Eastern MacDonnell Ranges

Immediately south of the town of Alice Springs is the Heavitree Range and the similarly named gap through which the Todd River flows (maybe once every few years). This natural gap creates a communication corridor as the road, rail line and original telegraph line run through it to connect north and southern Australia.

The Gap was discovered by the surveyor W.W. Mills who followed the Todd River south from the site of the old telegraph station located at ‘Alice Springs’ – a permanent waterhole n the river. The town is now situated 6 kms south of its original location at the telegraph station. Mills named the Todd River (and the location) after Mrs Alice Todd, the wife of the Superintendent of the the Telegraph (Charles Todd) and Heavitree Gap after his old school in Devon, England.

Travelling east along the Heavitree Range, we found a number of attractive gaps and gorges. There was no one else there but us and having them all to ourselves made them feel very quiet and peaceful. The first two places, Emily and Jessie Gaps were thought to have been named after the daughters of Charles Todd but this is not so. 


Many places around here are associated with Aboriganal legends or ‘Dream Time Stories’.  Emily and Jessie Gaps are associated with the caterpillar trail – where the caterpillar beings of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) originated. According to Aboriginal legend, caterpillars were said to have formed Emily Gap and many of the topographic features around Alice Springs. They then radiated out to the edge of the distant Simpson Desert forming more natural features as they went. There are some very old rock drawings that illustrate this legend under a rock overhang in Emily Gorge.


Further to the east, after leaving the Heavitree Range behind, we continued on further to the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges and Trehina Gorge. This gorge is 85 kilometres east of Alice Springs and is noted for its sheer quartzite cliffs, river gums and the sandy creek bed of Trephina Creek. Whenever it rains, a very large amount of water flows through this gorge and empties out across the plains to the south.


Not much further down the road, we turned off the Ross Highway to see Corroboree Rock – an outcrop of dolomite in a formation laid down over 800 million years ago. The surrounding area is quite flat and this makes the rock stand out as if it is an obelisk of some kind. Corroboree Rock was probably used as an important storage site for ceremonial objects by the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal people. It is doubtful that it was ever used as a corroboree site, due to the lack of water in the area.

P7240430 Pano Edit

From there we drove 34 kms along a dirt road to the historic gold mining area of Arltunga. The first 15 kms of road took us through undulating  hills, down valleys and across dry creek beds. From there the topography became flatter and we had more expansive panoramas of this outback area. However, the ranges were always somewhere in the  back ground. Occasionally we came to fence and a metal grid inserted into the roadway that formed the boundary of a cattle station.  We could sometimes see cattle grazing in the scrub and we came across one area where some  cattle were yarded.


We had been to Arltunga many yeas ago and found it to be much more signposted and developed than we could remember. Maybe I’ve forgotten but I couldn’t remember a visitors centre being there, although it was built and opened in 1988. This area is quite remote and miles from anywhere. It was discovered in the 1880’s when  prospectors rushed to a nearby source of rubies, only to find that they were really garnets and of no value whatsoever. We found much more interesting parts of the historical area than we had discovered on our previous trip. This time, we found some extensive areas of ruins and old gold mining activity, bleak and remote cemeteries along with the old police station and its lock up (which I do remember seeing on our previous visit). 


The day was quite cloudy and by 4.00 pm it was quite dark, as though the evening was arriving two hours earlier than it should. We finished our day with a visit to the Ross River Homestead – a cattle station that was established in 1898. There is fine bitumen road that leads right to its front gate and then abruptly stops. The station now markets itself as a ‘resort’ with cabin and caravan accommodation. It’s not my idea of an idyllic place to stay but I guess that anything that provides basic services will pass for a resort in the middle of nowhere. They keep a few camels there for tourist rides at the resort so its not surprising to see a sign along the road warning of their presence. 

It appears that some local wag has been adding to many of the warning signs that we have seen along the road. Other signs warning of cattle and horses in the area have all been decorated with a hat, just as this one has.



Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

One thought on “Eastern MacDonnell Ranges”

  1. Your research is wonderful, your telling the stories of your travels takes us along with you both.

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