West MacDonnell Ranges #1

I forgot to mention that on the drive to The Alice we passed Gosse Bluff which is a crater is thought to have been formed by the impact of an asteroid or comet some 140 million years ago near the end of the Jurassic period. The original crater rim has been estimated at about 22 km in diameter, but this has been eroded away to a 5 km diameter, 180 m high crater. We both flew our drones but because of the height of the side of the crater we couldn’t see inside. This photo was at ground level, the bluff is still impressive if only a quarter of its original size, must have been a big bang!

On the Monday we arrived we went into Alice Springs to top up supplies and while there we visited the old telegraph station. This building marks the site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs established in 1871, it is a lovely place for a picnic and the old buildings are very well preserved.

Our next day was exploring the features of the West MacDonnells, Tjoritja to the aborigines. The first stop was at Glen Helen Gorge on the Finke River. This river is the oldest river in the world having followed the same path for 100 million years, some sections are even older. The Finke finishes its journey at the edge of the Simpson Desert where it looks like a dry river delta with lots of tress scattered across the many channels. The old Ghan railway crossed the Finke and the line was regularly washed out in floods, which is one reason they moved the track further west about 50 years ago. We used the old sleepers as firewood in the 1980/90s when we travelled the Oodnadatta track a number of times. The gorge is located about 140 Km west the Alice Springs near the western end of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Glen Helen Gorge
Finke River at Glen Helen Gorge

From here we went to the Mt Sonder lookout, a very short drive away. This mountain is the second highest in the MacDonnells at 1380 metres behind Mt Zeil at 1531 metres. The MacDonnells, when originally pushed up, were around 10,000 metres high, as high as the Himalayas. Erosion over millions of years has reduced them to a fraction of their original height.

Mt Sonder
Mt Sonder and the West MacDonnells

From here we headed east to Ormiston Gorge. We chose to climb up to the gorge lookout which included a couple of hundred steps and a narrow path along the edge of a steep drop so it was not the most enjoyable walk but the view was worth it.

Ormiston Gorge from partway up the climb to the lookout platform
Ormiston Gorge from the lookout showing the rock pool

From the lookout you could see the Ormiston creek valley that flows from the gorge, it is a tributary of the Finke river

Ormiston Creek Valley

Along the climb there were a few wildflowers growing in very rocky ground.

After Ormiston, we called into the Ochre Pits where the aborigines used to quarry ochre and trade it all over Australia. They would powder the ochre, wet it and then roll it into a ball and let it dry into a hard ball that made it easy to carry.

After the Ochre Pits we headed for Ellery Creek Big Hole, an ordinary name for a beautiful waterhole and gap in the ranges. There is camping allowed here and you can swim in the “big hole”, which some people were doing. There was also a pleasant picnic area with a couple of gas BBQ’s so we had our lunch here in a picnic shelter out of the sun. Here are some photos of the water hole.

Approach to Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole

After lunch we headed back to camp but paused at a lookout over the MacDonnells. I couldn’t get the whole range in one panorama so that each photo follows on from the one above.

It had been a good first day in the MacDonnells, but we were a bit leg weary as we headed home looking forward to an ice cold stubby.

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2 Responses to West MacDonnell Ranges #1

  1. Afton says:

    Really enjoying your adventures.

  2. Russ says:

    Great, so are we!

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