The Macdonnell Ranges
The Macdonnell Ranges, consisting of lofty peaks and spectacular gorges, span a 600km stretch of Australia’s Northern Territory. The modern town of Alice Springs sits in the middle of the range. Many cross-country travellers use the town as a base for multi-day trips to the ranges as well as to Ayers Rock.
West MacDonnell National Park encloses a significant portion of the ranges and is also home to the 220km-long Larapinta Trail. This trekking path links important sites in the park which include the Ochre Pits, Standley Chasm and Ormiston Pound. The mined-out pits were the source of the finest ochre used by ancient Aborigines indigenous to the region.
Ormiston Pound is midway along the Larapinta Trail and a circle of connected ridges that provide panoramic vistas of this majestic locale as well as the crater at Gosse’s Bluff and Mt Sonder. The 1,380-metre high summit of the latter delineates the end of the trail. There is a marked path up the mountain. Route 2 from Alice Springs travels to Mt Sonder and offers a convenient gateway for those with less time on their hands.
This is the only accommodation resort in the national park and visitors tend to use this or Alice Springs hotels to explore the region. A number of trekking agencies in the locality provide guided Larapinta hikes which include overnight camping. These companies arrange the logistics of the treks so that people are only carrying their daypacks while walking.
The Macdonnell Ranges east of Alice Springs boast historic Aboriginal sites such as Emily Gap and N’Dhala Gorge. Emily Gap is an unspoilt gorge with the local red rocks soaring above it and a rock painting of a dreaming caterpillar. N’Dhala is a cultural gem with almost 6,000 rock paintings and relics. The Ross Highway to Trephina Gorge Nature Park is the route to these attractions. The spur road to N’Dhala is 4WD only.
Touring the Macdonnell Ranges is a great add-on experience while visiting Uluru and Alice Springs.