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For some travellers, Alice Springs might just be a pit stop on their way to Uluru. But spend some time in this famous outback town and you’ll uncover a destination rich in culture on the doorstep of some truly stunning natural wonders. Here’s a culture- and nature-lover’s guide to a weekend in Alice.

See Sunrise From a Hot-Air Balloon
There are plenty of ways to witness Australia’s Red Centre, but nothing quite compares to a dawn ride in a hot air balloon. Floating a kilometre above the desert with its desiccated scrub and rangy grasslands, this is a great way to fully appreciate the vastness of the continent’s interior. You’ll see enormous cattle stations and plenty of native wildlife, but you’ll also experience an outback dawn from up high, watching as the sun slowly illuminates the West MacDonnell Ranges, its dramatic escarpments and ridge lines changing colour in the shifting light. Alice Springs-based Outback Ballooning conducts both half-hour and hour-long flights, the entire tour taking four hours from hotel pick-up to drop-off. The flight includes refreshments and a celebratory glass of sparkling wine. You’ll even receive a flight certificate to take home. Neat.

Do Some Outback Stargazing at Earth Sanctuary
Located 15 minutes south of Alice Springs, Earth Sanctuary is the place to get an almighty crash course in the Australian night sky. Guides use laser pointers and telescopes to help you explore the Milky Way which, out here, away from any major light pollution, is a rich, white band that stretches out across the sky above you. There are public tours, but also private options for individuals, couples and small groups that pair you with your own sky guide. Groups of 15 people or more can make a night of it with a three-course barbeque dinner that features champagne on arrival and a show that helps you learn about local ecology and culture alongside the snazzy astronomy lessons. As for when to visit, keep an eye on the Earth Sanctuary website for its handy calendar of celestial events.

Explore Aboriginal Art and Culture in and Around the City
The Red Centre is a hub for one of Australia’s most vibrant Indigenous art scenes. When visiting Alice Springs, try to make time for art centres such as Mbantua Fine Art Gallery or the renowned Araluen Cultural Precinct, which is a beacon for the town’s visual-art and performance culture and the location of the celebrated Albert Namatjira Gallery. If you can, time your visit with the Parrtjima Light Festival, which over 10 days celebrates Aboriginal culture via enormous light installations, interactive workshops, talks, films and live music. The Instagrammable star of the festival is undoubtedly the spectacular lighting displays that are projected across the primordial canvas of the MacDonnell Ranges – they shouldn’t be missed.

To get a true hands-on experience with local Indigenous culture, check out one of the many bookable experiences that operate out of Alice. RT Tours Australia Mbantua Starlight and Bush Dinner Tour takes small groups out along the West McDonnell Ranges for a three-course alfresco bush tucker meal, cooked by Indigenous chef, Bob Taylor. Along the way, you’ll check out Simpsons Gap, learn about bush food and local wildlife, and hear Dreamtime stories drawn from the Arrernte people’s 35,000 years of history in the region.

Witness the Enormous Crater at Gosse Bluff (Tnorala)
The site of an ancient comet strike, Gosse Bluff – or Tnorala, as it’s known by local Western Arrernte people – was once an enormous crater, 20 kilometres across. These days, from a distance, it may look more like a striking curio, 150 million years of erosion reducing the bluff to a gathering of isolated peaks rising out of the outback scrub. But a drive into its centre reveals a breathtaking geological formation. The bluff has two walks, the longer of which provides some nice views of the crater – just remember this is a sacred site for traditional owners, so be considerate of any no-access signs. It’s a 175-kilometre drive back to Alice Springs. On the way, stop for a swim at Ellery Creek Big Hole, a spectacular waterhole that’s also a terrific picnic spot, and make time to check out Standley Chasm Angkerle Atwatye, a dramatic 80-metre-deep, nine-metre-wide cut in the earth formed by millions of years of floods and erosion.

Hike the Larapinta Trail
A celebrated long-distance arid-zone walk, the Larapinta Trail traverses the West MacDonnell Ranges 223 kilometres east to west. Divided into 12 different sections and taking between 12 and 14 days to complete, the walk weaves together must-see geological formations in the region such as Ellery Creek Big Hole, Simpson’s Gap, Ormiston Gorge and Mount Sonder. Along the way, you’ll witness weathered ridge lines, spinifex-dotted valleys, horizon-bursting sunrises and rich-red sunsets. There’s a bunch of different ways to experience the trail, from walks with professional wilderness guides, to self-guided treks. For accommodation, there are 41 campsites in which to pitch a tent and a bunch of fancier eco-campsites for those booking through Larapinta Trail Walk and wanting to push the boat out. Don’t want to do it all? No problem: each section has its own trailhead with four-wheel-drive access, so you can join or the leave the walk at any point.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, lazy holiday or epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better – or more important – time to get out and explore. Take a Holiday Here This Year.