My cart

A Complete East MacDonnell Ranges Trip

The East MacDonnell Ranges form one of Australia’s most visually stunning and culturally significant natural landscapes. Having been inhabited by the Arrernte people for tens of thousands of years, the ancient mountain range hides many picturesque gaps, waterholes, and lookouts. Some of these locations are sacred sites central to local dreaming stories. 

With so much to see and do in the region, we have put together an ideal itinerary for you to experience the beauty and cultural history of these mountains. Highlights include walking trails through the beautiful Trephina and N’Dhala Gorges, as well as visits to ancient cultural sites like Emily Gap and Corroboree Rock. 

4 wheel drive on dune

Emily Gap

4WD dark skies

Jessie Gap

Emily and Jessie Gaps

Emily and Jessie Gaps are both beautiful natural attractions and ancient cultural sites. The local Arrernte dreaming story holds Emily Gap to be the origin of giant caterpillars that created the mountain range. 

You will find walking trails leading you to vistas of each gap, and along the way, you will be able to spot rare animals like rock wallabies. The overall highlight is the ancient rock art at Emily Gap, which depicts the caterpillar dreaming story. You can visit the gaps all year round, and rangers are available for guided activities. 

 

Corroboree Rock

Despite the name, Corroboree Rock was most likely not a meeting site for the Arrernte people but was more likely a site where sacred ceremonial objects were kept. The rock is a large dolomite formation that can be explored by walking trails. A picnic area also makes this a great stop-off on your day’s journey.

Corroboree Rock

Corroboree Rock

Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge Nature Park is the perfect spot to get your walking shoes on and go exploring. A range of walking trails will help you navigate the park, and you can also take guided tours from Aboriginal rangers to help get an appreciation for the landscape’s cultural significance. 

A highlight is taking the Trephina Ridgetop Walk to John Hayes Rockhole, where you can enjoy a swim. There are four camping sites available in the park (must be booked online in advance). Some areas of the park are only accessible by 4WD.

 

N'Dhala Gorge

N’Dhala Gorge is famous as the site of 6000 ancient rock carvings, and also as the home of rare plant species, such as the Poison Peach Bush. Short walking trails will help you explore the gorge and surrounding park.

Be aware that there are sacred sites in the area that must not be disturbed. Some locations are only accessible by 4WD.

Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge

Arltunga Historical Reserve

Known as Central Australia’s first ever town, Arltunga is historically important as a mining destination. Today, you can come to the visitors’ centre at the historical reserve to learn about the area’s ancient and more recent history. 

There is a lot to do at the reserve: explore the town’s historical ruins, go fossicking, take a ranger-guided tour, or get out in your 4WD. You will also find a number of connected trails taking you to see sites like Golden Chance Mine, Government Works, Great Western Mine, Joker Gorge, and MacDonnell Range Reef Mine. The reserve is open 8am to 5pm.

 

Ruby Gap

Ruby Gap sits at the furthest reaches of the East MacDonnell Ranges, and so it is a little bit less accessible than some of the other sites in the region. You will need a 4WD to get into the Ruby Gap Nature Park, and there are some excellent 4WD trails to follow inside. 

Those who make it to the park will be treated to excellent (though difficult) bushwalking along the river and through the chasms. Swimming is also available along the way, but may be unavailable in the drier months of summer. The remoteness of Ruby Gap also makes it a great spot for camping.

Arltunga Historical Reserve WAE Renae Saxby

Arltunga Historical Reserve (WAE/Renae Saxby)

Ross River Resort

Ross River Resort is based upon a nineteenth-century homestead, offering you accommodation and activities for an authentic outback experience. Camping sites and bunkbed accommodation start at $30 per person, and private ensuite cabins start from $160. Open all year round with a bar and homestead restaurant, this is your ideal base camp to explore the region.

Ross River Resort

Ross River Resort

Book Your Adventure

We have given you a taste of the hidden pleasures of the East Mac Ranges. Start planning your own adventure and make a booking today!

East Macs FAQ

If you want to tick everything off this complete East Macs trip, we recommend at least 2 days.
Day One gets you Emily & Jessie Gap, Corroboree Rock, Trephina Gorge and the night at Ruby Gap (camping). Day Two would send you back to Arltunga, N'Dhala Gorge and a visit into Ross River Resort.
Ruby Gap (the furthest point of the East Macs) is about 145 kilometres east of Alice Springs.
You can swim at John Hayes Rockhole which is within Trephina Gorge Nature Park. Swimming here is most possible after rain, until it goes stagnant or evaporates.
The East MacDonnell Ranges are directly east of Alice Springs. You can access them via the Ross Highway, just south past the gap of town.
The East MacDonnell Ranges are accessed via the sealed road of the Ross Highway, meaning a 2 wheel drive can access them. Some of the stops along the East Macs do require an all-wheel drive or 4 wheel drive.
See more here: www.discovercentralaustralia.com/things-to-do/4-wheel-driving
Heading south from Alice Springs, you will see the signs for Ross Highway. Turn off, and you will only be a short drive from Emily Gap. The road through the ranges is sealed up until Trephina Gorge (75km away). A 4WD is recommended after this point to see further attractions, like Arltunga & Ruby Gap.

Subscribe

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?