There’s excitement in the air as Clint, Charli, our cameraman Russell and I officially kick of filming for Series 6 of Places We Go!
We’re 33,000 feet above sea level and outside my window is quite literally the red centre of Australia. It’s more of a burnt orange actually. It’s so vibrant and vast, I challenge even the most discerning traveller not to be mesmerised.
Since I first visited the Northern Territory a few years ago, it’s been one of those rare places that calls me back. And there’s always somewhere new to discover. This time, it’s all about Alice Springs, or Alice, as this desert city of 25,000 people is affectionately known.
It’s hard to believe when you consider how big Australia is, that Alice is just a few hours flight from any capital city. One minute we’re navigating the busy airport traffic on Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway and the next minute, we’re here. Smack bang in the middle of the Outback, where the desert heat hits us in the face as soon as we land.
As Alice Springs is the Aboriginal art capital of Australia, its town centre is lined with art galleries overflowing with intricate paintings of stories handed down for thousands of years. We’re surrounded by it, from the rock art just ten minutes from town, to sitting chatting with the locals under the shade of a gum tree as they’re painting their stories onto canvas.
The real surprise for me is Alice’s emerging café culture. “Page 27” is a perfect example. It rivals any café in the world with its incredible coffee, food and amazing vibe when you walk in the door. Art, music, eclectic furniture, even a poetry corner with much loved books for us to borrow. The staff, a mixture of both locals and travellers from all over the world are part of the thriving expat community that call this place home.
I would have thought Alice to be flat, being in the middle of the desert. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The MacDonnell Ranges are the constant backdrop from any angle including the Big4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park, like an oasis in the desert. It has three swimming pools, giant jumping pillows, a telescope to star gaze and even the tradition of pancakes made by the owner Brendan every Sunday. Yes, Charli was in heaven!
In the air-conditioned comfort of our Subaru Outback, we cruised the gaps and gorges in the surrounding areas, feeling a million miles from civilisation. Treated to the company of Gary, one of the most passionate park rangers you could wish to meet, our journey started at Simpson’s Gap, a 10 minute drive from Alice, to a picnic lunch and a much needed swim just an hour down the road at Ellery Creek Big Hole.
By late afternoon, we’re back in the car heading along the Red Centre Way with the sun lighting up the sandstone of the West MacDonnell Ranges. If you’re looking for an entrance, I can’t imagine finding any grander than the towering sandstone wall that dwarfs Glen Helen Resort. 132km from Alice Springs, it’s a popular overnight stay for traveller’s en route to Uluru.
Once an old cattle station, we enter the historic homestead perfectly placed on the Finke River. With the last of the afternoon light, we sit down with fellow travellers for a beer, before enjoying a magnificent dinner of barramundi in the restaurant.
There’s just so much to see! But we only have a few days so decide to get off road a little and head 110km east of Alice to check out the historic gold rush town of Arltunga – which was officially Central Australia’s first town, when Alice Springs consisted of just the Overland Telegraph Station.
Today it’s a ghost town scattered across 5000 hectares and it’s been preserved with such passion that standing in front of the old post office we could still feel the spirit of those fortune seekers who had to travel 600 kilometres in this harsh environment to be here.
Our last day was one of our most memorable for me. We headed just a few minutes from Alice to two small gaps in the Heavitree Range. Known as Emily and Jessie Gaps, they’re important spiritual sites to the Eastern Arrente Aboriginal people and contain paintings on the rocks.
No matter how far I travel out here, how vast, spectacular or indeed how harsh – there is comfort in sharing this with our daughter, knowing these stories go back tens of thousands of years, and will in fact still be here long after we’re gone.
Once again, it’s too soon to leave…see you soon Alice!
Jen PWG x
Find out more about the places we visited on Do the NT!