Extending about 161km west from Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Ranges are a sight to be seen. The sacred region is also known as Tyurretye by the traditional owners, who believe that ancestral beings live in the landscape.
For the avid hiker, the Larapinta Trail offers 223km of track that starts at Alice Springs and finishes at the summit of Mount Sonder. The trail is broken into 12 sections, and we completed two of those sections – Standley Chasm and Mount Sonder.
About 15km from Alice Springs, this is the first feature you’ll come across as you head west. As you walk along the path into the gorge, keep an eye out for rock wallabies amongst the rocks. If you stop and wait, you’ll see them jumping around.
We visited Standley Chasm a few weeks before leaving Alice Springs and had the pleasure of joining the Friends of the Larapinta Trail for a lovely morning walk along Section 3 of the track. There were some challenging ups and steeps downs along the way but we had a great view of the chasm and valley.
We also did the Chasm walk, which is best to do when the sun is high in the sky. The light floods into the chasm and turns the rock walls a luminescent orange.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
This was one of our favourite spots and we saw the potential for a great weekend of summer camping. There are BBQ facilities near the campground and the swimming hole would be the perfect spot to cool off in the summer heat. The surrounding cliffs and leaning gums reflected beautifully off the still water.
It’s a short 1km walk to the gorge, where you can sit quietly and listen to the nearby birdlife. If we had time, we would have done the lookout walk as well but the sun was hanging low in the sky and there were more places to visit before camp.
We arrived at dusk with just enough light to appreciate the coloured ochre. We know that if the sun was up, it would have made the colours more amazing than what they already were. Each colour has its own use and meanings for the local Arrernte people and was mainly mixed with water or animal fat to be used as cosmetics or medicine. It was the men’s job to collect the ochre and ensure that the women had enough of it for medicine and ceremony.
These days, while the traditional owners still use the Ochre Pits as their source, it is illegal for visitors to take ochre, or they’ll be painfully slapped with a $5000 fine.
We were also fascinated with the way that the curved ochre pits were formed. Of course, layers of sediment had formed millions of years ago and during a massive episode of mountain building about 300 million years ago, the earth heaved and pushed the horizontal layers to their current vertical location.
By the time we got back to the car, the sun had set so we made our way to 2 Mile Creek in the dark and set up camp. In the morning, there was mist all round and we watched a great sunrise to the sound of budgies in the dry creek bed.
We started our day with the Ghost Gum Walk that ascended to a great lookout before leading us into the gorge. As the sun rose, the rock glowed and revealed so many layers, swirls and colours. We saw finches and cooing Spinifex pigeons as we made our way back to the car park.
Redbank Gorge & Mount Sonder
Our plan was to complete the Mount Sonder climb and if we had the energy, we’d venture into Redbank Gorge. Mount Sonder is the fourth highest peak in NT at 1380 metres and the total return journey from the summit is approximately 15.8km. It’s also the final leg of the Larapinta Trail.
We started at around 10am and while it was initially steep and strenuous, once we hit the Saddle, the trail varied from easy plateaus to challenging undulations. We admired the colours of the rocks and occasionally stopped to catch our breath and take in the views around us. There were moments of wanting to give up and turn back, and the occasional burst of energy that kept us going (snacks!).
We made it to the summit in 2 hours 45 minutes and soaked up the 360° views of the West Macs. We ate some high energy peanut butter and cheese wraps, took some photos, wrote in the visitor book, basked in feelings of accomplishment before making our way back to the Troopy. We got back to the car park in 2 hours.
While we didn’t exactly have the energy to do Redbank Gorge, we did it anyway. Dave almost had to drag Juz along the 1.2km path into the gorge. While swimming was allowed, there was no way we were going into that water. Apart from being freezing cold, it had an eery, oily residue, so we simply gazed at the surrounding cliffs before heading back to the car.
We slept at a location that was apparently called Banana Bend River camp, a spot that Juz found on WikiCamps. The turn off is approximately 5km west from Redback Gorge, and we drove about 1km from the road to camp on a dry river bed.
Gosse Bluff (Tnorala)
While it’s not technically part of the West MacDonnell Ranges, Gosse Bluff is pretty much around the corner. It’s a crater that was created about 130 million years ago when a comet plunged into the earth. The inner crater is 5km across and the outer crater is 20km in diameter and visible from space. Half of the crater is considered sacred and is restricted from visitors.
After travelling along 6km of bumpy and corrugated dirt road, we entered the crater and made our way to the lookout to the east. We were rewarded with great panoramic views of the crater and listened to the extensive variety of birds. Juz went absolutely nuts when she saw a male Splendid Wren courting a few females. They are usually shy and hardly ever seen.
To the north is Tyler Pass Lookout, which gives a nice view of Gosse Bluff from a distance.
After checking out Gosse Bluff, we headed east towards Hermannsburg to sample some of their famous strudel.