Back to Civilisation - well almost...

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Oct 10, 2011

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What I did
Explore Alice Springs and the Surrounds

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Friday, July 15, 2011

Luxury at last! We'd arrived at the thriving metropolis of Alice Springs – well, there were more than 500 people in one place, real shops and petrol stations not charging a king’s ransom for fuel...  The sun was threatening to break through the clouds and our grassed caravan site looked like a bowling green.  (No green though, just a brown/fawn colour).  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Our site was so wide it took us nearly 10 minutes to decide where we would park the van.  Chris had been to Alice for work in February and had scouted out the sites ahead of time, so we were in the flat grassy section of the park, ideally situated for all the amenities and Sunday morning pancakes!

By this time, the caravan park care taker had arrived on his zippy little scooter, and had asked if we need help backing the caravan in.  Our new van still must be showing a little of the sparking white it once was.

We thanked the guy but assured him that we could manage, so he zipped off.  An hour later the van, bag awnings, and annex were all set up along with tables, chairs, TV and kids toys.  Heaven at last!  We had 4 nights ahead of us where we could spread out, relax and get clean.

And that is exactly what we did.  The children were able to ride their scooters, Caitlyn could push her pram and doll around the park, Matt built a huge space vehicle with his Lego.  Most time was spent in the playground and jumping pillow.  All the washing was brought up to date, groceries re-stocked and we had heaps of fun going to K-Mart to stock up on some cheap clothing for Gemtree.  We managed to find heaps of other cheapie necessities there as well.

In amongst the relax and recharge time, we managed to fit in a load of other activities.  Here’s the list:

Anzac Lookout

Located just to the north of the city centre, Anzac Hill provides a superb vantage point overlooking the whole of Alice to the hills that surround the town on virtually all sides.  The memorial at the top is surrounded by flags that flapped in the gentle breeze and flicked shadows from the sun in the cloudless sky.

Yes, cloudless sky.  Fantastic!  Not a sign of the huge blanket of grey that had shrouded (and flooded) us from Ayres Rock all the way into Alice.  Glorious!

Telegraph Station

"The Alice" was established with the advent of the telegraph line running between Adelaide and Darwin.  The name “Alice Springs” comes from the waterhole that’s located just outside the Old Telegraph Station which was discovered by W. W. Mills in 1871 and named it after the wife of Charles Todd who was the Postmaster General and Superintendent of Telegraphs.

The Todd River – in all its dry sandy glory – meanders past a lush green park outside the Station: A perfect place for picnics and lounging around.  There was some water in the Todd – a dribbly ribbon trickling down towards town.  Certainly not the rushing torrent that it had been earlier in the year with all the rain that hit central and northern Australia.

Glen Helen Gorge / Stanley Chasm

Approximately 90km west of Alice is Glen Helen Gorge – the point where the Finke River cuts through the West MacDonnell Ranges in a spectacular flat bottomed “U” shaped gorge with gravelly banks and towering cliff walls.

On the way we called into Stanley Chasm, a narrow 20ft natural slice through the rocks that is in shadow for 90% of the time except for midday when the sun shines directly down the gap to light the gravelly floor.  Climbing up the picturesque creek bed (with some massive boulders that clearly didn’t lift themselves there), we got there at 11:50 – just in time for the light show!  Matthew tried his hands (and feet) at climbing up the sides of the chasm and reached the lofty height of 1ft off the floor before the hand-holds stopped.  Caitlyn practiced falling over.

On the way to Glen Helen, we practised roller coasters on the endless dips in the road for floodways across dry creek beds.  Always on the lookout for wildlife in the bushes waiting to become road-kill, a dingo sauntered across the road in front of us – but too far away to be of an issue.

Glen Helen is on the sealed part of the northern 4WD-only track from King’s Canyon to Alice route – which would have been passable if not for the recent rain and the want of a fully ruggedized trailer.  Thankfully, we didn’t try that route (not that we would have anyway), because a neat little sign on the unleaded fuel bowser at Glen Helen proudly announced that the pump was “out of order, sorry for any inconvenience”.  Inconvenience!  Try major disaster if you’d got there on the last breath of petrol and needed to top up to get to civilisation.  Now had the beer pump been out of order, there would have been a mutiny.

