Alice Springs: Everything in the Middle of Nowhere

Published: July 6th 2018
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By the end of our 5 week home sit in Adelaide we were well and ready to move on to a new adventure. It was an absolutely fantastic place to stay. We had all the modern accoutrements, high speed internet, a Jacuzzi, access to a vehicle and the surrounding countryside, and memories of our temporary pet we'll have for many years to come, but near the end a sort of cabin fever began to take hold. We were comfortable, possibly too comfortable, as we have yet to get jobs to keep us feeling occupied (and productive) and we had seen all the top sites in the region, so by the time our hosts returned from their vacation we were ready to move on. We spent the last few nights getting the house into presentable shape for their return, and the day after they arrived we set off for our next destination. We had booked ourselves a two week stint in one of the most remote communities on earth, the desert city of Alice Springs.

The city of Alice Springs (or simply Alice, as the locals say) sprung up during the mid 1800s when the colonial government was first traveling through the center of the land mass of Australia. It was established as a mid point for the new telegraph, linking the southern city of Adelaide to the northern city of Darwin and on to the rest of the world. The native inhabitants of the region, the Arrente people, have called the location home for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of the English, who disrupted their way of life in a way that is still felt today. Everywhere you go you are reminded of the people that lived there before. Every natural feature you can see bears a traditional name used by the Aboriginals as well as a European name that was foisted on them by the newcomers. It's a story familiar to the descendants of colonists around the world.

In 1887 gold was discovered in the region, and that was when the city experienced it's major population boom. Settlers came from all corners for a chance at riches in the hills, and Alice served as the major weigh station for the region. Its population sits at around 23,700 people, and is one of the densest places in the Northern Territory. Considering the massive size of the region it is staggering to think about the population density out here. It's more sparse than Saskatchewan, and that is saying something.

We flew in, traveling 1500 Km to reach the city. Australia is massive, and for the majority of our flight all we could see for miles upon miles of windswept desert to the horizon, occasionally dotted with dried salt lake beds and the odd small town (when we were nearer the coast). By the time we were closing in on the city the landscape looked more like the surface of Mars than anything else. Windswept red desert for hundreds of miles around. It was hard to believe anyone had ever lived out here, much less thrived for thousands of years. It was awe inspiring in its bleakness.

Winter is tourist season in the red center. It's the time of year when the temperatures are most bearable, with a high around 25 degrees most days, so we were arriving at the perfect time to get out and about.

Alice itself is a modern city that has grown up around the MacDonnel Ranges that surround it. All the modern conveniences can be found there, including malls, fast food, and a movie theatre. As we walked to our Air BNB I was reminded of my own home town on the prairies. Very similar if you were to swap snow and grain with rocks and red sand. The way Alice has spread itself out along the mountain range gives the place impressive vistas everywhere you look. The mountains remind me of the landscape of Nevada, if Nevada had wild parrots flying around.

Our first Air BNB was nice enough. It was built from the garage of a house and was very comfortable. The only issue we had was at night, when the sun goes down in the desert the temperature drops dramatically, and most of the nights we were there we saw 0 degree nights. This usually wouldn't be an issue for a couple Canadians, but there was no source of heating in the unit aside from some quilts and our shivering bodies. So we had some cozy sleeps, but some chilly chill time in the evening hours. The unit also had pretty weak hot water, so a warm shower was not an option either. No problem, we weren't there to sit in the apartment anyway. The morning after our arrival we set out to explore the city.

There are many Indigenous art galleries in Alice. Our first day we spent looking through them, admiring the intricate brushwork the artist used to make their paintings. The pieces were dot paintings mostly, done with vivid colors and patterns. Aboriginal art from Australia is very distinctive, with each piece representing a part of the land like a map. One gallery we attended had an artist in residence who was kind enough to take us through his process as well as to show us what the different symbols meant in his painting. Mountain ranges, watering holes, and local plant life is included in the regions art, and its style has remained unchanged through countless generations, so looking at the pieces is like looking at an ancient map of the country through the first inhabitants eyes. Some of these works were priced in the thousands of dollars, and we were concerned that the profits were going to the galleries primarily and not the artist, but there are groups of ethical artists and galleries that have made it a point to share the profits with the artists and their communities in a non exploitative way, which was a relief to hear.

Next we took a trip to the aforementioned Telegraph Station, which is now a state park in the region. It is similar to many historical villages in the world, with restored buildings from the time as well as actors working as period accurate tour guides. We declined the tour, but took a good look at the original site as well as the surrounding countryside. The park is home to many hiking paths that are famous internationally. It is the starting point of the 223 km Larapinta Trail. We decided to take an easier hike up to a nearby peak for a good look at the surrounding territory. Looking into the outback is a little nerve wracking, you are so remote that if you started walking in any direction it wouldn't take long at all to find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no one to help you. It's important to bring water wherever you go in Alice, the sun is very hot out here and water is scarce.

Harmonie booked us a 3 day outing to Uluru (AKA Ayers Rock), some 450 km north of Alice. We haven't gone on any tours yet, so we were excited for the chance to be led around by someone else for once. Before our trip started we had a night that we spent in a hostel, the second one of the trip!

It sucked. Well, it wasn't perfect to put it more delicately. There wasn't wrong with the accommodations in theory, the hostel had good reviews and when we got there the place seemed nice enough, but our room had some problems that made things less than ideal. As I said previously, the nights in Alice get cold quickly, with most of our evenings hitting 0 degrees, which is no big deal if you have the right bedding. The operative word is IF. When we got our room and made our beds the "Blanket" we were issued was really more of a sheet. Thin and basic and not very insulating. That would usually not be such a problem, but the room we were assigned had a window that was jammed open, and by the time we realized this the front desk was closed and we were stuck shivering through the night. We had to be ready for 5 AM to meet our tour guide, so this set up was less than perfect. Even sleeping fully clothed was not enough to keep the shivers away. I would have thought that the combined body heat of the 9 people sleeping in the room would have made a difference, but it didn't seem to make anyone any more comfortable. By the time we had to get up I had not slept a wink, but at least I had a nice long bus ride ahead of me to catch up on some sleep debt...hopefully. Not like I had much of a choice, the tour was going to be coming soon whether I was ready or not, and it wouldn't do for me to be sleep deprived and grumpy for the trip, so I put on my big boy pants and splashed some water on my face, ready for our first ouing to Uluru, to see the outback in all it's glory.

I'll tell you all about it... next time.


6th July 2018

The cold
Sounds like quite an adventure. I hope you get some warmer weather.
6th July 2018

Oh, it's already much warmer here in Brisbane! Bring on the tropics!

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