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  • Writer's pictureTrekking Downunder

Exploring the East Macs with kids

Exploring the East MacDonnell Ranges with kids

Recently on our Red Centre Adventure, we decided to take the path less travelled over to Queensland and spent some time taking in the magnificent areas of the East MacDonnell Ranges with our kids. We visited the impressive locations of Trephina Gorge, N’Dhala Gorge, the goldmine ghost town and ruins of Arltunga, up to Gumtree via the Binns Track and finally along the Plenty Highway.

(Regrettably we missed Ruby Gap this trip, but it is one on our must do list for our next visit.)

N'Dhaha gorge hiking with kids

Trephina Gorge

Our first stop after coming across from Alice Springs was Trephina Gorge. Although we had originally planned to wait until the morning, we parked up in the afternoon and put our hiking shoes on to go and explore the gorge. We could not help ourselves and instead of just walking the (waterless) Trephina Gorge Walk, we found ourselves climbing the up the cliff walk and taking in the entire Panorama Walk also. The beauty of the walk was comparable only to part of the King Canyon Scenic Rim Walk, but on a slightly different note. The grandeur of Kings Canyon was one of breathtaking magnitude, Trephina Gorge had a feeling of tranquil serenity, amplified by the setting sun.

Trephina Gorge East MacDonnell ranges

The walk took about an hour and we were truly mesmerised by the rock formations and colours of the late afternoon sky over the cliff faces. We spent an incredible evening tucked away at the back of the top campground under the clear sky and a full moon. We could have stayed longer but we look back at our visit and felt It couldn’t have been any more perfect.

Ghost Gum Trephina Gorge East Mac ranges

N’Dhala Gorge

Our second stay was out in what felt like the middle of scenic heaven. The vast rock mountains and green tree line landscapes were just incredible backyard scenery. There was the odd day tripper out for the Gorge walk, but we were the only campers that night which made the experience so much more surreal.

N'Dhala Gorger East mac ranges

After catching the incredible colours of the previous late afternoon walk at Trephina, we decided to take the Gorge walk again just before sunset. The walk through the gorge along the paved paths and just beyond the end was truly beautiful. Again, another waterless gorge but with breathtaking landscapes and tall rock walls to enjoy. The late afternoon sun really brings out the rich colours in the rock- I guess that’s why they call it the red centre. The nights are so clear and a little eery, for a moment you forget were you are, then as you remember, the magic captures you.

Arltunga Ruins

East Mac ranges Arltunga Historical reserve

On our way to the Zircon Fields via the Binns Track we stopped into the goldmining ghost town of Arltunga. What a unique display of the well-preserved ruins of a once populated gold mining community. The layout allows a great opportunity to walk through the township of Arltunga, with the chance to explore the huts, boilers and even the local police station ruins complete with gaol cell. Included in the experience is the Arltunga Information Centre, were we learnt an amazing amount of the local history set out in a museum like display. There was a spectacular display that has been put together to preserve the written word and small keepsakes from such an incredible period in the mining era.

Arltunga reserve East Macs ranges

The boys absolutely loved walking through the buildings, finding old rusted food cans and adding them to the windowsill collections, but in particularly they loved getting to lock Dad in the gaol cell. It was a great adventure rich in heart and riddled with educational ops for the boys (and us too).

Binns Track East Mac ranges

Binns Track

Funnily enough the Binns Track was one of those routes we had on the list but hadn’t realised we would get to travel on. But due to our change in itinerary (which we are famous for) we turned a corner and there we were. The scenery was beautiful as expected and the start of the track emerging from the East MacDonnell Ranges was broken up by multiple gates as you pass across properties and through Aboriginal lands as you make your way up the track to the rugged landscapes of the Harts Ranges. The road was gentle compared to some of the tracks we have ventured on and so the multiple gates didn’t bother me so much as we were enjoying the drive so much. We nestled in just before the Plenty Highway junction to soak in the Zircon Fields and had some incredible campfires accompanied by shooting stars.

Gemtree East MacDonnell Ranges


After a few months of unintentionally keeping to ourselves during our Red Centre Adventure, we decided to try something new and enjoy some unique experiences at the Gemtree retreat, lifestyle park on the Plenty. The vibe was so perfect, we were so excited to be meeting so many wonderful outback travellers and families. We fossicked for Garnets during the day and were lucky enough to take home some real gems (pun intended). We attended a giant camp oven kitchen roast dinner with about 45 maybe more guest’s, and to top off the evening we were treated to an awesome old school movie in lieu of dessert.

Gemtree NT East Macs

This movie, made around the 1960’s or so, shares all about the Charmer family history (the incredible owners and hosts). We attended many fun guest events like paddymelon bowling with the other campers and there was just the most wonderful sense of community and unity. The best part, according to the boys was learning to fossick for Garnets on the Gemtree’s private lease. The two biggest boys were in their element and could have fossicked until dark if Wade hadn’t put his foot down, literally. We will absolutely visit again, if for nothing else but another camp oven roast and some more Garnets.

Gemtree Fossicking Northern Territory

Plenty Highway

After sadly departing the Gemtree, we headed down the Plenty making sure to check out the Box Hill meteorite crater on the way adding to our collection of meteorite sites visited in the NT. It’s funny just how many there are just in the Red Centre alone in Australia, we all loved checking them out and turning the experiences into science lessons.

We pulled up stumps at a lovely little free camp for the night and then on the way to the NT-QLD boarder, we all had our eyes peeled in search for the ginormous termite mound we had been hearing about. We found it and it was super impressive and the biggest we’ve ever seen….. So out came the camera for the obligatory car/ van to mound comparison shot.

Plenty Hwy NT East Macs Ranges

We had heard the Plenty was really rough….. but for us after the Old Ghan, Oodnadatta Track and the Ernest Giles Road- it was a dirt highway and we absolutely loved the experience as we know it’s in the process of becoming more accessible to all with bitumen upgrades in the mix.

There was so much beauty and so many incredible places to visit and see in the East MacDonnell Ranges, we are so glad that we changed our plans. When we visit again, and we will, the plan is to add in Emily gap and Ruby Gap. This trip we skipped them as we had just found we were getting gorged out after the West Mac ranges. So I share a great tip for anyone doing the Red Centre, if you can- do smaller trips to break up both the West and East MacDonnell Ranges, even try to do them on completely different trips, you may appreciate the little things each have over the others a little more. Both ranges have their own unique amazing features, neither should be missed, so go out and enjoy them!


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