Another beautiful area in Australia’s Northern Territory is West MacDonnell’s National Park. Here, we were able to explore of some of the area’s most striking scenery with its steep mountains, deep gorges and hiking trails. Although the entire park can be explored on foot via the 223 kilometer-long, convict-built Larapinta Trail. one can access the primary attractions–trail, the gaps, gorges and waterholes–via roads (some of which are dirt) and generally short trails. We took the easy route in a leisurely, one-day trip. The highlights include:
- Simpson’s Gap, which was once teaming with, and is still home to a 20-member group of endangered black-footed wallabies, is a small, some-times waterhole surrounded by steep, incredibly craggy cliffs, some of which end in impossibly large overhangs that appear in imminent danger of collapse.
- Shandley Chasm, the most breathtaking of the park’s gaps, is accessed by a lovely creekside (at least when the stream is flowing) 1.2 km trail that is lined with lovely white, free-form, ghost gum trees (a type of eucalyptus) and cycads (an ancient type of fern). It leads through a lovely, jagged, sandstone canyon to a small permanent waterhole to a narrow (roughly 30-foot) gap that is lined by sheer quartzite walls that rise about 2150 feet from the canyon flow. Between the alignment of the sun and smooth polish of the quartzite walls, they virtually glow red at certain times of the day.
- Ellery Creek Big Hole is a beautiful, permanent waterhole that has been carved out of the jagged red sandstone cliffs that surround it.
- Ochre Pots, cliffs embedded with natural ochre which has been prized by aborigines since prehistoric times for use as ceremonial and burial decoration and as a healing salve. While the ochre comes in multi-colored bands that men (men only—never women or children) extract from the cliff faces and then give to women to process (by mixing with water or animal fat).
- Ormiston Gorge, another rugged, red sandstone gorge, surrounds a beautiful, sand-lined permanent waterhole that is an understandably popular swimming hole. We explored this beautiful gorge via the 3 km Ghost Gum trail (named for the trees). The trail begins by climbing to a roughly 250-foot overlook, and then goes back down to the waterhole which is partially lined by large fields of jagged red quartzite rocks (that must be scaled and scampered over) and partially by white sand.
- Glen Helen Gorge, which is also home to the only, very rustic resort/campground in the area, has not only a small gorge, but also the only real restaurant. Although the dinner menu looks like it may have some interesting items, the lunch menu consists primarily of salads and burgers. We had two different, relatively decent burgers: a camel burger with lettuce, tomato and cheese; and a beef burger with the works (lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese and egg). These with what else, two beers: a Coopers Pale Ale and a Heineken.
With the furthest gorge being only about 140 km from Alice Springs, West MacDonnell National Park makes for a very attractive and easy day trip that, in our view, has two must-do stops: Shandley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge.