Alice, at the heart of Australia, is a dusty, lively town of chattering birds, beautiful ranges, gaps and gums, and the mostly dry bed of the Todd River. Here is the big city for all the desert communities, the site of so much inland Australian history, through Aboriginal tribal times still strong and extant to the colonial exploration of the ‘unknown’ interior. There are quality cafes, too, art galleries stocked with the best of desert aboriginal art, and all the conveniences and trappings of modern life. To get a good view of town, climb the abrupt mound of Anzac Hill or, better yet, the peak of Mt Gillen, and enjoy the breadth of the natural landscape with the tiny reality of Alice snug beneath the MacDonnell Ranges escarpment at its centre. Wending its way through town, is the mighty, mostly waterless, Todd River. A wild braid of white-trunked red gums, sand banks, rock and natural debris, it refreshes with flood every so often, and serves as a reminder to the suburban sprawl and big smoke development that this is still a wild place, where nature can bisect modern society at whim. See as much through the art of the local culture, too, at Araluen Arts Centre and the Desert Park just out of town, or just wander the river out of the day’s heat, and think of the great Australian desert adventure to come, whichever direction you head from its heart.