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Must-Do Stops in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park

Known to its traditional Arrernte owners as Tjoritja, the West MacDonnell Ranges are ancient geological formations in Central Australia. The Arrernte people have inhabited the area for tens of thousands of years, and many sites throughout the ranges hold sacred importance within their dreaming stories. 

Visitors to the region can experience this profound cultural history while also admiring the natural beauty of the landscape, including its many waterholes, chasms, and lookouts.

For a maps and details of the national park stops, click here. Use the Avenza Maps App to track your walk on the interactive park map.

Must-Do Stops

1. Simpsons Gap

Only 18km from Alice Springs, Simpsons Gap is a beautiful gap of towering red rock with a semi-permanent waterhole at its base. You cannot swim in the waterhole but there is plenty to explore in the area on a series of walking trails. The gap can be reached by car along Larapinta Drive, by foot on the Larapinta Trail or bike on the Simpsons Gap cycling path. 

 

2. Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm is a cultural site fully owned and operated by traditional owners (Angkerle Aboriginal Corporation). You can explore the 80-metre-high chasm, learn about its cultural significance from a local guide, and relax in the nearby café. The chasm can be visited between 8am and 5pm.

 

3. Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ellery Creek Big Hole is an ancient waterhole that has served as a meeting place for Arrernte people for thousands of years. Naturally stunning, you can view the sheer rock escarpments by following walking trails or floating through the swimming hole. Look out for rare native wallabies and kangaroos. Access is by car (partially unsealed) via Namatjira Drive or on foot via the Larapinta Trail.

 

4. Serpentine Gorge

Hiking to the top of Serpentine Gorge will reward you with one of the best views of the whole of the MacDonnell Ranges. There is a peaceful waterhole at the base of the gorge but swimming is prohibited for cultural and environmental reasons. The gorge can be reached on foot from the Larapinta Trail or by AWD/4WD off Namatjira Drive. 

 

5. Ochre Pits

The Ochre Pits of the West MacDonnell Ranges hold enormous cultural significance. They have been mined by generations to produce the reds, whites, yellows, and brown colours used in Aboriginal rock art and body painting. Access from Alice Springs is via Namatjira Drive.

6. Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge is another perfect base camp from where you can go out on your hiking, swimming, and wildlife-spotting adventures. The gorge serves as the trailhead for sections 9 and 10 of the Larapinta Trail. It is accessible via sealed roads all year round. 

 

7. Glen Helen Gorge

A gorge carved out of the mountain range by the Finke River, Glen Helen Gorge is a stunning place to swim and hike. Sheer red cliffs flank the waterhole where rare native animals have been visiting for a drink for thousands of years. Access to the area of the gorge is available to all vehicle types. 

8. Redbank Gorge

Located at the base of Mt Sonder, Redbank Gorge is another must-see swimming hole hidden in the rock escarpments of the ancient ranges. Vehicle access to the gorge (via Namatjira Drive) can be affected by rain, and is recommended 4WD only. The gorge also connects to section 12 of the Larapinta Trail. 

 

9. Mt Sonder

Marking one end of the Larapinta Trail, Mt Sonder is one of the highest mountains in the Northern Territory. Hiking to the top of the mountain is very challenging but it rewards you with unmatched views of the mountain range and the surrounding plains. You can access the mountain on foot from the Larapinta trail or by 4WD from Redbank Gorge car park.

 

10. Tylers Pass Lookout

Tyler Pass Lookout offers you the perfect vista of Tnorala, an ancient crater caused by a comet impact. The crater is an enormous 5km in diameter. The lookout is easily accessed, being only a half-hour drive from Glen Helen Gorge. 

 

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