MacDonnell Ranges

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IBRA 6.1 MacDonnell Ranges.png
Highest point
Peak Mount Zeil
Elevation 1,531 m (5,023 ft)
Length 644 km (400 mi) E/W
Country Australia
State Northern Territory
Range coordinates 23°42′S 132°30′E / 23.7°S 132.5°E / -23.7; 132.5Coordinates: 23°42′S 132°30′E / 23.7°S 132.5°E / -23.7; 132.5
Period Carboniferous

The MacDonnell Ranges, an interim Australian bioregion, are located in the Northern Territory, and are a 644 km (400 mi) long series of mountain ranges located in the centre of Australia, and consist of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs. The mountain range contains many spectacular gaps and gorges as well as areas of aboriginal significance.

The ranges were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell (the Governor of South Australia at the time) by John McDouall Stuart, whose 1860 expedition reached them in April of that year. The Horn Expedition investigated the ranges as part of the scientific expedition into central Australia. Other explorers of the range included David Lindsay and John Ross.

The MacDonnell Ranges were often depicted in the paintings of Albert Namatjira.[1]


Glen Helen Gorge
Simpsons Gap

The highest peaks are Mount Zeil (1,531 m AHD/ 5,023 ft), Mount Liebig (1524 m / 5,000 ft) and Mount Sonder (1,380 m / 4,528 ft). These are the highest mountains in the Northern Territory.[2] The MacDonnell Ranges are the headwaters of the Todd River, Finke River and Sandover Rivers. The range is crossed by the Australian Overland Telegraph Line and the Stuart Highway.


Ellery Creek Big Hole

350-300 million years ago a mountain building event created the MacDonnell Ranges.[2] Since that time, folding, faulting and erosion have shaped the range and created numerous gaps and gorges.[2][3] The ranges are composed of many rock types, but are most famous for their red quartzite peaks and gorges. Other rock types include granite, limestone, sandstone and siltstone.[3] Some of the valleys of the range contain fossil evidence of the inland sea that once covered central Australia.[3]


Part of the Central Ranges xeric scrub ecoregion of dry scrubby grassland [4] the ranges are home to a large number of endemic species including the Centralian Tree Frog. This is mostly due to the micro climates that are found around the cold rock pools.

Tourist attractions[edit]

Ochre Pits
View along the West MacDonnell Ranges from the Larapinta Trail, near Glen Helen

The West MacDonnell National Park was established in 1984 to protect the numerous parks and reserves of the range.[3] It also facilitated the development of the Larapinta Trail.

To the east of Alice Springs, within an hours drive, are sites important to the local Arrernte people, many of which contain examples of Aboriginal rock art. These include Emily Gap, Jessie Gap, Trephina Gorge and N’Dhala Gorge.

To the west of Alice Springs is the Larapinta Trail—a world-class, long distance bush walking trail that runs 223 kilometres along the backbone of the range.[3] Along the trail is Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, Ochre Pits, Ormiston Pound, Redbank Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge, Tnorala Gosse Bluff, Palm Valley, Mount Sonder, Mount Zeil and Mount Giles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joanne Lane (5 September 2009). "Drawn by a legend". Fairfax Digital. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  2. ^ a b c "Rangelands - Overview - MacDonnell Ranges". Australian Natural Resources Atlas. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hema Maps (1997). Discover Australia's National Parks. Milsons Point, New South Wales: Random House Australia. pp. 242—246. ISBN 1-875992-47-2. 
  4. ^ World Wildlife Fund (2001). "Central Ranges xeric scrub". WildWorld Ecoregion Profile. National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2010-03-08. 

External links[edit]