The Eastern MacDonnell Loop 1993

Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine March 1993

Driving into the early morning sunrise along the scarp of the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges you can smell the pure aroma of the Gidgee bush. This rugged part of Central Australia contrasts with the red soils of the ever advancing desert from the east. Scattered thickets of Witchetty shrubs, fuchsia, corkwood, ironwood and bloodwood trees as well as the magnificent Red river gums gives one the feeling of peace and serenity.

The Eastern MacDonnells are not as widely advertised as the Western MacDonnells which feature Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge and Simpsons Gap and therefore there is slightly less traffic into this area.

On leaving Alice Springs along the Ross Highway, a bitumen strip road that services this area for 72km, the first places of interest are Emily Gap, known as Caterpillar Dreaming to the eastern Arrernte aboriginal clan, and Jessie Gap Nature Reserves. These are good picnic spots and depending on the time of year you may even jump in for a swim at Emily Gap. The next place of interest is Corroboree Rock which lies just a few hundred metres off the highway. The rock has had significance to aboriginal culture in the past but is no longer regarded as important. A walking path around the rock with information signs gives you and idea of what life would have been like in the distant past.

Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge

At the 67km mark you turn off towards Trephina Gorge, John Hayes Rock Hole and the Biggest Ghost Gum. John Hayes Rock Hole is a popular picnic and camping spot with no facilities. There is a scenic ridge walk which overlooks a series of rock holes which are usually full of water. I found a ripe wild fig tree at the end of the gorge and had as good feed. Trephina Gorge is very scenic and offers good camping with pit toilets and drinking water, plus ridge and river walks. Black-footed rock wallabies live in the crevasses of the gorge and go about their daily business quite oblivious, or so it seems, to the human intrusions. Ghost gums and Snappy gums line Trephina creek and in the early morning you may sense the freshness of your surroundings.

A short distance on your return journey to the highway a sign directs you to the biggest Ghost gum in central Australia. This gum tree, growing on mud and sand deposits of Trephina Creek, is truly magnificent. Nearby, bitter wild melons lie scattered, waiting to be devoured by birds and insects.

Back on the bitumen it is 14km to Ross Rover Homestead. Formerly Loves Creek Station, this pastoral property was developed by Centralian horse breeder Lewis Bloomfield. Today Ross River Homestead caters for tourists with camping facilities, motel accommodation, restaurant, bar, trail rides, camel safaris and an outback station experience.

Following the Ross River to the south along a sandy track, you will see the uniqueness of the various geological formations of the MacDonnell Ranges and the pressure which the rocks were subjected to some 350 million years ago. The track crosses the river numerous times and is designated 4×4 only. N’dhala Gorge lies 11km from Ross River Homestead and is an important site for the Eastern Arrernte aboriginal clan. It is also a very important archaeological site for the world as it contains close to 6000 petroglyphs (rock carvings). These carvings are estimated to be between 2000 and 10,000 years old. Some of the carvings are of significance to the custodians and they relate back to a story about the Caterpillar Dreaming. This nature reserve is also a refuge for several rare plants including the Hayes Wattle and the Peach-leafed poison bush. There is a small camping are and bush toilets are provided. A walking track leads into the gorge and it is a comfortable 1 hour return walk.

N'dhala petroglyphs

N’dhala petroglyphs

The drive further south eventually takes you past Shannon Bore and on to the Ringwood Station road. Turn right and it is 43km of reasonable gravel road and 30km of bitumen road due west into Alice Springs.


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