I’m not sure what vision I had in my mind of Central Australia. I think I expected it to be barren and harsh and hot. I certainly didn’t expect it would be so beautiful!
Alice Springs is amazing. A little oasis of a city, built along the banks of the (usually dry) Todd Riverbed. The colour palette here is different to anything I’ve seen before. Photos and paintings don’t do it justice. It’s like a lemon Instagram filter has been applied to everything and you would think that would make it look wishy washy, but it doesn’t. It’s a calming palette of ochre and gum green; tans and golds and the odd bright red splash of Desert Pea, all overlaid with the deepest blue sky that turns to purple after dusk. We were just gob smacked by the beauty of the place.
The racial divide here is obvious and some issues are clear in the police presence, the razor wire around many of the properties and the alcohol restrictions, (the day we arrived we were warned to be off the street by dark if we were carrying alcohol), but this is not what defines Alice Springs and we did not feel at all unsafe during our visit.
We arrived in Alice late in the afternoon, with little time to do anything but check in and get some groceries. After the aforementioned warning, we scurried back to our accommodation (the Desert Palms where the green of the incongruous palm trees was strangely out of place), and then found food at the local RSL where, as luck would have it, it was 2 for one night and we ate like kings for half price!
We spent our first full day in Alice walking into town via the Todd riverbed. It’s hard to imagine what this looks like when it actually has water in it but at the moment it’s a broad, sandy basin covered in a variety of acacia and eucalypt. We wandered around the main shopping areas, particularly the art galleries as Lyle searched for the perfect piece to take home. The shops in town were strangely quiet. I’m not sure whether that was due to the time of day or whether there just aren’t that many people here. We spoke to some of the local aboriginal people who were selling their paintings in Todd Mall. It occurred to us that this was the first time we had heard aboriginal people speaking in their native tongue and we wondered how long it might be before the dialects of our indigenous people are lost forever.
In the afternoon we visited the Reptile Centre so Florence could do some snake handling. They have a nice collection of NT reptiles, including a resident goanna called Ruby who wanders around the building like a pet cat! We got to handle a couple of lizards and a great big python.
We watched the sun go down from the top of ANZAC Hill. What an amazing place to view the city and our second spectacular Outback sunset.
Obviously with 4 teachers on board a visit to the School of the Air was a must do and so that was our first stop the next morning. I expected this to be interesting and it was. We watched a couple of lessons through the observation windows and listened to an informative talk about the students, the program and its delivery. What a wonderful organization, delivering a full curriculum to kids spread all over the Top End. With the advent of the internet, they are front runners in ‘blended learning’. Like all government schools they are way underfunded, especially considering the extra services they provide. They’re dependent on fund raising to make up the shortfall so we did our bit by donating some books and buying a few things we totally didn’t need.
|School of the Air|
We drove a short way along the Larapinta Drive for a picnic lunch. This part of the West MacDonnell Ranges is very accessible to first world tourists like us; sealed roads, man made walking tracks, flushing toilets and plenty of signage. I don’t think the human interference makes any difference to the wonder of the scenery though. The majesty of Standley Chasm and the multiple layers of colour at Simpson’s Gap are spectacular and, unlike so many other natural wonderlands, there was no rubbish and no graffiti.
Too soon it was time to pack up again and head down the Lassiter Highway.Two days in Alice is like speed dating with the Outback; it’s just enough to let you know you want more.