You’d be mad to take the short way from Alice to Uluru; here is what you’d miss out on…
Nope, you won’t find any wheel-lifting action, no endless sand driving, you probably won’t even need to lock the hubs; but it’s essential when you are planning that obligatory Northern Territory Outback trip to include the West MacDonnell Ranges and Kings Canyon. The West MacDonnell Ranges has epic rock formations and waterholes, and the name Kings Canyon says it all!
For images, videos and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read this in our online magazine.
West MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges run for 644km; east and west of Alice Springs. The western side is the better-known destination, attracting large numbers of domestic and international tourists every year – so don’t be surprised if there are a few people out there. There are a number of must-see attractions here; really, you could spend a week slowly making your way through the Park to each of the locations but the great thing about the area is that you don’t have to.
Heading west from Alice Springs on Namatijira Drive takes you briskly away from civilisation and into the stunning rocky landscape. First stop is Ellery Creek Big Hole. Just over half an hour out of Alice, this breathtaking rock formation split by water is a great place to stop for a bite to eat or a cuppa. If the weather is right, take a dip in the water… but be warned it’s certainly ‘refreshing’. There are campgrounds (with amenities) on-site that will fit your caravan, but be aware they have a higher than usual cost and can be quite busy. Continuing west for another 12 short kilometres took us to the Ochre Pits. This sacred site still used by the Arrarnta people is a short walk from the car park. The beautiful colours of the walls are a sight to behold and if the sun is out they make for a great picture or two. Be sure not to touch the ochre as severe penalties apply – unfortunately even that didn’t deter some people.
As the sun began to set it was time to find camp. We ventured into the next attraction (being Ormiston Gorge) for a look at the campground there; we found it rather small and very busy – not really our style. Just down the road (4km) was the Finke River bush campground. On the northern side of the road just after the Glen Helen turn-off was just what we were looking for. Bush camping at its best; pick a spot beside the river or venture a little way into a secluded spot away from everyone else. There was plenty of room and the camping area went on for miles. Unfortunately our view of the sunset over the rocky mountain range was hampered by clouds. But a few cold ones around the fire certainly went down a treat.
Ormiston Gorge is back to the east from the Finke River camp; we decided to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take long to see why it was so popular. The stunning colours reflected in the crystal-clear water certainly didn’t disappoint. If you’ve got a keen eye (or even normal eyes) you’ll spot plenty of wildlife. Once you’re done exploring the area, there is a kiosk that is open for morning coffee or even lunch.
Continuing on our journey, a quick look at the Hema guide book showed one last attraction on this stretch of road: ‘Gosse Bluff’. A bit of reading told us that about 142 million years ago it was formed by a meteor strike. The road turns to dirt and winds its way a short distance into the crater. From there the best way to see the area is on foot. Follow the path that will lead you to a small summit that gives a great view of the inside – making for a perfect photo opportunity. The road soon turns to dirt at the intersection of Larapinta Drive. The road is generally well maintained however there are some rough bits and in wet weather it would be 4WD only; and high clearance would be best at all times. Travelling for a further 150km lands you in Watarrka National Park – home of Kings Canyon.
Kings Canyon Resort
Rolling into the National Park, the road turns to tar and civilisation emerges – but that elusive mobile reception still isn’t there. Kings Canyon Resort is another popular tourist destination. It hosts a reasonable-sized campground with excellent amenities, powered and unpowered sites and a grassed area for the tent dwellers. The resort also has dorm-style accommodation and luxury accommodation for those so inclined; be sure to book ahead in peak times.
We rolled out our swags, reserving a spot on the red dirt, and made our way to the canyon. The sheer size of the canyon can be seen from miles away; standing at over 100 metres high it really is a sight to behold. There’s a number of ways to see the canyon: If you’re feeling fresh and fit, the 6km rim walk is the pick, but watch out for heart-attack hill at the beginning. This walk will take you about 3-4 hours if you stop to see the sights. Make sure you visit the Garden of Eden along the way. If you are after something a little less strenuous there is a 2.6km creek walk that will show you the sights from the floor of the canyon. Back to the resort bar for a cold beer, a game of pool and some live entertainment from the one and only Rob Dowsett. With the images of the beautiful rocky ranges now a memory, we have Uluru in our sights!
Nearest towns: Alice Springs and Kings Canyon (fuel and limited groceries).
When to go: It’s the Outback – pick the cooler months. We travelled in July and it was damn cold, so be prepared.
West Macs: Bush and serviced camping
Kings Canyon: All styles (book early).
Things to do:
West Macs: Larapinta Trail (or part thereof) and other walks and swimming.
Kings Canyon: Tours and walks.
West Macs: https://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/
Kings Canyon: https://www.kingscanyonresort.com.au/