The first surprise that waited for me right when I disembarked the plane in Alice Springs was… the temperature. Coming from the hot and humid Darwin, which was only 2 hours away by plane, I was not at all prepared for the drastic change to crisp 10C desert weather in Alice Springs. The weather actually reminded me a lot of the cool Southern California weather.
I wore only my sundress and a thin cotton kimono jacket and it was not enough. As soon as I got settled into my room at Alice Springs YHA, I immediately layered up and set out to discover the town.
This post is the fourth of a series of posts on the amazing time I had in the outback with YHA Australia. You can check out ‘Northern Territory’ tag to see more posts from the outback and ‘Australia’ tag for any posts I will be doing on Australia.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
I stayed at Alice Springs YHA, which was located right in the middle of the city and extremely convenient. It’s a backpacker’s hostel so it is more affordable than other hotels.
Things to do in Alice Springs
The first time I heard of Alice Springs was when I visited Sydney in 2013. I was flying to Melbourne at the time and my flight shared a gate with another flight going out to Alice Springs.
“What’s there to do in Alice Springs?” I asked my Aussie friend later. “Nothing much really”, he replied.
Was he correct? Let’s find out for ourselves!
1. Alice Springs Town Center
Well, in a way, Alice Springs is not a big city. The downtown area is even smaller – so small that you can walk to most of the shops and attractions in Alice Town within 15 minutes.
I was surprised to find a Target in the middle of the city, but soon discovered that despite having similar branding and the exact look and feel inside the store, they aren’t the same as the discount retailer Target that is in the states!
But what I find the most interesting about Alice Springs is the fact that it is smack dab in the middle of the Australian continent. It’s the geographic center of Australia, equidistant from both Adelaide (South) and Darwin (North).
Don’t believe me? Check out where Alice Springs is on the map:
What’s more is that those two cities are the nearest major towns to Alice Springs, and they are 1,500 km / 930 miles away from Alice Springs. I have lived the majority of my life in big cities so this is just crazy to me. It’s also probably the furthest I have been away from the ocean, with the nearest one from Alice Springs being ~1,200km / 750 miles away.
I don’t think I realized just how large Australia is until I saw the figures above. This continent is MASSIVE, but there isn’t much civilization in the center of it. To illustrate this, Alice Springs has about 28,000 residents and this makes up for 12% of the population of the northern territory. Singapore, which is probably about as big as Alice Springs itself (I didn’t look this up, don’t shoot me if I’m wrong), has a 5.4 million population.
Life here also seems to be very quiet and slow. I was walking around the town center at 10 am but there was hardly anyone around. If I was back in Singapore or Jakarta, the city would be bustling with people at this time. Again, coming from a big city this is so just bizarre to experience.
2. Alice Springs Reptile Center
Alice Springs Reptile Center is one of the attractions of Alice Springs that I visited. It’s a pretty small exhibit, but they have very informative talks and we got to touch some of the reptiles like snakes and lizards. Here, I learned that Australia has some of the deadliest snakes in the world, and is the only one that has the anti-venom for those snake bites.
3. Anzac Hill Lookout
The lady at Alice Springs YHA kindly informed me there is a lookout hill nearby, so after grabbing some breakfast I quickly made my way up there to check it out.
It was a pretty small hill that took less than 10 minutes to hike. But I was not disappointed by the view. The desert sky is a very beautiful crystal clear blue that afternoon. And since the city is flat, you get a 360-degree view of all of Alice Springs from this hill.
Later that day, I met up with my friend Nayoung whom I met in Darwin YHA, who recognized me from Instagram. We ended up hitting it off well so we spent the day hanging out. We decided to go up to Anzac Hill to see the sunset.
On top of the hill, there is a small memorial dedicated to those who served in World War I.
4. Outback Ballooning during Sunrise
One of the coolest experiences in Alice Springs is going on a hot-air balloon! You can book this Early Morning Hot Air Balloon Experience by Outback Ballooning. You can select between 30 and 60 minutes, but I think 30 minutes is more than enough.
➡️ Book Sunrise Outback Balloon here
That morning, I woke up bright and early to go for my first-ever hot air balloon ride. The folks from Outback Ballooning picked up on time at 5 am while the sky was still dark and we set off into the middle of the desert.
Let me tell you this, it was VERY cold in the desert at 5 am. I was not prepared again (I suck at dealing with anything other than tropical weather) and spent the morning jumping around to warm myself up. Definitely bring a thicker jacket if you plan to visit in May!
It took longer than expected to get the balloons out because they had to literally roll out the top of it, the colorful part which is called the envelope. Then, the envelope needs to be attached to the baskets which we would be riding on, and then they need to light up the fire and fill up the envelope with hot air, which is what makes the entire balloon float. Science!!
It was still dark when we first took off but it seems that we were just on time for sunrise. Not long after our take-off, the sky turned into this pretty blue-pink-orange gradient, indicating the sun is almost rising.
At this time I count myself lucky I’m not really scared of height, because we were pretty freakin’ high up… but the view is phenomenal.
After the ride, which lasted about 30 minutes, we had to put the balloons back together. Don’t worry though, we were also served some champagne, cheese, and cookies before all the hard labor 😉
I didn’t have any pictures of this because I was busy helping out, but basically, we had to carefully push out all air from the envelope of the balloon, then fold it back together so that it fits into the back of the trunk. The envelope is massive so everyone had to help out!
Overall my first experience of Hot Air Ballooning was a very enjoyable one. I definitely would do this again!
➡️ Book Sunrise Outback Balloon here
5. Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs’ biggest attraction is perhaps Desert Park, and rightly so, because this place was huge!
In the park, there were multiple recreated habitats. The birds are put in this massive dome and were allowed to fly around free. I got a ton of practice doing manual focus with my Lumix GF3 by stalking these adorable birds.
The park also has some of Australia’s very own animals, like Dingoes and Joeys! These Dingoes look just like an average domesticated dog, but they are actually wild animals. Even though they are found in Australia, they are believed to not be a native to this continent. Instead, they may have come from domesticated dogs from South East Asia and returned to the wild when they were introduced to Australia.
Because dingoes came to Australia, they are also believed to have caused the extinction of the Tasmanian Devil from mainland Australia about 500 years ago.
I caught the Nature Theatre presentation at the Amphitheatre in the afternoon. Which featured free-flying birds. It was impressive, I highly suggest catching this one when you’re here.
This one features a presentation of how the owls are able to fly very quietly, so as to not give their location/presence away to their prey. This owl was flying over our head a few times and you really can’t hear anything!
And that wraps up my one-day visit to Alice Springs. I have to admit that coming here, I had low expectations. However I was proven wrong and by the end of the trip, I felt a tinge of sadness leaving this quiet town.
This post is the fourth of a series of posts on the amazing time I had in the Australian Outback! You can check out ‘Northern Territory’ tag to see more posts from the outback and ‘Australia’ tag for any posts I will be doing in Australia.
Note: I was a guest of YHA Australia for the purpose of writing this post. All opinions remain solely mine.