Alice Springs, the vibrant hub of central Australia, grew up around a permanent waterhole that was a key terminal for the Overland Telegraph Station in 1870. It became a tough frontier town serviced by camel trains from the railhead at Oodnadatta, until the railway reached it in 1929 and it became a transport centre. Today the small city, with a population of roughly 26,000 and stylish shopping and dining facilities, thrives on tourism and provides a perfect base from which to access all of the surrounding natural wonders, including Uluru (Ayer's Rock). Alice Springs also invites visitors to learn more about the local Arrernte Aboriginal tribal group who have inhabited the area for 20,000 years. The city is also the point from which intrepid adventurers popularly strike south to explore the Simpson Desert, or east to visit the ghost towns of the MacDonnell Ranges. Alice Springs has good connections to Australia's capital cities; there are daily flights to and from the capitals and road and rail access from all capital cities is possible.
Alice Springs Landscape © Naoki Sato
Anyone who has a fascination with the rough and ready life of Central Australia will enjoy a holiday in Alice Springs, which is an ideal base for excursions into the surrounding desert.
Deflating an Outback Balloon © Arturo Pardavila III
Outback BallooningSurely the most iconic image of Australia is the blood-red dust of its sere and sparse Outback - and what better way to experience it than from a hot air balloon, in the dawn hours, with the sky full of a million colours? Alice Springs' Outback Ballooning company has been offering this once-in-a-lifetime experience to eager visitors since 1986, and has built a solid reputation for itself as a high-quality, and dependable tour operator (with an impeccable safety record). You'll be accompanied on your hot air balloon ride - which also includes refreshments and a light breakfast - by an informative guide, to ensure you appreciate the full impact of the unique landscape spread out beneath you. Visitors of all ages, sizes, shapes and fitness levels are welcome, and are all bound to leave with a memory they'll cherish for the rest of their lives. Don't forget to pack your camera.
Address: 35 Kennett Court, Alice Springs; Website: outbackballooning.com.au
Devil's Marbles, near Tennant Creek © David Taus
Tennant CreekNow a popular holiday resort, the old mining town of Tennant Creek, about 300 miles (500km) north of Alice Springs, was allegedly born when a beer wagon en route to an Overland Telegraph Station broke down in 1934 and the driver, Joe Kilgariff, decided to set up a store and pub at the breakdown site. Such legends abound in the Tennant Creek area, which was the site of Australia's last gold rush. At the Battery Hill Mining Centre visitors on holiday can take a mine tour and hear the miners' stories, before enjoying a nature walk and a picnic. The small holiday town is situated at the junction of the Stuart Highway, which runs between Darwin and Alice Springs, and the Barclay Highway that travels east to Mt Isa. Tennant Creek is an excellent point from which to make an excursion to the fascinating signature landforms of the area, the granite boulders known as the Devil's Marbles. Thousands of huge, red boulders, some nestling together and others poised on top of each other, are a compelling spectacle in this shallow valley 60 miles (100km) south of Tennant Creek. The local Aboriginal people regard the Devil's Marbles site as a sacred place, believing that the boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.
Uluru, formerly called Ayres Rock © ptwo
Uluru - Kata Tjuta National ParkFormerly known as Ayres Rock, Uluru rises from the surrounding plains, protected within the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, and belongs to the Anangu Aboriginal people, for whom it holds a special spiritual significance. In an isolated spot 280 miles (450km) from Alice Springs, the power of the rock draws hundreds of visitors taken on tours by Aboriginal guides who explain the monolith's importance in Aboriginal culture. A visit to this monolithic rock, the world's greatest, is an awesome experience. It is composed of a type of sandstone that has been exposed through folding, faulting, the erosion of rock and infill. At the base are caves, inlets and overhangs formed by chemical degradation and erosion. Some opt for the 1,142ft (348m) climb to the top, which takes about 45 minutes and is not for the faint-hearted; however, it should be noted that for spiritual reasons the Anangu people request that visitors not climb the rock. Visitors should try to view Uluru at different times of the day - part of the magic of the rock is its constant colour changes in different lights, particularly at sunrise and sunset. Visitors can take a camel tour of the Outback at Uluru, or enjoy an unforgettable flight in a light aircraft or helicopter for a bird's eye view of the monolith. About 19 miles (30km) from Uluru is another fascinating geological formation on the desert landscape. Known as Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas), these comprise 36 domes of red-brown earth, the tallest of which, Mount Olga, is 656ft (200m) taller than Uluru. There is a range of accommodation at Uluru, from luxury resorts to campsites. There is also an Aboriginal cultural centre and an arts and craft centre, along with restaurants, swimming pools, galleries, a supermarket, a medical centre and a post office.
Address: Ayers Rock, Uluru; Website: www.environment.gov.au/parks/uluru