For both the Lower Southern Arrernte and Luritja peoples, these formations are highly important symbols in the dreaming stories of country in Central Australia, southeast of Alice Springs. In the Dreamtime, the Gecko ancestor named Itirkawarra, transformed into a huge violent man with superhuman strength. After being banished for breaking the marital code by wedding a girl from another skin group, the two retreated into the desert and rested into the rocky formations we now recognise as the 50m high monolith of Chambers Pillar and its smaller neighbour, Castle Rock.
Geologically, we know that after the inland sea receded the sandstone sediments left behind formed the basis of the country we now see. Iron pigments were then pushed to the surface which formed the hard red caps on the exposed layers.
Chambers Pillar is a classic example of this. The soft unprotected layers around the pillar have been eroded away, which leaves this spectacular monolith sitting high above the surrounding country.
For tourers that are not averse to travelling on the dirt, this formation should definitely be on your bucket list. For more on our experience visiting Chambers Pillar, then keep on reading.
Here they are in all their glory – Chambers Pillar and Castle Rock in the NT.
Getting to Chambers Pillar is pretty straightforward in planning, but full of surprises in the execution. From the north, the Finke Track can be followed from Alice Springs. From the west, there’s the Hugh River Stock Route and from the south, the Finke Track again, either coming in from Mt Dare or Kulgera. These all lead to Maryvale Homestead and the small store providing fuel and some basics. All these tracks present changing conditions and can be rough and corrugated so be aware of that when driving.
Nearby, the aboriginal community of Titjikala also has some supplies. There’s also a great art gallery showcasing and selling paintings and sculptures created by local artists.
You will encounter some long and deep bulldust holes on the drive.
Conditions of the drive
The last 42 km from Maryvale to the Pillar Campground provides an interesting drive. There are corrugations a plenty, deep and sometimes long bulldust holes, and hard rocky sections on top of rises all leading through a constantly changing vista. Not far from the end of the track you’re then suddenly presented with a steep, rough rocky rise to the top of the Charlotte Range.
It’s not that difficult, but it’s enough that with the conditions and the hard left turn near the top 4×4 low range should be used, particularly if you’re towing. The descent on the other side is a similar experience. From there you can cross a number of sand dunes (which should be treated with care). They’re capped but the track can be narrow, with sudden crests and a few blind bends on the top of rises.
You will then arrive at the Historical Reserve. Then all you need to do is pick your campsite and you can take in the total experience of being immersed in the colours of the Pillar, the sky above and the quiet atmosphere.
Once you get to the historical reserve, all you have to do is pick out where you want to camp.
Camping in the area
There are now two camping areas near the Pillar. The new one is called the Bush Campground, which has been set up to cater for off-road campers. Currently, toilets are the only facility provided, so be aware of that. The other is Chambers Pillar Campground which has picnic facilities, toilets, parking, and a gas BBQ available.
At the time that we visited, a new interpretive shelter was being built to provide visitors with on-the-spot information.
You can also do a walk around Castle Rock when you’re in the area.
The walk around the pillar
The colours and aura of the Pillar are really highlighted as the sun creeps on or off the rock. The National Parks have recognised this in the way that they have set up the walk around the Pillar. Leaving from the original Pillar Campground, it crosses a sand dune before descending into the swale where the Pillar stands.
On top of the dune, there’s a seat and a cleared area for experiencing the sunrise in all its glory. You can also look back and see the colour coming alive on Castle Rock and the surrounding plains. An easy descent and stroll will take you around the base of the column. There you’ll find a set of steps and walkways provided to climb to the bottom of the actual Pillar.
You can catch a glimpse of the walkway stairs around the base of the pillar.
There are also a number of historical engravings carved into the soft rock. These include the initials of men such as John Ross, who was the leader of an exploration party for the Overland Telegraph Route in 1870.
John McDouall Stuart also passed here in 1860 but opted not to carve his passing into the rock. After descending the steps the track passes to the north where again seating is provided. This is so you can view the sunset before making your way back to camp.
There is also a lesser known walk that scoots out into the desert around Castle Rock which you might find interesting as well.
I highly recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset.
Sunset at Chambers Pillar
It’s a mystical experience to sit on the desert floor and listen to the whisper of the wind through the bushes and grasses while watching the full suite of colour changes across the rock at sunrise and sunset.
Sunset is probably my favourite as after the enthralling light show, you move back below the Pillar in the darkness. It’s just a wonderful feeling.
Even if you don’t have a camera you’ll still take with you an album of wonderful pictures in your mind. If you haven’t been to Chambers Pillar, make sure you pass by on your next trip to the Northern Territory.
Chambers Pillar is on the bucket list of many outback travellers, but is it on yours?
About the writer...
Born and bred in Adelaide I escaped to the bush after finishing teachers college and have basically been there ever since.