If you think there's nothing to see in the Red Centre of Australia
apart from Ululu, Alice Springs and lots of red desert, then you don't
know about the MacDonnell ranges. Stretching for 400km from east-west
in a series of parallel ranges, the East and West MacDonnell Ranges
straddle the town of Alice Springs, which sits alongside a gap between
The long term erosive work of streams in the ranges has created a
magnificent series of dramatic gaps and gorges which are easy to access
from Alice Springs and are truly a photographer's delight.
The majority of the natural attractions that visitors come to see
are in the West MacDonnell Ranges, which is protected by West
MacDonnell (Tyurretye) National Park, however the eastern branch still
has plenty of natural wonders to enthral the visitor. Tours of the
ranges operate from Alice Springs, taking in each section of the range
in day and half day tours. All the well known attractions are serviced
by well maintained sealed roads that are suitable to drive any kind of
vehicle along. For the best photographs, we recommend visiting the
gorges in the afternoon when the light on the rocks is far better than
in the mornings.
The West MacDonnell Ranges sweep around west from Alice Springs for
200 km. The ranges consist of a series of long, steep-sided parallel
ridges rising up to 600m high above the valley floors that were carved
by ancient rivers such as the Finke and Hugh Rivers. These are the most
popular natural features of the West MacDonnells.
Following Larapinta Drive west from Alice Springs, the road forks
after 47 kilometres; whereas the left turn goes towards Hermannsburg,
the right turn is named Namatjira Drive from here. It is named after
Albert Namatjira, a Western Arrarnta man who was born at Hermannsburg
Mission in 1902 and who was the first Aboriginal painter who used the
"European" way of painting his country. Having been given watercolours
as a young man, he immortalised the beauty of his country in countless
paintings. And it is precisely the kind of landscape that inspired him
that can be seen along the road that now bears his name.
The road runs along the southern boundary of the West MacDonnell National Park and features lush parkland and water holes.
Standley Chasm, near Alice Springs, is a huge gap at the tail end of
the West MacDonnell Ranges. The walls of Standley Chasm are so high, at
its base there is only sunlight for a few minutes around noon each day.
At this time, the sun strikes the walls and provides a glowing orange
effect. A stony path through the gap passes desert palms, mulga and a
variety of wildflowers. Rock wallabies scurry up sheer vertical rock
Situated 20 km west of Alice Springs, Simpsons Gap is another very
picturesque gap in the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park. The river
bed and waterhole in the gap are recognised as another good place to
see rock wallabies. It was named by Surveyor McMinn in 1871 while
exploring possible routes of the Overland Telegraph Line. One of the
most prominent waterholes in the West MacDonnell Ranges, Simpsons Gap
is an important spiritual site to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, where
several dreaming trails and stories cross.
This narrow gorge is a top swimming spot, its red cliff faces
are simply stunning in the afternoon sun. The pool of water is
quite small, but there is lots of sand around it. Also, growing
out of the cliff faces are black and white trees. Very distinct
contrast with the red cliff faces. The water is deep and
cold, however, due to the cathedral-height walls towering above. There
is a 20 minute walk to the gorge from the car park.
A lookout above the cliffs of this gorge gives visitors sweeping
views of this narrow, winding gorge and its series of semi-permanent
waterholes. Marked walking trails give entry into the gorge.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Another excellent swimming spot with a picnic area overlooking the
high red cliffs and sandy Ellery Creek.This is one of the most popular
and picturesque camping, walking, swimming and picnic spots in the West
MacDonnell Ranges National Park. The 3 km Dolomite walk gives close
access to the surrounding formations. The location is also at the
trailhead for sections 6 and 7 of the 223 kilometre Larapinta Trail