NT Outback Alice Springs Old Telegraph Station

Historic Telegraph Station

NT Outback Alice Springs Todd River Bridge

Bridge over the River Todd

When you first arrive in the Alice Springs, the effective capital of Australia’s Red Centre and over 1,500 kilometres to any coastline, the most striking sight is the Todd River. Not for its sparkling blue waters, but the complete absence of water. The Todd River is dry for the vast majority of any year and regularly for several years at a time (periods of more than a decade are on record).

In the spirit of fun, the annual Henley-on-Todd Regatta (held every September) celebrates the bone-dry river with a multitude of events where participant run with their hand-built vessels of various shapes and sizes.

Though it cuts the town in two, only one bridge spans the Todd River, other roads simply cutting directly through the dry bed.

Yet Alice Springs has many sights and attractions to explore and experience. And with many kilometres of dedicated bike paths, suitable bush tracks and wide roads, there is no better way to enjoy Alice Springs than to hire a bike for a day. Outback Cycling hire regular and mountain bikes (at a very reasonable rate) along with helmets, locks and maps with a variety of suggested itineraries. For those that want to get more detail of the town, guided tours are also on offer with Clarke, a co-owner who grew up in Alice, is a trained geologist and has a keen eye for history.

NT Outback Alice Springs Old Telegraph Station Bullock Dray

Travel must have been dififcult in the early days of the Telegraph Station

The best starting point is the Overland Telegraph Station, an extraordinary feat of 19th century engineering, stringing a wire (and 36,000 poles) from Adelaide some 3,000 kilometres across the red centre to the northern coastline of Australia (a route only first discovered ten years earlier) to meet an undersea cable, cutting communication times to mother England from 21 days to one day. With the technology of the time, a repeater station was required every few hundred kilometres to re-send the message as the signal lost strength. Alice Springs was a key station on the route based where a permanent water hole was sited (hence the name Alice Springs – Alice being the wife of the head of the project, ironically she never visited).

The excellent historic site has displays of the early telegraph equipment, the housing for the telegraph operators and support services (such as blacksmiths). A quick dig in the river that runs next to the station will show that water is held under the Todd River supplying the wildlife and people of the days with sufficient water to live in Alice Springs.

Three highlight sights near central Alice all highlight the attraction and challenges of living in remote Australia. With a simple grid of streets centred on the pedestrian Todd Mall, Alice Springs is easy to navigate. Outside of the recommended highlights below, make sure you explore a couple of the superb Aboriginal Art galleries and shops and stop in one of the excellent cafes for lunch (I tried Page 27 which offers an excellent range of refreshing drinks and tasty dishes).

Layout of a typical Royal Flying Doctor Service plane.

Layout of a typical Royal Flying Doctor Service plane.

Established in 1928 by a visionary John Flynn (his grave is just outside town), the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) (and one of my two preferred charities), effectively combined the fledgling flight and radio industries (starting with pedal radios) to provide a ‘mantle of safety‘ for the isolated communities of inland Australia. Using aircraft and radio, the RFDS service provides both emergency and standard medical care to people who live, work and travel in the remote outback and regional Australia (remembering that some rural properties are bigger than many of the world’s nations). As a not-for-profit organisation, today the valued and remarkable RFDS operates from around 20 bases with over 65 aircraft, more than 650 staff and covering more than seven million square kilometres.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service offer tours of the service base in Alice Springs including the modern communications room and a highly recommended museum with early craft and radios on display (the entry fee contributes to the ongoing service).

The School of the Air utilise webcams and a variation of Skype to broadcast school lessons to children who live so remotely that standard schools are not viable. With correct timing, you can watch lessons in action or see displays of the 60-year history of this education service. Interestingly, the RFDS is sometimes used to ferry projects and written work to or from the school though the internet is starting to beat some of the challenges of such distances.

Panorama from Meyer's Hill (240 degrees). Access is from Olive Pink Botanical Gardens.

Panorama from Meyer’s Hill (240 degrees). Access is from Olive Pink Botanical Gardens. Click to see much larger image

NT Outback Alice Springs Meyer's Hill

The path up Meyer’s Hill

The Olive Pink Botanical Gardens near the centre of town on the Todd River hosts a fine collection of native plants suited to the harsh desert conditions of central Australia. Apart from enjoying an excellent coffee shop (who will also gladly fill your water bottle), there is a short climb up Meyer’s Hillfor a super 360 degree panorama of Alice Springs.

Alice Springs make a superb centre for exploring outback Australia with a fascinating array of sights highlighting the rich cultural Aboriginal history, the early pioneering days of European settlement, a vibrant city centre and significant current services such as School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. And I can think of no better way to explore a town like Alice than on a bicycle.

Tips

- If planning to cycle, carry plenty of water with you (recommendations is for a litre per hour). If planning to cycle out of town, speak to Longhorn to ensure that you are aware where you can refill your bottle.

- Longhorn Cycling hire rates and options, details of their guided tours and an excellent downloadable map is available on the Longhorn website.

- start early and enjoy the cool of the morning.

- A number of the places (incl the Telegraph Station) offer discounts for Longhorn renters (just show your hire tag).

- Try to time your visit to School of the Air with teaching times. Ask at an information centre for more detail.

The author travelled as a guest of Tourism NT and Plus7.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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