1 Mereenie Loop Road 'Lift Um Foot' and 'Puttum Back Down' are the only traffic signs - painted on dented oil drums - along the side of this bumpy dirt highway. Connecting Alice Springs to Kings Canyon, this dusty, bouncy and often deserted road traverses some pristine outback country. Wild camels and brumbies graze by the roadside, while wild cats slink furtively behind the bushes. A sturdy 4WD is highly recommended. Permits to drive on this road are obligatory and can be purchased from the Tourist Information Centre in Alice Springs, the Kings Canyon Resort and the Kata-Anga Tea Rooms at Hermannsburg. 2 Alice Springs Telegraph Station In 1872, Australia became connected to the world through the Overland Telegraph line. For the technology to work across the vast continent, the signal had to be boosted. A suitable site for a telegraph station had to be found in the centre of Australia, hence the birth of Alice Springs. Messages that once took months to reach Australia by sea now took hours. By 1900 the station was home to a cook, a blacksmith-stockman, a governess, four telegraph operators and the station master and his family. You can wander through the preserved cluster of stone buildings that include the original post office, stables, station master's residence, barracks, buggy shed and telegraph office, which has antique telegraph instruments on display ( www.nt.gov.au ). 3 Alice Springs Desert Park A native animal reserve, botanical gardens and museum rolled into one, Alice Springs Desert Park gives visitors an appreciation of the diverse landscapes of central Australia. Put on walking shoes and explore the habitats set up to represent its landscapes. You'll find hundreds of species of animals and plants. The Nocturnal House is a good place to spot endangered animals of the night, such as the almost extinct Mala wallaby. Offspring from this particular colony have since been introduced to zoos and parks around Australia. Best of all is a stunning display of falconry held at the Nature Theatre, where you'll see the native wedgetail eagles - among the largest eagles in the world - soaring and swooping to their handlers' signals ( www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au ). 4 West McDonnell Ranges Stunning gorges and rock formations form striking vistas across the West McDonnell Ranges. Simpsons Gap has a permanent pool of drinking water for wildlife and is a magnet for rock wallabies. Visit Standley Chasm at about midday and catch the flaming orange hues. It's a pleasant 30- minute walk through the wilderness to the main viewing point, but for a more challenging trek, clamber over the boulders in Standley Chasm to reach the Larapinta Trail. In summer, Ellery Creek, Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge are good places for a cool dip. Stop at Tyler's Pass for spectacular views of Tnorala, the 5km-wide crater created by a comet 142.5 million years ago ( www.central australiatourism.com). 5 Aboriginal art Long before Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira became world famous, savvy Alice Springs art connoisseurs were stocking up on his paintings. Today, heartened by the burgeoning Aboriginal art scene, many residents and visitors are buying works by new artists. Stroll through the town and you'll find that every second store is a gallery of some description. The Mbantua Gallery ( www.mbantua . com.au) has displays of paintings, carvings and pottery. Gallery Gondwana ( www.gallerygondwana.com.au ) has a range of jewellery, glass, metal and ceramics. The Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre operates an art gallery and runs cultural tours (www. aboriginalart.com). 6 Henley-on-Todd Regatta The Henley-on-Todd is loosely modelled on Britain's Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames. The Todd River doesn't have much water, but that's no obstacle. Each September, competitors take to a variety of bottomless craft and run through the deep, coarse sand of the Todd riverbed. The event also attracts participants from the audience, who may find themselves paddling canoes with shovels and filling metal drums with sand ( www.henleyontodd.com.au ). 7 Alice Springs Cultural Precinct Soak up some indigenous culture in the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct. The key attractions of this educational establishment are the Central Australian Aviation Museum (which among its many exhibits has two early flying doctor aircraft), a 500-seat theatre for live performances, the Museum of Central Australia, the Northern Territory's largest collection of original paintings by Aboriginal artists and demonstrations by sculptors, carvers and painters. 8 Heritage walk Take yourself on a self-guided heritage walk of the town and discover the history of this desert community. There's an excellent view of the town and the surrounding ranges to be had from Anzac Hill, a memorial to lives lost in world conflicts. The National Pioneers Women's Hall of Fame contains fascinating displays about Australian women who were leaders in their fields ( www.pioneerwomen . com.au). The Royal Flying Doctor Service ( www.flyingdoctor.net/ central) gives short talks about the difficulties in providing medical services to the bush. 9 Take a camel to breakfast For 50 years before the railway's arrival in 1929, everything arrived in Alice Springs by camel train. Introduced to Australia by Afghan camel masters, these desert convoys carried large burdens over long distances and were ideally suited to the isolated conditions. The effort required to ride a camel can help you work up an appetite, and the Frontier Camel Farm prepares a hearty bush breakfast of orange juice, fruit and cereal, barbecued bacon and eggs and home-made beer bread with lashings of locally made Quandong jam ( www.cameltours.com.au ). 10 Explore the desert Drive off into the Simpson Desert and marvel at its ancient fossils. At Chambers Pillar you can climb a staircase to view engravings left by early pioneers and enjoy amazing views of the desert landscape. Pull on your walking boots and hike through Rainbow Valley, where you'll be dazzled by the magical reflections. In winter you can spot hot-air balloons floating dreamily above the desert ( www.outbackexperience . com.au). Another way of experiencing the desert is from the comfort of the Ghan train, which connects Adelaide to Darwin through Alice Springs ( www.gsr.com.au ).