Geology of West
The national park covers 39,300 sq km 160km west of
Springs. The ranges were lifted some 350-300
million years ago in an event that occurred between two geological
provinces: the northern granites and
metamorphic rocks; and the
and folded quartzite
zones. The extensive folding and faulting
have formed some spectacular deep gaps and gorges, and built Northern
Territory’s highest mountains Mt Sonder,
Mt Zeil and Mt Leibig.
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Climate and Vegetation
While a lot of the Red Centre is covered by very dry areas, West
MacDonnell Ranges have a bit moister climate, which also means a bit
more variation in plant
figs and cycads
grow in its deep gaps and gorges, which often have permanent water.
Spinifex grasses, acacias
and mulga grow in the drier areas.
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Australia Animals and Birds
Animals include euros
and black-footed rock
and many nocturnal
mammals such as dunnarts and native rats can be seen when spotlighting
during the night. Birdlife is also abundant – over 200 species are
known to inhabit the area, including budgerigars, western bowerbirds,
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos
and the spectacular Spinifex pigeons.
Nine species of frogs and about 100 species of reptiles are also found
in the park.
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Bushwalks and Scenic Drives
The West MacDonnell Ranges are popular with serious bushwalkers
who hike the 223km Larapinta Trail as well as day-trippers from Alice
Springs who come here to drive the scenic
drives, swim, bicycle, picnic or barbeque, or do some bush camping.
Larapinta Trail. by Tony Marsh via Flickr.com
The long and popular bushwalking track Larapinta
Trail starts from the historical Alice Springs Telegraph Station
just north of Alice
Springs. But most people are not up to such a
long bushwalk so there is a sealed road parallel
with the trail, where popular spots on the Larapinta Trail can be
reached by car - which also gives an opportunity to hike only some
parts of the Larapinta Trail.
For keener walkers, there is the six
day Larapinta walking tour.
Larapinta Drive. by ed 37 ~~ via Flickr.com
The first part of that sealed road is called Larapinta Drive, which
starts west of Alice
Springs. It first passes Mt Gillen and the
Historical Reserve and the grave of John Flynn, the founder of Royal
Flying Doctors’ Service; and later on your right hand side is the
turnoff to Simpson’s Gap on the Larapinta
Trail - a
beautiful gorge where black-footed rock wallabies
are often seen. As Simpson’s Gap is only
22km from Alice Springs, it is a popular spot for day-trippers. There
also a popular, 17km bicycle track from Alice Springs to Simpson’s Gap.
Simpsons Gap. by Prince Roy via Flickr.com
Another 30-ish km west from here is one of the most amazing rock
formations in the West MacDonnell Ranges - Standley Chasm with
its 80m high rock walls around a narrow gap. There are toilets, picnic
drinking water here; and a small kiosk where you can buy snacks and
Standley Chasm. by Jon Wiley via Flickr.com
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Further west, the Larapinta Trail turns south-east to Palm Valley and Finke
Gorge National Park, but if you want to
continue discovering West Macdonnell Ranges by driving, turn right onto
Namatjira Drive, where your first turnoff on your right hand side
(after quite a drive, 90-ish km from Alice
Springs) is Ellery Creek Big Hole on the
Larapinta Trail. Here you can have a cooling swim in a permanent
waterhole with cool water. There is also a camping ground here, picnic
tables, gas and wood barbeques, toilets and drinking water.
Ellery Creek Big Hole. by Hopkinsii via Flickr.com
Serpentine Gorge and Ormiston Gorge
Back on the Namatjira Drive, not far west from Ellery Creek is
Serpentine Gorge with a camp site and wood barbeques, and further west
are Ochre Pits - a source of paint for Aboriginal
people. Another 25ish km west on the
main road is Ormiston Gorge, one of the most beautiful gorges in the
West MacDonnell Ranges and one of the best places to see wildlife such
black-footed rock wallabies. There
is a nice swimming hole, a ranger station, caravan and camping
sites, picnic tables and toilets; and a few short walking tracks around
the gorge. There are also gas barbeques and you can buy refreshments
from a kiosk.
Ormiston Gorge. by Mark Wassell via Flickr.com
Another short drive along the main drive is Glen Helen where there is a
fuel station, accommodation and meals (even a bar and live music some
nights of the week) in Glen Helen Resort, and north-west
of it is the Glen Helen Gorge which gets
red in sunsets. There is a 4WD camping site here; and right next door
is Mt Sonder Lookout with some great
the red landscape.
Glen Helen. by Antoine 49 via Flickr.com
Guided Walks and Tours
There are many ranger-guided activities in the park, such as guided walks,
and half day
from Alice Springs.
Walkers. by Tony Marsh via Flicker.com
Here's a map of the West MacDonnell Ranges,
where I have tagged the places that I mentioned on this web page. You
can click on the tags to see what places they are, and double-click
anywhere on the map to zoom it in and see the places closer. Drag the
map to move around, and if you want to see the satellite image with
Google Earth, click on "Sat" in the top right hand corner.
This site uses
British English, which is the English we use in Australia. You will
find words like "traveller", "harbour" and "realise", and they are all
correct in the language used in Australia.
best efforts have been made to ensure
that all the information on this site is correct,
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