The desert nature of Central Australia may suggest that it can be a boring place but the truth is far from that. In addition to all events, museums, nightlife and Aboriginal culture exploration, there are many natural landmarks around Alice Springs that you can visit.
Chambers Pillar is made of sandstone and towers 50 m. It is an impressive rock formation but also has a sacred significance for the Aboriginal people. Its Dreamtime story involves a Gecko ancestor and the Aboriginal marriage traditions (you can’t marry the wrong skin group guy, girl!). You will discover the story on your own, but this is what you need to know before your visit:
The Chambers Pillar is situated 160 km south of Alice Springs. During the time before the railway line was built, the rock formation was the landmark for the pioneer travellers of Central Australia on the way from Adelaide to Alice Springs. Documented for the first time in 1860, today the site features 2 campgrounds with firepits. Walking tracks let you explore the surroundings. You might wish to camp for a night as the Chambers Pillar is most stunning at sunrise and sunsets, blazing under the rays.
You need to be extremely cautious when driving to Chambers Pillar. Only 4WD can reach the destination. You will drive on sand dunes and must be vigilant for upcoming traffic.
Gosse Bluff is one of these nature formations with a wow effect on everyone who sees it. But the point of view is important too.
More than 140 million years ago, a comet hit the surface here, creating a crater 20 km across. While travelling the unsealed Mareenie Loop to shorten the distance to Kings Canyon, we saw the crater from afar. I couldn’t stop thinking that this must have been a jolt of unimaginable scale. Today, the bluff is about 5 km in diameter. The erosion reduced its size not only horizontally but vertically too – the surface is 2 km lower than its original level.
To visit this place of extreme cultural and scientific importance, you need to travel 175 km from Alice Springs. A 4WD is recommended for the last 5 km drive as the road is sandy. Once inside the crater, you can take two walks. The shorter one will take you to a lookout, but you should take the longer one as at its end you will find a better view from a higher vantage point. At the Gosse Bluff, there is no campground area but there are picnic tables and shelters. Fire is not permitted.
The best view of the Gosse Bluff is from Tylers Pass on Namatjira Drive, 2 hours and 15 minutes drive from Alice Springs. At the pass, there is also an information board that introduces you to the Aboriginals’ beliefs about the creation of the crater.
One of the most beautiful places in Central Australia is located ‘only’ 135 km from Alice Springs. A short walk will bring you to the Ghost Gum lookout platform where you may get dizzy from the stunning views of the red hills, dotted with the white trunks of ghost gums. Underneath your feet, the deep green colour of the pond is contrasting with the white sand surrounding it. There is a longer, three-hour circuit walk, but be aware of the weather and don’t do it at midday in the hottest summer months.
Take time to enjoy it
Go for a dip into its refreshing waters. Take time to enjoy this special and quiet place. The place is accessible via sealed roads, with no need for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
This valley is the only place where the Red Cabbage Palm is found. The species is a relic from the times when Central Australia was a tropical, not desert heaven. Only here, you will also find what is known as the oldest plant species – the McDonnell Ranges Cycad. Because of the shadows of the ranges and the water from the Finke River, the soil here keeps enough humidity to keep these unique species thriving.
Palm Valley is part of the Finke Gorge National Park. You need 4WD as the last 16 km of the road is sandy and rocky, and on heavy rain days not accessible at all. The park is 138 km from Alice Springs. There are several possibilities for walks, from 45 minutes to 2 hours return. You need sturdy shoes, sunscreen and a hat, and a lot of water.
Camping and picnicking are possible here, there are showers, toilets, and barbeques provided. You need to collect firewood before entering the park and must pay a camping fee.
The camping fee, like in many camping places in Central Australia, is paid cash in boxes installed at the campgrounds. See here the camping fees as well as the list of all campgrounds available in the Northern Territory.
Rainbow Valley is, in my opinion, the most beautiful valley in Central Australia. There are two reasons for that. First, because it is a less visited site, and I definitely love visiting lesser-known places around the world. And when a place is less visited, it keeps its original atmosphere and looks. The other reason is that the valley’s main landmark – the sandstone cliffs have a unique colour mixture of red, yellow, and white rock.
The variety of the surrounding claypan and sandy pathways add to the character of the place. The rainbow rock cliffs are most beautiful at sunset. There are two campgrounds here, however without showers. I advise you to stay for a night, to see the Rainbow Valley in its glory at sunset but also to explore it in the fresher air of the awakening day. It is a magnificent experience, mostly because of the peacefulness of this place that allows you to reconnect with Nature and yourselves.
A 4WD is recommended to access the Rainbow Valley, which at 97 km south of Alice Springs.
Same as Simpsons Gap, the Corroboree Rock is not one of the most exotic places to see but it is in such proximity to Alice Springs (34 km), that it deserves to be mentioned. If you have time, go and have a walk.
The main reason why you should visit Simpsons Gap is that here you have a very good chance to spot a black-footed rock wallaby. Usually, they come out at dawn or dusk and you can meet them on the walking path or around the waterhole. Red rocks and rare vegetation species also make this place a special walking experience.
Simpsons Gap is also one of the closest to Alice Springs sites. It is 18 km from the town on a sealed road. There is also a family-friendly mount-bike path and a walking trail.
There is a campground but can be only used by the Larapinta Trail walkers.
These natural landmarks around Alice Springs are varied and have different levels of accessibility. Many offer a great opportunity for camping under the spectacular sky of the Red Centre and can be visited in every season.
For more inspiration on spectacular natural landscapes, read the blog post below.