Tjoritja-West MacDonnell Ranges National Park is one of the most well-known national parks of the Red Centre, and many great spots are just a day trip away from Alice Springs. Here is where you’ll see a lot of the gorges and waterholes that are so quintessentially Central Australian. It’s also the backbone for the Larapinta Trail, a 231 km long walking trail made up of 12 sections that’ll take you to all the best spots and more. You have the option of completing any part of the trail or doing the E2E (end to end) walk of the trail in its entirety, which takes most people about 10-14 days. Unfortunately, large bushfires from early 2019 devastated a lot of the area, and a significant drought meant a lot of the usual waterholes were fairly dried up, but the park is still enchanting despite this. Going from east to west, here are some of our favourite spots along the ranges.
Simpsons Gap, the first main attraction of the West Macs, is a mere 25km out of Alice Springs. Many people visit Simpsons Gap on push bike from town as it’s a nice, easy 17km ride from Flynn’s grave. Black footed rock wallabies are a common sight here.
Birthday Waterhole and Hugh Gorge
Birthday Waterhole and Hugh Gorge are favourite campsites for locals and are the starting points for some of the Larapinta Trail’s best sections. We had originally intended on doing the Birthday Waterhole to Hugh Gorge section of the trail as a multi-day hike, but due to some unseasonably warm weather, we decided to do a day hike from Birthday Waterhole up to Razorback Ridge and back, as well as an overnight stay in Hugh Gorge Waterhole. The views from the top of Razorback Ridge, especially the eastern end as it is higher, are well worth the climb, and Hugh Gorge Waterhole is a beautiful and peaceful little oasis.
Counts Point at Serpentine Gorge/Chalet
Counts Point was one of our favourite spots that we visited along the Larapinta Trail, and it is easily doable as a day hike from either Serpentine Gorge or Serpentine Chalet as it sits practically in the middle of the two spots. We camped at Serpentine Chalet, then did the 6.3km climb to Counts Point. The view from Counts Point really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated, the numerous converging ranges make for a breathtaking lookout that you’ll find hard to leave. Moreover, Serpentine Gorge, with its semi-permanent waterhole, is one of the most picturesque spots in the ranges.
During our time in Central Australia, Ormiston Gorge quickly became one of our favourite waterholes. It’s easily accessible from Alice Springs and is one of the permanent waterholes in the West Macs. Not to mention that, with its white sand and towering gorge walls, it is stunningly beautiful too! We also took the walk to the Ghost Gum Lookout to appreciate the waterhole from above, but the main highlight was the Pound Walk, which takes you through an expansive pound formation around the eastern side of the gorge as well as a trek through the full length of the gorge. A must do for sure!
Glen Helen Gorge and Finke River Two Mile
Glen Helen Gorge is yet another beautiful permanent waterhole and a great place to get supplies from if needed while in the West Macs. Across the road is a great free camp by the Finke River called Two Mile. It’s full of soft sand so a 4WD is recommended but if you can get through that and find yourself a nice little spot along the river, you’ll be set!
Redbank Gorge and Mount Sonder
Redbank Gorge is one of the westernmost attractions in the proper national park limits, and it is also one of the best. Many locals say that their favourite thing to do in the West Macs is to swim through Redbank Gorge, particularly after a flood. Unfortunately for us, Central Australia was going through a significant drought when we were there and the waterhole was fairly dried up, but we were still able to swim through a bit of it before the water got too stagnant, and we could definitely appreciate why it was so highly recommended by so many people. On top of it, the final 12th section of the Larapinta Trail is the climb up to Mount Sonder from Redbank Gorge. Many people start this walk in the early hours of the morning (3-4am) to be at the summit by sunrise. It’s a fairly challenging, mostly consistently uphill walk but you’ll get superb 360 degree views of the area for all your efforts.
Roma Gorge doesn’t typically get much mention in brochures about the West Macs, and we’re not entirely sure why. Although the 8km road in requires a 4WD with high clearance, the track takes you to one of the best collections of Aboriginal petroglyphs in the region. It’s a nice drive in and a pretty special spot that most visitors to the West Macs don’t get to.
And bonus: Tnorala-Gosse Bluff
Once you leave the West MacDonnell National Park and continue west along Namatjira Drive, you’ll reach Tnorala-Gosse Bluff. Rising out from the flat landscape around, it’s impossible to miss; it was formed by a comet striking Earth over 140 million years ago and is one of the largest impact craters in the world. There is no camping allowed here, but you can take a short 1-2km walk to a lookout to appreciate it.
What are your favourite spots in the West Macs? Let us know below!