Walks in and around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory

When my family first moved to Australia we spent the first six months living in Warrego, a small mining township 45km west of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. I had a great time there as a young boy and as a result have always had a soft spot for the ‘Territory’.

I made my first visit back in 2010, some 30 years after we had left, flying in to Alice Springs and then driving up to Tennant Creek, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been back to Alice Springs several times since and have done some great walking in the area.

The major attraction for walkers are the West MacDonnell Ranges that start on the edge of Alice Springs and extend westwards. In addition to an excellent, scenic drive along Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive, there are a series of enjoyable day walks as well as a the long distance Larapinta Trail (definitely on my walking to-do list).

I’ve covered some suggested day walks in previous posts:
1. Simpsons Gap to Bond Gap (along the Larapinta Trail)
2. Woodland Trail to Rocky Gap
3. Ormiston Pound walk
4. Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder (the final stage of the Larapinta Trail)

All of these are thoroughly recommended, but if you could do only one then the Ormiston Pound walk would be my top recommendation.

In addition to these walks there is also plenty of opportunity to take some shorter walks in Alice Springs and its immediate surrounds. In particular, there are some good trails centred on the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. Three that are worth doing, and all of which start at an undercover information board just near the entrance to the shop and Historical Reserve are:

1. Bradshaw Walk
Named after a Postmaster at the Telegraph Station in the 1890s, this is an easy walk of 2.5km that proceeds west through the carpark, climbs through acacia shrubland and eventually turns back towards the Todd river joining the Riverside walk back north to the Telegraph Station.

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2. Trig Hill and Cemetery Loop Walk
This track proceeds from the information board to the Alice Springs Waterhole before traversing alluvial flats and low granite outcrops to the base of Trig Hill. A short, sharp climb leads to the summit and fantastic 360 degree views. Continuing northwards, the path soon turns west towards the cemetery which holds the graves of five early settlers. From here the path meanders around granite outcrops and through Acacia and Senna shrublands back to the start. Another easy walk of around 2km.

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3. Spencer Hill and Stuart Walk Circuit
This easy walk of about 5km proceeds east from the information board, crosses the Todd River and then shortly after meets a junction with the Spencer walk (this is the return route). Continuing straight ahead (east) the path traverses ridges and gullies and turns south to the boundary of the reserve. The path proceeds through a gap in the boundary fence, turning south-west to meet another track junction signposted as the Spencer Hill walk, following this north to the first track junction and then back across the Todd River to the start.

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The walks above are all marked with coloured trail markers that make route finding pretty simple. This fact sheet provides more information about the Telegraph Station and includes a map of the walking (and mountain biking) trails.

The Telegraph Station is about 4km north of Alice Springs, and is accessed via Herbert Heritage Drive which joins the Stuart Highway. Alternatively, you can walk from the town centre along either the west or the east bank of the Todd River.

The map below shows the starting locations of each of the walks covered in this post:

Bushwalking: Simpsons Gap to Bond Gap, Northern Territory

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This enjoyable out and back walk takes in part of section 2 of the Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell National Park in the Northern Territory, starting at the popular Simpsons Gap and heading west to Bond Gap.

The track begins at the main car park at Simpsons Gap and is reasonably clear and well sign-posted throughout. The path is somewhat undulating but not particularly challenging and proceeds through mulga and witchetty bush with good views of the West MacDonnell ranges and back to Simpsons Gap. Eventually a track junction will be reached (with a path that leads to Rocky Gap) – Bond Gap is not much farther on and is an excellent spot for lunch and photos. The walk then returns via the same path. You could take the path to Rocky Gap and then the Woodland trail back to Simpsons Gap, although this would require a 3.5km road bash to get from the Woodland trail car parking area back to the Simpsons Gap car park.

Distance/Time: 16kms / took me around 4.5 hrs (incl. breaks)
Grade: Moderate half-day walk
My rating: A

Access: From Alice Springs head west along Larapinta Drive, the turn-off to Simpsons Gap is about 16km further on. The main Simpsons Gap car park is just under 7km from the turn-off.

See this fact sheet for more information, and this budget rent-a-car map for an overview of the area and attractions around Alice Springs. There is also a new website for the West MacDonnell National Park, although it appears to be still under construction as some of the links don’t work.

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Bushwalking: Woodland Trail to Rocky Gap (Simpsons Gap), Northern Territory

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Simpson’s Gap is described in the West MacDonnell National Park fact sheet as “one of the most prominent gaps in the West MacDonnell Ranges. At dawn and dusk it is renowned as a place to see Black-footed Rock wallabies…”

A short walk leads from the carpark to the Gap and is well worth exploring. After visiting the Gap I’d recommended doing one of the other walks in the area – I decided to do the Woodland Trail to Rocky Gap.

This is an excellent and reasonably easy walk of around 10km. I was there just after the end of the wet season so the area was very green and lush. The walk itself follows a reasonably distinct track to Rocky Gap through some Mulga Woodland, with good views of the West MacDonnell ranges. If you are feeling energetic you could continue on to Bond Gap – this extends the walk to 17km return.

I only saw one other person while doing the walk – what struck me (apart from how green it was) was how quiet and peaceful it was, it also felt quite remote.

Distance/Time: 10kms / took me around 3hrs (incl. breaks)
Grade: Easy half-day walk
My rating: A

Access: From Alice Springs head west along Larapinta Drive, the turn-off to Simpsons Gap is about 16km further on. The Woodland trail is about 3km from the turn-off and there is a small parking area and information board at the start of the walk (and Simpsons Gap carpark is another 3km or so).

