Travelling Australia - Journal 2009
18-30 June 2009 - Alice Springs
Alice Springs is a fairly large town (population about 28,000) with a range of supermarkets and other shops. We spent the first few days re-stocking cupboards and refreshing ourselves on the layout of the town. The shopping centre is laid out as a conventional rectangular street grid beside the Todd River.

Driving in Alice Springs needs some care; pedestrians (of all colours) are very casual when crossing the road and often act as if they are on a non-existent pedestrian crossing. Sometimes drivers appear to be unsure where they want to go; indeed they may be overseas tourists in rented cars who really do not have any idea what to do next. The number of signs in Alice Springs and at Kings Canyon reminding drivers that cars drive on the left of the road in Australia probably indicates a history of problems with overseas tourists.
Alice Springs from Anzac Hill Central Alice Springs from Anzac Hill. The Gap is in line with the road.

Macdonnell Ranges Part of the Macdonnell Ranges from Anzac Hill across light industrial and housing area.

Buying alcohol is regimented in Alice Springs. Bottle shops are not allowed to open until 2 o'clock in the afternoon and photographic identification is required to buy alcohol; the identification is not only checked, it is recorded so that a history of individual purchases is available to identify possible traffickers. A further restriction is that cask wine and ports are locked away until 6 p.m.

We took advantage of the two week stay in Alice Springs to arrange for our mail to catch up with us. We have an Australia Post redirection from our home address to a mail forwarding organisation which holds mail until I contact them with an address to forward all mail being held. We have to allow for the time it takes for mail to get from the mail forwarder in Gosford to wherever we expect to be.

There is a range of specialised shops dealing in 4WD equipment so I went to buy a replacement for the UHF aerial which had broken off some days ago. When I put my broken aerial on the counter it was immediately identified as the result of driving over corrugations and as being the wrong type of aerial to use in a vehicle on corrugations. The correct aerial was sold to me.

Early in the visit we went to the Information Office, but found it lacked information from National Parks about attractions in the Macdonnell Ranges and concentrated on tour bookings and accommodation arrangements. But there is a good tourist booklet available which does describe the region fairly well.

While we were exploring some side streets we stumbled on the Railway Station a few minutes before the Ghan from Darwin was due. We stayed to watch it come in to the station which doesn't have a platform; a set of steps is put in front of each carriage door for passengers to get on and off. The Ghan stays at Alice Springs for several hours while passengers visit the town. There have been a couple of versions of the Ghan train before the present one connecting Adelaide and Darwin; the previous Ghan, running between Adelaide and Alice Springs, is commemorated in the Ghan Museum outside Alice Springs where one locomotive and some of the rolling stock (lounge car, first class dining car) are preserved.
Ghan engine The Ghan from Darwin arriving at Alice Springs.

Ghan train and statue The Ghan train is named after the camelleers who provided the first transport service in Central Australia.

In the first few days I drove to Emily and Jessies National Park in the East Macdonnell ranges; this is actually two small parks around gaps in the range with some aboriginal rock-art.

Later on I drove to two of the closer attractions in the West Macdonnell Range, Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm. Simpsons Gap is an imposing and impressive place where a river flows through a narrow gap in one of the rocky ranges forming the Macdonnell Ranges. Car parking, walking tracks and signage are good; nearby is a nature walk with a guide sheet describing the major plant species of the region. Standley Chasm, on private property and not managed by national parks is not as well presented compared with national park venues. There is no explanatory signage at Standley Chasm and no attempt is made to identify more common plants for visitors; the walking track from car park to chasm begins well but deteriorates into a challenge for less mobile, elderly visitors

Our caravan park is across the road from the Araluan Cultural Centre which included the Alice Springs Museum. Once I found the museum, despite the poor signage, it turned out to be a small, specialised establishment dealing in Northern Territory geology and landforms, birds and animals with a substantial section on aboriginal culture. Displays were attractive and interesting. Nearby is the Aviation museum with an old Flying Doctor Drover tri motor aircraft mounted on poles.

At the end of our stay we had lunch with family members who had completed the Larapinta walking trail in the West Macdonnell Ranges and were about to return to Sydney. We went to the Olive Pink Botanical Garden on the edge of Alice Springs which specialises in Central Australian plants and has an open-air restaurant. My kangaroo burger confirmed the lesson we had learned at Rawnsley Park in the Flinders Ranges that kangaroo has to be specially cooked and must be rare; if cooked as ordinary steak, kangaroo becomes leather. The kangaroo meat in my burger had been seared so the surface looked medium well-cooked but the inside was rare and good to eat.
Drover aircraft Drover aircraft used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service for many years.

The weather during our two weeks in Alice Springs was variable. Most nights were fairly cold but days were sunny and warm, except for the cool to cold breeze we sometimes experienced. There were two warmer days including our last day when a strong, gusty and very unpleasant westerly wind blew until sunset.