Day 1 – Settling in Alice Springs

Welcome to Alice Springs!

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Maybe this flight won’t have crying bab- goddammit.

We touched down at Alice Springs Airport at around 9 am local time.

Thanks to the screaming babies on both flights here, we were basically running on a healthy mix of annoyance and the lack of sleep. Immigration and clearance was thankfully efficient and quick. Off the plane and collecting our baggage within 20 minutes!

We were pleasantly surprised at how modern Alice Springs Airport was. Floor to ceiling windows gently letting the blazing morning sun in, wide open spaces and high ceilings made us feel very at ease after doing yoga on a cramped flight throughout the night.

No time to waste! Our Airbnb host, Lynette, was already waiting to pick us up from the drop off point back to her place. We exchanged pleasantries, loaded our baggage on the back of her Subaru and we were off.

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Lynette is a really chatty, witty and no-nonsense primary school teacher and we immediately warmed up to her pleasantries. One thing we did not expect was that she offered to take us to see the main sights and sounds in and around Alice Springs!

First stop: the ‘Welcome to Alice Springs’ rock. We did the usual touristy stuff, pose here, pose there and its off to the next place!

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After a 12 minute drive or so, we found ourselves at the Anzac Hill Lookout. Anzac Hill is the place you want to be if you want a fantastic view of the town of Alice Springs and the West MacDonnell Ranges in the far cobalt blue sky horizon.

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Just look at the skies and view! Super windy though.

Lynette put a name to all the different areas in town and showed us the Anzac Hill Memorial.

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Originally a memorial dedicated to those who paid the ultimate price in World War I, it has since become a memorial to those who have fallen in defence of their country during all the wars Australia has participated in. The winding road leading up to the hill is dotted with small posts indicating the duration of all the wars that Australia has been involved in, e.g. World War II.

Fun fact: the only post with no end year is the one with the Afghan war on it.

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View of the town centre!

After that, we headed over to Lyn’s place to drop our baggage. We were greeted by her long-time friend Kay and super adorable mutt, Alicia. Lyn had warned us that Alicia would have us wrapped around her little paw. She was not kidding.

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With the Golden Girls! Kay on the left and Lyn on the right!

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LOOK at her precious face. Daww

The room which we had was a simple room with a cosy bed and a guestbook to sign.

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Exploring the Town Centre

With all that settled, it was time to head into the town centre for lunch! Lyn dropped us near a tourist information centre and explained to us where all the major malls, supermarkets and places to eat were.

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As it was a Sunday, majority of the shops were closed, leaving only the cafes, supermarkets and gift shops open.We grabbed a quick bite which incidentally was our first meal in Alice, walked around a bit, and got ourselves hats and and fly nets.

In the outback, if the heat does not get to you, the Australian Bush-Flies will. Bush flies are INCREDIBLY annoying, little spawns of hell that live only to do one thing – annoy the shit out of you. They don’t bite, but they enjoy buzzing around your ears, nose, eyes, face, body, EVERYWHERE. They land on you and refuse to go away until you shoo them away. We encountered them almost everywhere during our trip!

At regular intervals, your hands will automatically rise up and swat these pesky flies away. The locals call it the Aussie Salute and your only saving grace is that you get yourself a flynet.

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The outback fashion trend that never goes out of style!

It won’t stop them from buzzing around you and will land on the nets but dealing with bush flies will be much much easier. Get your flynets in Alice Springs before you head anywhere else. They sell for about 4 – 5 AUD and it gets much more expensive outside town (we’re talking upwards of 10 AUD).

Alice Springs Desert Park

We decided to grab a cab down to one of town’s main attractions, the Alice Springs Desert Park.

Public transport options are limited in Alice Springs and closed on Sundays, so be prepared to shell out for cab if you aren’t renting a car! Public bus timetables can be found here.

It cost us 20 AUD to get to the park from town centre via taxi. It’s a short 10+ minute drive down if you have a rented car.

When we got to the park, we were greeted with a partial view of the West MacDonnell Ranges and the entrance to buy our admission tickets!

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Fast Facts for Alice Springs Desert Park

Admission Fees:

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Opening hours:
Daily 7:30am – 6:00PM
Enter the park latest by 4:30pm
Closed on December 25th

Route yourself there via google maps!

The Desert Park is a great introduction to the outback’s various floral and fauna and it tells its stories via three main areas or habitats which are Desert Rivers, Sand Country and Woodland. Each area shows you various plants and animals that belong to that habitat. We managed to catch sights of dingoes, kangaroos and some magpies and falcons even! The park is this queer mix of a botanical garden, a zoo and environmental conservation centre all rolled into one!

Almost all its paths are not sheltered. So if you do head there in the afternoon, bring sufficient water, hat, sunscreen (or tanning lotion if you’d like to be baked till golden brown) as it can get really hot. To get some respite from the heat, you can make your way down to the nocturnal house which is air-conditioned and features animals and insects that come out after sundown.

At the nocturnal house, you can find the thorny devil, some species of snakes, mala and many species of insects as well!

