The stunning West Macdonnell National Park spans for a total of 160 kilometres west of Alice Springs and is home to a spectacular section of the rugged Macdonnell Ranges. This historically ancient desert landform was sculpted over the ages by climatic elements, making them a remarkable example of the stark and harsh beauty of the Australian interior. The best way to discover this untouched beauty is to take a drive through the park, as this will give you the opportunity to explore the high peaks and the deep gorge features of this jagged landscape. This truly is the ideal way to discover countryside that is classically typical of the ‘red centre’ of Australia.
Beginning your journey in Alice Springs is probably the best way to start your journey. There are several places form which you can pick up your hire car and then you can embark west along the Larapinta Drive, which will take you to the destination of a lifetime. One of the first things that you will come across will be the Alice Springs Desert Park, which will educate you on the native flora, fauna and landscapes of the region and of Australia’s deserts in general. Another of the first attractions you will come across is the beautifully natural Simpsons Gap. Here the Roe River has carved out a narrow gorge with high walls. There is a pleasant rock pool at the gap, with many rock wallablies for it to call home. About twenty two kilometres into the park from the gap you will come across Standley Chasm, whose high and smooth walls are particularly impressive. When the sun is high in the sky at midday the walls light up in fiery reflective colours. A truly amazing sight!
After Standley Chasm you will have to decide between two options. One of these is to continue on Larapinta Drive towards Hermannesburg, or alternatively you can take a left onto Namatjira Drive and continue along in the park. The latter is probably the more popular option, as there is so much more to see in a much shorter distance. Continuing along in this direction you will eventually reach the Ellery Creek Big Hole. Regarded as one of the coldest swimming holes around, this is also the deepest and the most permanent source of water in the area. It is for this reason that so much wildlife can be found around here. The sandy creek here is fringed with tall gumtrees, which in turn are surrounded by high red, striking cliffs. These features make this a pleasant and picturesque picnic spot. ideal for every lover of nature.
Another fantastic attraction just down the road from Ellery Creek is Serpentine Gorge. This gorge is unique because it is home to a large billabong that can only be accessed by swimming up the gorge. Secluded and beautiful, there are many walking tracks around here that provide stunning views of the gorge and the surrounds. After a refreshing dip in these clear waters, take a short drive to one of the most visited spots in the park, the Ochre Pits. This is a quarry where the local Aboriginals used to glean their ochre pigments from. Ochre has always been an incredibly important substance to Aboriginals, who traditionally used it for medicinal and hunting purposes. It also used to be used as a magic charm, one that was believed to calm the heat of the sun or the strength of the wind. The Ochre Pits demonstrate the strong indigenous heritage of the area and demonstrate the aboriginal’s ties with the land. It is also an impressively beautiful stopover for you to make. For those who want to put their walking shoes to good use, be sure to take the three hour walk from here that leads to Inarlanga Pass, where a wide range of flora can be found, including some rare prehistoric cycads.
Continuing on a little further from the Ochre Pits you will reach the turn off to Ormiston Gorge and Pound This is undeniably the most awe inspiring gorge in the West Macdonnell Ranges, and rises majestically for more than 300 metres in depth in some places. There is also a waterhole that is around fourteen metres deep and supports a large variety of flora and fauna, including more relic plant species. Many marked walking trails will take you to unique lookouts that will allow you to see the impressive features of the ranges and some cute groups of wallabies bounding through the river red gums. In the distance the beautiful Mt. Sonder rises high on the horizon, captured in many paintings by the aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira, after who the road you have driven on was named.
Glen Helen gorge will probably be the end point of your journey through he West Macdonnell Ranges. It rests at the headwaters of the Finke River, and offers many great walks that will take you past some beautiful flora including more ancient cycads. There is also accommodation available here, and your friendly hosts will make you comfortable with food, drink and motel style accommodation. Camping facilities are available for those seeking more of an outback experience. Alternatively you could start a slow drive back to Alice Springs, and stop in at the places you missed on your way here. You are certain to take back precious memories of what makes the Red Centre of Australia so unique and intriguing. The Macdonnell Ranges are just a small part of it, and we are certain you will enjoy exploring the rest!