When Vicky Philpott misjudged the distance between Alice Springs and Ayres Rock she found there was more to see in town than just the famous rock.
‘Excuse me, which way is it to Ayers Rock?’
The train station ticket attendant looked me up and down. ‘Walking?’ he asked.
He laughed and shook his head.
‘About four days that way, mate,’ he replied, gesturing off into the distance.
My big plan to spend a day in Alice Springs for the compulsory standing-next-to-Uluru photo had been thwarted by my lack of research. I could’ve sworn Uluru – one of the most famous sites in Australia and a religious shrine to the aboriginal population – was in Alice Springs, but apparently not. My only defence now is that I was 18 and away from home for the first time.
I looked around from the train platform to the barren landscape searching for something else to do for the next 12 hours. At 270 miles away Ayers Rock was definitely off the agenda.
I looked up and saw a small plane coming into land not very far away. The Royal Flying Doctor Service logo decorated the side and I whooped with excitement inside when I realised what this meant, The Flying Doctors TV show! From deadly snake bites, to kids falling down holes to out-of-towners getting lost in the outback, it was one of my favourites! I wandered over to the landing strip and found the Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitors Centre. Oh my days, I was excited.
I took the Centre tour and heard the incredible stories of the people who worked there past and present. It was also a great opportunity to fly one of the aircraft, well, via a simulator anyway. After a little play with the Pedal Radio, I decided I better get on to make the most of my short time in Alice Springs.
Just over the road I found the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. I had a quick look round, met Terry the saltwater crocodile, got the heebie jeebies and headed for the door to leave. I was stopped in my tracks by a guy brandishing a huge snake and gesturing to put it around my neck. He seemed to take joy in my recoil and the kids who’d just had the same done to them were laughing at my fear. Stuff it, I was on holiday. If you like snakes, goanas, lizards and frogs this is your place, but for me it was definitely time to leave.
As a woman and a revolutionary (in my own way), I was drawn to the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame next to the reptile centre. Decorating the walls were the portraits of more than 100 women who’d made a big impact on Australia as we now know it. The photographs and descriptions were insightful but sometimes distressing – it was fascinating to learn about the sacrifices they’d made for the good of future generations. It was in the former Alice Springs Jail adding even more history and background to the exhibition.
After all this history, science and community work it was time to indulge in a little shopping and food. I’d spotted some signs to the Todd Mall and wandered through the Alice Springs township to the shopping centre. Alice Springs is wonderfully rural, with boutique shops and sweet little art exhibitions that take you back in time, although, the golden arches in the distance bring you back to the present day.
After getting a few snacks from the market in the Todd Mall I sat on the bench outside and I kid you not, was accompanied by a local guy playing the didgeridoo. Eating my dinner surrounded by aboriginal art and handicrafts deep in the beautiful barren desert, with the didgeridoo tooting away next to me was one of those moments I’ll never forget. When he finished I told him so and he invited me to the didgeridoo concert at his shop that night. I was sad to be leaving so soon.
When I go back to Alice Springs I’ll stay for longer, rent a car, check out the camel rides at Pyndan Camel Tracks and explore the Alice Springs Desert Park to learn more about the plants, animals and birds that inhabit the area. And of course, I’ll make that pilgrimage to the beautiful Ayers Rock too.
You might also like:
Vicky’s tips on Things to Do in Litchfield National Park, Darwin
Ed’s photo essay of Ayres Rock