Getting to Alice Springs

What’s the BEST Way to Get to Alice Springs?

Getting to Alice Springs Australia

We’re pretty sure we’ve got the most comprehensive page on the entire web about getting to Alice Springs.

After all, WE LIVE HERE, so we know a thing or two about getting here!

On this page you’ll find all of our local tips and tricks for getting here by various means of transport.

We’ve even included fuel costs for people who’d love to drive this amazing part of Australia.

By the end of the page, you’ll have an idea of which form of travel will suit you the best – and save you a lot of time and money.

Get access to free planning tools and outback travel tips here.

Flights to Alice Springs

Flights to Alice Springs

The bad news is that Alice Springs Australia has only ONE airline: Qantas.

In comparision with other Australian destinations, flights to Alice Springs tend to be expensive. As locals, we can tell you we are tired of being ripped off by Qantas, year after year.

The average price of a one way adult ticket from Sydney to Alice Springs is around $240.

Occasionally, Qantas have ‘Red-E’ specials to Alice Springs.

The best way to find out about these specials is to sign up on their mailing list here.

The Great Qantas Rip Off

You can get flights to Alice Springs from all Australian capital cities, with the exception of Canberra. Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are the cheapest routes, and occasionally, you’ll also get a good discount on tickets from these cities.

Flights to Alice Springs

A flight from Sydney to Alice Springs takes around three hours; from Melbourne, it takes about 3 and half hours.

Flights from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock take only 45 minutes, and are around $120 each way.

Flights from Alice Springs to Darwin and Perth are hideously expensive (around $400-$500 ONE WAY) and almost never discounted.

If you want to see Perth, it’s better to fly from another Australian destination.

The Ghan train offers a cheaper fare ($168) to Darwin – although we recommend that you drive.

Alice Springs Airport Tips

If you do fly in to Alice Springs Australia, be aware that the airport is located 15 km south of the town (it’s a 10 minute drive).

You can’t see the town from the airport, as it’s located on the other side of the MacDonnell Ranges, a short drive along the Stuart Highway and in through Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe).

Alice Springs airport is only small, and when you get off the plane, you exit via the stairs and you have a short walk across the tarmac.

Map of the airport terminal: Alice Springs Australia.

Alice Springs airport map

Although the map is small, if you’re flying in, you’ll enter the terminal at the bottom left of the map, and roughly walk through the centre of the building.

There are two sets of toilets, one set inside the security area and the other set just outside on the left.

A local secret for female passengers: if you’ve really got to pee when you land, AVOID the first lot of toilets, head through the security area and turn left. You’ll immediately see the much quieter toilets that we locals head for and there’s NEVER a queue!

The baggage carousel which actually operates is located to the right of the security checkpoint – so walk thought the security area and turn right to get your bags. The baggage carousel on the left hand side does not operate unless the other one breaks down!

Alice Springs airport shuttle

There is an airport shuttle service at the airport.

We almost lost our airport shuttle service at the beginning of 2012, and then the local tour company, Alice Wanderer came to the rescue.

As of February 2012, the prices are $15 per passenger for the first two (2) passengers in a group and then $10 for each subsequent passenger (one way).

You can book at the airport (there is a shuttle desk at the front of the airport just near the baggage carousel area) or book online here.

There are also plenty of taxis (around $30 into town) and private hire cars (around $48 into town – very expensive, so be warned!)

Many backpackers hostels have FREE shuttle services from the airport – so check these out when you arrive at the travel desks located at the front of the airport.

BEFORE You Hire a Car:

Do not hire a car at the airport.

For some reason that we simply don’t understand, hiring a car at either Alice Springs or Ayers Rock airports is more expensive than hiring it in the town (or at Ayers Rock Resort).

There is a hidden surcharge for airport hire.

Go figure.

However, if you simply MUST hire a car at airport, then rest assured that you can do so.

You’ll find car hire desks for Avis, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Hertz at the front of the airport, near the baggage carousel.

SERIOUSLY: Read our Alice Springs car hire page BEFORE you book anything.

You’ll find local tips that WILL save you a lot of money and unnecessary headaches.

Driving to Alice Springs

Without doubt, driving is the BEST way to get to Alice Springs Australia. Here’s why:

Driving to Alice Springs

  • you’ll experience all the fun and freedom of a real outback road trip
  • you can drive from Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide entirely on sealed roads
  • you don’t even need a 4WD.
  • there is so much to see and do along the way like driving the legendary Stuart Highway and visiting places like Port Augusta, Coober Pedy and Uluru along the way
  • you’ll get a real sense of just how big Australia is
  • you’ll see first hand that the outback is not just flat, boring and dusty. It’s actually got mountains and lots of trees
  • you can go where you want to go rather than following a tour itinerary, and stop when you want to stop
  • if you are an Aussie family or travelling in a group of three or more, it is MUCH cheaper than flying

For us, these are all reasons why we prefer to drive rather than fly.

