Alice Springs just might be the best town in Australia for four-wheel drivers, with its nearby tracks ranging from moderate to extreme. One of the best has to be the 25km drive from Hermannsburg to Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park.
This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s January 2011 issue
Turn south off Larapinta Drive and stop at the information sign to drop tyre pressures and engage four-wheel drive. At 4km there is a short, sandy loop on the left, with panoramic landscapes.
Within another kilometre you’ll be driving beside the Finke River with gorge walls to the left; after 3km you’ll cross the rocky river bed where the Finke can rise from bone dry to a height of seven metres. Take care over the grid at the national park boundary, as it is electrified to keep out horses.
Continue for 2km and veer right, leaving the Finke River to travel along Palm Creek for another 2km; watch for the Kalarranga Lookout on the left with a parking area. The information bay describes two walks: the 1.5km return Kalarranga Walk and the 5km return Mpaara Walk. At the very least, complete Kalarranga with its magnificent vistas.
The Palm Valley campground is next at about 1km and it, too, includes a walking track. In fact, some members of the family may prefer to walk along the creek bed into Palm Valley while the driver negotiates the last 5km of underbody-scraping river rock. The Day Use Area (1km along) provides parking, an information bay, toilets, picnic tables and a place to leave trailers, as they are not permitted beyond this point.
From the Day Use Area, walkers can simply enjoy the scenery. Drivers will have to keep their eyes glued to the track, carefully picking their way along the uneven surface that drops abruptly here and there, providing numerous opportunities for some serious axle damage. Pay particular attention to the marker posts and stay within these at all times.
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When it is safe to do so, have a look at the groves of endemic cabbage palms to the right, for they give the valley its name. The track ends with a parking and information bay. Don’t pass up the 2km Arankaia (circuit) Walk up to the top of the gorge and, if time allows, the 5km Mpulungkinya Walk is outstanding. This is such a picture-perfect area that, if you are lucky enough to be spending a night or two at the campground, it is well worth doing as many of the walks as possible.
Speaking of picture-perfect, either on the way in or out, take an hour or so to visit the historic Hermannsburg Mission, where Albert Namatjira (the artist) lived. It doesn’t take an art expert to recognise how deeply Namatjira was influenced by the splendid landscapes in the area. A visit to Palm Valley will leave you in no doubt as to why Namatjira and the Arrerente people were so connected to their country.
WHEN TO GO
April to November.
Junction to Finke NP, S23°57’12” E132°46’22”.
Palm Valley Campground, S24°03’29” E132°44’38”.
Palm Valley, S24°02’52” E132°42’41”.
NEAREST SUPPLIES INCLUDING FUEL
Alice Springs; Hermannsburg has fuel and limited supplies.
WHAT TO BRING
Everything including emergency supplies, full fuel tank, food, drinking water, all camping gear.
TRACK DIFFICULTY AND VEHICLE REQUIREMENTS
Rough 4X4-only track with several loose, sandy creek crossings. Last 4km are extremely rough over uneven rock surface; count on a 30-minute drive.
High clearance 4X4 with low-range, two spares, recovery gear, air compressor, tyre gauge. Track is impassable in wet weather.
CAMPING AND ACCOMMODATION
Tent and off-road camper trailer camping at Palm Valley (toilets, showers, tables, gas barbecues, cash camping fees, BYO wood in designated fire pits only, no generators) Contact NT Parks and Wildlife
Central Australian Tourism, 08 8952 5800
Caravan camping at Ntaria campground, Hermannsburg, 08 8956 7480.
Road conditions, 1800 645 199
Outback Vehicle Recovery, 08 8952 1097.
Central Australian Tourism, 08 8952 5800.