The MacDonnell Ranges

Trephina Gorge Walk, East MacDonnell Ranges

We managed to get a site at the G’Day Mate Caravan Park in Alice Springs, we always try to stay here when in Alice Springs. It has very friendly staff with clean and well maintained amenities. You do however need to book in advance as they are very popular and always busy. So we set about sorting things out in the car and getting our mountain of washing done. With food, water and fuel supplies topped up we headed towards the west McDonnell Ranges.
The West MacDonnell Ranges stretch for about 161km and the east for about 644km. The west is more popular due to the sealed roads and easy access. The east is only sealed to Trephina Gorge and I highly recommend you travel in a high clearance 4WD. Some tracks can be quite rocky and sandy and you will be rewarded with less people to contend with. The Larapinta Trail also traverses the West MacDonnell Ranges and is about 231km long, please note this is only for very fit hikers. The highest mountain peak is Mount Zeil at 1531 meters. Wether you are venturing east or west make sure you top up with fuel and drinking water at Alice Springs before starting your adventure. When travelling east you can obtain fuel at Ross River Resort where you can also get WiFi. Phone reception is pretty scarce either direction and it is free to enter both sides however, camping fees do apply.

West MacDonnell Ranges – Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground $4/person per night

Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground. Our campsite. West MacDonnell Ranges.
Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground. Our campsite. West MacDonnell Ranges.

Due to the easy access of this very popular campground it is essential to arrive early to get a site. There are different size and shaped sites, some we found some very tight to get in to, luckily we weren’t towing anything. This campground comes with very clean flushing toilets with toilet paper, soap and water. The gorge and water hole is a easy walk from the campground where you can take a picnic, go for a swim or just enjoy the surroundings.

We tried to do the Dolomite walk clockwise, word of warning, don’t try it clockwise if you are anything like us you will spend ages trying to find where to enter the track once in the river bed. We didn’t find it obvious we gave up and decided to have a beer and a BBQ. We did however meet some lovely people around the communal campfire so all was not a loss.

Australasian grebe - Ellery Creek Big Hole
Australasian grebe – Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground - Waterhole
Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground – Waterhole
Ellery Creek Big Hole - Darter
Ellery Creek Big Hole – Darter
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole

We set off today for the Dolomite Walk, this time anti clockwise and yes much easier to follow the markers. If the day was any hotter it would have been quite an uncomfortable walk as there is no shade at all. It is a grade 3 walk with a 3km loop, very interesting walk with beautiful rugged countryside. They say it is a easy walk and yes it is but just a lot of up hill in places to get the heart pumping.

Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground - Dolomite Walk
Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground – Dolomite Walk

Neil Hargrove Lookout is along the road to Redbank Gorge, there is a roadside stop lookout and 24 hour rest area. Best of all is the telephone tower to get very limited phone service but it is enough to check on your messages. This is the only place you will have phone coverage, even with Telstra.

Redbank Gorge Campground – $4/person/night

There are 2 campgrounds here to choose from. Woodlands down the bottom of the hill and Redbank Gorge at the top of the hill. There are 13 sites at Woodlands and 5 at Redbank although people do tend to squeeze in spots that are actually not camp spots. We had camp spot 4 and does not come with a view which I must say is spectacular. After spending the night at Redbank we felt that unless you are lucky enough to score a site with a view it would be better to be down in woodland as all sites had a lovely bush setting and also comes with gas BBQ.

Redbank Gorge Walk

There is a short walk of a distance of 300 meters which is a 10 minute walk and classed as grade 2. Then there is the Redbank Gorge Walk of a distance of 2 kilometres which is a 1 hour return walk and classed as a grade 3 walk. The walk starts off down hill towards the creek and is not marked but starts off with a well defined track. Once the rocks start then you just take the easiest path for yourself and keep forging forward. The rock scrambling starts off easy, more like rock hopping. Then the rocks become harder and larger and just when you are about to give up there are many more bigger rocks to contend with, then the gorge finally becomes in view which encourages you to keep going. There is one last really big rock to climb before you see the waterhole. My Apple Watch recorded this walk for me as total time and distance of 1:52:10 – 2.81km. This included a few photo opportunities, rest stops and slow going over the bigger rocks. Once at the gorge the stench from the dead fish certainly took the shine off. But it is a really pretty gorge to see.

Redbank Gorge - West MacDonnell Ranges
Redbank Gorge – West MacDonnell Ranges

Ellery Creek Big Hole Campground – $4/person/night

We’ve come back to Ellery Creek Bighole as Ormiston Gorge is being run commercially now which has put us off staying there. A few years ago we spent about 4 or 5 days there so didn’t really want to go back again. Back to Ellery as we found this campground the best one to stay at. We found a big shady tree down by the waterhole, packed a picnic lunch and took the camera gear down there, which is where we spent the day while relaxing and taking photos.

WinterSun Cabin & Caravan Park, Alice Springs – $43/night – Powered

Our daughter and family were on their way back down south from a wonderful holiday in the Northern Territory and they were due to be in Alice Springs today so we headed back to Alice to meet up with them. We enjoyed some family time together and a lovely catchup on all our travels. We also met up with Chris’s brother and wife who are also on the road and from here we have decided to travel together for a while with them.

Said our goodbyes and set about topping up with food, water and fuel. We stumbled across the NT Bakery and we all agreed that they have the absolute best pies ever! They were very meaty with the most delicious pastry that held together right to the last mouthful.

