The MacDonnell ranges are a 644 km long mountain range running east and west from Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory. The West MacDonnell ranges are a special place, where mountain ranges and chasams produce watering holes that are often available year round. This makes the West Macdonnell ranges one of the rare places in central Australia with a few permanent water holes, and capable of supporting a wide range of flora and fauna.
After exploring much of the town of Alice Springs, and of course the obligatory camping trip to Uluru and the King’s canyon, I decided it was time to see some of the lesser known attractions of the region. I had also discovered one of my lesser used credit cards actually had a *credit* on it – time to book a day tour! I decided on a day tour of the West Macdonnell ranges – without your own transport it is nearly impossible to visit the highlights of the ranges.
Impressive gorges and chasms
Of all the gorges we viewed, Standley chasm was the one I found the most impressive. Our guide pointed us in the direction of a narrow path and off we went. The path was narrow and there were not many people on it, despite trying to walk at a slower pace, I had soon passed everyone else in the group and was surrounded by silence. The path was rocky and I had to pick my way through, from rock to rock. At some points I even thought I might have gone the wrong way, but eventually other people from the group began to catch up.
The chasm takes you by surprise. As you approach it, it looks like you have just come to the end of the line. “Is this it?” I wondered. As I came nearer to the end of the path, I noticed that it actually continued through a narrow gap. This was Standley chasm. A narrow and sheer split in the rock face, which created a cool refuge from the mid morning sun.
Relaxing swimming holes
We were told we could bring our swimmers, but I visited during the winter months. Even though temperatures did get fairly warm during the day, the water was still very very cold! I’m not the biggest fan of swimming at the best of times, so I abstained and chose to just sit and enjoy the tranquil settings.
of course not all of the watering holes were suitable for swimming…..
Two of the stops are famous for being good spots for wild life viewing. Simpsons Gap is known for the resident population of Rock Wallabies, although we didn’t spot any during our visit. One of the watering holes is a good spot to see dingoes. Apparently at certain times of the years, some of the fish species die off, and the dingoes like to hang out at the waters edge to catch them as they float by.
Aboriginal Ochre Pits
The place that I found the most interesting were the Aboriginal Ochre pits. Ochre is very important in Aboriginal culture, and there were ochre trade routes that spanned all over the entire continent. Ochre is a pigment found in certain parts of Australia which is used to make dyes and paints in red, yellow, and orange hues. It was an important part of Aboriginal painting and used as a body paint in ceremonie as well. The ochre pits are now protected, and although they are a great place to visit and photograph, there are hefty penalties for removing any of the ochre.
West MacDonnall Ranges
Mountain ranges, cool swimming holes, and abundant wild life are not things that you typically envision when thinking about attractions in the Outback or Alice Springs. Without the ecosystem created by the West MacDonnall ranges, much of the flora and fauna that thrive in this area would have a very difficult time surviving. Not only is this place important for the environment, but it is also very culturally significant for the local Aboriginal population.
For an off the beaten path experience in central Australia, consider the West MacDonnal ranges.
I booked my West MacDonnal range tour through my hostel – Haven backpackers, which is a Base backpackers affiliate. I stayed at Haven using my base jumping card which was provided complimentary by Base backpackers. I liked that Haven had ensuit bathrooms in the dorms, and also had free breakfast every day. It was also a short walk from the Ghan train station, which was how I got into, and left Alice Springs.