Sometimes you just arrive in a place, with no expectations, and that was certainly the case when we arrived in Alice Springs, the centre of Australia. Jack had been there twice before and he was very upbeat about the place, but had not spent a huge amount of time there as it was more of a stopover, on the way to somewhere else. We were using Alice as a gateway to Uluru, the West and East McDonnell Ranges, and also we had two fitness courses we were running in the town (HIIT BOX for Aqua and Suspension Training for instructors). We ended up spending 10 days in the ‘Alice’, on and off over a 2 week period. We never meant to spend as much time there, but things kinda just happen.
The Alice has grown on us, surprised us and we were sad to say goodbye! When you spend a bit of time in a place and its surrounds, you end up meeting the locals: finding out the secret spots; the best place for coffee; where the only organic shop in town is; the unmarked walks with great views; the best pub; the best bike routes, and remote campsites. All of a sudden you are walking down the street and people know your name or said they saw you cycling around town. You bump into tourists you met in the East who are now in the West. Alice is that type of place: small enough to bump into people you’ve met on the road!
I think what has surprised us the most is the amount of stuff going on, all the time! Events and activities are commonplace every weekend and that’s not including the ‘outdoor playground’ on their doorstep! The population of Alice is around 27,000 with a police force – get this- of 250 coppers (we were on our bestus behave!) and six massive caravan sites (averaging 400 sites and 50 cabins). On one of the weekends we were there, all the campsites were full-too-busting and they even had ‘overflow’ spots on the local oval and racecourse. The turnover of people through Alice is huge, being the Center of Aus, and all! On this one particular weekend we mixed with folk who we would never meet in our usual lives: tons of truck enthusiasts who had flooded into town for the Truck Show and Truck Hall of Fame inductions. These were predominantly country folk who were really, really into trucks and we were surrounded by them and their rigs: some were even towing their caravans, boats and land cruisers! I now know what a Kenworth is, it’s not a food mixer, but a manufacturer of popular Australian trucks. The same weekend, adventure specialists Rapid Ascents, were staging a 3 day mountain running festival across the Larapinta Trail (226km in 3 days) and the Alice Springs Festival consisting of arts, music and comedy kicked off. The weekend before, Rapid Ascents staged a 4 day mountain bike festival in the area with 6 mountain bikes events and the local council ran a running festival offering a 3km, 10km, 21km and full marathon. There was a also the annual ‘boat race’ down the River Todd: there is no water in it, but they carry boats they’ve created down the sandy river bed, firing water hoses at each other and dressing up as pirates – very entertaining!
We also heard about ‘Finns Ride’, which is an annual motorbike ride with hundreds of bikers honouring the life of a local rider who was killed when he hit a wild camel (only in this great country!); this was followed by a massive party with live music at a campsite in the East McDonnell ranges, the Ross River ‘Resort’….a campsite in the middle of woop-woop!
Next weekend the town is hosting a classic cars festival, with cars coming from all over Aus; the Aussie Masters hit town in October, with squash, cycling, athletics to name but a few events that will be going on.
Alongside these events are a steady stream of backpackers who cruise into town and spill out of wagons after days on the road and hit the pubs; grey nomads who meet up with friends travelling from Queensland, Victoria or SA; tourists from overseas (mostly French and German) who are using Alice as a stopover before they hit Uluru. Everyday there were people starting the awesome Larapinta trail, a 5 to 10 day hike along the West MacDonnell ranges, or those who drive next to the trail and take in the several gorges along the way.
Wherever you turn, whoever you speak to, there’s something going on, and people will tell you the 'where, when and how'. One of things though that really stood out is how everyone gets on and it all seems to work, this mish- mash of folk travelling through, all the different ages, interests, cultures and quirks merging in the Outback: people coming for work, staying and leaving, coming for a few hours, a few days or a couple of weeks. There’s a level of tolerance and a non- judgemental type of vibe for such a small town. You're not a stranger, you are a visitor and part of the economy that keeps this place running: tourists are very welcome because a lot of the population were once tourists too before they became locals!
This is a place that shares the town with the local indigenous people, who like to hang out in the dry Todd river and we are sure there is some strife and clashes due to the abuse of alcohol from both white Australians and the Aboriginals, but we did not experience any of this when we were cycling around at night or in town during the day.
It was not hard for us to stay fit and healthy when we visited the Red Centre, because we had access to some amazing coffee shops with healthy food, a great organic shop and both the YMCA and Lasseters Health Club opened their doors to us and offered us free sessions to train when we were in town. If you wanted to climb, walk or do HIIT on your bike, then Mount Gillen and Anzac Hill were minutes away or the many purpose built mountain tracks in town. Being surrounded by all these folk running, biking and hiking makes you want to get out there too. Lots to do and great locals and visitors alike, but book early if you fancy going for a weekend because accommodation can be hard to find, everyone else is going there too!
We are heading over the border now, leaving NT behind us and entering Queensland, our 6th state since we left NSW in May.
We have 5 days of driving ahead of us with little or no breaks, so it will be interesting to see how we manage with healthy eating and getting in some movement between Alice and Toowoomba: we’ll let you know! Waltzing Matilda country here we come!
Alice Highlights for us:
Waking up and looking at the sun on the McDonnell range mountains which surround the town.
The cycle track, which runs across the whole town, and beyond.
The National Parks, and mountains, with so many gorges, walks, waterholes and adventure activities.
The well-stocked and friendly organic shop, Afghan Traders: awesome homemade muesli and pesticide free almonds from South Australia!
The homesteads in the West Mcdonnells and the East Mcdonnells (Ross River resort and Glen Helen). Lovely employees doing a great job in remote locations.
The YMCA, Lassisters Health Club and Alice Springs Aquatic Centre: great staff and amazing facilities for local residents.
The Big 4 Caravan Park: 3 heated pools, including a lap pool and a waterslide; free pancakes for everyone on Sunday morns; astronomy talk and star gazing on Tuesday pm; free cheese and biscuits with BYO wine on Sunday pm; free Didgideroo playing on Sat pm; movie nights and lots more….they lay it on in this town!
The desert sky, day and night….worth coming to Alice for that alone!
Listening and meeting talented musicians and song writers, Chris Aronsten (out of Byron Bay, no less) and local-lad, Tim Rickards at Glen Helen Resort, West Macs ranges – absolute gems of blokes, in the middle of Australia!