See this fact sheet for more information, and this budget rent-a-car map for an overview of the area and attractions around Alice Springs.

Link to full photo gallery.

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Bushwalking: Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder, Northern Territory

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A trip from Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder marks the start or end of the long distance Larapinta Trail and also provides a fantastic day’s walk. Mt Sonder, at 1380m, is the fourth highest mountain in the Territory and commands superb 360 degree views from the summit. It’s a solid day’s walk but well worth doing.

The track starts at the camping area and heads downhill to cross Redbank Creek (usually just a dry creek-bed). Soon after there is a junction where the trail is joined by the previous section of the Larapinta Trail, at this point the trail turns left uphill continuing up to a saddle with the imaginative name of ‘Saddle’, and then generally eastwards towards Mt Sonder.

The trail is generally distinct and reasonably well marked – there are however a few places where it becomes a bit indistinct and care must be taken to stay on the right path. Having said that, one of the good things about walking in the NT is that visibility is generally excellent, so it would take a bit of work to get lost.

The summit, marked with a cairn, is a good spot for lunch and a rest – and the return involves retracing the path back to the start.

Distance/Time: 15.8km / took me just under 6 hours (incl. breaks)
Grade: Moderate/hard day walk
My rating: A+

Access: From Alice Springs head west along the Larapinta Drive and after 46km turn right onto Namatjira Drive. The turn-off to Redbank Gorge is another 145km or so, and then it’s about 5km along a rather rough gravel road to the campsite. The drive itself is enjoyable, going through some great scenery. Glen Helen Resort, about 20km before the Redbank Gorge turn-off is a good place for a cold beer after the walk.

More information: See this this scan of the Budget rent-a-car map which gives a good overview of the places to see around Alice Springs as well as the type of roads that will be encountered. I also recommend ‘Take A Walk in Northern Territory’s National Parks’ by John & Lyn Daly.

Link to photo gallery on flickr.

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Bushwalking: Ormiston Pound Walk – Ormiston Gorge, Northern Territory

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From the car park walk over to the walk information display board and then follow the path clearly signed Pound Walk and marked along the way by a red triangle. During my visit in July 2010 ‘Caution Notices’ had been added to the Pound walk signs warning of the high water level in the gorge as a result of the recent extensive rainfall and the possibility of having to resort to wading and swimming to complete the walk. Not wishing to turn around after driving all the way from Alice Springs I pressed on hoping that only a short stretch of the track through the gorge would be affected.

After a short walk alongside the access road the path drops down to the left into Ormiston Creek which has to be crossed before picking up the path again as it rises gently upwards to the first ridge line. Cross over the ridge following the well-marked path as it meanders through the rocky terrain eventually reaching a prominent saddle and a nearby viewpoint from where there are spectacular views of the pound. After crossing another ridge line the path drops down into the pound descending towards the broad bed of Ormiston Creek.

Noting the red triangle sign on the other side of the creek marking the paths position an interesting time was had in finding a suitable crossing point which did not involve the removal of socks and boots. After trying various options a series of boulders in the riverbed was eventually found which finally allowed an uneventful crossing. A further two creek crossings were negotiated in a similar manner until finally picking up the path as it left the creek bed and meandered into the gorge. As the path continued further into the gorge across sandy beaches and rocky terrain it eventually became necessary to resort to scrambling across large boulders beneath the towering red cliffs. Due to the amount of water it became progressively more difficult to find a suitable route through the gorge and to link up with the Ghost Gum Walk. Despite wading through the water to waist level it became obvious that the only way to get through would be to swim the final stretch as indicated earlier by the caution signs at the beginning of the walk. I decided that this was not a sensible option as the water was becoming increasingly cold and the prospect of a long drive back to Alice Springs in wet gear was not particularly appealing. The decision made I retreated and made my way back to the start of the walk the way I came in. As it turned out this was not such a bad outcome as it was only early afternoon, the sun was shining and although it lengthened the walk the views were magnificent and I did manage to dry out by the time I got back to my car.

Overall this is was a very enjoyable walk despite being unable to complete the full circuit due to the water level in the gorge. The views along the walls of the Pound and the red towering cliffs inside the Gorge are stunning and well worth the effort.

Start & Finish: Ormiston Gorge Visitor Centre approx 135 km/2 hrs drive west of Alice Springs.
Distance: approx 9 kms circular walk, allow 3 – 4 hrs or approx 17 kms return to Gorge along same route.

Fact Sheet available for down load here.

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UPDATE:

I visited Ormiston Gorge last year (2013) – there was a lot less water and so I was able to complete the full circuit without getting my boots wet. I did the circuit clockwise (opposite to that descibed above) starting with the Ghost Gum walk which delivers fine views before dropping down into the gorge and permitting completion of the circuit walk. I’d recommend doing the walk this way – if there is too much water in the gorge to navigate, you’ll find this out at the start rather then the end of the walk, and then can make a decision about how far to walk the other way if you are so inclined.

See here for a photo set of the walk.

 

Devils Marbles, Northern Territory

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I’ve been a bit slack updating this blog, but more walks will be added soon.

I recently was able to make a short visit to the Northern Territory; my first visit in 30 years since we lived there in Warrego (45km west of Tennant Creek) for six months back in 1980.

Just off the Stuart Highway about 95km south of Tennant Creek are the ‘Devils Marbles’ (Karlu Karlu in the local aboriginal languages). These are well worth a visit – there is a self guided walk as well as plenty of walking trails allowing you to explore.

More information: National Parks information sheet (pdf)