An ever-present backdrop to Alice Springs, the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges stretch for more than 100 kilometres to both the west and east of the town.
To the west, this dramatic formation is protected in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. The first highlights you reach, just a short trip from Alice Springs, are a tantalising glimpse of the amazing gorges for which the ranges are renowned. Two of the most accessible sites, Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, are understandably also among the most popular.
As you head further west, you’ll find Ellery Creek Big Hole, which is a perfect spot to stop for a refreshing dip in the remarkable waterhole. Not far away is a popular picnicking place at Serpentine Gorge and the intriguing Ochre Pits site.
The gorges just keep coming as you continue west, with the towering walls of Ormiston Gorge and some welcome facilities at Glen Helen. Redbank Gorge, at the base of Mt Sonder, is another great spot to cool off with a swim after tackling some of the walks.
Over to the east of Alice Springs the East MacDonnell Range isn’t as well known as its western counterpart, but this can be a boon for travellers seeking to avoid the crowds. However, the area is still packed with interesting sites to explore, like Emily and Jesse gaps.
For an insight into the area’s Aboriginal history and culture, stop off at Corroboree Rock, which is a sacred men’s site. The rock art at Trephina Gorge offers another taste of this ancient culture. Beyond Trephina you’ll need a four-wheel drive, so this is a popular spot to stop for a picnic or camp overnight.
With a four-wheel drive it’s possible to explore some of the East MacDonnell Range’s lesser known attractions, including N’Dhala Gorge and Ruby Gap. With its numerous rock engravings, N’Dhala Gorge provides another insight into the Aboriginal history and culture of this area. If you’re up for even more exploration, then see the ruins of Central Australia’s first town at Arltunga. There’s also more mining boom history at Ruby Gap, which is only accessible to high clearance four-wheel drives.