Australian Mountains, West MacDonnell Ranges

The West MacDonnell Ranges are spectacular Australian mountains. They are close to Alice Springs and you can walk along the Ormiston Gorge, see the Ochre Pits, picnic at Simpsons Gap and swim in the waterholes.

Mountain ranges vary in colour from yellows to browns to reds to dark greens.

australian mountains ormistone gorge panorama

Some are barren, others full of vegetation, some have flat tops with dense spinnifex, other mighty, peaky rocks.

The colours are really complex and dramatic and change with the intensity of light.

You can book a bus tour, drive your car or, for those fit for physical challenges, walk the Larapinta Trail. It is considered as one of the top walking trails in the world and stretches 223 km.

You don't need to do the whole trail, you can walk only one or several segments, as some are easier and others very difficult.

australian mountains mount sonder

The trail starts at the Alice Springs Telegraph station and ends at Mount Sonder.

You can see the mount here on the left. The 300 m high formation is known to the locals as the "pregnant sleeping woman".

Australian Mountains - West MacDonnell Ranges Facts

The MacDonnell Ranges stretch 400 km east and west of Alice Springs. Some 300 million years ago, strong earth movements and wrinkling gave birth to mountains as high as Himalaya. Erosion by winds and rains during time revealed today's chasms, gorges, gaps. More rain cut into the rocks and formed waterholes.

Various layers of colour indicate a higher or lower level of iron oxidation. The more iron, the redder the layer.

The ranges have many camping sites and various facilities. Some provide budget accommodation or caravan parks.

Australian Mountains - Must See in the West MacDonnell

Here are some spots that you shouldn't miss:

  • Simpsons Gap, just 18 km away from Alice, provides opportunities to walk around or go by bicycle along a sealed path. Otherwise stop for a picnic or barbeque and breathe the fresh air.
  • australian mountains simpsons gap

  • Standley Chasm, a narrow crevice between tall, daring walls is very impressive.
    australian mountains standley chasm australian mountains standley chasm tree

    Walk for 1.5 km between huge rocks, cycads and trees that grow sideways to the tall walls of the crevice.

    The walk is very easy, and the colours are just stunning.

    It is 50 km away from the Alice and it has picnic areas with wood fire barbeque, camping and a small shop where you can buy drinks and snacks.

  • Further away, the Ochre Pits area is at 111 km from Alice Springs and has picnic and barbeque facilities. Look around, read the boards and learn how Aboriginal Australians used ochre for decorations, body painting, religious ceremonies and in preparing medicine.

    australian mountains ochre pits

  • The Ormiston Gorge and Pound - 135 km from Alice Springs is a display of soaring red cliffs, overhanging layers of rocks of diverse colours and abundant vegetation.

    australian mountains ormistone gorge

    With an easy climb from the parking spot you can enjoy spectacular scenery from the top.

    Then follow a track, just a little bit more difficult, down the slopes to the floor of the Pound.

    The area has a camping site, gas barbeque, picnic tables and a kiosk. You can even swim in the waterhole but, take care - it is cold.

  • Glen Helen Gorge at 132 km has accommodation and a restaurant, camping, a picnic area, petrol to refuel your car.

    australian mountains glen helen chopper

    And something to thrill you: open door helicopter flights are available, MASH style.

    australian mountains glen helen waterhole

    But if you are not into flying then enjoy a swim in the waterhole. The waterhole is part of the Finke River, considered to be the oldest river in the world.

  • When you travel to Alice Spings back from your trip stop at the Ellery Creek Big Hole.

    australian mountains ellery creek big hole

    You will still have to drive 92 km back, so it's a good spot to have a picnic or a quick swim. If you are too tired you can camp overnight.

Enjoy your trip. And if you want to see more spectacular scenery go off road to see majestic palms thriving in the Australian desert and the Finke Gorge National Park. Or book a tour to see the unique Ayers Rock.

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