The West MacDonnell Ranges, which rise from the plains that surround Alice Springs, dominate some of the most awe inspiring landscapes in central Australia, and with plenty of scenic camping spots in the shadow of these impressive rocky crags, it’s a region not to be missed. Getting to some areas within the ranges is as easy as catching a minnow in a goldfish bowl, but reaching others demands some serious four wheel driving skills, and although progress along some of the rugged tracks might be slow, the journey is spectacular and the destinations just as good.
You’ll need plenty of time to discover the many outback treasures scattered along the approximately 500km route that will take you west from Alice Springs along Larapinta Drive and back to the big smoke via Namatjira Drive. But only a few minutes after beginning your trek into the wild and wonderful west, you’ll be standing in the shadows of one of the region’s popular natural attractions.
Australia is an ancient land, and at Simpson’s Gap, which is merely 23kms west of Alice, an imposing example of nature’s antiquity is on display. Here, the deep gorges, carved through the sandstone ranges by ancient watercourses, are home to plant species that thrived when central Australia enjoyed a less arid climate. In the distant past, according to an aboriginal Dreamtime legend, this was the home of a sacred giant goanna ancestor, and while there’s a good chance of spotting a less than gigantic reptile, if you’re here at dusk or dawn you might also spot one of the black footed rock wallabies that call this rugged region home.
The ancient landscape is even more impressive at Standley Chasm, which is only 32kms further west. A meandering 1.2km long trail, which follows a narrow tributary of the Finke River, leads to the 80 metre high rock walls of this grand spectacular chasm. And if you don’t want to hurry on your way, you can spend your first night nearby. The $15 entry fee you’ll have to pay to see this natural attraction, which is on a privately owned reserve, includes overnight camping, but although there’s a small grassy area for tents, the rest of the camping area is nothing more exciting than the day visitors’ car park.
If you’ve got the time to head another 100kms further west, you might find the Ntaria campground, beside the historic aboriginal mission of Hermannsburg, more to your liking. There’s a general store here, and if you’d like to step back into the past for a little while, you can visit the heritage listed precinct that, with its collection of 19th century buildings, offers a glimpse into an era that saw dramatic cultural changes imposed on indigenous people.
If you’re itching for a driving challenge and the chance to discover the wild soul of the ranges, you won’t need to look any further than the Finke Gorge National Park. The track leading into the heart of this 460 square kilometre park, and that begins about 2kms west of Hermannsburg, shadows the Finke River, which is one of...