Ormiston Pound & Gorge Walk

If you do just one walk in the West MacDonnells, this walk should be it! This circuit is one of Australia’s best day-walks, combining sweeping vistas of the ring of mountains and ridges encircling the 46.5-square-kilometre Ormiston Pound, an up-close geological encounter with the pound’s western floor and a stunning walk through cliff-girt Ormiston Gorge. Ormiston Creek’s waterholes, a refuge for birdlife, mirror the surrounding ochre-red cliffs and the permanent main pool makes for a welcome, if icy, finale on a warm day.


Grade: Moderate | Time: 3-4 hours | Distance: 9km circuit


Walk directions

Step 1

The walk starts at the Visitor Centre where you’ll find picnic tables and barbeques, toilets, drinking water and even a kiosk (T 08 8954 6196). Head north to the nearby walks information shelter from where you might choose to divert left on the paved Waterhole Walk for 5 minutes to capture the gorge colours in early morning light. Otherwise (you’ll finish the walk there in 3 or 4 hours’ time) head east through woodland, following the orange arrows of the Pound Walk anticlockwise, initially coincident with the blue-arrowed Larapinta Trail. The path glances the access road before crossing the bed of Ormiston Creek, lined with venerable river red gums. In 700 metres or so, reach a junction.




Step 2

Veer left, leaving the Larapinta Trail. After passing a low dry-stone wall (made to block off a false trail), the path undulates and weaves, generally uphill, traversing a succession of red-rock slopes and gullies. A view back to Mt Sonder comes and goes and you may become distracted by the surprisingly luxuriant flora on display, with corkwoods, bloodwoods and red-flowered grevillea featuring along with the ubiquitous spinifex. Some 45 minutes walking should see you onto a saddle at a track junction and a splendid view back whence you’ve come. Detour left on a side path past a ghost gum, ascending to a natural lookout point on a red-rock quartzite ridge.


Step 3

You’ll want to linger awhile to savour the expansive view of Ormiston Pound and its enclosing rock walls, which is first revealed here. To the east of the pound is 1,389-metre Mt Giles, high point of the Chewings Range (and its attendant peaks and ridges), which can be reached and climbed from the pound if you’ve an extra 2 days to spare. To the northwest you’ll see where Ormiston Creek disappears behind a towering rock wall into the confines of the gorge. Beyond is 1380-metre Mt Sonder (see Walk 16) and much further away, 1531-metre Mt Zeil, the Northern Territory’s highest peak. The area is an important refuge for at least two endangered mammals, not that you’re likely to see them: the central rock rat and the long-tailed dunnart were both rediscovered here in 1997. Return to the track junction on the saddle and descend east. The descent into the pound involves crossing a couple of creek side-gullies and cresting an intervening saddle. Once in the pound the track swings northwest, and you descend gradually through acacia and bloodwood with an understorey of mullamulla and spinifex to reach the sandy bed of Ormiston Creek. Head left downstream, leaving the waymarked track, to a series of rocky waterholes and the shade of some stately river red gums – a perfect lunch spot.



Step 4

The track shortcuts a big meander in the creek but it is more fun to take the longer route and follow the wide, sandy creek bed downstream. You’ll pass several more tree-lined waterholes and some interestingly patterned bedrock as you negotiate the creek sands for almost a kilometre, directly approaching the now prominent rock that marks the left entrance to the gorge. Reach the point where the waymarked track crosses the creek bed. Here leave the creek left, ascending the left bank, the stony track shortcutting another loop in the creek. The rock views improve as you’re drawn inexorably towards Ormiston Gorge’s narrow entrance.



Step 5

Cross to the creek’s right bank once more beside several lovely ghost gums. Once in the shady confines of the gorge, things get really interesting and you shouldn’t rush through. There are occasional sandy sections but much easy rock-hopping and boulders to scramble around. The rock underfoot varies enormously: some is jagged, recent cliff-fall, much is water-smoothed in tones of red, purple-grey and orange. Further in there are layered slabs of bedrock and glowing red-rock walls towering up to 250 metres high with gravity-defying ghost gums sprouting at unlikely angles from narrow shelves. All of this is brilliantly reflected in the gorge’s waterholes which, depending on the season, you may be able to skirt without wet feet. Keep an eye out for birdlife: zebra finches, painted finches, dusky grass-wrens and herons are frequent visitors. Skirting a large waterhole, arrive at the signed junction with the Ghost Gum Walk (see Walk variation).



Step 6

You might choose this longer (1 hour) alternative route back to the Visitor Centre, involving a climb to a lookout and then a descent back to water level, but you’d forego some of the finest gorge scenery. It’s a 15 to 20-minute scramble on multi-hued rock shelving that protrudes into the gorge and sometimes on beach sand to reach the last waterhole, lying directly below Ghost Gum Lookout which can be spied above. Herons roost on the lower cliff shelves that flank this waterhole. You should be able to squeeze around rock on the left to a sandy beach which makes a great launch site for that icy swim you’ve earned. Cross to the creek’s right bank below the pool and follow either of the two nearby sets of steps to the end of the paved Waterhole walk where it’s a 5-minute walk back to the Visitor Centre. If camping overnight, make a point of reprising the Waterhole Walk near dusk not just for the lighting but for your best chance to spot the area’s black-flanked rock-wallabies and dingos.

  ormiston map

Getting there: Drive 47km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive, turn right onto Namatjira Drive and drive for 81km, then turn right and drive 7km to Ormiston Gorge carpark and campsite.


Walks book cover 

Text, images and maps taken from the guide book, Best Walks of the Red Centre, courtesy and copyright © Woodslane Press, John & Gillian Souter. For 15% off your copy (and other great Red Centre books) visit here.


Sign up to receive the latest news, deals and travel information about the Northern Territory.

Choose to book with the Red Centre’s local experts

Need a hand choosing or booking your red centre adventure?