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By Michele Castagna,
A mecca of tourism, magnificent scenery, stupendous ancient ranges and rock formations. People of the Dreamtime. All very well, but how is the "Alice and Surrounds" for accessible accommodation, sightseeing and touring?
Let me begin with the arrival. At Alice Springs airport, fork lift on and off the aircraft is the go - no aero bridges here. Airport personnel are experienced in this procedure, likewise at Uluru (Ayers Rock) where fork lift facilities are utilised.
First stop, the most famous visited place of all. Approximately 2 hour flight or 5 hour coach trip from the Alice. Once there, the following facilities are available.
A memorable outback experience indeed. The extremes in temperature from heat to cold, dependant on the season of the year, must be kept in mind. Dehydration, especially for spinal injured persons, is a real issue, and the cold is a desert cold with temperatures often below zero. The checking of weather conditions is encouraged to ensure body comfort and temperatures are adequate to the individual when visiting.
The major option for travel is flying, as there are no accessible coach tours to and from Uluru and the Olgas. If one has the capacity to transfer independently, a mini bus tour could be a possibility. Negotiations with a Taxi Toyota 8 seater van from Alice Springs is also an option, though may be pricey.
Your attention is drawn to the fact that a compacted sand track around the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock) exists, which can be hard pushing for some in certain places, dependent on weather conditions.
There is no accessible loo at the base of the Rock, one would need to return to the Culture Centre or to their accommodation.
There are no TTY facilities at Uluru or catering for the special needs of persons with vision or hearing impairment. Signage is signage and that's it, not sure of contrasting colours or size and no audio equipment available.
Alice Springs has as its charter that the town is to be fully accessible by the year 2000. This is pretty ambitious to be sure, however the flat environment and tidy town does lend itself to quite an accessible place for holidays even as it is.
There may be instances of badly designed pram ramps not in line with AS 1428 and sometimes the camber of footpaths may be inconveniently sloped towards the gutter at a bad angle. However these are few and can be happily avoided.
It is not perfect and there are many inconveniences. On a scale 1-10, it would rate 8 at least if not more, depending on a person's ability to mobilise.
There are three wheel chair accessible taxi vans available. With the advent of reciprocal taxi vouchers between States and Territories, the scheme is a godsend and can be used by interstate recipients of the scheme, saving many dollars.
Shorter trips closer to "Alice" are also feasible, such as the Desert Park (marvellous), Simpson's Gap, Old Telegraph Station, to mention a few.
In town there is a Telstra TTY at the Alice Plaza shopping precinct in the Todd Mall and another at the Town Library in Gregory Terrace. It is hoped that in the near future an audio accessible ATM at the Commonwealth Bank will be installed as part of a nation-wide trial.
Street Signage is both good and bad, the contrasting colours are considered poorly executed. However, people are friendly and are only too willing to assist with directions if one becomes lost or confused.
The Desert Park is a world within worlds, highlighting many aspects of Territory environments from arid dry dusty landscapes to bushlands.
Fully accessible and close to town, this is a MUST and a delightful visit.
Informative signage (very newsy), nocturnal house, a variety of flora and fauna to be seen, culminating in a superb display of birds of prey doing their thing.
Bird of Prey demonstrations are held at 10.00am and 3.00pm daily. Not to be missed.
An enormous cinematic movie relating the primeval history of the coming of Central Australia is dramatic, moving and visually exciting.
A restaurant / cafe and accessible toilets are easy to locate and should meet most peoples needs.
Very scenic, barbecue area and walking tracks.
The Gorge track is narrow and hugs the gap. It is not possible to travel right around and through the Gap but sufficient for atmosphere and feeling plus a visual treat.
If really lucky on the day, it is possible to view rock wallabies at play.
For the more adventurous soul, the 17km bike track from Flynn's Grave to Simpson's Gap is a treat, a mini expedition into the outback, kangaroos and numerous bird life can be seen and experienced. The silence of the bush is over whelming, the sensation unbelievable. A get away from a get away.
Standley Chasm is not truly accessible, however the trip on route traverses the magnificent Western McDonald Ranges in all its hues and colours. Once there, a kiosk exists for a welcome cuppa and eats or barbecue facilities for the much loved Aussie barbie, bring your own tucker.
The chasm is spectacular, evocative and memorable, approximately 50 kilometres from town.
One could continue further through the McDonald Ranges, Ellery Gorge, not accessible but viewable from a car window, Serpentine Gorge is not an option however Ormiston Gorge definitely is. Added bonus here with accessible loo available plus picnic area, waterhole and bird life. Sit under the remarkable and beautiful Albert Namajera, ghost gums, absorb the heat and silence and dream a little.
The gods could experience nothing more sublime.
Off now to Glen Helen last of the pearls in the Western McDonald Ranges.
It is not possible to negotiate the sand and see the amazing rock formation known as the Piper Organ, still the sight is awe inspiring.
Helicopter flights are often available. These are an "out of this world" experience and present the only opportunity to glimpse Palm Valley - unbelievable. There are usually willing staff present to assist with lifting passengers into helicopter if necessary. Great Stuff. What an exciting adventure.
The Old Telegraph Station, on the outskirts of town, is also part of history, being the original site of Alice Springs then known as Stuart.
This is where the first telegraph was started, to meet up many months later with the telegraph from Darwin.
With or without the rain of late, the Telegraph Station is picturesque and plainly historical with beautiful preserved buildings, remnants of the past very visible. Access into and around buildings is good. Barbecue facilities are situated on shady grassed areas overlooking the original waterhole, is peaceful and charming. Benches and tables in various locations are there for visitor use. Wild wallabies can be seen if one is lucky or visits the site early enough in the day.
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