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West MacDonnell Range

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The West MacDonnell Range, known locally as the ‘West Macs’, extends west of Alice Springs over 160 km. This vast, ancient and spectacular section of the MacDonnell Ranges, encompasses the West MacDonnell National Park, and is an important refuges for plants and animals, many of which are found only here, living side by side with relics descended from ancient tropical forests.

Explore the wonders of the region, featuring landscaped that is significant in the stories of the Arrernte Aboriginal culture, a culture that existed in the region for many thousands of year.

What to see
Departing from Alice Springs, many of the main features are accessible via the sealed roads of Larapinta and Namatjira Drives, which runs west along the valley.

The first port of call is Flynn’s Grave, then Simpsons Gap, where a early or late afternoon walk to the waterhole provide opportunities to see the local wallabies.

If you are coming from Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) access is via the unsealed road of the Mereenie Loop Road (part of the Red Centre Way tourism route - permit is required).

When to Visit and Access
The region is accessible all year round, with the cooler months being from April to September. During heavy rain the roads can become impassable for short periods. From Alice Springs, vehicle access is via Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive. From Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) access to the West MacDonnell National Park is via the Mereenie Loop Road. 4WD is recommended as the road is unsealed.

Simpsons Gap is also accessible via a 17 km sealed bicycle track that starts opposite Flynn's Grave on Larapinta Drive, about 7 km from Alice Springs.

Due to its close proximity to the town centre, Simpsons Gap is popular with tourist who have limited time to explore, providing an example of a gap, which usually has some water in it, although during long periods of no rain, this can dry to a small pool of water. It is also home to the Black-footed Rock Wallaby, numerous insects and a number of species of frogs, including the Centralian Green Frog and Desert Tree Frog.

Source: Parks and Wildlife Northern Territory - West MacDonnell National Park fact sheet.

If you are looking for accommodation in the area, check out the local visitor centre. Other sources for places to stay include online accommodation networks. In addition to our listed online travel guide information, contact the local tourism visitor centre for your destination for more attractions, tours, local maps and other information. You can also visit the NT Parks and Wildlife website for more information.

Information Centre

Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory - Alice Springs Region

Central Australian Visitor Information Centre

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West MacDonnell Range - Attractions

Much of the West MacDonnell Range is encompassed in the West MacDonnell National Park...
West MacDonnell National Park
The West MacDonnell National Park include spectacular scenery that encompasses parts of the MacDonnell Ranges and offers much for those interested in camping, bush walking, flora, fauna, geology, and spectacular views and scenery.
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The many attractions along the West MacDonnell Range is listed in sequence starting from John Flynn Historic Reserve on the edge of Alice Springs. Another popular way of taking in the range is via the world famous Larapinta Trail, that winds it's way along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Range and down through the many gaps, chasm and gorges, ending at Mount Sonder, the highest point along the trail.
John Flynn Historic Reserve
Just on the western outskirts of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive, the historic reserve is situated amongst the low rocky hills with the beloved West MacDonnell Range as the backdrop. It is the historical grave site of John Flynn.
Simpsons Gap
Simpsons Gap is located in the West MacDonnell National Park, and being just 26 km west of Alice Springs is one of the better known and popular gaps in the West MacDonnell Range. Home to a resident population of rock wallabies, it is also the location for a number of species of frogs.
Standley Chasm
Located 50 km from Alice Springs, a popular time to see Standley Chasm is between 11 am and 1 pm. It is during this period that that you have the best chance to see the cathedral high walls of the chasm glow red from the sun’s reflections.
Serpentine Gorge
Serpentine Gorge is aptly named for the snake-like course that the creek has cut through the range. It is home to a number of rare plants that are protected from the region's harsh climate. You can take the walk either via the Service Track or the creekbed to the gorge entrance. A steep, stony track leads from the gorge entrance to the Lookout with stunning views of the MacDonnell Range. This part of the walk is a strenuous climb for about 15 minutes and there is a sheer drop from the top of the Lookout. Care should be taken, so keep clear of the edge.

