West MacDonnell Ranges

Swim in waterholes in rugged canyons, discover Australia’s desert creatures and learn how the Arrernte people have lived on the land for thousands of years.  

The West MacDonnell Ranges are home to an incredible array of desert plants and animals. This group of ranges in the Northern Territory is affectionately known as the West Macs and its isolated beauty is captured in the artworks of its most famous past resident, indigenous painter Albert Namatjira. Visit the West MacDonnell National Park. Hike the ranges on the Larapinta Trail. Cool off in waterholes in deep gorges or take the scenic bike trail from Alice Springs to Simpson’s Gap.  

Start your journey just out of Alice Springs at the Desert Park. Here you’ll discover the creatures and plant life of the Northern Territory. Gain an insight into the survival skills and culture of the Arrernte Aboriginal people (also known as Aranda, Arunta and Arrarnta). Visit the ancient rock carvings of the Arrernte people at the N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park.

Cycle, hike or drive out to Simpson’s Gap, where black-footed rock-wallabies dwell. Hike to Cassia Hill for a view over the West MacDonnell Ranges. A campsite accommodates hikers taking on the first section of the 223-kilometre (140-mile) long Larapinta Trail

Ellery Creek Big Hole and Ormiston Gorge provide a water source for the native wildlife. Visit these natural attractions to go swimming. Dingoes, wallabies, birds, lizards and frogs can be seen by the waters. Sunsets in the MacDonnell Ranges are stunning, especially by the waterholes. Birds flock into the trees and the sandstone geology glows a brilliant red, reflected in the mirror-like water.

Stay on a former cattle station at the Glen Helen Resort west of Redbank Gorge. Climb the cliffs for views of Central Australia’s highest peak, Mount Sonder. This range is said to resemble a reclining pregnant woman and is of cultural importance to the Arrernte people.

The Northern Territory is a desert environment so is extremely hot in summer. It is best to visit in the cooler months between April and September, when you can fully enjoy the hiking tracks, cycle paths and scenery. Rent a four-wheel drive or sign up for a tour to go exploring. Take sunscreen, food and plenty of water for all of your adventures in the ranges, as many locations have no water source. 

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