Trephina Gorge – East MacDonnell Ranges. A guide to getting a little off track and exploring the quiet Trephina Gorge in the East Mac’s.
About the East MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja in Arrernte), is a beautiful mountain range extending over both sides of Alice Springs. With the West MacDonnell Ranges littered with stunning gorges, gaps and swimming holes, it’s well and truly on the tourist trail. But its eastern twin, the East MacDonnell Ranges often flies under the radar. Inevitably abbreviated, the ‘East Macs’ as the locals call it, is often skipped by those on their whistle-stop itineraries through the Red Centre. Always keen to get a little off track and away from the crowds, we factored in an overnight visit to the East Macs as part of our 14 Day Red Centre road trip, to checkout its walks and wildlife.
Getting to Trephina Gorge
For most, Trephina Gorge Nature Park is the base for any East MacDonnell Ranges adventure. And we were no different. With Trephina Gorge located about 85km east of Alice Springs, it’s a relatively quick and easy drive, with only the last 5km on an unsealed road. But there’s a few short stops we’d recommend en route in the Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park.
The first of these stops is Emily Gap. At only 15km out of Alice Springs, you’ll reach Emily Gap in about 15 minutes by car. Emily Gap (Anthwerrke) is an important traditional site for the Arrernte people and part of the Caterpillar Dreaming story.
About 7.5km further along the Ross Highway from Emily Gap, you’ll reach Jessie Gap, another ‘gap’ in the Heavitree Range of the East Mac’s. As with Emily Gap, this is a significant cultural site to the Arrernte people and there are clear instructions about where you can walk and what you’re allowed to photograph.
If coming from Alice Springs and these are your first MacDonnell Ranges experiences, it’s a good introduction to the region. However, if you’ve already been through the West MacDonnell Ranges they might seem a little underwhelming, but definitely still worth a quick visit in our opinion. Do also keep an eye out for wildlife as both were full of birdlife, especially Budgies during our visit. And not long after turning back onto the Ross Highway we also stopped to let a Perentie cross the road in front us. These Perentie are actually the largest Monitor Lizard (Goanna) native to Australia and this huge Goanna proved very photogenic!
Trephina Gorge Nature Park
Trephina Gorge Nature Park is one of the most accessible sections of the East Mac’s and is a popular base to explore the area. Favoured by walkers, wildlife lovers and four-wheel drivers, it’s also just a lovely spot to escape the hustle and bustle of Alice Springs and the crowds in the West Mac’s.
Trephina Gorge Campsites
There are four campsites here to choose from. For campers like us, this includes Trephina Gorge Campground, Trephina Bluff Campground and John Hayes Rockhole Campground (high clearance vehicles only). The Panorama campground is not suitable for tents. Driving in you’ll pass the turnoff for the Rockhole Campground and the small Trephina Bluff Campground before reaching the both the Panorama and Trephina Gorge Campground. So you can check them all out as you drive in before choosing a campground.
For us, the Trephina Gorge Campground was the obvious choice. Its quiet position at the trailheads of 4 of the walks in the park was perfect for our needs. Each site was numbered, with a clearly defined camping area and parking spot. There were fire pits (communal and some individual), gas BBQ’s and long drop toilets. There was even a camp host available between certain hours for any information required.
Payment for the sites here is simple and incredibly cheap, based on an honesty box system. All you need to do is head over to the box take and fill out the details on an envelope and put in the correct money inside the envelope for your stay. Tear off the ticket to display on your windscreen and post the envelope in the box.
Walks of Trephina Gorge
Walking in the Trephina Gorge Nature Park is probably the most popular activity. There are 6 clearly marked walking trails here ranging from an ‘easy’ 500m return to a ‘difficult’ 9km one way. So there are walks suitable for all abilities and interests. Visiting at the end of Autumn (May) extreme heat wasn’t something we needed to consider, so we crammed in as many walks as we could for our overnight visit.
Trephina Gorge Walk
Grade: 3 (Moderate)
Distance: 2km loop
Time: 1 hour return
You start this walk in either direction walking down into the creek bed or up along the gorge rim. We opted to start with short hike up the gorge rim which was clearly marked with orange arrows. After the quick climb up to the rim there were beautiful views over the gorge.
