Stranded in a red desert in the very heart of Australia, the hidden town of Alice Springs still has the remote feel of a pioneer outpost. Just looking up at the night sky above the town, dazzling with huge stars, will give you a sense of isolation: the spectacular constellations are a reminder that the nearest city, with its comforts and light pollution alike, is more than 900 miles away, across a small country's-worth of wilderness. But the very loneliness of Alice is a function of its wonder. This remote town is the gateway to some of the wildest and most dramatic landscapes you'll find in Australia, or anywhere else, for that matter: the rolling scrub-and-sand pathways of the Larapinta Trail bushwalk; the endless ochre crags of the MacDonnell mountain ranges; and the sacred heart of Australia, Uluru/Ayers Rock, the gigantic red-glowing sandstone formation that according to legend was set up by spirit ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians.
If you've ever wondered what it would feel like to live in "A Town like Alice", find your way to Alice Springs and penetrate to the core of Australia's Red Centre. Head north out of town on National Highway 87 to gape at the Karlu-Karlu, or "Devil's marbles", an extraordinary formation of rounded boulders balancing precariously atop one another. Uluru itself is a half-day's drive south-west of Alice: arrive in time for sunrise or sunset and make the 6-mile pilgrimage around its base as blood-red light suffuses the great rock. Then travel east to the Olgas, the many-headed Kata Tjuta rocks, home of giants, kangaroo-men and lizard-women in Aboriginal mythology, and the summer quarters of the great serpent king Wanambi. Cleverly-sited viewpoints mean that you can watch dawn or dusk over both Uluru and the Kata Tjuta at once: two views combined, either one of which less fortunate travellers the world over can live out their lives still longing to see. But while the scenery around Alice Springs will boggle your mind, don't forget to check out the town too. With its Mbantua gallery devoted to Aboriginal art, a kangaroo sanctuary where you can cuddle orphaned baby joeys, and more local festivals than you can shake a stick at (including the world's only dry river regatta), Alice herself is a bit of a wonderland.