The downsides?

Yes, there are a few. Here’s what’s not so good about driving to Alice Springs:

  • You will need to add in at least 3 extra travel days to your itinerary
  • Alice Springs is a long, long way from everywhere. Coober Pedy is 600km south; Tennant Creek is 503km north. Darwin is 1500km away!
  • If you’re driving from Sydney, Melbourne or even Adelaide, it’s going to take you at least 3 full days of driving to get to Alice Springs
  • the cost of fuel

Real Fuel Costs

Currently (2014) fuel in the roadhouses (service stations/gas stations) along the Stuart Highway is anywhere from $1.80 – $2.30 per litre. Fuel is cheaper in towns such as Port Augusta and Alice Springs, and much cheaper in capital cities.

Driving from Sydney to Ayers Rock in a 6 cylinder station wagon will cost you around $390 one way (based on a fuel price average of $1.80).

In a big 4WD like a Toyota Landcruiser or Prado, you’re looking at $710, based on an average of $1.80 per litre, and an economy of 13L/100km on the highway. (We know. We’ve got one!)

Driving to Alice Springs

Keep in mind that the return cost of fuel from Sydney to Alice Springs Australia in an ordinary family car is THE SAME PRICE as ONE ticket to Bali.

This means if you’re an Australian family with 2 or three children, an outback road trip (where you’re camping or staying in budget accommodation) is around $3000 cheaper than a one week trip to Bali (staying in 5 star accommodation).

Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself and see. We challenge you to do the maths and bust one of the biggest myths in the Australian travel industry.

Advice For Overseas Backpackers/Roadtrippers

How can you do an affordable Aussie outback road trip to Alice Springs just like Australian families can?

Here’s how to do it.

  • Buy a cheap car. It’s not that hard to do and it’s cheaper than you might imagine. This page will show you how.
  • Find folks to share fuel costs
  • OR team up with someone who’s got a car and is looking to share fuel costs

Our tip is to try Gum Tree first!

This Gum Tree page will give you details on where to find shared rides and people who might be able to help you out with sharing fuel costs.

Also check out this Gum Tree page.

Train/Rail Options

Alice Springs Australia, the Ghan rail service

The legendary Ghan train service runs once a week during the summer months (not twice per week as Lonely Planet and other websites claim) between Adelaide and Darwin, and is a great way to get to Alice Springs.

From April to October, there is a mid-week Ghan service as well.

Ghan‘ is short for Afghan, in honour of the Afghan cameleers whose long camel trains used to supply outback towns like Alice Springs with food and goods in the days before the train line was built.

Travelling on the Ghan gives you the chance to hop on and off the train, but remember that the train only comes through once a week in each direction!

There are a variety of passenger classes that you can choose when travelling on the Ghan, from the very expensive ‘Gold Class’ sleepers, right down to the very comfortable reclining sleeper chairs.

The sleeper chairs are $168 from Adelaide to Alice Springs, or from Darwin to Alice Springs.

Services from depart on Sundays at 12.20pm from Adelaide and arrive in Alice Springs on Mondays at 1.45pm, and in Darwin on Tuesdays at 5.30pm.

For bookings and further information, please visit Great Southern Railways’ website here.

Bus Options:

Bus travel to Alice Springs  is a real option if you’re looking to save money and see a lot of the outback

There’s a few good choices when it comes to bus travel to Alice Springs, so we’ll do our best to give you as many details as we can.

Greyhound Bus to Alice Springs

Greyhound Buses travel up and down the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs direct.

The Greyhound Bus terminal is located at 3/113 Todd Street (the main street) ph. 1300 473 946

Getting to Alice Springs

Here’s an idea of the locations, times and costs between Alice Springs and other places:

DESTINATION HOURS TRAVEL COST
Adelaide 20 $281
Coober Pedy 8 $137
Tennant Creek 6.5 $142
Katherine 16.6 $231
Darwin 22 $386

*NB. All costs are full priced adult fares. Backpacker, concession and student fares are cheaper.

