If you’ve seen the Todd River flow more than three times in Alice Springs, then you’re officially classified as a local.
The Outback town, nestled in the valley of the Red Centre’s MacDonnell Ranges has an ephemeral river that weaves its way through the arid landscape of the third-largest town in the Northern Territory. On an ordinary day, it doesn’t flow. Instead, locals sit on the dusty earth and relax under the shade of a ghost gum.
With desert temperatures of up to 40 degrees in the summer, this little town punches well above its weight when it comes to good food, a vibrant night life and authentic Indigenous art experiences. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s Australia’s best-kept secret.
On average, tourists stay for 1.4 days, which isn’t nearly enough time to explore Alice’s hidden gems (or see the river flow). So, next time you’re in town, try living like a local and immerse yourself in these one-of-a-kind experiences.
#1 Eat Your Heart Out
Don’t be fooled by the quiet, steamy streets of Alice Springs. Behind closed doors, a handful of cafes serve up authentic bush tucker.
Kungkas Can Cook is a quaint little café that sells ethically harvested and delicious bush foods. A favourite is the raw broccoli salad with carrots, red onion, cabbage and apple, topped with a coconut yogurt, native wild lime, garlic and avocado dressing. Introduce yourself to Rayleen, one of the café’s co-founders; she’s always happy to have a yarn about Alice’s booming native food industry.
Where: Shop 17, Diarama Village, Larapinta Drive, Araluen
#2 Culture Vulture
Araluen Arts Centre is the centre for visual and performing arts in the Red Centre, and will be home to the highly anticipated Desert Mob exhibition from September 6. The Indigenous exhibition is one of the most important Aboriginal art and cultural events on the Australian arts calendar, bringing together desert-member art centres from across the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.
Desert Mob is a truly unique annual gathering of artists, artworks and audience in the heart of Alice Springs. Do yourself a favour and book ahead.
Where: Araluen Cultural Precinct, 61 Larapinta Drive, Araluen
#3 Out On The Town
If you’re looking for a big night out in the Territory, the unassuming town of Alice Springs is the place for it.
With travellers, workers and spirited locals, there’s always something happening at Monte’s Lounge. A popular night spot among locals, the outdoor pub is themed as a travelling circus, with a unicorn diving through a ring of fire at its entrance and a solar system of fairy lights hanging over alfresco tables. The pizza is particularly good, while a cold beer on a balmy evening, goes down a treat.
Where: Corner of Todd Street and Stott Terrace, Alice Springs
#4 Shop ‘Til You Drop
Nothing beats sleeping under the stars in the Outback. If you don’t already own a swag, it’s worth investing in a good quality one.
Head to Desert Dwellers, where you can shop like the locals. The store boasts over 100,000 products and the incredibly confident the tag line, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Whether you’re getting yourself a swag, a billy or water carriers, Desert Dwellers has the stock to suit your needs. Staff will also give you solid advice about camping in the Red Centre.
Where: Corner Milner Road and Wilkinson Street, Alice Springs
#5 Rest Your Head
There are many hotels in Alice Springs, but why stay in a hotel when you can stay in Studio Five? The architecturally designed and award-winning apartment opened in 2013 and is nestled in a lush, landscaped garden overlooking a saltwater pool. To top that off, the walls are laden with original Indigenous artworks.
You’ll certainly feel like a local living here.
#6 Out Of Town Adventure
Most tourists will head to Ellery Big Hole, one of the West MacDonnell Ranges’ most Instagrammable waterholes. But if you really want to get off the beaten track, head to Serpentine Gorge and Chalet. These gorges are often overlooked by travellers, purely because they don’t know about them. Ask any local their favourite place to take a cool swim on a hot day and they’ll say this is it. Take a blow-up float and enjoy gliding down the pristine gorge.
(Lead image: Paul and Debra Hoyt / Tourism NT)