462km (286 miles) NE of Uluru (Ayers Rock); 1,491km (924 miles) S of Darwin; 1,544km (957 miles) N of Adelaide; 2,954km (1,831 miles) NW of Sydney
"The Alice," as Australians fondly call it, is the unofficial capital of the Red Centre. In the early 1870s, a handful of telegraph-station workers struggled nearly 1,600km (992 miles) north from Adelaide through the desert to settle by a small spring in what must have seemed like the ends of the earth. Alice Springs, as the place was called, was just a few huts around a repeater station on the ambitious telegraph line that was to link Adelaide with Darwin and the rest of the world.
Today Alice Springs is home to 27,000 people, with supermarkets, banks, and the odd nightclub. It's a friendly, rambling, unsophisticated place. No matter what direction you come from, you will fly for hours over a vast, flat landscape to get here. On arrival, you will see that in fact it is close to a low, dramatic range of rippling red mountains, the MacDonnell Ranges. Many visitors excitedly expect to see Uluru, but that marvel is about 462km (286 miles) down the road.
Many tourists visit Alice only to get to Uluru, but Alice has charms of its own, albeit of a small-town kind. The red folds of the MacDonnell Ranges hide lovely gorges with shady picnic grounds. The area has an old gold-rush town to poke around in, quirky little museums, wildlife parks, a couple of cattle stations (ranches) that welcome visitors, hiking trails to put red dust on your boots, and one of the world's top 10 desert golf courses. You could easily spend 2 or 3 days here.
This is the heart of the Aboriginal Arrernte people's country, and Alice is a rich source of tours, shops, and galleries for those interested in Aboriginal culture, art, or souvenirs. However, parts of this region are also evidence that ancient Aboriginal civilization has not always meshed well with the 21st century, which has resulted in fractured riverbed communities plagued by alcohol and other social problems.