Weird ingredient in Australia’s best vanilla slice

But Alice Springs’ Casa Nostra is home to one of the country’s greatest dessert innovations.

It may look like your standard Italian vanilla custard slice but instead of the custard being sandwiched between puff pastry, they have gone and used that Aussie pantry staple, the humble Sao biscuit. And my goodness, it’s a stroke of genius.

Weird ingredient in Australia’s best vanilla slice

I sampled this culinary triumph when I visited the Red Centre for the Henley on Todd Regatta. I was told to get in early — as soon as they open if possible — as this iconic sweet treat tends to sell out. People even pre-order it if they are coming in for dinner.

So I ordered a takeaway slice, carted it to the top of Anzac Hill and devoured it while watching the sun set over the rusty red of Alice Springs. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment, but I think we can all agree I do not have a strong future in food photography:

It was the perfect opener to a couple of days in Australia’s Red Centre, a part of the world that is truly magnetic.

The remoteness and the heady mix of jaw-dropping natural beauty, laconic pace and rich indigenous history is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. In the space of just a few days I saw things that made me both laugh and cry. It’s a truly powerful part of the world.

I tell anyone who’ll stop long enough to listen that they should go there. These are my hot tips of what to do once you arrive:


If you are not moved by the baby kangaroo rescue centre, there is something seriously wrong with you.

You can visit this wildlife sanctuary (where they take care of both orphaned joeys and injured adult kangaroos) for a guided sunset tour from Tuesday to Fridays. Be sure to book, you can’t just rock up. I lose it every time I watch this video of a tiny kangaroo almost stacking on a door mat:


Alice Springs is one of the most remote places in the world, and as such, this is one of the best spots on the planet for star gazing.

Situated on 100 acres of desert wilderness overlooking the spectacular East MacDonnell Ranges, Earth Sanctuary offers nightly astronomy tours. The guides really know their stuff and they have an impressive telescope that they let you take a peek through.

They also brew their own beer here called Red Centre Devil, infused with Quandong fruit (a native peach). Going for a wander around the property and sipping one of these as the sun sets is a cracking start to your evening.

Looking at the galaxy from the desert is a magical experience. I saw heaps of shooting stars and made a wish every single time. None have come true, but I really can’t hold that against the Earth Sanctuary World Nature Centre.


Once you recover from the heart attack you have when they tell you how early pick-up time is, going on a balloon ride in the outback is all sorts of wonderful. It’s so incredibly quiet. As the sun rises and you glide above the landscape you can see mobs of kangaroos bounding across the sand. The views and colours soon make you forget that these people are responsible for you only having four hours sleep the night before.


Hooley dooley, those West MacDonnell Ranges really know how to turn it on. The ranges that flank Alice Springs are extraordinary for their immensity and the spectacular array of sunburnt oranges, maroons and purples on display.

I did a day tour with Emu Run Experience that takes in iconic spots like Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, the Ochre Pits, and Ormiston Gorge.

It was nice to make friends with some fellow travellers and not focus on driving for a while. I could simply gaze out the bus window at the phenomenal landscape as it sailed by. In summer you can swim at Ellery Creek Big Hole, one of Central Australia’s most pristine waterholes.

Ormiston Gorge Water Hole. Picture: Tourism NT/Matt Cherubino
The West MacDonnell Ranges are even better up close. Picture: Tourism Australia/Nicholas Kavo


Alice Springs has a rich history when it comes to indigenous art. The Araluen Arts Centre is a great spot to go and acquaint yourself with some of the famous artists from the area. The precinct is centred around a culturally significant 300-year-old corkwood tree that sits at the heart of the sculptural garden.

I highly recommend you visit Tangentyere Artists’ gallery. About 400 local artists are represented by this Aboriginal owned not-for-profit art centre, so there’s a wide range of styles and mediums on display.

As the gallery states, “many wonderful stories arise out of the sometimes difficult conditions of the Town Camps for those who take the time to look and listen. And we are very pleased to be able to share them with you to show that Town Camp homes are important places in which real people live their lives, positive places, worthy of the respect that any person and their home deserves”.

This painting I purchased has quickly become one of my most beloved travel souvenirs:


I’ve already waxed lyrical about Casa Nostra, but the other food winners I discovered were Page 27 for excellent coffee, great breakfast and a charming sunny area to eat it in (wholesome smug breakfast pic below).

The Bean Tree Café (set in the Olive Pink Botanic Garden) is my pick for lunch. The 16ha garden is the legacy of Miss Pink, who took up occupancy of the area in 1956 and with the assistance of her Warlpiri assistant gardeners spent the next two decades battling drought conditions to plant an eclectic mix of native trees and shrubs, cacti and garden flowers. It’s a tranquil oasis in the middle of the desert and you have to admire that lady’s tenacity. Be sure to amble through it after lunch.

For dinner, I highly recommend Hanuman. It’s one of the few NT restaurants to have been recognised by the Good Food Guide. This barramundi curry is one of the best I have ever had.


I had a really lovely walk around the old Telegraph Station just out of town. Wandering up a dry river bed flanked by swaying trees was a relaxing way to kill a few hours. But this car in the parking lot really made it worth my while. That is one huge clan, and I desperately want to know what certain family members did to get scrubbed out:

I also had a really good time with the menu at the Alice Springs Brewing Co. Kyle Pearson brews all his beers onsite (treat yourself to the tasting paddle) and he has a ripping sense of humour, as displayed throughout the menu:

Quite possibly the best menu in the country. Picture: Supplied

Also, nothing says “outback hospitality” like an array of complimentary personal hygiene products on a keg in the dunnies:


There was something wonderful about this kid riding a shark at the Henley on Todd Regatta that punched me right in the heart. Ride on, you little legend.

I also teared up a couple of times standing by myself out in the West MacDonnell Ranges. The only thing I could hear was the wind swishing through the native grasses. At moments like that you get a chance to truly stop, and marvel at the vastness and heart-stopping beauty of our home.

Simone Mitchell travelled to Alice Springs as a guest of Tourism NT.

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