Is it worth the cost to go to the middle of Australia and see the iconic rock? Its remoteness means this is a destination you must choose to go there. It’s not convenient to visit from anywhere else, and it’s a long trip no matter how you get here.
Take a tour to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon. There are two types of tours that you can book when visiting Uluru. Many providers have a luxury tour experience. These put you on giant tour buses, in the resort at the rock, and mostly cater to an older demographic. I chose a small operator who put me on a mini bus (around 20 people max), activities included lots of hikes between 6-10 km each day, and my accommodation a swag (Australian bed roll) in a campsite. This option mostly caters to the young backpacker crowd, though it’s not unheard of to have an older adult with a young spirit on this style of tour. *
At the time, flights into the airport at Uluru were the most economical, so I booked a three-day camping tour and arranged for the provider to pick me up at the airport (free at the beginning of the tour). By choosing this option I missed an unexciting 6-hour drive from Alice Springs that started very early! My tour guide was great and easy-going, very knowledgeable. My trip to the rock was in October 2014, and I was disappointed we were in the 1 % that didn’t get a sunset, but we were apparently extra special because we got rained on as well.
My tour ended, and I found myself in the lovely town of Alice Springs. The concept of visiting Alice Springs never really occurred to me as a fun tourist destination but it was! I spent a little more than a week around the town and felt perfectly safe having a wander during daylight hours.
Alice Springs School of the Air is a fascinating place because it is so unique. The challenge of educating the children of the Outback was originally met by establishing a school of correspondence with students and teachers corresponding by mail. The advance of technology allowed for the school to run on radio, with library books and paperwork still being sent by mail, but interacting by voice over the radio. The modern day school utilizes the internet and web cameras. You can visit this school and observe classes (a kindergarten teacher was doing the hokey pokey while I was visiting) and view the historic radio that has been retired. Before visiting, I had no positive opinions of distance education, but the hour or so I was there, I believe the children are receiving high quality distance education. I found it fascinating!
Alice Springs Desert Park provided a great chance to see local animals including the red kangaroo who were sleeping in the shade (not surprising as they are nocturnal) and some beautiful birdlife I wouldn’t have otherwise observed. It made a great day trip from Alice and I spent a good portion of the day wandering around practicing animal photography. It was quite hot and there wasn’t a lot of shade, so pack a wide brimmed hat, a water bottle, and escape to the nocturnal houses to get out of the sun.Alice Springs Reptile Centre: I adventured to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre to see some deadly native snakes (and other reptiles). My expectations were met as I entered a small center full of snakes and lizards. In addition, I was advised to be on the watch and careful not to step on Ruby, the day’s patrol lizard who doesn’t mind a pat on the side. It was a quiet time with only myself, one other family (with a child age 5) and the staff. I found the staff overly friendly going out of their way to show a lizard feeding (today’s culinary delight was cockroaches) and they answered all of my questions. The staff member caring for some of the lizards outside was also quite interactive with the little girl pointing out a male lizard letting a female lizard know he was interested, and showing the girl the eggs you could see from inside of another lady lizard. (The lizards were being misted with water that day to help keep them cool) It was a small attraction but the experience was incredibly personable, as the owner even offered to agitate the crocodile while I headed to the viewing station. I would definitely visit again if I ever wandered back to Alice Springs
Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS) has a very neat (though small) visitor information station in Alice Springs. The tour included watching a video about how the service operated, and the vital need it fills for those needing medical attention in Australia’s remote Outback and how the $20 bill was dedicated to the RFDS and its importance to their work when determining how dangerous injuries might be. After that, we were set loose to wander among mini models of some of the planes, displays depicting the inside of a plane administering care, and a well-stocked gift shop.Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a wonderfully restored part of the town’s history, but a bit bland. I do recommend going, but now that I’ve been I wouldn’t be keen on going back. I didn’t find the self-guided tour particularly compelling or enchanting. If guided walks were available with more information, it may be more suited to my touring style.
I took a day tour of the McDonald Ranges from Alice Springs. This tour was lovely, though it is obviously designed with the 50+ crowd in mind, although all the people on the tour I was on I had met during our three-day camping extravaganza. I say this based on the distances, difficulty, and time allotments of the walks, with the longest walk being about 1.5 k, and 55 minutes being scheduled for it, and there was always a bathroom break every 45 minutes. (my thoughts at the time were that this would be Grandma’s kind of tour). We got to see some cool formations such as Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Homestead Lodge, and Ellery Creek. We also did some swimming in a watering hole which is both gorgeous and not what I was expecting to find in the middle of a dessert. I’m really glad I went, and feel my impressions of the outback would have been incomplete without experiencing the McDonald Ranges.
Anzac Hill: I didn’t climb this but it’s apparently a great little hike for early morning activities with wonderful views. I’m planning to do it next time I find myself in Alice.
*Adventure Budget touring will vary in costs depending on tour provider and inclusions, but averages throughout Australia are around $125 AUD/Day.