When you’re 1,500 clicks from the closest major city and a good 1,000 from the nearest beach, there comes a time when you need to make your own fun. And if anyone knows that, it’s the locals of Alice.
Sitting slap-bang in the middle of Australia’s dusty Red Centre, this small but charismatic town has long had to rely on an inner ingenuity for both survival and entertainment. Take the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, which, every September, sees teams of fun-fixated Territorians racing ‘boats’, by feet, and fashioned from whatever materials they fancy, along a dry riverbed. Who needs a body of water when you’ve a head for imagination?
A leisurely 18 kilometre bike ride from Alice Springs is Simpsons Gap, a break in the towering red cliffs of the West MacDonnell Ranges that’s filled by a narrow pool of water. The area is home to black-footed rock wallabies, who can usually be found at dawn and dusk eating their way through the foliage. You’ll also find hauntingly beautiful Ghost Gums, their slender white boughs twisting up to the sky. While you can’t swim at Simpsons Gap, there are a number of walking trails to enjoy, such as the Ghost Gum Walk and Cassia Hill Trail, each varying in length from 15 minutes to a few hours.
Also known as ‘The Big Hole’, Ellery Creek is the quintessential Outback waterhole. Wedged between two high ridges, the quiet swimming spot offers a variety of walking trails but, unsurprisingly, the most popular activity is simply lying on the sandy beach and soaking up the view. When the day is especially hot, dive into the cool (croc-free) waters and ‘doggy paddle’ your way through the gorge. Ellery Creek is also equipped with a gas barbecue picnic area, making it that much easier to spend the whole day here.
Ormiston Gorge is a little like Ellery Creek’s older sibling – wider, deeper and with more sandy beaches to stretch out on. Found eight kilometres off Namatjira Drive, the gorge is more isolated than other attractions near Alice Springs and it’s a haven for small marsupials seeking protection from the elements. You can lay down a towel and spend the day splashing around, or if you want to see what Ormiston Gorge really has to offer, lace up for the 3-4 hour hiking circuit through the Ormiston Pound, a path that crosses rocky slopes and delivers breathtaking views of the gorge. If you can, stick around until sunset, when most visitors have left and you can have the silent splendour of the gorge all to yourself.