Stunning gorges, deep waterholes, hiking, ruby-red garnets, peace and quiet. An easy off-road track in the dry, this is one spot where you really can get away from it all.
Located approximately 150km east of Alice Springs in the East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory.
When to Visit
Between March/April and October. Outside of this, temperatures typically reach 40C or more and river crossings are likely to be impassable due to the rainy season.
From Alice Springs, head approx. 6 km south. Turn left onto the Ross Highway. Stay on the sealed road for approximately 75km, then take the LH turn to Arltunga Historical Reserve. This is a corrugated dirt road (approx. 38km), with numerous wash outs at creek crossings and run-offs. At Arltunga, follow the sign straight ahead to Old Ambalindum Station until you reach the turn to Ruby Gap Nature Park. This is the track to Ruby Gap.
Fill up in Alice Springs, for the cheapest fuel. There is fuel available at Ross River Resort but this means going a further 7kms along the Ross Highway past the Arltunga turn-off. Both unleaded petrol and diesel are available here on request.
While it is only a further 38km to the reserve from the Ruby Gap turn-off, allow approx. 1.5hrs for this section of the track. If you have some off-road experience, this is not a difficult track in the dry season. It is mostly a narrow, gravelly track with some rocks and ditches. There are, however, numerous dry riverbed crossings so some sand experience is useful and you’ll need to deflate your tyres. The track gets a little more interesting on the 5km drive into the park to reach the furthest point, but it is still very doable with a standard 4WD, though NT Parks & Wildlife do recommend a high-clearance 4WD. It is not advisable to take 4WDs past the 5km point, even in a high-clearance 4WD, due to the advanced rock crawling terrain encountered further up the gorge. Due to the remoteness of this location, if you don’t have much 4×4 experience, then it is important to take another experienced driver/vehicle with you.
Video 1 – An example of the 38km tack between Arltunga and Ruby Gap Nature Park. It’s slow going in some parts.
Video 2 – The sand track, just as you enter the nature park boundary. Not too tricky. Deflate slightly for better control.
Video 3 – One of the few rock crossings on the way to the camp spot, on the 5km section of track within the park boundary. We are slightly lifted, but as you’ll see you don’t need to have super-high clearance unless you plan to go beyond the recommended car zone.
Camp spots – We passed numerous beautiful camp spots both in the river bed and along its banks, as we drove in. Inarguably, though, the best spot was at the farthest point, 5km in. It’d been eight months since it had rained in the Red Centre but here there were still decent water holes, thick green reeds, resident ducks, frogs and a grassy camp spot – all nestled at the foot of a magnificent rich, rusty red cliff face. It couldn’t have gotten any better. The vista was breathtaking, the silence golden, and we had it all to ourselves.
Facilities – There are none within the park so don’t forget your shovel.
Fires – Fires are permitted but the collection of firewood inside park boundaries isn’t.
Rubbish – Bins aren’t provided so all rubbish needs to be taken with you.
GPS Camp Spot Coordinates
The coordinates at the 5km mark, where we camped are:
It is possible to go beyond this point, though not recommended, and definitely not if you’re travelling alone.
Things to See & Do
The 2km hike to Glen Annie Gorge was well worthwhile. This is a spectacular section of the gorge with a deep swimming hole. Be warned though, the water is icy.
Garnets are also plentiful throughout the gorge and while fossicking is not permitted, it is easy to spot and appreciate these beautiful red gems.
Ruby Gap is a photographer’s delight and because of the waterholes, it is also a good spot for bird and wildlife spotting.
Oh and, don’t forget the hammock. There are plenty of sturdy river gums along the banks which you can use to set it up and just relax.
Friendly (in October).
NT Parks & Wildlife – Ruby Gap Nature Park