Mount Sonder, or Rwetyepme, its Aboriginal name, is the fourth
highest mountain in the Northern Territory, at 1380 metres above sea
level. Mount Zeil is the highest at 1531 metres, 27 kilometres to the
west. It is 130 km west of Alice Springs along the MacDonnell Ranges in
the West MacDonnell National Park. It marks one end of the celebrated
Larapinta trail, which extends 223 kilometres to Alice Springs.
The shape of the mountain is a double peak, the relative heights of
which are somewhat ambiguous from the summit, although easy to identify
from the surrounding plains. The mountain can be seen for the western
half of the Larapinta trail, up to Ormiston Pound, which obscures it
from then on.
A clearly defined walking track exists up the western side, taking
about 12 kilometres. Water is available from a water tank 50 m beyond
the carpark, and a direction plate can be found at the summit. This
however is not the true summit, which is 750m away, but has been chosen
for safety reasons. The view from the top boasts the taller Mount Zeil
to the west, the West MacDonnell Range to the east, Glen Helen, a
nearby resort, to the east and Gosses Bluff to the south west on a
During your walk keep an eye out for the termite tunnels on
spinifex, the Grey-headed honeyeater, the delicate desert mouse, and
the bright pink flowers of the Mountain Hakea. As you near the summit
take notice of how the vegetation changes, the Round-leaved mallee
prefers these high slopes and the stony cliffs provide the native pine
the protection they require from fire.
Raptors such as the Wedge-tailed eagle and the Peregrine falcon,
soar at mountain level scanning the ground for prey, and the wood
swallows often circle the summit, riding the thermal updraughts and
feasting on insects. For the determined walker who reaches the top,
1380 metres above sea level, the reward is an awe-inspiring view over
the West MacDonnell Ranges and the surrounding plains.
Mount Sonder was named in honour of the German botanist Wilhelm Otto
Sonder. To the local Western Arrernte Aboriginal People, the Mount
Sonder area, or Rwetyepme (roo - choop - ma), is criss-crossed with the
tracks of their dreamtime ancestors. The main story for Rwetyepme is
the Man / Euro (Hill Kangaroo) 'dreaming', told on signs at Redbank
Gorge. Mount Sonder itself, also holds significance to the local
Aboriginal People, the shape of the mountain is said to look like the
profile of a pregnant women lying on her back, sometimes called the
'sleeping woman' by the Aboriginal people. The meaning and significance
of the story is not revealed. The traditional landowners believe the
Dreamtime ancestors are still alive in the land today and the mountain.
Mount Sonder is 'Albert Namatjira Country' - the mountain was made
famous by the paintings of Albert Namatijra (1902-1959). In fact Mt.
Sonder features in the background of many of his paintings. His
painting, "Ghost Gum, Mt Sonder, MacDonnell Ranges)" c1953, hangs in
the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.