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West MacDonnell National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrWest MacDonnell National Park is a part of the vast MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory in Australia. There are in fact two main mountain ranges in the area that extend for hundreds of kilometers on the west and east of Alice Springs: the West MacDonnell and East MacDonnell Ranges. The national park is located in the West MacDonnell Ranges. West MacDonnell National Park lies about 170 kilometers west of Alice Springs and 1,230 kilometers south of Darwin.
The mountain ranges rise suddenly out of the vast, red plains of Central Australia. It is an ancient landscape – one of the oldest on the planet – consisting of parallel running ranges and ridges. The weather of tens of millions of years has sculpted the landscape in its present form, which includes some fascinating rock formations. The national park comprises a large and spectacular section of the West MacDonnell Ranges. Besides prehistoric mountains, there are also beautiful gorges and shady ravines, permanent water holes and rock pools. One of the park’s landmarks is Mount Sonder , at 1,380 meters, the fourth highest mountain in the Northern Territory.
Cool gorges and water holes provide a refuge for many (rare) plant and animal species. Many of those species are endemic to the region, meaning that they can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. Some plants and trees still survive from the time when Central Australia was covered with dense rainforests. Some of these rare and often endangered species are the MacDonnell Ranges Cycad, Maiden Hair Fern, Mountain Hakea, River Red Gum, and the glory of the center Wedding Bush. The lower regions of the park are dominated by eucalypt and acacia trees. The vegetation on the dry mountains and plateaus consists mostly of Mallee, Spinifex Grass, and Mulga. Exceptional bird species that have their home in the national park, and surrounding the mountains are Peregrine Falcons, Dusky Grasswrens, Ringneck Parrots, and Zebra Finches. Ancient caves and holes in trees provide shelter for Bats, Wallabies, and other small animals. Red Kangaroos, Emus, and Goannas can be seen regularly.
HistoryAn inland sea covered Central Australia about 850 million years ago. A series of massive earthquakes that happened 600 million years ago resulted in the uplifting of a range of mountains. Over time, erosion carved out canyons, gorges, chasms, and created spectacular rock formations.
The MacDonnell Ranges have been home to the Arrernte people for more than 30,000 years. Their mythology is largely based on the mountain ranges. These Aboriginals lived off the land for thousands of years, gathering food, picking fruit, and making use of the permanent water holes. The arrival of the Europeans resulted in fierce competition for water sources. Several battles followed and lots of blood was spilled. Many of the Aboriginals were taken away to reserves or shelters. Nowadays, several of the Aboriginals still practice their religions and keep true to their beliefs and customs. The MacDonnell Ranges are dotted with Dreaming Trails and sacred sites that are still being used for ceremonies.
In 1860, the mountains were given their modern name by John McDouall Stuart, a famous explorer. The Alice Springs' waterhole used to be the site of a station operating the Overland Telegraph Line in the 1870s. Later on, the town of Alice Springs was founded there.
Things to DoLike so many other national parks in Australia, the most popular activity in West MacDonnell National Park is hiking or bushwalking. There are numerous great hiking trails throughout the park. Examples of excellent hikes are Simpsons Gap (several trails), Ellery Creek Big Hole (many easy walks around an important water hole), Ochre Pits (where Aboriginals used to gather red and white ochre to paint or for ceremonies), and the Redbank, Ormiston and Serpentine Gorges. An award-winning, long-distance trail in the West MacDonnells is the 223-kilometer Larapinta Trail. This superb trail is divided in twelve sections and takes several weeks to complete.
A nice – and surprising – activity in this desert environment is cycling. There is a great bike path that starts 7 kilometers west of Alice Springs and runs for 17 kilometers to Simpsons Gap. It is a relatively flat trail, suitable for families, that leads past gorges, red gums, and desert landscapes.
Additional things to do are camping, driving around, scenic flights, and swimming in water holes.
How to Get ThereVisitors can access West MacDonnell National Park by car from Alice Springs along the Larapinta and Namatjira Drives. A strongly recommended loop drive is the unpaved Mereenie Loop Road (or Red Centre Way) which allows drivers to start in Alice Springs and drive to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the West MacDonnell Ranges, Finke Gorge National Park, and Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) without backpacking. It is a fantastic Outback drive.
Similar LandmarksThis national park in the Red Center of Australia is surrounded by other similar parks. Neighboring national parks are Finke Gorge National Park, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Watarrka National Park. A long desert drive north lies vast Kakadu National Park. A similar park in the north of Western Australia is Purnululu National Park.
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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 13, 2015