WITH its desert landscape and the MacDonnell Ranges on one side, Alice Springs is called Australia's most famous outback town. Many who have visited Alice, as it is popularly known, say it's a hard place to leave.
Mr Michael Giacometti, 42, is proof of this. The Melbourne native visited Alice over a year ago and ended up living there. He now heads the Northern Territory Writers Centre there. Here are his suggestions on what to do in Alice Springs.
1. Getting there
You can catch a flight from Darwin to Alice Springs, but Mr Giacometti recommends taking the historic train The Ghan instead, to 'experience the ultimate journey through the heart of Australia'.
The Ghan's history dates back 70-odd years, and it operates twice weekly between Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin. Fares vary, depending on what class you choose to travel in. To check fares and to book online, visit the Great Southern Railways website at www.gsr.com.au
2. Head to the parks
'The Alice Springs Desert Park provides great insight into the desert,' says Mr Giacometti. He suggests setting aside a day to visit the parks. Also visit the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Named after the anthropologist, naturalist and artist Olive Pink, the garden is just a short distance from the main town centre.
3. Aboriginal art and culture
Aboriginal art is one of the oldest living art traditions in the world, and one of the best places to see it is the Albert Namatjira Gallery, he says. Also explore the range of galleries in Todd Mall, the main mall in Alice Springs. They feature some great contemporary Aboriginal art.
4. The Camel Cup
One of the Northern Territory's quirkiest annual events, the first camel race was held in 1970 in the dry Todd riverbed as a bet between two friends. This year, the race is on July 12 at Blatherskite Park.
5. Hot air ballooning
This is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the Australian outback. The best time to begin the balloon ride, he says, is early in the morning.
'Nothing beats the experience of watching the sun light up the MacDonnell Ranges. As you cross the scrubs and cattle stations, you also get to see the big red kangaroos and other wildlife.'
Mr Giacometti recommends eating at the Bean Tree Cafe in the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. 'It serves some good salads, a great chicken sandwich and the best iced chocolate.'
To unwind at the end of the day, head to the lounge bar in Annie's Place for some cold beer. 'This is actually a backpacker's hostel, and it's a great place to make new friends and exchange traveller's tales.'
7. Explore the surrounding area
Try the MacDonnell Ranges, which run east and west of Alice Springs. These offer a number of hiking and walking trails. Apart from the dramatic scenery and bushwalking, visitors can also try swimming. four-wheel driving or quad-bike riding. The town is also the best place to plan a visit to the World Heritage site of Uluru, once known as Ayers Rock. The large sandstone rock formation is about 335km from Alice Springs.
This article was first published in Life!, The Straits Times on May 27, 2008.