Macdonnell Ranges Travel Guide

  • Ellery Creek Big Hole
    Ellery Creek Big Hole
    by AlbuqRay
  • Arltunga Mining Ghost Town
    Arltunga Mining Ghost Town
    by AlbuqRay
  • Ramp Falling Apart and Door Boarded Up
    Ramp Falling Apart and Door Boarded Up
    by AlbuqRay

Macdonnell Ranges Things to Do

  • Trail to Simpsons Gap

    It was 17:00 on 18 Aug 2010 when we got to the Simpsons Gap access road. Because it was so late and because Simpsons Gap is only 17 km from Alice Springs, we decided to visit the next day. Although the Visitors' Center (see a separate tip) is 5 km away, it is only a 20 min return walk from the trailhead to the gap and back. The current trail was...

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  • Simpsons Gap Visitors' Center

    There is a nice Visitors' Center on the access road with many posters and interactive displays. Simpsons Gap was discovered by non-Aboriginal people in 1871 by Gilbert McMinn, a member of the Overland Telegraph survey party. On his map he spelled the name as "Simsons Gap." Why he did so is unclear. Also why the spelling was later changed to...

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  • Simpsons Gap

    Simpsons Gap is one of a number of scenic gaps that pierce the West MacDonnell Ranges and is one of the most prominent waterholes in the region. Simpsons Gap is an important spiritual site to the Central Arrernte people and is called Rungatjirpe (pronounced Rung-GAH-chip-uh) by them. It is where several dreaming trails and stories cross. As the...

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  • Dragon on Standley Chasm Access Road

    About two-thirds of the 10 km access road to Standley Chasm is in the national park. When we had gone ~3 km, we came across a fearless "dragon" in the center of the road. Even as we drove up to it and stopped, it never moved. It had the attitude of "this is my road and get that truck out of here before I rip a tire off!" Actually I think it was a...

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  • Standley Chasm

    Standley Chasm (Angkerle) is Aboriginal land and is part of the Iwupataka Land Trust. It is surrounded by the West MacDonnell National Park. Standley Chasm is operated by an Aboriginal family and there is an 8 AUD entry fee. There are many facilities including a campground, restaurant, gift shop and running water toilets (see a separate tip). We...

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  • Facilities at Standley Chasm

    There are many facilities at Standley Chasm including a campground, restaurant, gift shop and running water toilets. The operating hours are 08:00 - 17:00. The gate to the property closes at 18:00 and "a re-opening fee may apply" if you are late leaving.

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  • Ellery Creek Big Hole

    Ellery Creek Big Hole was one of the more spectacular gorges that we saw in the West MacDonnell Ranges (Tyurretye). Swimming is allowed in the waterhole. Sections 6 and 7 of the 223 km Larapinta Trail start or finish at Ellery Creek Big Hole. There is a local walk called the Dolomite Walk (3km loop walk - 1.5hrs), which takes in some of the...

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  • Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground

    When we left Glen Helen Resort at 15:25, the plan was to camp at Ormiston Gorge and then Zyg, George and Pauline would go directly to Alice Springs the next day to get Zyg's car's differential fixed (George and Pauline had seen the West MacDonnell Ranges before). I would switch to the Seymour's truck and we would all go back to Redbank Gorge and do...

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  • Ormiston Gorge and Waterhole

    We returned to Ormiston Gorge on 18 Aug 2010 after not finding camping space on the 17th. The gorge has a deep (14 meters), near-permanent waterhole that attracts much wildlife. Swimming is allowed but the water can be very cold. To the Western Arrernte people, the waterhole is known as Kwartetweme (pronounced kwart-a-tooma). It is an Emu Dreaming...

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  • Serpentine Gorge

    It was already 14:40 when we arrived at the Serpentine Gorge trailhead. There are three walks available. The trail to the gorge via the service track is 2.6 km and 60 min return. Another route but up the creek bed adds about 10 min each way. The Lookout Walk is a steep, stony trail from the gorge entrance to a lookout overlooking the gorge from a...

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  • Ochre Pits

    Ochre Pits is a colourful outcrop of ochre on the banks of a sandy creek. Some of the cliffs are 10 meters tall. Ochre is integral to the Dreamtime stories, the stories of creation and law of the Aboriginal people throughout Australia. Red ochre deposits often represent the blood of sacred ancestral beings. The ochre from this site is still used by...

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  • Finke Two Mile Bushcamping Area

    The Finke Two Mile Bushcamping Area is on the east side of the river where it crosses Namatjira Drive near the Glen Helen Resort. It is a designated campsite on the Larapinta Trail as an alternative to the Finke River Trailhead. Camping is permitted in a 3 km section of the riverbed but only on the east side. You need a 4WD to get to it but it is...

