Trek along the outback backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges to attractions such as Simpsons Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge.
By Tourism Australia
What to expect
- Swim in cool waterholes
- Camp beneath the stars
- Visit sacred Aboriginal sites
- Time: 12 - 20 days
- Distance: 223 kilometres (139 miles)
- Transport: walking
- Nearest major city: Alice Springs
- Price: $$
This vast chain of day walks stretches more than 223 kilometres (139 miles), making up one of Australia’s most spectacular trekking experiences. Tailor your walk along 12 sections following the spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Day 1: Telegraph Station to Simpsons Gap
Get a feeling for the trail’s varied terrain on this scenic 24 kilometre (15 mile) trek. The first section begins at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and will take you through rolling hills and open country, with some steep ascents. Take in sweeping views from Euro Ridge, dip your hands in the Scorpion Pool and Fairy Spring and climb over Hat Hill Saddle. For those who have chosen a guided walk, spend the night in safari-style tents at Nick's Camp, near Simpsons Gap.
Day 2: Simpsons Gap to Jay Creek
Walk this comfortable 25 kilometre (16 mile) section in a day or stop halfway at Mulga Camp. Wander past creek beds and gum trees to the deep water hole at Spring Gap, then follow the sandy water course to the picnic area of Jay Creek. See one of Central Australia’s few brushtail possum colonies and rock outcrops more than two billion years old. Camp overnight at scenic Jay Creek Campsite, which offers protected sleeping areas and gas barbecues.
Day 3: Jay Creek to Standley Chasm
Winding 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) through steep and rugged terrain, this section requires a good level of fitness. There are two routes to choose: the easier low route traverses narrow gorges and creek beds, while the more difficult high route rewards walkers with 360-degree views of the landscape. Camp overnight at Standley Chasm, where red rocks tower against a backdrop of blue skies and white ghost gums.
Day 4: Standley Chasm to Birthday Waterhole
You’ll need to be in good shape to tackle this 17.7 kilometre (11 mile) trek. Walk around Standley Chasm before the crowds arrive at midday, then follow the trail along the high quartzite ridges of the Chewings Range to the summit of Brinkley Bluff. You’ll be spoiled with breathtaking views in all directions. Watch your step on the sharp descent down the Bluff to Stuart’s Pass. It then follows the river valley to Birthday Waterhole.
Day 5: Birthday Waterhole to Hugh Gorge
Test your lungs and legs on this challenging 16 kilometre (9.9 mile) overnight section. The trail passes through picturesque Spencer Gorge, along the rocky spine of Razorback Ridge before weaving down into the arid Linear Valley. Walk along ancient watercourses to Hugh Gorge, where you can cool off in waterholes and set up camp in the shade.
Day 6: Hugh Gorge to Ellery Creek
This 31.2 kilometre (19.4 mile) trek is one of the longest sections of the trail. Cross through the woodlands of Alice Valley, then weave through shrub to steep Rocky Gully, where you can stop for lunch or set up camp for the night. Trek over the ridges of the Chewings Range to popular swimming spot Ellery Creek Big Hole. Check out some of the interesting formations on the Dolomite walk, then settle back and watch the gum trees sharpen into silhouettes at dusk.
Day 7: Ellery Creek to Serpentine Gorge
With lots of jagged, sharp terrain, this 13.8 kilometre (8.6 mile) section of the trail can be frustrating. Push yourself to tackle it in a single day for a real sense of achievement. The moonscape rocks dotting the trail offer a history lesson stretching back billions of years and the variety of bird life in the area will please enthusiasts. Arrive at Serpentine Gorge, where you can set up camp next to the clear water with plenty of shade. Head to the lookout for a sky-high view of the narrow, winding gorge and its waterholes.
Day 8: Serpentine Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam
This challenging 13.4 kilometre (8.3 mile) walk rewards your hard work with exhilarating views of the high quartzite ridgelines distinctive of the West MacDonnell Ranges. Climb to Counts Point, where you can look out over the Alice Valley along the ridgeline and see Haasts Bluff and Mt Zeil, the highest point in the Northern Territory. From here it’s an easy descent into Serpentine Chalet Dam. The section requires a drop off and pick up at either end.
Day 9: Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ormiston Gorge
Load up on water and prepare to trek 28.6 kilometres (17.8 miles) through the rugged heart of the ranges. Walk to the Ochre Pits and discover the layers of rock that the Western Arrernte people have mined for ceremonial decorations for thousands of years. Stop at Inarlanga Pass before doing the five-hour trek over Heavitree Range into Waterfall Gorge. If you are cutting this section into two parts, camp here. Otherwise, continue on past Base of Hill to the massive towering walls of Ormiston Gorge, where you can camp overnight. Drinking water is limited, so pack a two-day supply.
Day 10: Ormiston Gorge to Finke River
This comfortable 9.9 kilometre (6.2 mile) section will have you winding through limestone hills along the Finke River to Glen Helen Gorge, where the river parts the West MacDonnell Ranges. The waterhole is a sanctuary for the Finke’s nine species of fish and migrating waterbirds. Afterward, enjoy a cool drink and ice creams at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge.
Day 11: Finke River to Redbank Gorge
Despite being one of the longest sections of the trail, this 25.2 kilometre (15.7 mile) overnight trek is fairly easy and very scenic. The first stage will take you across low spinifex-covered hills in the dramatic shadow of Mt Sonder. Cross the Davenport River and climb the hilltop to Mt Sonder Lookout for a spectacular 360 degree view. From here you then weave downwards through shady, tranquil Rocky Bar Gap and along Mt Sonder’s southern flank to Redbank Creek.
Day 12: Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and back
This 15.8 kilometre (9.8 mile) return walk takes you to the top of Mt Sonder. At 1,380 metres (4,527 feet), it is the icon of the West McDonnell Ranges. The climb is slow, steady and strenuous - but the grand, panoramic views of ranges, plains, valleys and salt lakes make it worth the effort. On a clear day, you can even spot the crater of Tnorala (Gosse Bluff). In September and October you’ll see Mountain Hakea covered with pink wildflowers. There is no camping at Mt Sonder, so take the the return journey to Redbank Gorge where you can be collected for the bumpy 156 kilometre (97 mile) four wheel drive back to Alice Springs.
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