Alice Springs sits at the very heart of Australia, but it's also a place where you can up your own heart rate up through a range of activities that will unveil Central Australia at a different pace.
Pedal a bike along the flat foot of an outback mountain range, float silently across the sky in a hot-air balloon, or immerse yourself in one of the country's most spectacular long-distance walking trails that begins on Alice Springs' very doorstep.
The Larapinta Trail is one of Australia's grandest adventures on foot. Running from the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, it traverses the length of the West MacDonnell Ranges, winding through a multitude of gorges and gaps that are among the most spectacular natural features in Central Australia.
Established in 1998, locally owned Trek Larapinta was a pioneer of guided trekking tours on the Larapinta Trail, and the company continues to bring strong local knowledge and community connections to its Larapinta trips.
Trek Larapinta specialises in small group treks with a maximum group size of just 10 trekkers. They offer a multitude of hike options, from a three-day trail taster that takes in the likes of Ormiston Gorge and the Larapinta's signature lookout at Counts Point, to a 15-day epic carrying a full backpack the entire length of the 223-kilometre trail. To experience the most wild, remote and spectacular sections of the trail between Jay Creek and Hugh Gorge, try the Super Six-day Larapinta Trail trek.
Nights on the treks are spent at their private eco camps in luxury tents or traditional outback swags, beneath star-filled outback skies. Three-course dinners feature fresh, organic produce as much as possible, cooked on a campfire using sustainably sourced wood from outside the national park. The scent of fresh brewed tea and coffee greets each new day.
Trek Larapinta also runs shuttle transfer services and food drops for independent Larapinta Trail hikers, as well as volunteer projects along the trail run in conjunction with the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Trek Larapinta wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country for allowing us the opportunity to share this magnificent place.
Slow your Central Australia journey down by seeing Alice Springs and its surrounds at cycling speed. The riding is predominantly flat and you can hire a bike, or join a mountain bike tour, from Outback Cycling at the Trail Station Cafe inside the Alice Springs Telegraph Station.
For a short ride, simply follow the Riverside Walk along the banks of the Todd River between the Telegraph Station and the Alice Springs township, three kilometres away, or you can stretch the cycle into a full day by venturing out of town on the Simpsons Gap bike path.
This wide, sealed path begins at Flynn's Grave, seven kilometres outside of Alice Springs, and journeys along the foot of the West MacDonnell Ranges to the first major break in the range at the spectacular Simpsons Gap, where several Aboriginal dreaming trails and stories intersect. Park your bike and wander into the gap to search for the resident black-footed wallabies.
If you're riding from Flynn's Grave, it's a 34-kilometre return cycle to Simpsons Gap. If you're starting and ending at the Telegraph Station, it's a 56-kilometre day.
If you want to step things up a gear, you can also join one of Outback Cycling's daily mountain bike tours. These rides are customised to the group, from the freewheeling fun of an easy beginner ride, to flowing trails for intermediate riders and technical epics for experienced mountain bikers.
Bike hire includes helmet and lock, with toddler bike seats or tag-along extenders also available.
The only way to sail in the outback is across the sky, gliding serenely through the desert dawn in a hot-air balloon.
Flights with Outback Ballooning take to the air before sunrise, ascending as first light illuminates the orange rocks and white ghost gums of the MacDonnell Ranges (take off time can vary according to weather conditions). It's a gentle journey, travelling with the wind over the red-sand country of the Owen Springs Reserve, looking to the mountains and deeply cut gorges of the MacDonnell Ranges.
Kangaroos are often seen bounding across the red-sand, and the scale of the outback landscape is so vast when viewed from the air it's almost beyond comprehension - the MacDonnell Ranges stretch across the landscape, and the sand dunes run in long parallel lines, their shadows shortening as the sun climbs higher above the horizon.
Flights last 30 minutes or one hour, landing in secluded, silent areas, far from roads, where you'll finish the journey with a glass of Australian sparkling wine or tropical juice accompanied by muffins, slices, cheese and fresh fruit. It's the perfect start to an outback day.
Outback Ballooning flights take place approximately 15 kilometres south of Alice Springs, with a complimentary shuttle service running from hotels in the town. Allow up to 4 hours for this tour.
This article brought to you by Tourism Central Australia. Discover more about Australia's adventurous Red Centre at http://www.discovercentralaustralia.com