Palm Valley, NT – walking the walk

After Erldunda, we spent a night in Alice Springs staying with the sister one of Kat’s high school friends and her family. They have a granny flat out the back of their house which they were happy for us to use. The next morning we headed off early towards Palm Valley, aiming to get there early so as not to miss out on a campsite given it apparently fills up by mid afternoon some days.

Palm Valley is located within the Finke Gorge National Park, and is home to the Red Cabbage Palm, after which the valley is named. The drive in takes you beside and within the oldest river in the world and is full of spectacular gorges and rock formations. Driving directly along a massive, ancient riverbed was a great experience. This landscape also inspired many of the paintings of the famous artist Albert Namatjira who grew up just down the road.

The sign at the turn off to Palm Valley said 4WD only, but apart from a couple of sandy and rocky parts, it was a fairly easy drive in. We found a lovely camp spot looking directly out to the red rock formations, providing a great backdrop for our stay. The view was particularly amazing in the afternoon as the sun shone on it, turning the rocks a deep, almost iridescent orange colour. In the spirit of slowing the pace of things down, we did nothing much that afternoon other than just playing with the kids by the river and lazing about camp enjoying the surrounding views.

The next morning we set off in the car along the 4km road to Palm Valley itself where there were a couple of walks we could choose from. This section of the road was most definitely 4WD only, mainly due to the uneven, rocky road you have to climb up and down – high clearance 4WD was a must, and a good test for Iggy, who passed with flying colours. We stopped at Cycad Gorge on the way in to check out the echo. The kids have a list of things to do before they are 12 (thanks to a free ARB activity book) and one of them is to find a gorge with a great echo. After testing this one out, we decided it definitely fit the bill. After continuing along the road to the end at Palm Valley, we parked the car on a massive area of bedrock that was the riverbed, and set off on the mouthful of a walk that was called the Mpulungkinya track. Although we couldn’t pronounce it, we could follow the arrows that showed us the way around the 5km look. It took us up Palm Valley, past the famous palms, as well as spectacular rock formations that the kids had a ball exploring. The forces that formed this area must have been massive. The gorge had been carved out of the rock, which had previously been completely uplifted and folded like some giant piano accordian, turning the horizontal layers of rock vertical. Everywhere we looked, there were amazing formations. Later on the kids found a small pool of water where they floated some seed pod boats. They both did really well on the walk, making the 5km loop without complaint, after which we slowly drove back along the bumpy road to camp. The afternoon was another lazy one, enjoying some dinner and toasted marshmallows.

Given the kids did so well with the Palm Valley walk, we decided to embark on another 5km walk the next morning which left directly from the campground. The Mpaara walk takes you up the valley to a saddle on the ridge line, so it was a great opportunity to teach the kids a bit about geography along the way. From the top we enjoyed breathtaking views across the valley with huge rocky outcrops towering up in the distance. We were all trying to decide which of the rock walls we thought Uncle Charlie would be able to climb (we decided he could probably manage them all). The kids faded a bit by the end of the walk but a couple of lollies and piggy back rides with Daddy got them over the line. Back at camp we got an early fire going and Kat cooked a delicious lamb stew in the camp oven, while Stu and the kids made some damper to have with it, cooked in the coals of the fire.

On our last morning, Kat took each of the kids up to a nearby lookout one at a time with the handheld UHF, while the other one stayed back at camp with Stu to pack up. Once they reached the lookout, a loud cooee was the signal to turn on the UHF in the car so the kids could have a quick chat before returning to camp.

Palm Valley definitely lived up to its reputation of being a beautiful place and we were very glad to have stayed there a few days. The slower pace there also worked really well, with a morning activity followed by a lazy afternoon around camp each day resulting in 4 happy campers! We finished packing up and headed for Alice Springs where we were looking forward to chilling out in the granny flat again for a few days.

Collecting firewood on the way in to Palm Valley
Heading into Palm Valley
Brumbies on the way into Palm Valley
Camp at Palm Valley
Making pikelets for afternoon tea
Oli planning his next move in the Pokémon battle with Stu
The brilliant orange glow of the backdrop to camp in the afternoon sun
The kids in Cycad Gorge after testing out their echoes
The 4WD only track from the campground into Palm Valley
Driving along the riverbed near Palm Valley
Hop and Flop at Palm Valley
Setting off on the Mpulungkinya loop walk
Taking shelter from the sun wherever you can find it
These Ghost Gum trees in Palm Valley grow directly out of cracks in the rock wall
How big is this cave
Why walk along the valley floor when you can walk along the rock face?
The famous Red Cabbage Palms
Another cave in Palm Valley
On the Mpulungkinya walk
Floating seed pod boats in a little waterhole along the walk


Rock formations at Palm Valley
Afternoon by the fire
Heading up the valley on the Mpaara walk


Spectacular views from the ridge line on the Mpaara walk


Almost back at camp
Cooking the lamb stew over the fire
Making damper to go with the stew
Our budding artist
Talking to base camp from the lookout
The drive along the Finke river bed on the way out of Palm Valley

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