"Hey mate! Where's Meyers Hill?"
I shrugged my shoulders, "Sorry can't help you... I'm a tourist here myself.."
He ambled off, "no worries..."
The above aboriginal stopped me in the street and asked for directions, but that is Alice Springs for you—the biggest city within thousands of miles. Its the focus, not just for tourists coming to see "the rock," but it also is a lifeline for ranchers/shearers, etc. A name synonymous with the harsh climate of "the Never Never," It is an oasis in the desert and has reached legendary status for its remoteness—a sort of Timbuktu of Australia.
Personally, I liked it. It vies with Sydney as my favourite destination Down Under. A lot of it has to do with atmosphere, as it is heavily influenced by aboriginal culture. The Northern Territory is 20% aboriginal anyway, and they almost have their own country up in Arnhelmland (the Northern Territory coast). But in Alice Springs, they wander the streets chattering in their own language,which is unlike anything I have ever heard before. But its the feel of the place which I enjoyed, the feel of hot air constantly on your face, the dusty Ute's driving up and down Larapinta drive, the didgeridoo music coming from the shops, and a sky so blue and vast it seems to dominate every waking moment.
Its a marvel that "Alice" is here at all. Of course for thousands of years it was the only waterhole in the vicinity called Tjanrejili by Aranda tribesmen. In the 1870s, the overland telephone cable from Melbourne to London was pushed through here, and it dawned on them that the place would have to be permanently occupied. The Old Telegraph Station is still there on the northern outskirts of town. Charles Todd set up shop here and got a river named after him and a billabong upriver gave the town its name. The "Alice" came from his wife. And slowly it has been linked with the rest of the world—railway (1929), wartime evacuation (1942), and tourist boom in the 1950s. It is this tourist boom which is the lifeblood of Alice as buses, Utes, and 4-wheel drives fan out from this small town to explore the strange centre of Australia and its geographic wonders.
The layout of Alice is easily mastered. It lies in the middle of the desert but is surrounded by mountains called the McDonnell range. The airport cannot fit in this bowl and is outside to the south. To get from the airport you have to pass through "Heavitree Gap" which is a sun-blasted pass surrounded by gumtrees. The town has one main road - Telegraph Terrace - but most of the action is one block to the east on Gap Road where most hotels/hostels/motels are situated. This leads to Todd Mall an open-air mall where most tourists gravitate too with enough souvenir shops, restaurants, banks and a couple of good bars/pubs. To the east is the Todd River, famous of course because it never has any water just yellow sand. Memorable for the Henley-on-Todd regatta in September where bottomless boats are run along the dry riverbed. Unfortunately I missed this event by a matter of days.
To pay for your tour you may have to use one of the banks in the Todd Mall to change up money. Its a short walk down the Gap Road. Gap Road is interesting for the sheer different amount of different tourists that stay here. The $400 a night motels are here next to backpacker hostels which do $5 a night barbecues. There are lots of nice cafes, souvenir shops and bookshops some with beautiful coffee-table books of the surrounding area. There's plenty of local history in "Alice" and you can loose yourself in the tales of explorers and pioneers in these tiny little shops. Also on Gap Road is "The Ghan" ticket agency where you can book seats to Adelaide/Darwin on a train that comes in twice a week. There are a couple of bars/pubs down the Gap Road. Bojangles is good for live bands, but we were told to avoid Melankas the backpacker bar as it had a reputation for trouble.
Todd Mall is at the end of Gap Road and is a small street paved over with terracotta tiles. Sail-shaped awnings have been set up to protect shoppers from the fierce sun but protection from the flies is harder. Some tourists were wearing "beekeepers" hats of muslin netting to keep off the buzzing pests. Its the moisture they want in this dry climate—that's why they go for the mouth and eyes. A shopping centre lies at the end of the mall and on a piece of green grass the aborigines of Alice Springs sit. There was no tension, they just sat there and watched the world go by..
I rather liked Alice Springs - it was different and interesting. The Todd Mall is a good place to pull up a seat, order a "coldie" and listen to that didgeridoo music played not so far away...