The West MacDonnell Ranges attract the crowds but the eastern arm of the ancient ranges reaching across Australia’s Red Centre from Alice Springs is studded with uncut gems. These include aboriginal engravings, a gold mining ghost town and Trephina Gorge, sliced through the ancient hills by water.
The Trephina Ridge Top Walk is a rugged and spectacular 9km one-way hike. Unless your group has two 4WDs, you’re up for a long leg stretch through gnarly eucalypts from the gorge to John Hayes Rock Hole to complete the loop. The real fun begins with a ramble up John Hayes Creek into a narrow gorge strung with rock pools. Then you climb the Main Range to Turners Lookout, for a congratulatory view 70km west along the East MacDonnells to Alice Springs.
The spinifex and white cypress pines topping the ridge offer no shade and it can be hot on the rocky track, even in winter. But encouraging splashes and squeals of people cooling off flag your approach to the gorge rim. A steep descent lands you in an open-air cathedral of ghost and river gums and cliff-shaded pools left by winter rains. Unlikely as it seems in summer, winter floods push 5m of water through this gap!