The East MacDonnells

Everyone travels to the West MacDonnells when visiting Alice Springs but a lot fewer travel to the East and that’s a shame because we found our stay at Trephina Gorge to be a real highlight of the trip. We began by driving out with stops at Emily and Jessie Gaps and Corroboree Rock but they were just the tasters of what was to come.

As you drive into Trephina Gorge the dominant rock formation is the hulking red rock of The Bluff which overlooks the first campsite. We elected to stay at the last campsite but they are all very close together. We firstly took the short circuit of Trephina Gorge, climbing along the rocks for the view from above and then returning through the dry gorge.

The next walk took us up higher for a sweeping view down the valley and on to the surrounding countryside. The rocks glowed red at sunrise and sunset as well as the bonus of the full moon rising.

The next day’s walk was at the end of a 4WD track which had one hump we didn’t want to chance our vehicle on giving us an extra 6 km of easy walking. The Chain of Ponds walk saw us viewing the gorge from above and then walking over the hills to the top end and walking down the glorious rock slabs of the canyon till we were stopped by the sheer drop to the rockhole. It was a very scenic walk for not much effort. We finished by visiting the rock hole in it’s own little enclosure.

One 300 year old ghost gum was very impressive as we usually see skinny ones clinging to the sides of gorges. We headed up the hill to enjoy the sunset.

Our last day was spent at Arltunga, the first gold mining area in the Northern Territory which didn’t produce a lot of gold but did get the Centre started. The area has been well preserved and there were walks with detailed brochures at all the points of interest. We particularly enjoyed being invited to go into the mines and explore, even being provided with ladders to descend into one. The local birds make use of an abandoned shaft that is filled with water and covered with mesh so people don’t fall in. It doesn’t stop thirsty birds.


The West MacDonnells

West of Alice Springs is the West MacDonnell Ranges, a series of lines of red, rocky, rugged ridges intersected by narrow sinuous gorges and large gaps filled with life-giving waterholes. We began at a lookout over a line of rocks nicknamed the caterpillar and then moved on to Glen Helen Gorge, a large gap filled with a large permanent waterhole in the ancient Finke river bed.

We set up camp at Redbank gorge where we attempted to blow up some brand new lilos to explore the gorge. Being brand new they were extremely difficult to inflate and Ray gave up. I persisted but only went across the first pool on my own to find it led on to another narrower cleft in the dark rock.

The next day we set off for Mt Sonder, the fourth highest peak in the Northern Territory and the last section of the Larapinta Trail. We were walking on a day that promised to be warm with a forecast top of 28 degrees but it was quite a contrast between us in our shorts and shirts and the walkers we met returning from the top to see sunrise in their down jackets and beanies. The path was a steady climb along the ridge with Mt Sonder getting closer. We ended on the southern peak with a view across to the main peak separated from us by a narrow ridge and steep gully.

We headed back to Redbank Gorge with two inflated lilos the next day after a little help from the compressor. Getting across the pools was the easy part. The rocky bits that separated the pools were extremely slippery at the water’s edge with slime that made it difficult getting out and in. We had a few spills but went as far as we could, an exit that required climbing up the rock with no handholds stopping our explorations.

Ormiston Gorge was the next stop with the most impressive gorge, being large, rocky and with a picturesque waterhole and sandy beach. Out first days walk was to a ghost gum part way up the side and then returning through the gorge.

After visiting the gorge in the dawn light we headed out on the Ormiston Pound walk, described as the best day walk in Central Australia. It lived up to it’s reputation with every corner producing new vistas as we skirted the hills, climbed to a lookout, traipsed through the pound and rock hopped back through the gorge where the pools gave reflections of the craggy walls.

The Ochre Pits was an area of coloured cliffs used by the aboriginals for ceremonies and Serpentine Gorge was a large gorge guarded by a sacred waterhole that was best seen from the lookout.

After a visit from a howling dingo in the night who left his calling card on our mat we headed off on a walk to Counts Point, described as the best view on the Larapinta Trail. I would argue with that but it certainly was impressive as we looked along a valley between parallel ridges leading to Mt Sonder.

Our next stop was at Ellery Creek Big Hole, a large waterhole that I paddled across on the lilo to see the gap from the other side in the sunshine.

The gap was very enticing for photos with the water, white trunked trees and different skies to be seen during the day and night.

We had to pay to see the iconic Standley Chasm but we made sure we got our money’s worth. We carried on past the chasm to explore more of the gorge and then took the rock steps up the beginning of section three of the Larapinta Trail. We emerged on to the hill tops to find a 360 degree view of the orange ranges with the gorge of Standley Chasm beneath us.

Simpson’s Gap came as a bit of an anticlimax after all the other wonderful sights but it was leading us back to Alice Springs and some luxuries.

Rainbow extravaganza

We left Kings Canyon to have a free camp at a nice rest area we had noticed on the way in at Kernot Range. It turned out to be a nice spot with firewood not too far away and a gathering of Swiss, German, Kiwi and Australian couples around the camp fire. The setting gave lots of possibilities for the nice sunrise too.
Henbury meteorite craters was briefly visited but it is small and a rough detour so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re very keen.
Rainbow Valley was also a rough road in and recommended for 4WD but we managed the sand and corrugations and found it worth the effort. We had some nice sun on the rock formation in the afternoon but then it disappeared behind a cloud and we all thought we were going to miss out on sunset. A five minute gap appeared between the clouds and the horizon and suddenly the rock glowed. It was better than anything I have seen at Uluru. It still seemed to glow after sunset and even showed up at night with the quarter moon. Even sunrise provided some nice colour and silhouettes. Definitely a highlight of the trip!