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For many thousands of years the Alice Springs area and most of Central Australia was the territory of the Arrernte tribe. They used to call this area Mparntwe, and believed this area had been created by ancestral figures Ayepe-arenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye.
First European exploration in this area was in 1862 when John McDouall Stuart's expedition passed through on his way to the north coast, mainly for the purpose of mapping the country for future white settlement. His name lives on in the Stuart Highway that connects Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin.
The next major step in Alice Springs' history,
and the main reason for the town's establishment at the time,
was the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide
to Darwin. It was completed in 1872 and a telegraph repeater station
was built at a permanent waterhole named Alice Springs.
Europeans found it hard going doing the long distances
through the hot and harsh outback desert terrain and a solution
was found in bringing Afghans and camels to Australia.
Apart from a boom-and-bust gold rush period when gold was discovered at Arltunga in 1887, the town slowly grew over the years. The town got connected to the outside world in 1929 when the Adelaide to Alice railway line was completed and the famous Ghan started its service, it still took until 1987 for the town to be connected by a bitumen highway to Adelaide, and even longer for Alice Springs to be connected to Darwin by rail.
In October 2003, after more than a hundred years
of talking about it, the 1420 km. N.T. railway from Alice Springs
to Darwin was finally built and completed at a cost of $ 1.3 billion.
Workers had to battle the desert heat and at times worked under
big lights in the night and slept in the day, and had to negotiate
with Aborigines to avoid sacred sites. The first freight train,
measuring 1200 metres in length and carrying 4000 tonnes, left
Adelaide on 15 January 2004 for the 43 hour and 2979 km. journey.
Alice Springs is also home to a U.S/Australian Pine Gap joint defense satellite monitoring base that was built about 20 km. from the town in the 1960s, employing about 700 people that inject $12 million a year in to the local economy.
Nowadays Alice Springs is quite a modern town, to
get your bearings go to the top of Anzac Hill for a great view
over Alice Springs, and further out to the Eastern and Western
Getting around the small town of Alice Springs is easy on foot, but there is also the bus called the 'Alice Wanderer' that stops off at the major attractions around the town, and places like Elkes Backpackers have a free shuttle bus to take you around the town as well.
Though it is a small town you may need at least a week here to fully appreciate this area, there is a wide variety of things to do in this small town, from camel riding and horse riding to hot air ballooning and four wheel drive safaris to Ayers Rock, the fascinating outback and Aboriginal settlements.
The weather in this desert town are predominantly dry with brilliant blue skies, most of the rain usually falls in the hotter months, roughly from October till March. The annual rainfall is only around 275 mm. Be aware in summertime that the heat can be extreme in the surrounding outback and make sure to drink plenty of water and to take it easy, heat exhaustions and dehydration are not uncommon this time of year, and Ayers Rock is closed to visitors when temperatures go too high, statistically the chance of suffering a heart attack here are higher than anywhere else in Australia. Alice Springs holds Australia's record for the hottest average temperature at 35.5C. The dry season is the best time to visit when temperatures are pleasant with mild evenings and warm days in the mid 20s. Be prepared for some other extremes too, if you camp in the desert in the dry season temperautures can drop to near frost levels!
Be aware that Ayers Rock or Uluru is not at Alice Springs, as some people think, it is a 450km drive from the town, see our Tours page for options on how to get there.
During your stay in Alice Springs you will get to see varying aspects of the local Aborigines, ranging from Aboriginal art at the local galleries, tours out to remote communities to learn about their culture, bush tucker etc. and a more unfortunate side of heavy drinkers living in the dry Todd River. With Alice Springs being a regional centre for a large area this is where Aborigines end up living who have been expelled from their tribe for misbehaviour. Locals often warn visitors to the town to avoid the area near the Todd River after dark.
Temperatures can jump up and down 20°C from
minimum to maximum any day. In the summer the temperature often
goes a bit over 40 C (but can go up to 48), while in winter
it can plummet to as low as -7°C minimum (and has been reported
to go as low as -10). The climate is arid, with an average rainfall
of 275 mm, but the amount of rain can vary enormously from one
year to the next. Although not much rain falls when it does
fall then the Todd River often runs wild and camping Aborigines
get washed downstream.