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Glen Helen, NT

Sublime gorge carved through the MacDonnell Ranges by the Finke River.

Glen Helen is one of the natural wonders of Central Australia. A truly beautiful waterhole edged by red quartzite cliffs. Although the name originally referred only to the glen through which the Finke River flows today it has come to mean the Glen Helen Resort, the gorge and the surrounding 368 ha Nature Park. Apart from the obvious beauty of the gorge and its cliffs the fauna includes black-footed rock wallabies, euros and reptiles.

Location

Glen Helen is located 132 km west of Alice Springs on Namatjira Drive.

 

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Origin of Name

No one is certain how Glen Helen got its name. It is known that the first pastoralist in the district, Alan Braeden, called the home he established on Ormiston Creek, Munga Munga. The Arrernte Aboriginal people called the gorge 'yapalpe' and knew the Finke River as 'Larapinta' which means 'serpent'.

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Things to See and Do

Glen Helen Nature Park
Visitors are attracted to the Glen Helen Nature Park because of the opportunities for walking (it is part of the Larapinta Trail - the trail is best travelled from April to October. For more information check out http://www.larapintatrail.com.au/.); to go swimming in the waterhole (remarkably it can reach depths of over 30 metres and is never used by the local Aborigines who see it as sacred and connected to the Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent); to take photographs of the spectacular scenery which characterises Glen Helen gorge and waterhole; and to enjoy the grandeur and beauty of this remarkable section of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Ormiston Gorge and Pound National Park
Ormiston Gorge is located 135 km west of Alice Springs and only 11 km from Glen Helen. It is located on Ormiston Creek a tributary of the mighty Finke River. Many regard Ormiston Gorge as the most beautiful of all the gorges in the West MacDonnells. Certainly the gorge attracted the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira who depicted it in a number of his paintings. The park comprises the Gorge itself and beyond it the Ormiston Pound. In both the visitor can expect to see spectacular river red gums and ghost gums as well as euros, rock wallabies, reptiles in the summer months and dingoes if you decide to camp for the night. The park has a number of excellent signposted walks ranging from the five minute waterhole walk near the Information Centre through the popular Ghost Gum Lookout walk (about 20 minutes one way) and the 3-4 hour Ormiston Pound walk. It is also possible to swim in the waterhole but remember it is very cold - particularly in the winter months. Check out http://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/places/ormiston-gorge and download their excellent Ormiston Gorge and Pound Fact Sheet.

 

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History

* The geology of Glen Helen Gorge dates its origins to around 500 million years ago when sandstone was deposited by a vast inland sea. Over time this sandstone was tilted and uplifted and metamorphosed into quartzite. Over millennia the mighty Finke River carved its way through the uplifted mountain range as it cut a path across the desert to Lake Eyre.

* The local Aborigines, the western Arrernte people, have lived in the Glen Helen region for tens of thousands of years. To them the gorge is called Yapalpe and the Finke River is known as Larapinta which appropriately means 'serpent'. It is known that Glen Helen gorge was a favourite meeting place for the Arrernte from the West and Central MacDonnell Ranges.

* In 1860, on his way across the continent, John McDouall Stuart, named the Finke River after the Adelaide financier, William Finke. At the time he didn't appreciate that he was naming a river which runs for over 1000 km and disappears into Lake Eyre; that it is a river which, according to some authorities, is the oldest river on earth (although this is hard to prove); and that it only floods about twice a century and consequently there are only six permanent waterholes along its length, Glen Helen being the most notable.

* In 1873 Peter Egerton Warburton, who crossed Australia from Alice Springs to the coast of Western Australia in 1873-74, explored the area around Glen Helen. Warburton named the Ormiston Creek.

* the first European to settle at Glen Helen was Alan Braeden who brought 2000 head of cattle over 2000km across the desert. He built a home on the banks of Ormiston Creek and Glen Helen became one of the first official pastoral leases in Central Australia.

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Visitor Information

Glen Helen Resort, Namatjira Drive, Glen Helen via Alice Springs, tel: (08) 8956 7489, web: http://www.glenhelen.com.au/

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Accommodation

Glen Helen Resort, Namatjira Drive, Glen Helen via Alice Springs, tel: (08) 8956 7489, web: http://www.glenhelen.com.au/

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Eating

Namatjira Restaurant, Glen Helen Resort, Namatjira Drive, Glen Helen via Alice Springs, tel: (08) 8956 7489, web: http://www.glenhelen.com.au/

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Useful Websites

Check out http://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/places/glen-helen. There is a particularly interesting video clip in the site.

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