Ruby Gap & Glen Annie Gorge Walk

At the far end of the East MacDonnells, some 150 kilometres from Alice Springs, lie the Amarata Range and Ruby Gap Nature Park. Access is difficult (4WD) and few people venture here, but the rewards are many, especially for walkers. This route follows the intermittent Hale River upstream, through imposing Ruby Gap and the even more dramatic Glen Annie Gorge. A short rock clamber enables you to continue on to the end of the gorge, but you can choose to turn back whenever you wish. Be sure to read the box opposite before heading out on this wonderful adventure.


Grade: Moderate | Time: Up to 8 hours | Distance: Up to 16km return


Walk directions

Step 1

From the information board at the park entrance, the route drops into the bed of the Hale River, known as Lhere Altera by the Eastern Arrernte people. It is rarely entirely dry and patches of dark sand indicate where the river runs underground. Follow its course north, walking on sand compressed by tyre tracks, on bedrock or on grassy banks from time to time. Despite this being a conservation area, you might meet cattle. Cliffs of red and orange stained quartzite overlying folded dolomite and siltstone rise on the true right bank (that is, on the right as you look downstream) and the river swings south in a sharp turn.

ruby gap


Step 2

After 2.8 kilometres, look for a river-level gauge tower on the true left bank. After heavy rain – usually in late summer or winter – this river is prone to flash flooding as water collects in the Harts Range to the north; you can see the evidence of debris caught on stumps in the riverbed. The bank rises after the gauge and the cliffs force the river to swing north once more. You may pass a long shallow pool on this stretch. Ruby Gap looms ahead as the cliffs rise on both sides.

ruby gap 1


Step 3

Here in 1886, surveyor-explorer David Lindsay picked up what he thought were rubies from the riverbed and started a rush of over a hundred prospectors who came to seek their fortune. Some 18 months later, the official word came back that the red stones were actually comparatively worthless garnets. You can still find garnet chips glistening among the gravel. Many fossickers moved on to Arltunga following the discovery of gold in a creek near there, leaving Ruby Gap to the rock wallabies whose descendants can be spotted on the ledges in the cooler hours. Once through the gap, watch for a track leaving the river bed and rising into grassland on the true left bank. Following this track cuts off a large meander of the river and leads past a wall of white clay pocked with dark, iron-rich stone.


Step 4

When you regain the riverbed further along, look back to note the spot for your return walk. Ahead on both sides the cliffs rise to form Glen Annie Gorge, named by Lindsay in honour of his wife. The sheer rock walls hem in a long deep pool that survives most dry periods. The sandy beach on the true left offers an entry point for a refreshing dip: beware the frigid water temperature! Conditions change depending on the season, but as long as there isn’t much flow, you can usually back-track a short way and boulder-hop across the riverbed to walk along rock ledges on the true right bank of the rocky corridor. There is usually a grassy bench and a small sandy cove to cross.


Step 5

A jutting point of rock offers a smooth ramp and a spot to carefully clamber, some metres above the water, and descend to easier walking along the pool. Be sure to look back for wonderful reflections in the water. The towering rock walls start to taper down and ridges of grey, slanted quartzite guard the end of the gorge. A stately ghost gum offers some shade for lunch now, or on your return if you wish to visit Fox’s grave first. Pass the dry bed of a feeder creek on the true left bank and, as the Hale River bed makes a turn to the west, climb a grassy sandbank to the right of an iron-rich bluff.

ruby gap 2

F. H. Fox Grave


Step 6

On this lonely rise lies the grave of F.H.Fox, a destitute miner who shot himself when he realised his rubies were only garnets in 1888. Fellow miners carved the simple stone with pickaxes and buried him here. After keeping Fox company for a while, it’s time to turn and head back the way you came, taking in the stunning scenery from a different approach and in the afternoon light.

ruby map

Getting there: Follow the Ross Highway out of Alice Springs for 70km, then turn left onto the unsealed Arltunga Tourist Drive. Follow this for 35km passing the former Arltunga Bush Hotel, following the Ruby Gap signs. The track deteriorates further on and crosses many gullies requiring high clearance; the scenic 38km drive from Arltunga to the entrance of Ruby Gap Nature park will take 90 minutes or so. It is permitted to drive a further 5km along the sandy bed of the Hale River or you can pitch camp anywhere in this stretch and walk at much the same speed. How far you drive will determine your walk's length and time.


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.


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