Walking along the ridge, every turn seemed to offer better views. This short 2km walk really was picturesque with its dramatic red quartzite cliffs, white sandy tree-lined creek bed and clear blue skies. It’s no wonder it says it takes ‘1 hour’! If you’re like us, you’ll have your camera out every few seconds stopping for more photos!
We finished the walk by hiking down into the sandy creek bed, which then amalgamates with the Gorge Stroll as you complete the last 500m back to the campsite past a small waterhole. There were birds everywhere, particularly the Budgies.
Grade: 4 (Moderate to difficult)
Distance: 2.5km loop
Time: 1 hour return
Crossing the creek bed and following red arrows this time, this walk had some really interesting rock formations and great vistas. After a short steep climb you’re presented with nice views over the park and the Trephina Gorge Campground (above). To the north you can see the pointy hills of the Strangeways Range in the distance, known as the ‘Mordor Pound’ (below).
if staying at the Trephina Gorge Campground, this is a lovely track to do late afternoon, just before sunset. As the sun drops, it lights the quartzite cliffs a wonderful reddish orange tone. During the hotter times of year, completing this walk just before sunset is no doubt it’s a much nicer temperature, rather than the middle of the day.
We popped back up to the viewpoint overlooking the campsite as the sunset and the twilight colours appeared. Though not the most amazing sunset spot it was a lovely tranquil place to watch day turn to night. With a torch it was a pretty quick and easy descent to back to the campsite too.
Gorge Stroll & Trephina Creek Ramble
The following morning we spent a bit of time down in the creek. Heading back to the waterhole on the Gorge Stroll just after first light and doing part of the Trephina Creek Ramble down towards Trephina Bluff Campground. The waterhole was particularly busy with birdlife as they came in for a drink. Sitting quietly, we saw loads like the Spinifex and Crested Pigeons, Diamond Doves, Willie Wagtails, Zebra and Painted Finches and large flocks of skittish Budgies who disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
We kept an eye out for some of the larger creatures like Dingos and Black-footed Rock Wallabies, but with no luck. The latter were likely sunning themselves in the first rays of sun, as they had been at Olive Pink Botanic Garden during our visit the previous morning.
Other Walks in Trephina Gorge
In retrospect, we would have loved another night at Trephina Gorge so we could have completed the 3.5km Chain of Ponds Loop and the 9km one-way Ridgetop Walk. But with our West MacDonnell Ranges adventures planned, we didn’t have time on this occasion. But it’s a great reason to come back… right?!
Ghost Gum Lookout
If you didn’t stop on the way in, make sure to stop off at the Ghost Gum Lookout on your way out. With its ghostly white trunk and limbs it’s not hard to see where these trees got their name from. According to the signage, this tree is estimated to be over 300 years old, 33m tall and recognised as the largest Ghost Gum in the country.
Our short visit to the quiet Trephina Gorge of the East MacDonnell Ranges was a highlight of our Red Centre Adventure. There were fantastic walks, plenty of wildlife and lovely campgrounds. All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to our 14 Day Red Centre road Trip. We only wish we could have spent more time there.
Useful information and packing essentials for Trephina Gorge
- You can easily do all of the above in 2WD car. However if heading to John Hayes Rockhole Campground to camp or for a hike, high clearance vehicles are required.
- You cannot book a campground in advance. Campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. So don’t arrive too late in the day or you’ll risk missing out on a campsite. This is especially important during holidays and weekends.
- As we mentioned payment is done via the ‘honesty box system’. So make sure you have the correct change.
- Prices we paid were correct as of May 2021. However these prices are apparently due to go up slightly as of July 1st 2021.
- As always leave no trace and take all your rubbish out with you and dispose of it correctly. There are NO bins at Trephina Gorge.
- We recommend staying at least one night here, especially if you want to hike and see some wildlife. The wildlife is most easily seen around dawn and dusk.
- There’s no fenced viewpoints on these walks, so use common sense when near any edges as there are some incredibly steep drops.
- Decent footwear is important for this hike. Boots aren’t required but sturdy shoes with good grip are recommended. Especially if it’s been wet.
- For further information and maps click on the Northern Territory Government information and services page for Trephina Gorge HERE.
Planning a trip to Australia’s Red Centre? Check out our blogs to help you plan the perfect trip!