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  • Mount Sonder Lookout

    The Mount Sonder Lookout is just west of where the Finke River crosses Namatjira Drive and about 1 km west of the turnoff to the Glen Helen Resort. Mount Sonder is 380 meters tall and is on the western end of the 223 km Larapinta Trail. From the Lookout you also have good views of the Finke Two Mile Bushcamping area. See also a videoclip.

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  • Redbank Gorge Walk

    After spending the night at Ellery Creek Big Hole, we were packed up by about 09:30 and headed back west to Redbank Gorge. It took about an hour to get there. The three signs for the Redbank Gorge Walk are confusing. The "Walks of the Area" sign in the trailhead shelter and the online fact sheet say 2 km and 1.5 hours return. The "Welcome to...

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  • West MacDonnell National Park

    The West MacDonnell National Park is an area that is north of Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive starting just west of Alice Springs and running more than 150 km west past Redbank Gorge. There is also an extension on the west end that includes Tylers Pass. There are many interesting sites (see the fact sheet and map) along the way including...

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  • Inside Glen Helen Resort

    The resort amenities include the Namatjira Gallery Restaurant with a fireplace and live entertainment (5 nights a week), a bar and outdoor beer garden, outdoor BBQ areas, swimming pool, guest laundry and ironing facilities, and camp kitchen facilites. Nature and 4WD tours are available, as well as helicopter flights.

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  • Outside Glen Helen Resort

    The Glen Helen Resort is an Outback lodge on the Finke River near the gorge with the same name. Don't let the outside of this old restored homestead from the 1900's deceive you. It is quite nice on the inside and has many amenities. There are compact non-smoking motel rooms with linen and towels, ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning. There are...

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  • Namatjira Gallery Restaurant

    The Namatjira Gallery Restaurant is in a restored (the building dates back to the early 1900's) station homestead dining room, which is decorated with prints of Albert Namatjira's famous paintings. In Aug 2010 there was also live entertainment in the evenings from Thursday to Monday. Lunch is much less formal and that is when we were there. I just...

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  • Trail to Glen Helen Gorge Waterhole

    The Glen Helen Gorge is a place where the Finke River cuts through the West MacDonnell Ranges. There is a permanent waterhole there. It is less than a ten minute walk from the Glen Helen Resort to the waterhole, which has water in it year round and is safe for swimming. However, there is a swimming pool at the resort.

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  • Mount Sonder and Car Trouble

    Right after Namatjira Drive turns back to the east after Tylers Pass, you get a good view of Mount Sonder. We were going to stop at Redbank Gorge but Zyg's Land Cruiser developed a leak in its right rear differential. The decision was to go on to Glen Helen Resort to see if they had some differential fluid. They did have some. When adding the fluid...

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  • Tylers Pass Lookout

    After we left Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) on 17 Aug 2011, we headed north on Namatjira Drive. An extension west of West MacDonnell National Park includes the Tylers Pass Lookout. This was the first time that the 2010 VT Survivors Camp had officially entered the West MacDonnell Ranges. We were running late and did not stop, but I took three quick pictures...

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Macdonnell Ranges Transportation

  • AlbuqRay's Profile Photo

    by AlbuqRay Updated Apr 3, 2011

    In the East MacDonnell Ranges, the Ross Highway is a normal two-lane, paved road until ~1 km west of the Corroboree Rock turn. Because there is so little traffic, most of the highway east of there has one paved, unmarked lane in the middle and wide gravel shoulders on both sides. This saves a lot of materials and maintenance. They still pave two lanes at most of the intersections and through the creek beds. When two oncoming vehicles ("passing vehicles" in Australia) meet, each just goes out on the gravel shoulder with one wheel and leaves the other wheel on the paved portion. The exception is when one vehicle is a large truck or "road train." It is better to let them have all of the paved road, so their wheels don't throw gravel into your windshield.

    Single Paved Lane in the Middle Two Paved Lanes Through Creek Beds Two Paved Lanes at Intersections
    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Budget Travel

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Macdonnell Ranges Local Customs

  • AlbuqRay's Profile Photo

    by AlbuqRay Updated Aug 3, 2012

    The Tnengkarre (pronounced art-nung-gara) is called the Dreamtime by non-Aboriginal people. It is the traditional Law that explains existence and guides daily life. At the beginning of the Tnengkarre, ancestral beings traveled across the bare and featureless land, creating the landscape, the people and all living things. The activities and travels of these ancestors have been passed on over many generations through stories, songs, and ceremonies. Many features in the landscape are regarded as special and sometimes sacred, and are still cared for by the Arrernte people today.

