West MacDonnell Ranges
West MacDonnell Ranges

West MacDonnell Ranges

Rock wallaby Ormiston GorgeI said the West MacDonnell Ranges would have to go a long way to beat the East Macs.

So did they do it?

Well, yes … and no.

They’re certainly beautiful, with a beauty that is awe inspiring. The colours and the formations of the rocks are incredible, with sweeping cliffs, and serene water holes. And – unlike the East Macs – I saw a rock wallaby!

Glen Helen Gorge

Having driven via the Mereenie Loop Road we started at Glen Helen Gorge, where the Finke River cuts a path through the ranges and forms a permanent waterhole. It is stunning in its beauty and serenity. Ducks float on its peaceful surface underneath the towering red cliffs. We camped there overnight, and the howling of the dingoes first thing in the morning was cacophonous. I’m sure there were thousands of them out there.

Then it was on to Ormiston Gorge, also on the Finke River but completely different. With soaring cliffs where the river has cut a path, showing an array of colours, it was stunning. After concentrating on wildflowers back in the desert, I found myself concentrating on the different colours and patterns on the rocks here. I felt myself going from a horticulturist to a geologist, but unfortunately I know very little about either. I walked up to the lookout and then back along the cliff and down to the river bed where small, semi-permanent waterholes create refuges for the animals – such as the rock wallaby I spied on the cliff face. And yes – it was on the cliff, on a small ledge. It sat there for ages watching me, then nibbling at something on the crevice. Then it would hop into a hole in the cliff and come back out again. We eyed each other off for more than 5 minutes before it finally disappeared.

Ochre pitsThen it was off to the Ochre pits, which were not at all what I imagined. I’m not sure what it was I was expecting, but not what I saw. It looked like any other dry river bed in the outback, except the banks were an amazing pattern of strips and swirls in red, yellow and white. When you come out here you can really see why Aboriginal people lived the way they did for thousands of years, and where the patterns for their art came from.

By this time it was getting on for 4pm. Too late for any other walks, so we pulled into Serpentine Chalet to camp.  Down the track we went until suddenly I was crossing a pebbly (dry) creek bed and heading out along sand towards another pebbly creek crossing. Oops, this must be the 4WD only track. I headed back to a camping spot where somebody had very kindly left a large log still smoldering in the fireplace. Aah, bush camping, with baked vegies cooked in the camp oven. Does it get any better?

Well, yes, it does.

Serpentine GorgeThe next day Serpentine Gorge was stunningly beautiful – and slightly off the beaten track. A walk back through the rocky creek bed really showed up the amazing colours in the rocks – everything from deep purple, through maroon, pink, bright orange, yellow and white, and of course, red. And more beautiful delicate wildflowers with their tenuous grip on life between the rocks. But Ellery Springs, while again beautiful, felt like any other picnic ground. At only 90k from Alice it’s a day picnicking trip for the locals. However there appeared to be something living just below the ground underwater, as air was bubbling up through the shallows.

The thing about the West Macs is that they are easily accessible. The road from Alice Springs is a good one, and all tar to Glen Helen Gorge. This is a good thing for sure, but it means the West Macs don’t feel as rugged and isolated as the East Macs, and that’s what I missed.

Fortunately we had our bush camp site to go back to, to sit around the fire with a glass of wine. If only the clouds would go away so we could watch the stars!

Here’s slideshow 1 of the 2 slideshows on the West MacDonnell Ranges.

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