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The thorny devil!

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Forgot the name of this little fella.

When we asked the locals what was a must see at the Desert Park, everyone mentioned the same thing. “Be sure to catch the bird show!”  They were referencing to the birds of prey show which has just one show a day. Do check the timings and plan ahead!

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The show requires that we remain seated throughout the entire show and for good reason too!  The presenter gets these birds to swoop in over our heads so close that you can feel the wind from their wings and a good view of those sharp claws. The presenter would at times walk around dropping treats near the audience for the birds to pick up whilst explaining the featured bird’s hunting techniques. So don’t be alarmed when you see one just an arms length from you.

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This show is a definite must see and be sure to be seated at least 15 minutes before the show starts!

There are other shows and demonstrations that occur throughout the park at various times of the day! So do check out their page for updates to changes in their shows and timings!

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Overall, despite the fairly steep adult prices to enter the park, it was well worth the money to explore the whole park and it certainly gave us a better understanding of the outback’s ecosystem and it certainly helped with putting a name to strange animals we saw over the next couple of days!

If you have a day in Alice Springs to spare, be sure to consider the Desert Park. We’re glad we did!

End of Day 1

After spending the whole afternoon in the park, it was time to head back to town centre to buy groceries for the following day’s road-trip! We basically overloaded the Woolworth’s trolley with canned food, junk food, and some fresh ingredients enough to last us at least 4 days!

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“Did we remember everything?” “We will know when we need it”

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If only supermarkets back home sold these!

Lyn picked us up and brought us to a place just around the corner in town to pack some kickass fish and chips for dinner which we brought back to her place and settled down.

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Always up for a decent serving of fish and chips! So. Many. Chips.

We were fast asleep before 10pm as we were knackered after having had little sleep on the plane and spending a whole day exploring the sights and sounds of Alice Springs.

Click here for Day 2, where our grand journey around the Red Centre Way begins!

Getting to the Northern Territory

We knew we wanted to explore the Australian outback, but we still had to think about 1) where we were going to start our trip and 2) how we were going to get there.

We considered starting at two different spots: the small town of Alice Springs or the town of Yulara which was the nearest to Uluru (Ayers Rock) marked by the blue arrows below:

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Credit: Wikimedia

We ultimately settled on starting our trip in Alice Springs for a few reasons:

  • We wanted to explore the area in a complete loop, starting and finishing at Alice Springs.
  • We wanted to drive down the unsealed Mereenie Loop Road because it came highly recommended for that authentic outback experience.
  • Car rental and fuel would be more expensive at Uluru.

There are no direct flights into Alice Springs from Singapore (or anywhere else internationally, for that matter), so to get there, you would have to fly into an Australian city and take a separate domestic flight to Alice Springs.

We ended up choosing Darwin over other cities because it was the cheapest option. We didn’t plan on spending much time there, and ended up regretting it. Oh well, we’ll be back for Darwin eventually!

Our route:

  • Singapore to Darwin on Jetstar4.5 hours, SGD$504 all-in per pax
  • 2-hour gap between this and the next flight (I was worried the flight would be delayed and we would miss the next one but the stars aligned, the prophecy was fulfilled and we managed)
  • Darwin to Alice Springs on Qantas2 hours, approx. SGD$460 per pax (unfortunately, Qantas is the only domestic carrier that flies there – locals consider their prices to be a rip-off!)

 

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The Northern Territory is one big state

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Darwin Airport’s departure lounges

 

Other travel options from Darwin to Alice that we considered and rejected:

  • Bus – it would have taken too damn long
  • Train – expensive!

The good news is that quite a number of international airlines fly to Uluru. Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas and Scoot all fly direct from Singapore (Scoot is the cheapest, starting at SGD$900+), so if you want to see the red rock, there’s your chance. We just didn’t go with this option for the reasons mentioned above.

So yes, travelling to Alice was a bit of a hassle but it was well worth it!

Read on about our first day in Alice Springs.

Why the Red Centre Way?

Australia is a big, big place, and when you hear of people going there, it’s usually to places like Melbourne or Sydney (both of which we haven’t actually visited). So why did we choose to visit the Northern Territory of all places?

Earlier on in 2016, we began considering doing a road trip in Australia. Brandon’s friend had returned from a road trip down the Great Ocean Road, which we considered, but then we decided to do more research to see what else Australia had to offer… because we wanted to do something a little different.

I remember Google turning up this particular page. The Great Ocean Road was, unsurprisingly, the first result. Cliffs, blue seas, waterfalls, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular destination. But then we scrolled down to number two, The Red Centre Way, which listed the famous Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock).

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Uluru. Credit: Brandon Boen

 

After some deliberation, we excitedly settled on The Red Centre. Was it different? Of course, because we didn’t know anyone in our circles who had done it! Telling people was sometimes met with surprise and bemusement – why are you going to the desert? What’s there to do? Are you going to be abducted by a UFO?

Later, we would find that we did not regret visiting the heart of Australia one bit. Watch this space!