trEpHInA GorGE, nt

A gem of the East Mac­Don­nell ranges


Si­t­u­ated in the heart of the spec­tac­u­lar East Mac­Don­nell Ranges in cen­tral Aus­tralia, Trephina Gorge is sure to im­press with its sheer quartzite cliffs and rugged land­scapes. The na­ture park is an easy one-hour drive from Alice Springs and ac­ces­si­ble to all ve­hi­cles, ex­cept af­ter heavy rain which can make the last 5km stretch of dirt im­pass­able.

We drove into the park af­ter a long jour­ney from Cham­bers Pil­lar on the western fringe of the Simp­son Desert where we had spent the pre­vi­ous night. Trephina Gorge of­fers to­tally dif­fer­ent but equally im­pres­sive scenery. The re­cent heavy rain was bring­ing life and plenty to these oth­er­wise dry ar­eas of cen­tral Aus­tralia and the usu­ally bar­ren ground was cov­ered in a blan­ket of green and the steep ochre-red rock walls were dot­ted with spinifex, the char­ac­ter­is­tic grass of the red cen­tre.

As we ap­proached ‘the Bluff’, we stopped the car to ad­mire this mas­sive rock for­ma­tion which tow­ers over the nearby ranges. Back on the road, we had to slow right down to drive through a sec­tion that was still flooded and ex­tremely muddy be­fore reach­ing the first camp­ground.

The park is home to three camp­grounds that are ac­ces­si­ble by con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles on an un­sealed road and have been de­signed for dif­fer­ent styles of rigs. A fourth camp­ground with for tent camp­ing is ac­ces­si­ble by high-clear­ance 4WD ve­hi­cles only.

The Bluff camp­ground, set be­side

Trephina Creek, is suit­able for mo­torhomes or tent camp­ing, but not for car­a­vans or cam­per trail­ers. It is, how­ever, prone to flood­ing so it’s im­por­tant to keep an eye on the weather fore­cast.

The Panorama camp­ground is the ideal lo­ca­tion for car­a­vans and has some sites that al­low you to keep your rig hitched up if you in­tend to stay for just one night – though this

won’t do jus­tice to the many ac­tiv­i­ties that are on of­fer within the na­ture park.

We headed straight to the Gorge camp­ground, set in a peace­ful, tim­bered gully, which has a va­ri­ety of sites suit­able for cam­per trail­ers, tents and small car­a­vans (but not big rigs). We found a se­cluded site near the pit toi­let and within walk­ing dis­tance from the near­est tap – our four-day stay had a promis­ing start.

Camp­ing fees are very rea­son­able, con­sid­er­ing the fa­cil­i­ties in the park, which in­clude drink­ing wa­ter, pit toi­lets, gas bar­be­cues, fire pits and pic­nic ta­bles, and are payable via the self-reg­is­tra­tion box. Just make sure you bring the right amount of cash.


Bush­walk­ing is the best way to explore the park. The one-hour re­turn Trephina Gorge Walk is a must-do and re­wards with sweep­ing vis­tas of the gorge and the sur­round­ing land­scape. The walk can be done in two di­rec­tions, though I would rec­om­mend climb­ing the steep ridge first so the full size of the gorge can be ap­pre­ci­ated be­fore de­scend­ing into the sandy, tree-lined creek bed.

The views from the rim are awe-in­spir­ing, ex­tend­ing be­yond the gorge to the vast desert

land­scape to the east and to­wards a num­ber of other parks that are well worth a look while you’re in the area. Time-per­mit­ting, N’Dhala Gorge Na­ture Park, Arl­tunga His­tor­i­cal Re­serve and Ruby Gap Na­ture Park are all within driv­ing dis­tance from Trephina Gorge and can be ac­cessed via the Binns Track.