We are now travelling with Chris’s brother and wife and we’ve decided to head out to the East MacDonnell Ranges. This is a sealed road all the way to Ross River Resort.

East MacDonnell Ranges – Emily Gap – Yeperenye

First stop you come to is Emily Gap, no water in these waterholes but there is a nice walk through the short gap and some Aboriginal artwork on the rocks. From here you can either walk or cycle to Jessie Gap, or if like us just jump in your car.

Jessie Gap – Yeperenye

This is very similar to Emily Gap. Both sites have places for you to have a picnic lunch and a long drop toilet.

Corroboree Rock

This is an impressive dolomite structure and was a lovely walk up to and around the rock and all within a Conservation Reserve.

Trephina Gorge – Bluff Campground – $4/person/night

There are 3 campgrounds to pick from and we chose the Bluff Campground because this one is only for vehicles not towing and we thought why not? It only has about 5 spots which are all set along a dry river bed. Has a water tap and gas BBQ along with a long drop toilet. We were not sure if the water was for drinking or not, as there were not any signs. It was extremely windy when we arrived and luckily it settled down during our evening meal and then really picked up quite ferocious during the night. Which is the reason why we only had one night here.

Trephina Gorge walk

In the morning we walked along a track to the next campground to commence our walk along Trephina Gorge. Lots of rock steps straight up to the top of the gorge, just to get the heart pumping and then you walk along the top of the gorge looking down into the gorge. As you start to descend down into the gorge you walk along the creek bed then back up to the top of the other side of the gorge but this side is not as high. There is a gradual decline back down to the creek bed where you walk along the creek bed in very soft sand back to the campground. Such a beautiful walk and the views are gorgeous, certainly takes your mind off the trudging through deep soft sand.

Trephina Gorge Walk, East MacDonnell Ranges
Trephina Gorge Walk, East MacDonnell Ranges
Trephina Gorge Walk, East MacDonnell Ranges
Trephina Gorge Walk, East MacDonnell Ranges

John Hayes Rockhole Campsite – $3.30/night/person

Due to being very windy we decided to go into John Hayes RockHole and see if it was a bit calmer there, which it was so we set up camp here. The track in is definitely 4WD only and high clearance is needed, especially the last bit into the campground where the rocks just get bigger. Only 3 camp spots there but no wind and extremely calm. There is a walk down to the Rockhole which is a very calming spot to sit and relax. Then there is a more challenging rock hopping walk across the top.

We called into Ross River Resort for a look around and to my delight they sold ice creams. Such a fascinating hotel so steeped in history, very friendly staff and just a lovely place to visit. You can stay in accommodation and have meals here or stay in their campground adjacent to the resort. The road from Alice Springs to Ross River Resort is sealed all the way.

N’Dhala Gorge Camping area – $4/person/night

We turned off headed into N’Dhala Gorge, once again a pretty rough road into the gorge but not too bad. Only a small campground with about 3 camp sites but there is also a day use area which people also camp in, this spot only had a pit toilet and wood BBQ’s. There is a lovely walk out to the petroglyphs.

N’Dhala Gorge walk is a very easy walk with some parts in the sun and some in shade but it a really lovely walk. Down by the waterhole we sat for quite sometime watching hundreds of budgerigars flying around getting sips of water it was really spectacular sight to see.

Arltunga Information Centre

After our walk he headed towards Ruby Gap, along the way we called into the Arltunga Information Centre. It is 110km east of Alice Springs along the Binns Track and is such an interesting place to visit, often sad as you read about their hardships. It is a self guided tour of the museum and surrounding area. There are picnic tables, flushing toilets and water available. In the 1800’s people were finding gold so during the boom Arltunga was set up as gold mining town. Many people came to try their luck at prospecting for gold in this unforgiving, hard and harsh country. People travelled from the Oodnadatta railhead about 600km to Arltunga and often on foot just to try their luck. At one stage it had a community of around 300 people.

Ruby Gap – $4/person/night – 3 Nights Camping

We set off after lunch from Arltunga to Ruby Gap, this was a very challenging track with some reprieve along the way then once in the National Park all bets are off and you have every kind of challenge possible thrown at you. From navigating large rocks and rock shelves, soft deep sand and big drop downs into soft sand river beds. At one stage our left side step was stuck on a rock shelf we were negotiating over. But after another attempt and a different line we were over. There is the first section you come to where you can camp anywhere along the river bed. But as our travelling companions said this section is for the people who don’t want anymore challenges… So off we went and yes it got more and more difficult to negotiate but it was fun and seeing what capabilities our car had. So the section we stayed in was what they call the end of the 4WD section. But you can go a bit further in if you feel comfortable and can handle the rock hopping and extremely soft sand. Then at the 7km mark no vehicles are allowed past that point. This was a slow going, all day drive from N’Dhala to Ruby Gap with only a distance of around 87km’s. We found a brilliant camp in the middle of the creek bed and set up.

Ruby Gap Walk

It was called Ruby Gap because in 1886 surveyor and explorer David Lindsay, reported rubies in the sand of the Hale River. However after further inspection they were in fact a lesser quality gem called a garnet. Such a beautiful walk, albeit hot. A lot of rock hopping and walking in deep sand. However, the sweetener is that you can collect garnets all the way along. It was over a 6km return walk from our campsite. We only walked to the first waterhole but if you continue through the water you can go deeper into the gorge