of the cheap food and listened to some music before getting down to business.  We found a van park to stay the night, did some work in the library, stocked up on fuel and food and then headed to the Stuart Hotel for cheap $10 jugs of TEDs.  Turns out the Stuart Hotel has a great tropical beer garden and we enjoyed the friendly guys behind the bar.  They also do food, claiming to be Katherine’s cheapest.

 

 

 

Points of Interest

Knotts Crossing

Located only 5km NE from the centre of town, Knotts Crossing is a lovely place to have a picnic and a splash in the waters.  If we had more time, we would have spent a whole afternoon here.   Knotts Crossing is actually where the originally settlement of Katherine started, when people came to work on the Overland Telegraph Line.

 

Knotts Crossing - Katherine

 

Katherine Hot Springs

A short drive SW from the centre of town brings you to the hot springs, a series of pools that sit at around 32°C.  We had a bit of a dip in the afternoon while we chatted with some other happy travellers.

 

Katherine

 

Katherine Icon

Just behind the Information Centre is a bronze statue of Sabu Peter Sing, a stockman, horseman and bushman who represents all the men and women of the Outback. The erection of the statue was part of the Project of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association for 2002, Australia’s Year of the Outback.

 

Katherine

 

Nitmiluk National Park

Accessible via Katherine Gorge or Edith Falls, Nitmiluk is the ‘jewel of the region’.  You’d have to spend a week in Katherine Gorge to do all the hikes, and also have the endurance because they can be tough.  We did three hikes there and were absolutely exhausted.

 

Edith Falls is a great place to camp and the plunge pool is wonderfully close to the campground.

 

Edith Falls

 

Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park

Located just 17km south of Katherine, the Cutta Cutta Caves are a unique attraction with beautiful rock formations.  Check out our post here.

 

Information & Accommodation

The Katherine Visitor Information Centre is located on the Stuart Highway at the southern end of town.

 

We stayed at Knotts Crossing Resort, very close to the actual Knotts Crossing, and paid only $24 in an unpowered site for the night.  Close by was a camp kitchen, amenities, and a restaurant bar.  We also had a long chat with some really nice Austrian guys, who filled us in on the non-existence of an Australian-Austrian working visa arrangement.