The MacDonnell Ranges are a series of mountain ranges extending some 644 km, consisting of parallel ridges running east and west of Alice Springs. To the east are the East MacDonnell Ranges and to the west are the West MacDonnell Ranges (known colloquially as the “East Macs” and the “West Macs”).

The MacDonnell Ranges is home to some spectacular landforms, beautiful chasms, scenic gorges and waterholes, and providing home and refuge to some amazing natural flora and fauna.

View over Mount Sonder
View over Mount Sonder in the West MacDonnell Ranges.

There is the world famous Palm Valley, home to the remnants of a tropical rainforest of Red Cabbage Palm. Hermannsburg (known by its Aboriginal name ‘Ntaria’) and the Hermannsburg Heritage Precinct is about 130 kms west of Alice Springs, and is the birthplace of Albert Namatjira and the first mission to Aborigines in Central Australia.

The ranges are composed of many different rock types, of which the most obvious are the red quartzite. Quartzite is a hard metamorphic rock(1) that was once sandstone, which due to the geological processes of heating and pressure, often related to tectonic(2) compression within orogenic belts(3), converts the sandstone to quartzite.

Corroboree Rock
Corroboree Rock in the East MacDonnell Ranges.

The ranges were named after Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, an Anglo-Irish lawyer, judge and colonial governor of South Australia.

The Arrernte people, the traditional owners of the Alice Springs area have stories of their dreamtime telling of the beginning when Altyerrenge, ancestral figures created the landscape, its features and Arrernte Law.

There are storyboard signage throughout the region, with more information available from the local visitor centre. Even better, book yourself onto a local cultural tour.

Some of the many great attractions to explore along MacDonnell Ranges include:

  • East MacDonnell Ranges
    • Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park
West MacDonnell Ranges
The Larapinta Drive, West MacDonnell Ranges.
View over the Finke River to West Macs
View over Fink River to the West MacDonnell Ranges.
1metamorphic rock
— Describes rock that is altered by pressure and heat. Quartzite being a metamorphic rock consisting entirely of quartz that is formed when quartz sandstone is heated during metamorphism.
— A word in geology that relates to the structure of the earth’s crust, often referring to the forces within the earth that causes the movement of the crust, as well used to described the result of such movements. The tectonic plate are any one of the internally rigid crustal blocks of the lithosphere that move horizontally across the earth’s surface relative to one another, a concept that is studied in the field of plate tectonics.
3orogenic belt
— A linear or arcuate zone, on a regional scale, which has undergone compressional tectonics. Taken from the word ‘orogeny’ also orogenesis, it is the process of how mountains are formed, usually that of the intense upward displacement or folding and faulting of the Earth’s crust, along with other compressional processes.