As you con­tinue along the gorge rim, the track passes the turn-off to the 9km Trephina Ridgetop Walk, which is not for the faint­hearted. This chal­leng­ing hike to John Hayes Rock­hole tra­verses the ranges and should only be at­tempted by ex­pe­ri­enced walk­ers – al­low four to five hours to reach the rock­hole. Add an­other two hours if you plan to walk back to Trephina Gorge via the main road.

Back on the rim, you soon reach the steps that take you down to a semi-per­ma­nent wa­ter­hole, which was full dur­ing our visit due to the re­cent rain. It’s a beau­ti­ful spot for a short break to ad­mire this dra­matic land­scape and maybe dis­cover some of the lo­cal wildlife. Crested and spinifex pi­geons abound in this area and you might spot a long-nosed dragon, warm­ing it­self on the rocks. Black-footed rock wal­la­bies also call the rocky gorges home, but these shy mar­su­pi­als are hard to see as they blend in per­fectly with their sur­round­ings. you climb up the other side, you find elf once again on the gorge rim, look­ing down from a daz­zling height – this is the per­fect lo­ca­tion for snap­ping some great pics. From

here, the walk leads down into the sandy creek bed, pro­vid­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Sud­denly, the ver­ti­cal cliff walls tower over you, mak­ing you feel small and in­signif­i­cant. Keep an eye out for Abo­rig­i­nal rock art here as it can be easy to miss.

The wide creek bed is lined with beau­ti­ful river red gums, which pro­vide shade in the heat of sum­mer and plenty of food for the many an­i­mals that live in this arid en­vi­ron­ment. The black and white tree martins you see flit­ting about here are com­mon in­hab­i­tants of river red gum hol­lows.

The 2.5km Panorama Loop Walk is a mod­er­ate-to-dif­fi­cult hike up a steep in­cline to a van­tage point which re­wards with scenic views across the en­tire park and to Mor­dor Pound in the north.


Bush­walk­ing isn’t the only way to en­joy the park. The 4WD track to John Hayes Rock­hole is a real ad­ven­ture but should only be at­tempted with a high-clear­ance 4WD. This 4km track crosses the rocky creek sev­eral times and can be nar­row in places, cre­at­ing a chal­lenge when there’s on­com­ing traf­fic. Other sec­tions are sandy and prone to be­com­ing muddy.

The re­ward is an iso­lated camp­site at a short dis­tance from a beau­ti­ful wa­ter­hole. Dur­ing our visit the rock­hole still had quite a bit of wa­ter in it, which per­fectly re­flected the ochre-red rocks. At dawn or dusk you might be lucky and spot one of the elu­sive black-footed rock wal­la­bies as they come down for a drink here.

You can explore this spec­tac­u­lar land­scape on foot by ven­tur­ing out on the 3.5km Chain of Ponds Walk. A shorter op­tion is to sim­ply fol­low the steep walk­ing track for the first 20 min­utes to reach the rim of a nar­row gorge, which will re­ward you with stun­ning views.

On your way back to the camp­ground, make a de­tour to the tow­er­ing ghost gum, be­lieved to be one of the largest in Aus­tralia. This mag­nif­i­cent tree is 33m tall and es­ti­mated to be over 300 years old, and pro­vides full board and lodg­ing for an amaz­ing va­ri­ety of crea­tures, in­clud­ing yel­low-throated min­ers, bud­gies and galahs.

Four days was scarcely long enough to en­joy the ex­tra­or­di­nary beauty of Trephina Gorge Na­ture Park. This fairly un­known des­ti­na­tion in the East Mac­Don­nell Ranges has ev­ery­thing any out­door ad­ven­turer could wish for, and much, much more.

CloCk­wiSe from top left: The dirt road lead­ing into the park can oc­ca­sion­ally be­come im­pass­able af­ter heavy rain; Trephina Gorge; Indige­nous rock art; The wa­ter­hole af­ter re­cent rain.

above: The iso­lated John Hayes Rock­hole.

Above: The Boumas’ cosy camp­site.

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