Campervan in The MacDonnell Ranges - Outback Guide
The MacDonnell Ranges of the Northern Territory are an impressive series of mountains located right in the heart of Outback Australia.
Spanning a whopping 644 kilometres, these ranges can be found just outside of the town of Alice Springs and can be divided in east and west ranges. These ranges boast incredible gorges and spectacular outcrops and are one of the outback's most visited attractions.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are the more well-known of the two and boast dramatic chasms and incredible scenery. Nestled in its own National Park, these ranges are home to the stunning Ellery Creek Big Hole and the spectacular Ormiston Gorge, and offer breathtaking vistas.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are also home to the highly regarded, Laprinta Trail. Running 223 kilometres along the ranges, from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder, this trail is home to some of the most magnificent ancient rock systems in the world. The Laprinta Trail is the undoubtable highlight of the MacDonnell Ranges!
The MacDonnell Ranges can be found just outside the outback town of Alice Springs, which is located just over 1,500 kilometres from Darwin. Ayers Rock can be found a further 460 kilometres south.
Airports and Campervan Depots
Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges might be positioned in a remote location, but they are relatively easy to get to. The Alice Springs Airport is situated approximately 16 kilometres out of town and has daily flights to and from major Australian cities.
There are several campervan depots in Alice Springs and these can generally be found within the township itself. Transfers are available.
What to See and Do
Glen Helen Gorge
The Glen Helen Gorge is a fantastic place to soak up all of the awe, wonder and beauty of the West MacDonnell Ranges. The permanent waterhole that can be found here is a result of the Finke River, forging its way through the gorge over many years. It is home to some 9 species of fish and is the perfect place to cool off on hot summer days.
The Ormiston Gorge us one of the most aesthetically pleasing destinations within the MacDonnell Ranges, making it an absolute must while visiting. Positioned within the West MacDonnell National Park, Ormiston Gorge is enclosed by dramatically red cliffs, encompassing a stunning permanent waterhole that measures an impressive 14 metres in depth. Camping is also available here and operates on a first-in-first-served basis.
Located within the East MacDonnell Ranges, this stunning gorge boasts so much history and culture that you will need to spend at least a day here to explore it. Over 6,000 rock carvings can be found here, along with many art sites that tell the stories of the Australian Aboriginal people. BBQ and picnic areas are available here so be sure to bring along supplies for a picnic by the cliffs.
Climate and Weather
The location of the MacDonnell Ranges in central Australia means that it experiences an arid climate with hot summers and cool winters. During winter the nights can reach below freezing, so it is essential to bring plenty of warm clothes. The days are cool and crisp, making this a great time to visit if you can withstand the cool at night.
Summer is regarded as the wet season, but little rain manages to fall. This tends to make the weather extremely humid, with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees. This makes hats and sunscreen absolutely essential.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit the MacDonnell Ranges is without a doubt from May to September. These months are much more comfortable in terms of weather and the gorges are in all of their splendour during this time.
What to wear?
As for all locations in the Australian outback, the best type of clothing to wear is loose-fitting and covered. The sun in the outback is incredibly harsh, making long-sleeved shirts and plenty of sunscreen a must.
It is also important to wear sturdy, covered shoes, if you are intending on hiking, as the walks can be quite challenging and you will need support for your feet and ankles.
Temperatures tend to drop at night, so be sure to bring along some warm clothes to avoid the chill.
The MacDonnell Ranges are a great destination for wildlife and are home to some of the most uncommon species of birds in Australia. Birds you will frequently spot include the Peregrine Falcon, Dusky Grasswren and Rufoud-crowned Emu-Wren, while Ringneck parrots, butcher birds, Zebra finches, honeyeaters and pigeons can also be found in the many gorges of the ranges.
Driving Restrictions and Tips
As with driving anywhere in the outback, it is important to drive carefully at night and always keep an eye out for wildlife.
As the outback is so dry, there is a lot of dust and this tends to cloud people's vision while driving. Therefore, if you are travelling in a group or behind someone, it is essential that you keep a safe distance to avoid this.
Alice Springs is located right in the heart and soul of Australia. This iconic Northern Territory town is rich in history and culture and is centrally located to some of the outback's most spectacular highlights.
The town itself offers everything an Australian town should: shops, attractions and entertainment. Some of the township's best attractions include the Overlander Telegraph Station, the Anzac Hill Lookout and the local Reptile Centre.
What to bring?
It is absolutely necessary to bring plenty of water to the MacDonnell Ranges, regardless of the length of your stay. Ensuring you always have fuel in your petrol tank is also important as distances between roadhouses can be vast.
Appropriate clothing, sun protection, insect repellant and shoes are also vital, because of the changing weather conditions. This is the outback, so remember it gets extremely hot!.
Another must-have for your campervan adventure in the MacDonnell Ranges is your camera. The ranges are truly remarkable sights so being snap happy will ensure you can keep your memories of it forever.
Places to Stay
Gemtree Caravan and Tourist Park
This lovely holiday park can be found in the heart of the East MacDonnell Ranges and is regarded as the gateway to the Central Australian Gemfields. Positioned on 100 hectares, this park offers clean and modern facilities and is ideal for those wishing to explore the true Mulga country.
Glen Helen Resort
Positioned in a break in the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Glen Helen Resort is located about an hour outside Alice Springs and is the perfect base for exploration of this dramatic National Park. The beautifully restored homestead boasts an impressive restaurant and a close proximity to the Glen Helen Gorge and the Redbank Gorge.
Alice Springs is the second largest city in the Northern Territory and is home to an impressive selection of shops, restaurants, cafes and cultural attractions. It is located just outside the MacDonnell Ranges.
There are several fantastic roadhouses located on the roads near the MacDonnell Ranges. These include the Tilmouth Well Roadhouse, Stuarts Well Roadhouse, Top Springs Roadhouse and Erldunda Roadhouse.
For a more comprehensive list of roadhouses in the Northern Territory and beyond, visit our 101 Outback Roadhouses in Australia.