If you’re looking for things to do near Alice Springs, make sure you put a visit to Trephina Gorge Nature Park on your list. There are some great walks, and the scenery and views are spectacular.
Trephina Gorge is in the East MacDonnell Ranges 85 kilometres from Alice Springs. Don’t make the mistake we did and almost overlook the eastern side of the ranges. The drive to Trephina Gorge is as good as the journey to the gorges and gaps of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
There is also plenty to do on the way to Trephina Gorge so make a daytrip of it. There are a few quick stops you can make on your way out there.
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Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park
From Alice Springs, go through The Gap on the Ross Highway towards another couple of Gaps. Emily and Jessie Gaps are 15 minutes from Alice Springs. Emily Gap is first, and Jessie Gap is a minute or two down the road.
Both gaps are close to the road and quite accessible. From the car parks, the gaps are a 5 or 10 minute walk away. The two gaps are similar in appearance, but they are worth checking out. There was plenty of birdlife when we stopped by.
The sites are significant to the Arrernte people. They form part of the creation story of Alice Springs. There are rock art sites at both gaps depicting the caterpillar that features in the story. The artwork is quite well preserved. There are signs asking not to photograph the rock art.
If you’re staying in Alice Springs and are just after somewhere for a picnic lunch, the parks here would be a nice spot. There are chairs and tables and fire pits. Camping is not permitted.
East MacDonnell Ranges 4WD Day Tour
Explore the East MacDonnell Ranges in depth on this small-group day tour. Departing from Alice Springs, go off road in a 4WD to explore remote locations, spot wildlife, and learn about local history. Visit Trephina Gorge, the Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park, Corroboree Rock.
The turn off to Corrobboree Rock Conservation Park is 26 kilometres up the highway. The turn off takes you to an unsealed road but it is only a few hundred metres to the carpark.
There’s no shortage of amazing rock formations in Central Australia. Corrobboree Rock is another one to marvel at. It is a thin wall of rock sticking up from the ground. The loop trail around the rock will take 15 to 30 minutes to walk depending on how often you stop to take pictures and there are lots of great angles to shoot from.
The 800 million year old dolomite wall looks even more dramatic as it sits atop a small hill. It is a captivating thing to walk around. With every new angle you see it from, you notice a different feature. There are a couple of holes through the wall which catch the light when you are in the right position.
Corrobboree Rock is a sacred site for Arrernte men, used by them to this day. The traditional owners ask people to keep to the walking trails and drones cannot be flown at the site. There are picnic facilities at the carpark.
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It is about 30 kilometres from Corrobboree Rock to Trephina Gorge. A few kilometres before the turn off the Ross Highway narrows to a single lane road. It is a 9 kilometre drive from the turn off to Trephina Gorge.
It’s a sealed surface for the first 4 kilometres and unsealed for the last 5. We went in after a couple of days of rain and besides some big puddles and a bit of mud it was fine. In dry conditions you’ll do it in a 2wd.
Trephina gorge walks
The highlight of Trephina Gorge are the walks. They are the best way to appreciate the landscape and wildlife. Having failed to do our research we didn’t leave enough time to do them all. We did three and had to bank a couple of others for our next visit.
The walks range from an easy hike along the bed of Trephina Creek to the 9km, one way Ridgetop Trail. We hadn’t come prepared to tackle the Ridgetop Walk but you can get through several of the shorter walks in a day.
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The Gorge Stroll and the Trephina Creek Ramble
These two unmarked walks are the easiest trails to explore in the nature park. The Gorge Stroll takes you into Trephina Gorge along a sandy creek bed to a waterhole. There was water in the waterhole for our visit, but that is not always the case. How much water you see, if any, depends on recent rain.
The views of the red and orange gorge walls are spectacular. Some children were having a great time shouting and hearing the echoes bounce off the tall walls. The acoustics were amazing. The Trephina Creek Ramble starts at the same point as the Gorge Stroll but goes in the other direction.
This walk connects the carpark and the Bluff Campground. The creek bed is lined with wonderful looking river red gums. First thing in the morning and at dusk it is the perfect place to spot a variety of birds. We were on the lookout for some wild budgies. They didn’t show themselves, but it was still a pretty walk.
Trephina Gorge Walk
This is a one hour loop walk, it’s rated as moderate. Follow the orange markers from the carpark along the creek then up the rim of the gorge. This is the steepest part of the walk but there are nice views to distract you from the slope.
You walk along a path of smooth orange rock right along the top of Trephina Gorge. There is a little rock hopping needed as you come back down into the creek bed but nothing too awkward. Keep an eye out for black footed rock wallabies. They are in the area but are more likely spotted early and late in the day.
