While Alice Springs might be the closest town to every beach in Australia, it’s also prohibitively far from all the nation’s capital cities. For many of us, this means a longish flight or maybe two; it means a fair bit of holiday budget sunk into airfares and accommodation; and it means we might think twice about whether the Red Centre is worth the effort.
But it is. With six trips to Alice under my belt, and my seventh on the way (all of them to race mountain bikes), I thought I’d share with you a few of the justifications I give my husband and my bank manager whenever the chance to visit this town like no other comes up.
1. The trails
We’ve lost count of how many hundreds of kilometres of singletrack there are looping through the desert close to Alice. Some say 200, some say 400. Who cares. There are a lot. They are all hand-built with real affection for the desert landscape and the mental challenge of smooth riding. Rocky, twisty, and surprisingly varied, this singletrack is full of character – a nice departure from the increasing same-same of bike park flow trails. These have their place, sure, but it’s amazing to ride trails that respond to their native territory, not the other way around.
Bonus: We hear rumours of even more new trails built by the bright desert moonlight to be showcased at this year’s Redback race (see below).
Check out our guide on what to pack when you head to Alice
2. The events
With that amount of trail, it’s easy to get lost (please don’t). We recommend heading to the Red Centre for one (or both) of the two mountain bike stage races she hosts each year. Let the event planners do the map-reading for you! Lasseters Easter in the Alice is held in April over the long weekend, and The Redback, generally held in August. While Easter in the Alice is behind us, in 2017 The Redback will celebrate its tenth anniversary, and it’s pulling out all the stops to make the celebration special, including heaps of activities outside just bike racing. Taking part in an event will add structure to your discovery of the trails, and makes a holiday a social experience, whether you make the trip solo, as a family, or with a bunch of riding buddies.
Bonus: This year The Redback is scheduled over the same weekend as the annual Alice on Todd boat races. This regatta of global infamy features inebriated locals piloting homemade boats down the dry Todd River bed on foot. One year it rained enough for the river to flow, so the regatta was cancelled.
3. The social scene
Alice really is one of the friendliest bike communities around. The town is big enough to provide plenty of shops, restaurants, and accommodation choices, but small enough that everyone seems to know there’s a bike race on – and thinks that’s just a great idea. Events such as The Redback take advantage of this by staging spectacles like the Anzac Hill Climb. Each year more and more effort goes into making both Lasseters Easter in the Alice and The Redback social, giving riders of all levels and ages to mix, as well as serving up new trails on a golden platter.
Bonus: This year Lasseters Easter in the Alice featured a film festival, and The Redback will host social rides, a Q&A with elite competitor James Downing, nightly presentations with happy hours, meals, and live music, plus an after party, whose goings on I will not be covering in my media reports.
4. The climate
Yes it rains. Does it rain often? No. No it does not. But describing Alice Springs’ weather simply doesn’t cut it. There’s a particular quality to the sunlight and the colours it creates when it hits red soil, pink quartz, and throws shadows beyond the MacDonnell ranges. There’s an incredible dimension to bracing cold mornings (pack your jacket) and the bone-dry air (washing dries within minutes!). Something you can’t capture in a photo – you’ll need to experience it yourself.
Bonus: Daily temperatures in August (when the Redback is held) reach about 24 degrees, perfect riding weather, and enough heat to demand a dip in the hotel pool post-stage.
5. The natural wonders
Whether you ride mountain bikes or not, everyone should visit the Red Centre at least once to experience the treasures Australia’s desert heart has to offer. There’s Uluru, of course, but also gems like Kings Canyon, Finke Gorge, and the 36 rounded domes of Kata Tjuta. On the bike, there’s plenty of immense vistas and natural oddities to absorb day-to-day, but bookend your trip to Alice with a few days’ sightseeing so you have time to head further afield.
Closer to home the Alice Springs Desert Park makes all manner of desert critters accessible, and the MacDonnell Ranges offer up loads of hidden treasures.
Bonus: The perfect reco ride meets a fabulous adventure. The Simpsons Gap Bike Path is a flat, sealed, off road cycleway that traces the foothills of the West MacDonnell Ranges for 17 kilometres, finishing at the dramatic Simpsons Gap.
Alice is a fair trip for many of us, but nobody’s ever regretted lugging their bike to the Red Centre for an event. If you book early you can take advantage of lower airfares (we scored airfares for $600 return on Virgin), and there are earlybird discounts on race entries and hotel bookings, as well as discounts for groups on offer from both Easter in the Alice and the upcoming Redback. Put your reservations aside and make a reservation instead!