West MacDonnell Ranges

Heading west

Early on Sunday morning, we hit the road and headed for the West MacDonnell Ranges. It was glorious weather – cool, but sunny. First stop was Simpson’s Gap. A leisurely stroll into our first gorge gave us a taste of the colours and contrasts to come over the next week or so.

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We mused over the riverbed, wondering if all those tracks were from wind erosion, animals or tourists. Eventually we agreed it was the footprints of many an eager tourist – also likely to be making their first stop in the Ranges.


Next stop: Standley Chasm. Our arrival in the carpark was perfectly timed with about 100 school students; so we decided to sit in the car for a while, have a nice hot tea and some lunch. Once we saw the students heading back from their hike, we ventured in.


The trail into the Chasm isn’t too difficult. There were a few rocky spots where Ma needed a steadying hand, but her groovy hiking pole really helped with her balance.

The reward at the end of the hike was worth it. We took our time to just enjoy the light, the colours, contrasts and shadows. This set the tone for many of our hikes and stops during the trip: we would often sit and just take it all in, while others bolted past for a quick look and then rushed on back. The mind boggles at just how much they probably missed seeing.

As we wound our way along Larapinta Drive and then Namatjira Drive, we marveled at the lines of rock protruding from the hills on either side. They looked like the spine of a dragon. Ma seemed to think it was like Hadrian’s Wall, as it appeared to follow us all the way.

Along the way we listened to the DIY Audio Tour, which gave some great information about what we were seeing and where we were headed. It was a good way to enjoy the scenery and still have the information without having your head buried in a guidebook.

The Ochre Pits were our next stop. It was getting on in the afternoon and for some time we had this area to ourselves. A fabulous walk in on a sealed path suitable for wheelchairs took us around through the trees and down to the Ochre Pits. The afternoon light coming through the trees and on to the walls of the pits made the colours really stand out.


The pits belong to the Western Arrernte people. There are some areas of ochre that only the women can touch and retrieve, and some areas where only the men can mine the ochre. This area was considered some of the best ochre – soft to touch, vivid, with a slight sheen to it. The colours range from gold to crimson.

After the ochre was mined by the Western Arrernte, it was ground and mixed with emu fat for ceremonial body adornment.

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From here, we continued on to Ormiston Gorge. This was our last hike for the day as it was getting cooler and darker. In the carpark we crossed paths with a big dingo that seemed to be hanging around the camps in case of an easy feed. He disappeared into the bushes.

The walk trail took us along the dry riverbed to the gorge. Despite being the dry season there was still plenty of water in the gorge. I ventured a bit further than Ma, and when I turned back to take her photo, there was the big dingo trotting along the track right behind her.

“Turn around Ma!” I called out softly. What a lovely surprise to see this dingo up so close. He turned silently and trotted back and down to the creek where he crossed at its shallowest point.

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We stood motionless and watched as he meandered along the edge of the creek, never letting us out of his sight, but surveying the water and riverbank ahead. He stopped for a drink and then trotted on another hundred metres or so before stopping to dig in the shallows right at the edge of the water.

Perhaps he was after small fish, or maybe when he stirred the water he hoped that a bigger fish might come closer to investigate. No fishing success while we were watching.

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Within minutes another, smaller, dingo appeared. They crossed paths in absolute silence and with total disregard for one another. It was as though they were two busy people rushing past each other on St George’s Terrace. We were surprised at the lack of exchange between the two, but were certain they were a pair who were foraging and hunting together. Eventually they both disappeared.

Before it got dark, we headed for Glen Helen Resort – a cattle station-turned-tourist stop. After passing five or six helicopters at the front entry that were parked up for the night, we wove through the campground before checking into the homestead.

Our room was converted from the original homestead into a twin motel room. Very basic but comfortable. The door opened onto a verandah with a view directly across the dry river to the wall of the Glen Helen Gorge. It was stunning. As the evening grew darker, the stars grew brighter.

Red Centre_035And then there were the lamp chops! It was BBQ night at the homestead and so we joined the other guests for a ‘help yourself’ meal, washed down with a bottle of red wine. Ma chose lamb chops and was not disappointed. We saw others go back for seconds, which was confirmation of some really good tucker.

Next stop: Gosse Bluff and Namatjira’s House




One thought on “West MacDonnell Ranges

  1. Pingback: The Red Centre Way | The Driver, The Nav & The Dog

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