Serpentine Gorge is the site of the Carpet Snake Dreaming, with some areas in the gorge and western cliffs having special significance for the Traditional Western Arrernte custodians.
Ochre Pits
Located approximately 121 km west of Alice Springs, from the Larapinta Drive turn on to Namatjira Drive, then follow the signs for the turn off to the Ochre Pits.

Aboriginal people have extracted ochre from these cliffs for thousands of years. The ochre from here is still used by Western Arrernte people, mainly for ceremonial purposes.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek is part of the Finke River system, and is one of the largest permanent waterholes in the West MacDonnell National Park. Located about an hour's drives west of Alice Springs, along Namatjira Drive, the waterhole is a great place for a swim or just to relax on a hot day. Swimmers should take care, as the water is deep, and during the winter, extremely cold. For your own safety, do not climb or jump from rocks.
Ormiston Gorge
Located in the vast and spectacular West MacDonnell Range and part of the West MacDonnell National Park, Ormiston Gorge with a near-permanent waterhole, showcases the spectacular geology and landforms of the region. When full, the waterhole is estimated to be up to 14 metres deep at its southern end.
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A unique way to get another perspective on the region, especially the western part of the range around Glen Helen, Mount Sonder and Ormiston Gorge is by helicopter. A range of flight options are available from Glen Helen Resort - check out some of our aerial images to see.
Glen Helen Gorge / Resort and Homestead
Located at the end of the spectacular West MacDonnell Range, Glen Helen Gorge is at the end of the sealed section of road known as Namatjira Drive, named after the famous Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira.
Mount Sonder
An icon landmark in the West MacDonnell Range, Mount Sonder (at 1,380 metres above sea level), is the fourth highest point in Central Australia. It is included in the Larapinta Trail and captured in the landscape paintings of many artists including the famous Albert Namatjira.
Redbank Gorge
Located at the western end of the West MacDonnell National Park, just 157 km west of Alice Springs, the narrow gorge through the red quartzite range offers relief with a number of waterholes. A great place to Mount Sonder and there are camping facilities.
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The Finke River System commences from the West MacDonnell Range region, with the Finke Gorge National Park located to the south of the range.
Finke River
One of the world's oldest watercourses, the Finke River forms in the West MacDonnell Range, passing through the Finke Gorge National Park and like the Hugh, Palmer and Diamantina rivers all flow inland eventually ending up in Lake Eyre. Part of the Finke River bed provides vehicle access to the famed Palm Valley. The river itself is usually dry, however in heavy rains parts of the river become impassable.
Finke Gorge National Park
Covering an area of 46,000 hectares, the park is home to the famed Palm Valley. The park and nearby areas hold cultural significance for the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people. It also contains evidence of early European settlement.
Boggy Hole
Located in the Finke Gorge National Park, the Boggy Hole is a permanent waterhole located south of the West MacDonnell Ranges. After heavy rain the waterhole can stretch up to 2 km in length. You will need a high clearance 4WD, as the route is off road and follows or forms part of the Finke River bed. Access is from either Larapinta Drive or the Ernest Giles Road. There are bush camping facilities.
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Just south of Alice Springs and the West Macs are the following attractions.
Ilparpa Claypans
Just south of the West MacDonnell Range, approximately 15 km south east of town is one of the lesser known Alice Springs attractions, the Ilparpa Claypans. Located at the western end of the Ilparpa Valley, the twelve interconnected ephemeral claypans form part of the Roe Creek catchment.

This very scenic locale is home to a fragile ecosystem and provides a sanctuary for local wildlife. The claypans are listed as a ‘Site of National Botanical Significance’ due to the presence of significant ephemeral plants and a wide diversity of plant species and communities. It is also registered as an Aboriginal Sacred Site, that is an important cultural place, especially for Arrernte Custodians.

Check out some of our images, including pictures of frogs and shield shrimps that appear when the claypans fill with water.
The claypans south of the West MacDonnell Ranges filled with water after the recent rains.
The claypans south of the West MacDonnell Range filled with water after the recent rains.
 
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Early morning, heading west out of Alice Springs, along Larapinta Drive
Early morning, heading west following the West Macs out of Alice Springs, along Larapinta Drive.
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