When we checked into the caravan park we noticed a sign advertising a day trip to Palm Valley. It wasn’t a place we were planning to visit as it is a 4WD only road. We decided to join the tour and give Mick a day off driving. It was a great decision.
The start was early for our new holiday lifestyle, being 7 o’clock, and zero degrees. There was a nice little group of us, 14 passengers and Bill, our driver and tour guide.
We could see the West MacDonnell Ranges to the west in the distance, as we were travelling a little bit further south.
We turned off the bitumen to travel 22kms on a rough dirt road, entering the Finke Gorge National Park. The Finke River is considered one of the oldest in the world and the gorge has been created by the river working its way through the sandstone over millions of years.
The river has had three major floods recently, one in November 2021, another in January 2022 and a third in February 2022. You can see where the debris washed up against the trees and where large trees were washed away. It had been very deep and very wide. It wasn’t until late April that the road was made passable again, and even then, lots of vehicles were getting bogged.
A lot of the time we were actually driving through the riverbed. It varied from the softest sand, like being on a beach. You can see here where so much sand washed down in the floods that the road had to be dug out. I was surprised that the sand is light coloured, not red like much of central Australia.
Some was lots of river rocks……….and that was the easiest parts of the road.
Our 4WD bus, driven by Bill made light work of it all. We were very pleased that we didn’t take our vehicle in.
We drove to a picnic area and enjoyed a cuppa, fruit cake and bikkies before getting back into the bus for the last 4kms to the end of the road.
That 4kms took nearly half an hour to negotiate the road.
Some was so rough that the bus pretty much walked and climbed along the road.
Some didn’t look too rough, until you went to drive over it.
Bill was informative as we drove along, telling of the changing landscape. It is much greener due to the good rains over the last couple of years. He also pointed out a particular grass - buffel grass. It is native to tropical Africa, India and Indonesia. It was introduced to Australia when it was used as padding in the camel saddles. It has been used in Australia as a drought resistant pasture grass that thrives in sandy soils and as a dust suppressant. It has become naturalised around Alice Springs. However, there are some downsides - whereas native grasses are generally wispy and don’t support intense fire, Buffel Grass burns intensely and hot, which impacts native trees and animals. As it is a dense plant it also prevents the growth of native plants. The people who care about the land are really worried about its impact. Sadly, it looks like it is here to stay in this area.
Onto more positive things…..
We finally reached our destination and prepared to go on an hour long walk in the Palm Valley.
The palms are Central Australian Red Cabbage Palms and are found nowhere else. Their closest relatives are about 1000kms away. It is a mystery how they came to be here, but a couple of possibilities are that, as the seeds were used as a food source, the nomadic aborigines may have brought them to the area and some germinated. Another theory is that the seeds may have been deposited by pelicans, as they fly considerable distances to follow water and they could have been in their stomachs. Who knows. There were about 9000 plants last count. The tallest ones are about 25 metres high and can be between 100 and 300 years old. Theories about how long the palms have been here range from about 15,000 years to one million years. Once again, who knows.
It is intriguing how some have a wriggly kink in their trunks.
There were amazing red cliffs.
Their composition was a sandstone conglomerate, but not as many rocks in the sandstone as at The Olgas.
This small tree covered in flowers is the Corkwood Tree, which is a member of the hakea family.
Beautiful flowers, aren’t they.
We saw some ghost gums. The white trees along the watercourses are river red gums, even though they have white bark. Ghost gums grow in more arid positions, have smaller leaves, and if you rub the bark you will get a white powder on your hand. It’s hard to see how a tree of this size can survive in such a rocky position.
The reason the palms can survive is due to the fact they are in a protected narrow gorge and that there is permanent water. At the base of the valley there is harder rock, which holds the water. We even saw some small gudgeon fish swimming around.
There was some incredible textures in that hard rock at the bottom of the gorge.
At the end of our section of the valley we ascended some stairs to return via the valley rim.
And the obligatory photo.
None of the walk was even under foot.
Mick with Bill.
Our next stop was to see the Cycads that grow along just one ledge in the valley. They reckon that some could be 200 - 300 years old and that they have probably been here for 12 million years. They are sheltered by huge sheer cliffs.
Once we had retraced the four very rough kilometres to the picnic area we enjoyed a nice lunch of salad wraps, vanilla slices and danishes, all provided by a local bakery. It was delicious and very filling.
Then it was a return trip home, just stopping to see a couple of interesting rock formations along the way. Can you see why they now call the second one “The Cruise Ship”?
We arrived back at the caravan park at about 5 o’clock. It was a wonderful day and Mick really enjoyed the fact that he could sit back and take it all in without having to drive over the rough roads.
Once we disembarked, we booked a further night at the caravan park, so we can see a bit more of the area, seeing as we had just spent a day out that we hadn’t banked on.
In the evening, we popped next door to the Alice Springs Brewing Co to catch up with people we had met at Kings Canyon.
A tasting paddle of beers was ordered.
Followed by pizza. It was nice to compare travel notes before we each head off in different directions on our trips.
The highlight of our day was the bus tour in general. We are so pleased we did it.