If you’re planning on travelling by bus from Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide through to Darwin a cheaper way to buy bus tickets is with a Kilometre Pass

For example, a 4000 Kilometre Pass would allow you to travel from Adelaide to Darwin, via Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, for $637 (concession passengers get a bonus 600km).

With a Kilometer Pass, you can hop on and off the bus as MUCH as you like and the ticket lasts for 12 months.

Get the best prices and learn more about Greyhound bus tickets here.

Backpacker Bus Options

Bus to Alice Springs

If you’re travelling from Adelaide, Darwin or Cairns, then you’ve got the added option of joining a backpacker bus.

Now, we know that this option won’t be for everyone, and we haven’t tried it ourselves (although we plan to), but seriously, I think these kinds of tours would be awesome fun.

The plus side of these tours are their cost. For little more than an airfare, you get accommodation, sightseeing and a few meals thrown in.

The negatives are that you don’t get to choose what sightseeing you do, and if you get on a bus with a bunch of tossers, you’re stuck with them for the next 2 or 3 days!

Backpacker bus tours tend to stay in hostel or camping-style accommodation, and stop at Coober Pedy overnight on the way to Alice Springs.

We recommend Groovy Grape, which does a 3 day tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs Australia, for $285.

Learn more and book online here.

Desert Venturer which runs from Cairns to Alice Springs (or from Alice Springs to Cairns!) is also another option.

This is a 3 day journey which enables you to see the incredible diversity of the Australian landscape, from the tropical oceans to the arid outback mountains.

You stay in bunkhouse-style accommodation (shared), and prices start at an airfare-beating $360!

Bus From Alice Springs to Ayers Rock/Uluru and Kings Canyon

Bus companies who travel from Alice Springs Australia to Kings Canyon (Watarrka) and Ayers Rock/Uluru:

Rental Car Relocations

Alice Springs Australia

One of the cheapest ways to get to Alice Springs (or get out of Alice to elsewhere) is via a rental car relocation.

Rental car relocations are where someone has rented a car in one location and has finished their rental in another location, so the car hire company needs the car returned to its original rental office.

This means people looking to save money on travel can offer to drive rental cars for the companies at a nominal cost.

Costs for doing vary from $1 per day hire, and you only pay for the fuel, to the company paying part of the fuel costs and having no hire costs. Each company has its own method of working out the charges, so you’ll need to check before you book.

Rental car relocations between Alice Springs, Adelaide, Melbourne, Darwin and Cairns are very common, but come with a few disadvantages:

  • You sometimes have a very short time limit between places (i.e. 3 days from Cairns to Alice Springs), so there’s little time for sightseeing
  • Relocations book out VERY fast
  • If you’re travelling solo, this could mean a lot of driving (thousands of kilometres) in a very short amount of time in the outback

Where to Find Rental Car Relocations

Ok. Here’s the information you’re waiting for – where to find cars/campers and even 4WDs:

Hitching to Alice Springs Australia

We see lots of backpackers standing on the side of the Stuart Highway with their signs held out for Uluru.

We’ve occasionally picked people up and given them rides.

Hitching in Australia is reasonably safe – although I wouldn’t advise that women do it alone!

Dress nicely, hold up a sign and be prepared to wait. You will get a lift eventually.

Again, use your commonsense. If someone looks suspicious, then they probably are! Trust your gut feelings and don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Hitching in Australia can be fun and a cheap way to get around – but safety and commonsense must always come first!

Help Us Out

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Even better, if you’ve got any hints, tips or stories to tell about getting to Alice Springs Australia, then leave a comment in the comments section below.

We’d love to know! Whether it’s good or bad news, share your thoughts with everyone in the comments section below.

3 Comments

  • Bjørn Rasmussen says:

    Hello,
    My wife and I are from Denmark and planning a trip to Australia next year driving a motorhome from Adelaide March 1 and arriving in Cairns April 1. From there we want to go to Alice Springs with start April 5 and arrival in Alice Springs April 12.
    Could you please answer the following questions:
    1) Is the road from Cairns to Alice Springs are paved (solid) and possible to drive on by a motorhome
    2) Is it possible to drive there in April due to rainfall?
    Best regards,
    Bjørn Rasmussen

  • Natasha says:

    Hi,

    I have just came across your blog and it is just filled with all the information i am looking for! Thank you! I am thinking of doing a camper van relocation from sydney to Alice springs. i have a 6 day time frame, i want to know if you think this is actually achievable to do some sight seeing along the way too?

    Many thanks,
    Natasha

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, six days is realistic – we’ve done Alice to Sydney in 3 days. You’ll be able to at least stop in Coober Pedy along the way.

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