Northern Territory Stories and Tips

Part II. West MacDonnell Ranges

Standley Chasm - second chasm Photo, Northern Territory, Australia

You may like to ask what are the differences between West and East MacDonnell Ranges apart from the geographical position? In my opinion, I would say there are more attractions in the western as compared to eastern that instigate more trail walks to be accomplished. One of the most prominent walks in Australia can be found here - Larapinta Trail. It was a long distance trekking divided into 12 sections and each of these took about 1 to 2 days. If time is a restriction for anyone, which is usually the case, part of the trail can be attempted by driving straight to any trailhead and spent hours to admire the gorges and chasms then back to the car and head straight to the next one. Entering and existing the same trailhead might be the easiest and fastest way to explore Larapinta Trail.

Larapinta Trail, a total distance of 223km end to end, begins at Alice Spring Telegraph Station, following the spine of West MacDonnell Ranges while meandering its way through narrow chasms, sheltered gorges and inundated waterholes. The more popular features along this trail consisted of (in order) Simpson Gaps whereby black-footed rock wallabies can be spotted almost anytime, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, Ochre Pit, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and eventually the highest point and also the end point Mt Sonder.

One of the most unforgettable short walks we attempted along Larapinta Trail was Standley Chasm. It was slightly after dawn, the air was exceptionally cooling and crisp when we started the walk as to avoid hordes of bush flies darting us in every direction as what they had done to us the previous days. Like to mention, during or towards end of summer, flies are extremely active and their populations simply bloom profusely. The best way to spend quiet moment in outdoor ‘without’ flies is to wear an insect net over your head. It might look a tad silly but definitely the most effective way to minimize the buzzes and creepy-crawly-hairy-countless-microscopic-feet using you as the landing ground.

The trail was divided into 2 parts; the first part was more in contemplating the surrounding and the later one required climbing and four on the ground. At the end of the first chasm, colossal boulders impeded our way, the first look of it without much thoughts did look like a dead end. However, the walk should not have just ended being Mt Sonder is officially the ending point of Larapinta Trail. We stepped up on a few loose rocks, small enough to overcome without much hassles and big enough to support our weight. After a few series of leaps into the air, it unveiled the broken trail beyond those boulders. We hurled our backpacks over the massive boulders and started climbing our way through. The chasm then transformed into a narrower trail but suffice for a grown up heavily laden with camping equipment to wriggle through without much efforts.

No matter how much you plan, there is always impending unknown barrier lurking ahead of you. Along the second chasm, the trail was broken again by a boulder stuck mid air slightly higher above the ground and implausible to go underneath it. Even if you could, another larger boulder behind entirely blocked out the trail. The only way to get through is to go over these boulders by the mean of manoeuvring on a tree trunk and inching our way up. Previously, someone had made deep slashes on the trunk at intervals to provide foothold when climbing.

By the time we arrived Serpentine Gorge, the sun was hanging mid sky, perhaps soaring as high as 42 degree Celsius. It was also the time when bush flies were the most active of the day. The trail walk to the gorge was about 5 to 10 minutes walk where we parked our car. Sombre water filled the gap and snaked its way farther into the narrow gorge. Ascending up the steep cliffs offered a bird’s eye view of Serpentine Gorge with the other side presenting jagged ranges that dominated the vast desert landscape. The slanting outcrops scarred the cliff face where I was standing made an impressive piece of art work when contemplating the nature. The sight spreading right in front of me made me oblivious to the relentless sun beating upon my skin. Heat wave could kill especially in Australia Outback, the heat intensity is so much higher than anywhere else mainly because the sky is mostly clear without a speck of clouds to filter out the direct sunray. It was necessary to bring at least a litre of water when attempting any walks even a short one and best to anoint with at least SPF 30 sunscreen.

After the grueling hike to viewing Serpentine Gorge, we drove our rented X-trail to the next destination before sleeping over near Glen Helen Gorge. Ochre Pit was an aboriginal site, a multi-coloured walls mainly consist bands of red, orange, yellow and white. It acted like a colour palette that was essential to the aboriginal paintings or decorative colours used in their ceremonies when mixed with oil or water.

After driving for 145km Namatjira Drive from Alice Spring, we finally reached our last destination - Glen Helen Gorge. An hour after our arrival, the sun was very much close to the horizon, emitting its last soft rays against the gorge that then reflected itself on the nearby waterhole, gradually releasing an elegant radiance to the surrounding. We heard birds chirping in the distance and at the same time viewing through our binocular when we saw a couple of them resting among the cliff face seemed to be waiting for the sun to skirt off the horizon, dim and cool down
the surrounding.

The one night stay in Glen Helen Homestead had never been better. It was located less than 5 minutes walk to Glen Helen Gorge Waterhole and view of Mt Sonder in distance was possible. At the restaurant, we scrutinized the dinner menu and what astounded us was this taste of Outback platter that seemed to have fallen out the norm food listing. It consisted of skewers of camel meat, smoked emu, crocodile and also kangaroo salad. These could easily qualify as taboo for some and likewise for us. We went for the regular mixed grills, lamb rack and grilled barramundi without much consideration.

After the delectable dinner, we sauntered outside the homestead, appreciating how wonderful the world could be without all the irritating buzzes that had pestered us throughout the day! We gazed upon the black velvet skies tucked with myriads of luminous stars, spending a moment of what the nature has bestowed us. In the background, live folk songs* were playing aptly with that moment, which included memorable tunes like "Big Wide Starry Sky", "Heavens On Fire" and "Venus & the Sun" that then concluded the exhausting day.

* All songs were composed and sung by Chris Aronsten. Visit for more.

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