    Note that later Zig (1+1) and I were at Karlu Karlu or Karlwekarlwe (same pronunciation), which is called Devil's Marbles by white people. A signboard there said that it was a place of secrets for Aboriginal people, and that it was extremely rich in dreaming sites, i.e., places where special events happened during the Altywerre Wirnkarra or Dreamtime. Are Altywerre Wirnkarra and Tnengkarre the same thing?

    Poster at Simpsons Gap Visitors' Center
    Related to:
    • Religious Travel
    • Arts and Culture
    • Historical Travel

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Macdonnell Ranges Off The Beaten Path

  • Arltunga Historical Reserve Visitors'...

    In 1887 alluvial gold was discovered in a dry creekbed downstream from Paddys Rockhole. There was a gold rush and Arltunga officially became Central Australia’s first town. To get there, fortune seekers had to travel 600 km from the Oodnadatta railhead, often on foot. At one time 300 people lived in Arltunga. Now it is a historical ghost town and...

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  • Arltunga Visitors' Center Courtyard...

    In the courtyard just outside the back door of the Arltunga Visitors' Center are several hands-on displays. You can try to pan for gold, try dollying (crush a small sample in a dolly pot), and try hauling up ore. There are even homemade toys (tin trucks) that kids can play with.

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  • Arltunga Crossroads Cemetery

    The Arltunga Crossroads Cemetery is just a little northeast of the Crossroads. There are only six graves. You can see the gravesites of early miners like James Woodford (2 Apr 1855 - 23 Sep 1921). His is the only grave with a headstone and it has a rock wall around it. There is also what is believed to be the grave of William Smith who worked the...

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Macdonnell Ranges Favorites

  • AlbuqRay's Profile Photo

    by AlbuqRay Updated Apr 3, 2011

    Favorite thing: These times are based on the time stamps from the pictures that I took. Typically they start when we turned onto the access road and end when we get back to the main highway. They could really vary for other people, depending on what they do at any particular site. The Ellery Creek Big Hole time is an estimate since we spent the night but is still based on time stamps. I put the sites in order from west to east starting with Redbank Gorge (156 km from Alice Springs) and ending with Simpsons Gap (17 km from Alice Springs); however, we did not do them in order. Also, we had to skip some sites due to time constraints. The times (and km) between sites are the time (and km) on the main highway. The total time for us was about 9.3 hours.

    - Redbank Gorge: 98 min (but only did 48 min return walk up the creek; did not see the gorge, since full walk is 2 km, 1.5 hours return)
    - 13 min (22 km)
    - Mount Sonder Lookout: 10 min
    - 2 min (0.5 km)
    - Finke 2 Mile: 48 min (included a quick picnic lunch)
    - 1 min (0.2 km)
    - Glen Helen Gorge: skipped (went to Glen Helen Resort instead)
    - 2 min (4 km)
    - Ormiston Gorge: 51 min (did the Visitors’ Center and walked to the waterhole)
    - 11 min (18 km)
    - Ochre Pits: 24 min (walked to ochre cliffs)
    - 8 min (11 km)
    - Serpentine Gorge: 13 min (essentially skipped; just went to trailhead)
    - 7 min (11 km)
    - Ellery Creek Big Hole: 49 min (estimate; one of the best stops)
    - 34 min (47 km)
    - Standley Chasm: 79 min (walked to chasm; good place to skip if you need time)
    - 14 min (24 km)
    - Simpsons Gap: 68 min (did the Visitors’ Center and walked to the waterhole)
    - 27 min (17 km)
    - Alice Springs

    Highway Sign at Ormiston Gorge Highway Sign at Simpsons Gap Access Road Sign at Simpsons Gap Highway Sign at Redbank Gorge Access Road Sign at Redbank Gorge
    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Road Trip

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Explore Deeper into Macdonnell Ranges
Christmas Reef Mine
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Paddys Rockhole and Arltunga Bush Hotel (Closed)
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Arltunga Crossroads Area
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MacDonnell Range Reef Mine Walk
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MacDonell Range Reef Mine
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Old Arltunga Police Station
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Arltunga - Government Works
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Road to Arltunga
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Trephina Gorge
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Ross River Homestead
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Terry "Fish" Gill Memorial
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Wild Camel
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Corroboree Rock (Antanangantana)
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East MacDonnell Ranges
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Map of Macdonnell Ranges

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