Thankfully, all we needed was to top up with an ice cream!

What’s with the fire thing?

As we drove along Namatjira Drive back to Alice, we were amazed at the number of scrub fires that were alight along the route.  In Adelaide, one whiff of smoke and the whole of the CFS would be there to extinguish the blaze as quickly as possible.  Here, it’s a case of burn baby burn, and more of it.  We lost count of them and the thick smoke columns that punctuated the mountainous skyline.  It’s got to be something to do with burning off the abundant fuel from the wet season and plant regeneration, but nevertheless, it’s still unsettling.


Simpson Gap

On the way back to Alice, we stopped into Simpson’s Gap – just before dusk, on the chance of seeing some of the rock wallabies that inhabit the huge rockfalls on the eastern side.  Alas not – just a group of 'wallies’ sitting high on the do-not-climb escarpment beers in hands.

We ignored them, played skipping stones, cooee and balance on the tree branch before making our way back to the MacDonnell Ranges caravan park.

Todd Mall

Slap bank in the middle of Alice (not that it could really be anywhere else) is the Todd [shopping] Mall, a curious collection of we’re-here-because-we-have-to-be-here banks, vanilla-we’re-across-Australia stores (shoved off into the newer Alice Plaza side mall) and Aboriginal art/souvenir shops.

In a twist of irony, the grass outside the Aboriginal Employment Services is festooned with cut Aboriginals glaring across the pavement at the ‘upmarket’ and open fronted bar of the Town and Country Tavern serving cold beer to the well-heeled guests…

Pancake Breakfast

Sunday at MacDonnell Ranges Caravan Park is the day to stay.  Religiously, the Sunday ritual is to put on a free pancake breakfast – with all the trimmings.  Just bring plate and utensils.

With a full park, the experience is great with seemingly very park inhabitant crowding into one of the kitchens.  Staff happily tag all the guests with a name and state badge (so you know who you are) and then proceed to cook 20 pancakes at a time on a purpose built hotplate mounted on the back of a 6x4 trailer!

There’s no limit to the number you can have, and record (proudly posted on a board) is 14 for men and 9 for women.  Matthew was keen to have a record attempt, and we were there well before the appointed 8:30 start – forks poised – and the first one went down a treat.  But a quick look at the 4 abreast, 50m queue told the story; that we were unlikely to make it to 2 rounds, let alone 15.  That must have been set when there was no one else staying at the park!

BBQ with the Sparks

In an attempt to actually ‘catch up’ – and also to have an evening off – we had a combined BBQ with the Sparks family.  Men were summarily dispatched to char meat and the girls organised salads and children, who played in the (conveniently located) adjacent playground.

With the Sparks’ off to dig at Gemtree the next day and leaving the day after, this was our last opportunity to see each other until we were all in Darwin, so we made the most of it.

Neil reckoned we were eating ‘gourmet’ BBQ, when Megan turned out the individual cream and meringue fruit nests – yes they were yummy.  And the clowning glory was when Matthew decided that the instant whipped cream (in a can) would be better as a moustache – a fashion statement followed by (some) of the other children.  You trend setter Matt!


The Royal Flying Doctor Service has a base right in the middle of Alice Springs that services a 600km radius (1.25 million square kilometres!) from the centre of Australia.  While the operations element of the RFDS now operates from the Alice Springs airport, the original dispatch and monitoring centre operated in the building up until 2008 – and on some equipment that looks like it should have been sent to the recycle bin in 1950!

All jokes aside, if you get the chance, go to the visitor’s centre it’s strangely quaint – like stepping back in time, but you start to realise how essential their service is to the remote and frankly completely isolated people living in this part of the continent.  Their operations are funded by State and Federal government grants, but capital replacements (i.e. new planes) are completely paid for from donations – and your visit/donation will help to keep the service running.  Who knows, you could need it one day.

And the verdict is…

Alice Springs – a great few days to relax and recharge.  MacDonnell Ranges Big4 Caravan Park gets 10-out-of-10 for their park: Clean, well presented, polite helpful staff and great facilities.  Those BBQ’s shine 24x7!
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Grandma on

Excellant "story" & pics

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