Alice Springs - Australia's secret adventurous hub and tranquil oasis.
On the edge of the outback, – think mountain bike trails, a balloon basket, a rather chilly creek and Camel racing. Alice Springs - an adventurous hub or tranquil oasis?
Alice Springs is a tiny town with a titanic personality. It’s a place loaded with contrasts. Hip cafes are dotted throughout its centre; while looming large over the township are the majestic MacDonnell Ranges – one of the most peaceful, awe-inspiring and gentle landscapes the country has to offer.
Four kilometers north of the CBD lies the Alice Springs telegraph station. Built in 1872, it served as the region’s first European settlement, later becoming an Aboriginal school called The Bungalow. Essentially, the town in its present form owes its bricks and mortar to Australia’s expanding telegraph network. As such, Alice Springs is named after Alice Todd, wife to the former South Australian Superintendent of Telegraphs.
If you have got energy to burn after your big breakfast, hire mountain bikes from the kiosk. Local rangers have cut a new series of winding bike trails through the backcountry a few years ago and they remain in pristine condition. Try and spot a wallaby or five on your two-wheeled travels.
With appetites now whet for more local fauna, return to town via Alice Springs Dessert Park. It’s teeming with dingoes, princess parrots and near-extinct Australian marsupials, such as the 30-centimetre-tall mala, a shaggy-haired, tiny kangaroo that nearly crushes you with its cuteness.
To really drink in the beauty of the outback, however, you need to see it from up high. At 5am, you wait in the cool morning air for your shuttle bus to pick you up from your accommodation, and soon enough you are rocketing 15-kilometres south of town on a dusty track to start your ride, which will take you over Owen Springs Reserve.
The balloon flight is surprisingly peaceful and meditative, allowing ample time to breathe in the vast, art canvas-style landscapes below. You are surprised by the silence in the air. Your ears fill with just a low hum, a huge gas flame above your head. Keep your gaze peeled for passing clouds of fluorescent budgies and red kangaroos leaping through the mulga scrub and spinifex below. At last, you spot some; you spot some more.
You feel every muscle relax and your eyes open like a camera lens. Forgotten your camera? Well that turns out to be a gift. You will find yourself fully present in the moment.
Once you have returned to solid ground, your host and ballooning guide pops a bottle of Champagne. Perplexed; it’s only 7am. But he swiftly explains that the French, who invented ballooning, traditionally carried bottles of bubbly to gift to farmers should the balloons make a surprise landing in their paddocks. In that case, all is approved.
By mid-morning, you are spinning out of town and soaking up the landscape from ground level. We are heading 80 kilometres west of town, to local swimming spot Ellery Creek hole. The scenery en route recalls the paintings of Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira. As the escarpments enfold the town disappears from view, we’re mesmerised by an expanse of ochre soil, soft green eucalypts and skies ribbed in royal blue. Ellery Creek Big Hole is a spectacular waterhole in the mighty Ellery Creek which cuts through a gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Thousands of years of massive floods have carved out this beautiful waterhole and unlocked some amazing geology. This is a beautiful oasis and if you are into swimming all year round - then definitely take your togs and your towel. The sand at the water edge, makes you feel you are on a beach, and there were plenty of people swimming in the very cold water, who said it was fabulous.
The following day put on our racing cloths and attended the annual Camel racing meet. While Camels may have a reputation as a dedicated ‘ships of the dessert’, these magnificent beasts are certainly not short on personality. Racing them can prove a nightmare for riders and handlers but fantastic viewing for spectators. Entertainment is assured, with nine unique races scheduled around the dusty outback track throughout the day. There is lots of action between the races to. Belly dancers, rickshaw races, ‘kids Camel capers’ hobby Camel races, camel rides, food stalls and bars and all of this adds to the carnival atmosphere. You may not have known this but Australia has more wild Camels than any other country on earth.
Return tired but hopefully with winnings in your pocket. Just another day in this unique country. www.exclusivetravelgroup.com