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Famous for being the remotest town on the planet and not a lot else, Alice Springs was somewhere we had both wanted to go from the start. This was at least in part attributable to the fact that we thought Uluru (the aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) was nearby. If by nearby you mean five hours drive then yes, I suppose it is. The problem is that in a vast country like Australia, things on the map look a lot closer together than they really are as we discovered upon our arrival in Perth, planning to drive what looked like a short distance up the coast in an afternoon before discovering that in fact it was a couple of days drive to or destination at the very least. Although now used to this effect we still fell into the same trap with Alice Springs and Uluru because there is absolutely nothing else in the centre. This gives the illusion that the only two things in the middle of the continent must be somehow near to one another.
The Arrernte Aboriginal people have been in the Alice Springs area for thousands of years and to them it is known as Mparntwe. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was first colonised by humans around 30,000 years ago. This can be approximated through carbon dating of rock art found in the area.
There are numerous sites of traditional importance to the local aboriginal people in and around Alice Springs, these include Anthwerrke (Emily Gap), Akeyulerre (Billy Goat Hill),, Atnelkentyarliweke (Anzac Hill), Alhekulyele (Mt Gillen) and Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap).
Heavitree Gap is where we chose to stay when we arrived in Alice Springs. We pulled up in the campsite having wound our way through the surprisingly modern stretch of the Stuart Highway passing Repco, the auto spares chain and Hungry Jacks (Australian Burger King)! We had chosen to stay here as our lonely planet guide suggested it was good value for money and had a swimming pool. A really nice swimming pool as it turned out.
I jumped out and paid up for a few nights stay then returned to the van.
“I’ve got a present for you.” I said, handing Faye a bag of pellets.
“Cattle feed?!” she looked at me quizzically.
“Try Wallaby feed.” I smiled.
She jumped out of the van and ran to the rocky slopes behind the pool and that was pretty much the last I saw of her for the next few days. She spent so much money on bags of wallaby pellets that eventually she was securing bulk discounts from the reception. She also began to refer to herself as “Big Red, Queen of the Kangaroos and Wallabies and Shit”. I would come and get her for meals where I would usually find her reeling off facts to other tourists as if she had been there for years.
After about a week, we were able to get out and explore the town while the campsite waited for a delivery of wallaby feed.The town itself is remarkable only because it is so normal and yet so isolated. It could be any medium sized town in the world with a little high street and larger shops out on the edge of town. Overlooked by the MacDonnell Ranges and intersected by the usually dry Todd River, Alice still manages to retain its ‘frontier town’ feel, but this is juxtaposed with a degree of normality that borders on weird.
We explored a couple of the local attractions, the reptile centre and the desert park. The reptile centre comes highly recommended and did not disappoint us.It had a selection of many of Australias fascinating reptiles from deadly King Brown snakes to the enormous Perentie Lizard.
Our personal favourite was the prehistoric looking Frill Necked Lizard. One of the experts in the reptile centre got one out and allowed it to run around on the floor for a few minutes as he told us about its habitat, diet and so on.
In spite of the fact that it looks positively badass, this guy runs like a Thunderbird puppet. Any credibility he has built up among his desert home boys is instantly negated when he makes off walking with an uncoordinated mince reminiscent of Boy George on crack.
The other great attraction, as I mentioned earlier, is the desert park. This constitutes various areas demonstrating different desert habitats and terrain, with enclosures of native birds and animals.
The desert park sounds boring but I can assure you it really isn’t and in fact I would go so far as to say that it is the stand out attraction of Alice Springs. (Assuming you don’t think that Uluru is near Alice like we did. I reiterate, it is not.)
And so after a few days spent relaxing in Alice Springs, dodging what seemed to be a biblical plague of grasshoppers and stick insects and between our sightseeing and Fayes wallaby feeding, we booked a trip to Uluru. We went for the early morning trip which left at midnight and arrived at around five o’clock in the morning. It was a long drive, but it was worth it.