Australian desert is a vast, dramatic vista of rolling red dunes, deep gorges, mountain ranges and ancient habitats. It is a still profoundly rich environment after 4,500 million years. There’s nowhere on our planet quite like this.It’s also the traditional home of Australia’s indigenous people who have been here for tens of thousands of years.
The desert can be an intimidating landscape for first-time visitors and there’s nowhere better to get acquainted than the Alice Springs Desert Park. The park is located in the shadow of the imposing West MacDonnell Ranges, and is about a 10-minute drive from Alice Springs. Just put on your walking shoes, slap on sunscreen and a hat and get out there. Hundreds of species of plants and animals found across Central Australian deserts can be seen, smelt and heard.
The desert environment is as extreme as its beauty. It can be windy and cold or hot and dusty. I was there after an unprecedented amount of rain, rugged up with a scarf, multiple layers of wool and gloves. During the dry season the desert landscape is pared back, but when it rains everything seems to burst into a glorious rush of growth and dazzling colour.
Walking on the park’s trails you’ll quickly see the Australian desert has a rich variety of vegetation. This is the land of spinnifex, thorny devils, legless lizards and tower-building termites. The palette was subtle and mesmerising: from red river gums and silvery leaves to sun-yellow grevilleas. Red-tailed black cockatoos and tiny vivid desert birds as blue as the sapphire-hard sky. Pools of water reflected luminous foliage. A cool wind whistled through the gums.
Spring flowers in the desert are astonishingly bold and vivid. You are free to wander around the red sand park trails on your own – wildlife is viewed in exhibits – or take a guided tour. The nocturnal tour is a chance to see Australia’s most rare and elusive mammals, while the dawn bird-watching tour includes breakfast and binoculars. The park provides a sensitive and realistic insight into Aboriginal culture in the display and interpretation of the traditional use of plants and animals.
- During the Alice Desert Festival, held annually each September, the park’s café specialises in wild foods. I ate a damn good goat curry during my festival visit, which also included flavours of native spices and herbs. Give the pies and chips a miss!
I came away with a new respect for the wide brown land I call home. Except that “brown”tag seems sweepingly inappropriate.
Alice Springs Desert Park
Larapinta Drive, Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Phone: 08 8951 8788
Open 7.30am-6pm daily, except for Christmas Day. $A20 entry fee for adults, and $A10 for children aged 5-15.
Thanks to Northern Territory Tourism for arranging my visit.