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4 Of The Northern Territory’s Best Walks And Waterholes

4 Of The Northern Territory’s Best Walks And Waterholes

Glen Helen Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory, Australia

Visiting Central Australia in the off-peak months (December to February) is all about one thing: finding the perfect waterhole in which to keep cool. The waterholes – and the epic and easy walks that lead to them – are a great way to while away long summer days, all while avoiding the crowds.

Some of the waterholes are a five-minute walk from the carpark, while others are the reward for more challenging hikes over rugged terrain. Either way, it’s all a fun adventure and a day well spent in the desert.

Your experience will be all the richer if you keep an eye out for Aboriginal rock carvings and read about the waterholes’ spiritual significance to the local Arrernte people before you set out.


#1 Ellery Creek Big Hole

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Ellery Creek Big Hole is probably the easiest and most popular waterhole to get to from Alice Springs. The massive waterhole is in the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park and is surrounded by high red cliffs that sparkle as the sun beams down.

Thousands of years of massive floods carved out this waterhole, which is recognised as an internationally significant geological site. Take the 3km Dolomite walk to see the surrounding formations. Its permanent water made it a special meeting place for the Arrernte people.

Distance from Alice Springs: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Walking time: 5 minutes to Big Hole and half an hour to the Dolomite walk

#2 Glen Helen Gorge

At Glen Helen Gorge, take a dip and take in the sights of the natural wildlife around you. The Gorge is in the western reaches of the West MacDonnell Ranges and is easily recognisable for its spectacular, towering sandstone wall.

The area includes views of Mount Sonder, one of the highest points in Central Australia, which changes colours with the light. Wake up for sunrise to view it in all its splendour, and grab a cuppa and breakky at the rustic Glen Helen Homestead to keep you going.

Distance from Alice Springs: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Walking time: 5 minutes

#3 Ormiston Gorge

With a depth of a whopping 14m at its southern end, you’ll see why Ormiston Gorge is one of the most popular swimming holes in the Red Centre. With its spectacular geology and land formations, it’s truly breath-taking.

A Dreamtime story about the waterhole tells of the adventures of a group of emus who arrived there from the East, and the man who hunted them while they were there.

Explore the area via the Ormiston Pound Walk – a three-to-four-hour circuit that leaves from the carpark to cross the rocky slopes and the flat floor of the pound and back along the gorge via the main waterhole.

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Distance from Alice Springs: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Walking time: 5 minutes to the Gorge and three to four hours for the Ormiston Pound Walk

#4 Redbank Gorge

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Redbank Gorge is a stunning gorge and chasm nestled at the base of Mount Sonder. Take a blow-up float so you can relax and unwind in the cold, deep water of the narrow-walled gorge, where there are cool, secret places hidden from the rest of the world.

The Gorge’s Dreamtime story is connected to the euro (a type of small kangaroo) ancestor who travels through the area. Redbank is important spiritually and as a refuge for plants and animals because it’s a permanent waterhole. Keep an eye out for rock wallabies, kangaroos and frogs.

Distance from Alice Springs: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Walking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

(Lead image: Paddy Palin / Tourism NT)

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