Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters
This award-winning 4½-star hotel was originally a country club, built in 1981 and named Lasseters Hotel after the prospector who claimed to have discovered a massive gold deposit in Central Australia in 1897 (which was never found). In December 2016, it became a Crowne Plaza property, part of the InterContinental Hotel Group's return to the Northern Territory. It is 18 kilometres from the airport, across the road from the usually dry Todd River and 1.5 kilometres from central Alice Springs – a bit far to stroll to town for dinner, but there are mountain bikes for guests to use and a free shuttle bus that runs four times a day.
It's a sprawling complex: a 205-room hotel (including 12 suites) consisting of two- and three-storey apartment-like blocks; four restaurants, four bars, a nightclub and a casino, with Alice Springs Convention Centre right next door. In 2012, the hotel was expanded and upgraded to the tune of $45 million; 66 new premium rooms and suites were added as well as a resort-style swimming pool (heated to 28 degrees year-round and with two lap lanes), a health club and spa, a new restaurant (Tali) and a new, separate casino entrance. IHG will also do a $5 million refurbishment later this year.
My third-floor room is one of the new premium ones – and it shows. Everything is immaculate, airy and earthy: there's a sky-high ceiling and desert-red patterned carpet, and above the king bed is a painting by Walpiri artist Lisa Cubillo Napanangka, part of The Lasseters Collection of 80 original artworks by Central Australian Aboriginal artists; a bedside book profiles all the artists and you can buy smaller artworks from the hotel shop. From my balcony there are views of the pool and the MacDonnell Ranges; other rooms have views of the Todd River or Alice Springs Golf Course. Amenities include an armchair and reading lamp, a rainwater shower, a 42-inch LCD television and iPod dock, a well-stocked minibar (with kangaroo soft toy and beef jerky, a Territory classic), tea and coffee-making facilities, and free Wi-Fi.
Lasseters' main restaurant, Tali, is one of the best in Alice, known for its Australian-Asian fusion with a hint of outback. There's also the new Tempo wine and cocktail bar, Juicy Rump bar & grill, Splash poolside cafe and Casbah in the casino, and The Goat & Bucket bar serves food to match its selection of craft beers. Breakfast is an impressive buffet served in Tali, but the four wall-mounted televisions showing sport and news make it feel like a food court.
Alice Springs punches above its weight with attractions such as its Desert Park, Telegraph Station, Reptile Park and Olive Pink Flora Reserve (Australia's only arid zone botanical garden). The West MacDonnell Ranges, extending west from Alice, offer plenty of sights and short walks within a two-hour drive, including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm and Ormiston Pound. Alice is also the place for a hot-air balloon ride over the outback landscape; see outbackballooning.com.au
Crowne Plaza isn't Alice Spring's only big-name hotel (there are also AccorHotels and Hilton properties) but it's arguably the best, making up for its un-central location with resort-style facilities and views that inspire you to get out of town.
93 Barrett Drive, Alice Springs. Rates start at $140 a night for a standard room, $195 for a premium room, including Wi-Fi and bike rental. Breakfast costs $20 extra. See lasseters.com.au
Returning to my room just before sunset to find the sun streaming in, a welcome sight before a wintry desert night.
The hotel isn't right in town and it has a casino.
Louise Southerden was a guest of Tourism NT.