GET CEN­TRED

On the edge of the out­back, CALM CAN BE FOUND in the most AD­VEN­TUR­OUS OF PLACES – think moun­tain bike trails, a bal­loon bas­ket, a rather chilly creek and A TOWN CALLED ALICE.

Australian Traveller - - Weekends -

‘SEC­OND BEST COF­FEE IN ALICE’ reads a sign perched on the foot­path near Todd St Mall, lead­ing lo­cals and blow-ins such as my­self to a cafe crowded with film mem­o­ra­bilia and pint-sized fig­urines. “This place sure has a sense of hu­mour,” my travel mate whis­pers. Alice Springs is a tiny town with a ti­tanic per­son­al­ity. It’s a place loaded with con­trasts. Hip, even hip­ster, cafes are dot­ted through­out its cen­tre; while loom­ing large over the town­ship are the ma­jes­tic MacDon­nell Ranges – one of the most peace­ful, awe-in­spir­ing and gen­tle land­scapes our coun­try has to of­fer. Af­ter sit­ting in bustling cafe Page 27, a cosy spot for break­fast we dis­cov­ered af­ter wan­der­ing around town some more – we be­gin with a trip out to the site that, by proxy, gave the town its name. Four kilo­me­tres north of the CBD lies the Alice Springs Tele­graph Sta­tion. Built in 1872, it served as the re­gion’s first Euro­pean set­tle­ment, later be­com­ing an Abo­rig­i­nal school called The Bun­ga­low. Es­sen­tially, the town in its present form owes its bricks and mor­tar to Aus­tralia’s ex­pand­ing tele­graph net­work. As such, Alice Springs is named af­ter Alice Todd, wife to the for­mer South Aus­tralian Su­per­in­ten­dent of Tele­graphs. We’ve got en­ergy to burn af­ter our big break­fast, so af­ter brows­ing the old sta­tion’s col­lec­tion of stone build­ings – set in a pretty par­cel of bush dot­ted with ghost gums – we hire moun­tain bikes from the kiosk. Lo­cal rangers cut a new se­ries of wind­ing bike trails through the back­coun­try here a few years ago and they re­main in pris­tine con­di­tion. We spot a wal­laby or five on our two-wheeled trav­els. With ap­petites now whet for more lo­cal fauna, we re­turn to town via Alice Springs Desert Park. It’s teem­ing with din­goes, princess par­rots and near-ex­tinct Aus­tralian mar­su­pi­als, such as the 30-cen­time­tre-tall mala, a shaggy-haired, tiny kan­ga­roo that nearly crushes me with its cute­ness. To re­ally drink in the beauty of the out­back, how­ever, you need to see it from up high. At 5am, we wait in the cool morn­ing air for our shut­tle bus to pick us up from our ac­com­mo­da­tion, and soon enough we’re rock­et­ing 15-kilo­me­tres south of town on a dusty track to start our ride, which will take us over Owen Springs Re­serve The bal­loon flight is sur­pris­ingly peace­ful and med­i­ta­tive, al­low­ing am­ple time to breathe in the vast, art can­vas-style land­scapes below. I’m sur­prised by the si­lence in the air. My ears fill with just the low-fi hum, a huge gas flame above-head. I keep my gaze peeled for pass­ing clouds of flu­o­res­cent budgies and red kan­ga­roos leap­ing through the mulga scrub and spinifex below. At last, we spot some; then we spot some more. I feel ev­ery mus­cle re­lax and my eyes open like a cam­era lens. I’ve for­got­ten my own cam­era but that turns out to be a gift. I find I’m fully present in the mo­ment. Once we’ve re­turned to solid ground, our host and bal­loon­ing guide pops a bot­tle of Cham­pagne. I’m per­plexed; it’s only 7am. But he swiftly ex­plains that the French, who in­vented bal­loon­ing, tra­di­tion­ally car­ried bot­tles of bub­bly to gift to farm­ers should the bal­loons make a sur­prise land­ing in their pad­docks. In that case, I ap­prove. By mid-morn­ing, we’re spin­ning out of town and soak­ing up the land­scape from ground level. Here, 80 kilo­me­tres west of town, lo­cal swim­ming spot Ellery Creek Big Hole pools through a gorge in the West MacDon­nell Ranges. The scenery en route re­calls the paint­ings of Abo­rig­i­nal artist, Al­bert Na­matjira. As the es­carp­ments en­fold us and the town dis­ap­pears from view, we’re mes­merised by an ex­panse of ochre soil, soft green eu­ca­lypts and skies ribbed in royal blue. The water is sur­pris­ing cool, but we dive in re­gard­less. It hits me then that this, right here, is desert life to a tee: free, brazen and a tiny bit loco, too. I im­merse my­self in the water, tak­ing respite from the midday heat. Then, with a splash, I plunge be­neath the creek’s sur­face into the earthy, cool deep.

I KEEP MY GAZE PEELED FOR CLOUDS OF FLU­O­RES­CENT BUDGIES AND KAN­GA­ROOS LEAP­ING THROUGH THE MULGA SCRUB.

THIS PAGE FROM TOP: Take a trip just out­side of town to the his­toric Alice Springs Tele­graph Sta­tion, built in 1872; A cool swim­ming spot to beat the midday heat in the West MacDon­nell Ranges. OP­PO­SITE: Look­ing out over Alice Springs at sun­set.

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