The last part of the walk takes the same path as the Gorge Stroll. You’ll get to the waterhole and keep going to the carpark. For our visit in October, there were lots of plants flowering in and along the creek bed.
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This is also a loop track. It is 2.5 kilometres long and rated as moderate to difficult, but the views are fantastic. From the carpark follow the red markers across the creek bed then up the side of a hill. The track is narrow and as you follow the switchback path there is often a steep drop on one side.
The first part of the hike is unrelentingly up but the views are so good you’ll find yourself stopping often to take in the scenery. Like much of the MacDonnell Ranges there is some impressive geology. In the surrounding hills you can see layers of colourful folded rock. Once you get to the top there are views of Mordor Pound in the distance.
What goes up must come down and the track descends between some tall gorge walls that glowed red in the midday sun. The final part of the track is more shaded than the steep, exposed first section. You pop out of a little gully near where you started at the creek.
This was a great walk. Don’t be put off by the gradient. It is a short enough distance that you can take your time making your way up. The views will make the effort seem worthwhile. Avoid the heat of the day as there is no shelter at all as you go up the side of the hill.
ALICE SPRINGS DESERT PARK ENTRY
Avoid the queue and grab your tickets online to Alice Springs Desert Park. Explore the plants, animals, and people of the desert during a self-guided visit. Learn about the arid regions of central Australia, find out what resides in a waterhole and which critters come out at night. See native Australian desert birds and wildlife in natural enclosures.
Trephina Gorge Walk
Ridgetop and Chain of Ponds Walks
These are two walks we didn’t get too. The Ridgetop Walk is a difficult 9km one way hike. The walk begins following the Trephina Gorge Walk then the blue arrows veer off to the left. It runs between the day visitor carpark and the Rockhole Campground.
Being a one way track you’ll need to arrange a pickup or drop off. Otherwise, you can add 2 hours to the walk if you want to get yourself back to the carpark from Rockhole Campground along the road.
The Chain of Ponds Walk is a 90 minute loop trail starting at the Rockhole Campground. It begins with an easy walk to Turner’s Lookout. Beyond there it gets tough. Rock scrambling and wading or swimming might be required to get to the Rockhole. Check conditions before you set off.
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Ghost Gum Lookout
This is a quick but worthwhile stop on your way in or out of Trephina Gorge. The name of the place says it all. Take the turn off from the gorge road and you get to a small carpark with a view of an enormous Ghost Gum.
If you have only ever heard the name and never seen one, stop here and to see what you have been missing. You can spot a few of them but there are a couple of big ones that stand out. They are a great sight and worth the brief detour.
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Trephina Gorge Camping
There are four campsites at Trephina Gorge. The Bluff, Panorama and Gorge Campgrounds are all located near Trephina Gorge. Rockhole Campground is on the other side of the park near John Hayes Rockhole. You’ll need a 4WD to get in there. The track in follows John Hayes Creek so if it has been wet, check the condition of the track before going in.
The campgrounds all have pit toilets, communal fire pits and gas BBQs. Drinking water is not available at the Rockhole campground but is at the other sites. Fees are paid on site in cash. At the time of writing, fees were $3.30 for adults, $1.65 for kids (5-15years) and $7.70 for a family (2 + 4) – not bad!
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Places to stay & things to do in the East MacDonnell Ranges
We only gave ourselves one day in the East MacDonnell Ranges and in hindsight that wasn’t enough. Besides the walks we missed, there were some other sights nearby that we’ll also have to get back to.
Only 35 kilometres on from Trephina Gorge is the Arltunga Historical Reserve. Access is on a gravel road suitable for 2WDs. You can explore the ruins of a former gold mining village and go on self-guided walks through the reserve. You can pan for gold near the visitor centre. If you have a valid NT Fossickers Permit, you can look for gold in an area just outside the reserve.
Ruby Gap Nature Park is 30 kilometres beyond Arltunga. You’ll need a high clearance vehicle to get there, the route forms part of the Binns 4WD Track. The park has beautiful gorges, wildlife – but no rubies. What explorers thought to be rubies ended up being garnets. There are still plenty in the area.
If campgrounds are not your style, you can try the Ross River Resort near Trephina Gorge. The homestead has rustic cabins with ensuites, and you get a taste of homestead life. Tours of the homestead and helicopter scenic flights are available from the resort.
Located 85 kilometres east of Alice Springs, the area is significant to the Eastern Arrernte aboriginal people and contains sites that are part of the Wallaby dreaming trail. A National Park Pass is not required but a small fee is charged for camping.
Facilities include toilets, picnic tables, barbecues and tap water.
$1.65/child (5-15 years)
$7.70/family (2 adults, 4 kids)