Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Qantas (tel. 13 13 13 in Australia) flies direct from Sydney, Adelaide, Darwin, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, and Uluru (Ayers Rock). Flights from most other cities connect via Sydney or Adelaide. Low-cost newcomer Tiger Airways (tel. 03/9335 3033; www.tigerairways.com.au) has direct flights from Melbourne three times a week.
The Alice Springs Airport Shuttle, with an office on Gregory Terrace (tel. 08/8953 0310), meets all major flights, but not always those from such small towns as Tennant Creek. It transfers you to your Alice hotel door for A$15 (US$14/£6.75) one-way or A$28 (US$25/£13) round-trip. A taxi from the airport to town, a distance of 15km (9 1/3 miles), is around A$32 (US$29/£14).
By Train -- The Ghan train, named after Afghan camel-train drivers, who carried supplies in the Red Centre during the 19th century, makes the trip from Adelaide to Alice every week, continuing to Darwin. The twice-weekly Adelaide-Alice service (leaving Adelaide on Sun and Wed at 12:20pm and Alice Springs on Thurs and Sun afternoons) takes roughly 24 hours. The Ghan departs Alice Springs for Darwin on Monday and Thursday at 6pm, arriving in Katherine on Tuesday and Friday mornings, and Darwin in the late afternoon. The service from Darwin departs on Wednesday and Saturday. Stopovers in Katherine last around 4 hours. The train has sleeper berths, but don't worry about missing much by overnighting on the train; much of the scenery is the same for hours, and you will see plenty of it during daylight hours. For information, contact Great Southern Railway (tel. 13 21 47 in Australia, or 08/8213 4592; www.gsr.com.au).
The Airport Shuttle (tel. 08/8953 0310) runs between the station and the town center for A$8 (US$7.20/£3.60) one-way and A$14 (US$13/£6.30) round-trip. A taxi costs about A$10 (US$9/£4.50) for the trip.
By Bus -- Greyhound (tel. 1300/473 946 in Australia; www.greyhound.com.au) runs from Adelaide and Darwin. It's a 20-hour trip from Adelaide, and the fare is around A$268 (US$241/£121). The 22-hour trip from Darwin costs about A$300 (US$270/£135).
By Car -- Alice Springs is on the Stuart Highway linking Adelaide and Darwin. Allow a very long 2 days or a more comfortable 3 days to drive from Adelaide, the same from Darwin. From Sydney, connect to the Stuart Highway via Broken Hill and Port Augusta north of Adelaide; from Cairns, head south to Townsville, then west via the town of Mount Isa to join the Stuart Highway at Tennant Creek. Both routes are long and dull. From Perth, it is even longer; drive across the Nullarbor Plain to connect with the Stuart Highway at Port Augusta. If you fancy a driving holiday of the area, with rental car and accommodations included, then check out www.holidaysnt.com. An example is a 6-day trip from Alice to Uluru, the Olgas, Kings Canyon, and then back to Alice Springs for A$1,389 (US$1,250/£625) per person.
The Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA) Visitor Information Centre, 60 Gregory Terrace (tel. 08/8952 5800; www.centralaustraliantourism.com), is the official one-stop shop for bookings and touring information for the Red Centre, including Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock). It also acts as the visitor center for the Parks & Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. It's open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm and weekends and public holidays from 9am to 4pm. It also has a desk at the airport.
Safety in the Centre -- Alice is a safe place, but steer clear of dark streets and don't go down to the riverbed at night; alcohol abuse is a problem in these parts.
Alice Springs hosts a couple of bizarre events. The Camel Cup camel race takes place on the second Saturday in July. In late August or September, folks from hundreds of miles around come out to cheer the Henley-on-Todd Regatta [ST], during which gaudily decorated, homemade bottomless "boats" race down the dry Todd River bed. Well, what else do you do on a river that flows only 3 days a year?
Virtually all tours pick you up at your hotel. If your itinerary traverses unpaved roads, as it may in outlying areas, you will need to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle, because regular cars will not be insured on an unpaved surface. However, a regular car will get you to most attractions. Avis, 52 Hartley St. (tel. 08/8953 5533); Budget, Shop 6, Capricornia Centre, Gregory Terrace (tel. 08/8952 8899); Hertz, 76 Hartley St. (tel. 08/8952 2644); and Thrifty, corner of Stott Terrace and Hartley St. (tel. 08/8952 9999), all rent conventional and four-wheel-drive vehicles. You may get a better deal on car rental by going through the Outback Travel Shop (tel. 08/8955 5288; www.outbacktravelshop.com.au) in Alice Springs, a booking agent that negotiates bulk rates with most Alice car-rental companies.
Many rental outfits for motor homes (camper vans) have Alice offices. They include Apollo Campers, 40 Stuart Hwy., corner of Smith Street (tel. 1800/777 779 in Australia); Britz Australia Campervan Hire, corner of Stuart Highway and Power Street (tel. 08/8952 8814); Kea Campers, 7 Kidman St. (tel. 08/8955 5525); and Maui Rentals, corner of Stuart Highway and Power Street (tel. 08/8952 8049). Renting a camper van can work out to be significantly cheaper than staying in hotels and going on tours, but it pays to do your sums first.
The Stuart Tourist and Caravan Park, Lerapinta Drive, Alice Springs (tel. 08/8952 2547; www.stuartcaravanpark.com.au), has powered sites costing A$27 (US$24/£12) a night. Cabins here cost between A$65 and A$140 (US$59-US$126/£29-£63) per night.
The best way to get around town without your own transport is aboard the Alice Wanderer bus. For a taxi, call Alice Springs Taxis (tel. 13 10 08 or 08/8952 1877) or Territory Taxis (tel. 08/8953 3322), or find one at the rank on the corner of Todd Street and Gregory Terrace. Taxi fares here are high.
City Layout -- Todd Mall is the heart of town. Most shops, businesses, and restaurants are here or within a few blocks' walk. Most hotels, the casino, the golf course, and many of the town's attractions are a few kilometers outside of town. The dry Todd River "flows" through the city east of Todd Mall.