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Published: October 2nd 2013
The day may have started with heavy cloud and a sprinkle of rain, but that was the only bad news on an exciting day out.
We had booked a tour to Palm Valley with Alice Wanderer Day Tours, and all I can say is that this was a fantastic 10 hour adventure, and our driver/guide John was an encyclopaedia of knowledge as well as a master at rock-hopping the 4WD truck/Bus through the final 7ks to the valley.
We had a 7:05am pickup at the caravan park, and, as usual for us, we were at the gate 10 minutes early, and the bus was waiting for us. Good news, we were first on, and selected seats with a good view of the road through the cab and also side windows.
Not all the other folk were on time - seems they had been given wrong info, but it was not long before all 15 were on board after several pickups around town. It was an interesting tour seeing parts of Alice Springs that we had not visited. One common thing is houses on one side of the street, desert or dry riverbed on the other.
the lunch orders, we were on the road back down Larapinta Road and out the West MacDonnell Ranges, the same direction we travelled to Standley Chasm yesterday, but with a destination a further 100ks west.
The sealed road as far as Hermannsburg is pretty good crossing undulating countryside but on a general down hill run. The Isuzu 4WD truck flew down here, turbo and truck gearbox screaming with the excitement. It was noisy to say the least.
At the end of the sealed road, we took a left turn onto a metal/sand road to drive up the valley. The road quickly narrowed with passing bays coming regularly. No one had to get off the road or back up, but apparently an AAT Bus did get off the road recently and got bogged in the sand.
It wasn't long before we were at the Finke Gorge National Park boarder. We have crossed many cattle stops in our journey, but this was the first time we have seen an electric cattle stop. There are a series of electric fence type wires spread horizontally across the road, preceded by two nasty speed bumps. (100mm steel pipes across the road.)
A slow crossing, and once again we were on our way. We had a couple of stops before morning tea. The first was to photograph a rock called the Battle Ship. Looks more like a luxury cruise liner that has been abandoned in the desert, or maybe was built many years ago and is now petrified. A little further on there is the Meerkat Rock looking over the valley of palms.
The road through Finke NP is either along side of or up the Finke River bed which is dry most of the year. We came to a couple of large rock pools still holding water. There are a couple of markers each side of the road as this can be like a ford from time to time. Deviate from the marker line and you are in deep water. It was bumpy and unnerving crossing in the dry - I hate to think what it would be like when running water crosses here.
We had a morning tea break at one of the rest areas with loos in the park (very clean) and then went to The Valley Of Cycads. This area is home to a large specie
of cycads, and according to those who have researched these plants, have determined that they were the food of dinosaurs. Apparently this was determined by poo-analysis. (dinosaur that is)
The rock walls of the gorge are very red. The sandstone here is red, and unlike many areas where red dust has created a red crust, here the iron oxide is within the rock.
After a talk and photo shoot, it was time to jump onto the bus again for the journey to Palm Valley. The seat adjacent to the driver was rotated amongst volunteers, and for this next leg, the driver got Matt (10 year old) up front, put the mike onto him and asked him to do a bump warning report as we traversed this 7k stretch of something unlike road. Matt was very busy!!
This section of the road was rock hoping interspersed with pot hole dodging, and from time to time, sand trap crossings. I tried to photograph this part of the track through the cab window, but the rocking was so violent that I had no show of holding the camera still enough to get a pic. There were troughs in the road
crossing dry streams etc, and the exits were up smooth rock ramps. All fun I must say. I wasn't sure how Marg would take this as she has a dicky lower back, but seems to have survived with a big smile on the dial. We thought that the road to Cape Leveque was bad, but by comparison, that was a modern motorway.
About three years ago, my manager at work, Brenda, came to The Alice with friends, and I remembered her enthusiasm for the Valley of the Palms. So, as she told me, I'm telling you that this is a great place to come. Some people drive their high clearance 4WD vehicles in, but with a good tour guide like John, I think this is probably the better option.
There are two walks from the Palm Valley car park. We took the shorter walk (1 1/2 hrs) up the river valley, then up the rock face followed by the shorter rim walk back to the car park.
The palms here are known as Red Cabbage Palms. When you see the mature palms they are neither cabbage shaped or red. These are unique palms, and get their name
from the immature palm which start off looking more like a red flax bush on a trunk than a cabbage. The stems and leaves both being red.
These palms get their water from the sandstone rock rather than the river. From the rim we could see that there are high hills behind the gorge, and water seeps slowly down through the sandstone to the valley floor, watering the palms and the cycads.
The valley, red rock walls, lush growth on the shaded side of the gorge, contrasted with the barren scrub look of the adjacent hills, gives a great oasis feeling to the visitor. The wind up the gorge sounded more like a stream bubbling over a stony bed than leaves rustled. It is beautiful and peaceful.
The climb up to the gorge rim was assisted with excellent steps initially, and then well marked paths climbing up through the rocks to the rim. Certainly worth the effort.
We had more exploring to do before lunch, so onto the bus to do the rock 'n roll again, or is it shake rattle and roll.
We stopped at another car park and took a steep walk up
the hills to a great lookout over the amphitheatre. Some folk didn't do this climb, and a few actually got right up on top of the final rock for a great panorama photograph. John was in former employment a professional photographer, so got the three young ones (Matt and 2 sisters) doing trick photos up on top of the rock.
Back on the bus again and off to Albert Namatjira's house before a late lunch (2.30pm) at Hermannsburg historic town. Albert became a world famous artist with bush scenes in water colours. He was so good and earned so much from his exhibitions, that he was made a citizen long before this was generally possible. Some have suggested that citizenship was granted because he could then have the privilege of paying tax, rather than recognition for his talent.
Hermannsburg is an old settlement started by Lutheran Missionaries in 1877. About 400 people live here, a mix of people, probably the traditional land owners dominate. Across the region there are numerous other aboriginal communities, most smaller than Hermannsburg, but not accessible without permits. Hermannsburg is open to all, and the old mission is packed with interesting history. It seems
that the third Missionary sent here (a linguist) really bridged the gap between the races, and started a school which taught in the native language, and English as an additional language. The Bible and many hymns were also translated, and are still used and sung today.
We had a great lunch (beef lasagne) before heading home with a couple of quick stops for photos of the Heavitree Ranges as the sun was going down. The Heavitree Ranges look like a procession of caterpillars, and in fact they are known by the aboriginal people as the Sacred Caterpillar. Unlike the other ranges of the West MacDonnell, these are solid Quartzite. They look red from iron oxide stains, but when a rock falls off the face, a bright glimmering white rock face appears.
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