Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Finke Gorge National Park to Alice Springs

Cycad Gorge, Finke National Park
We stayed at the National Park camping area and on Thursday morning, 22nd September, we drove the further four kms to Palm Valley.  The track continues on from the camping area with clear signs that high clearance 4wd was necessary – we had thought that was the case coming into the park but clearly the road was going to be no better.
The cycad trees

We soon learned – there are rock shelves alternating with gravel and then deep sand.  The GPS showed us driving up the river bed.  We passed two vehicles that had gone as far as they could and the occupants had parked up the vehicles and walked the balance of the way.  It wasn’t hilly just tricky and required a driver with a level of experience.
 Cycad trees in Finke National Park
  Sand track into Finke National Park
The first gorge we came to was the Cycad gorge.  These palms originate from Africa and are shorter than the Red Cabbage Palms found in Palm Valley.  The Red Cabbage Palms found in Palm Valley are the only palms growing in natural surroundings in Central Australia.  We continued on to Palm Valley and had the choice of two walks – we chose to take the Arankaia Loop which took about an hour.  We had been caught the day before by a walk advertised as an hour that took more than two and again the temperature was in the mid thirties.  We walked with a young family from Sydney who we have met at another camping area.  Katherine and Andrew were travelling with their two children, Zoe and Kerryn.  It was interesting to know that they had travelled Cape York with friends who were our neighbours for three days in Weipa – Craig and Ann and their children.  There are a lot of people travelling Australia but it is amazing how you meet up with some again along the way.  Again we have been surprised by the number of family groups travelling for quite lengthy periods of time.

Zoe and Kerryn took great pleasure in watching out for the orange signs so that we stayed on the correct walk and didn’t follow the blue signs for the two hour walk.  The walk initially took us along the riverbank then up the side of the gorge and back along the rim and down to the information centre.  The view of the palms was great and it was so unusual to see these trees in this setting.  It was one of the most enjoyable walks we have done.
The GPS shows we are driving up the river
Time to walk again
The National Parks are well set up for visitors and on Thursday evening the local ranger came and built a campfire and provided information to the visitors on the park in general covering information on the palms, the wildlife, the management of the park etc.  The Northern Territory Government have recently entered into an agreement with the traditional owners that Finke Gorge National Park, along with others, will come under joint management in the very near future.  It is hoped that access and facilities in the parks will not deteriorate in the future.  There was a lot of discussion concerning the current burning off and the smoke being generated.  The rangers do conduct managed burn offs but the current fires are possibly the result of burning by the local people who choose to follow traditional methods.  Currently the atmosphere is very smoky which is a shame as it is causing heath issues for some.  Finke Gorge National Park currently has one relieving female ranger.

Info about the red cabbage palms

Peter looking at the palms
Friday morning we packed up again and made our way back up the riverbed to the main road into Hermannsburg.  With a name like Hermannsburg it sounded as though we were going into a small town.  We were soon to find out that this was yet another small Aboriginal settlement with just one general store.  We were unable to take any photos of the town as there were signs saying “no photography” and the residential area was closed to anyone but locals.  We can only say that this was because they would be embarrassed to have the world know how they live.  The houses were very run down and nearly every house had at least one or more car wrecks.  Hermannsburg was one of the early Central Australian towns where the Lutheran Mission established in the 1870’s.  There is a historic precinct open to the public.  Like all Aboriginal settlements there was also mobile and internet coverage which was good for us after four days of no coverage.
 Time to walk
We continued on the loop road back towards Alice Springs however we noted that there was a 4wd track into Owen Springs Reserve.  This was formerly a cattle station and the road links from the West MacDonnell Ranges loop road through to Stuart Highway.  Although the route took us out of our way we decided we will take it and we might set up camp on the riverbed.  The track was very similar to the Finke Gorge track.  We stopped off at the ruins of the original Owen Springs homestead and also the bronco branding yards.  A homestead was originally built in the 1870’s and the original wooden structure was replaced by a rock building early in 1900.  There are now only the ruins of that building left. 

Amazing rocks Finke National Park
As we passed the Lawrence Gorge we noted a young couple setting up camp – they obviously wanted peace and solitude!  We continued on along the sandy riverbank and met up with two female rangers who were on fire watch.   The fires were burning on the top of the gorge and they were concerned that they would come down into the park and be out of control.  They warned us not to camp in the area due to possible evacuation.  With that warning, we continued on through to the Stuart Highway and returned to Alice Springs and collected the caravan from the service provider.  We are staying at the Stuart Caravan Park and it is good to be back in the comfort of the van, have power and water on tap – the washing machine has hardly stopped!

A slice through the rock Finke National Park
 The rock riverbed Finke Gorge National Park
 Survival in an arid world
 Palms in Pal Valley in the Finke Gorge
 Looking down the gorge
  Info re palms and cycads
 Further info re palms and cycads
 Welcome to Palm Valley
High clearance necessary
Some rocks to make a ramp

The ledge that we are coming down is about a metre not that
it looks it here
Debri on trees showing water level when in flood
View from our tent site Finke Gorge National Park
Trying to see the coloured parrots Finke Gorge National Park
The road out from the camping area Finke Gorge National Park
Now it is deep sand
 GPS has us driving up the riverbed which is the track
Debri on tree on drive riverbed Finke from flooding
Historic Village Hermannsburg

The track to Owen Springs Reserve

 Yards at Owen Springs Reserve for bronco branding
Owen Springs history
Owen Springs Homestead info
 Ruins of Owen Springs homestead
Owen Springs homestead ruins
 Lawrence Gorge sign
 Warning from rangers about track - we were about 20 kms in
Owen Springs Reserve track

 Locals were burning off
 Time to pick up the caravan Alice Springs

Monday, September 26, 2011

Finke Gorge National Park

Back to the dirt!

 Wild inedible melons
On Wednesday morning we packed up the tent and continued on.  Our first stop was at Redbank Gorge – this gorge is advertised as being fantastic to swim and float through on an air mattress.  The water is deep and always cold due to the height of the walls.  There is camping facility at this gorge also but as we were early in the day we would visit only.  The information board said the walk was an hour so although it was 11 am (and getting very hot) we decided to head off as were numbers of other walkers.  We soon found that the walk was not as well signposted as the other parks we have visited and we were soon scrambling over rocks, in and out of the river bed and through sand following the direction of the gap in the ranges.  We eventually made it to the water and were most disappointed – there was very little water and there were bees and wasps swarming everywhere.  There was no way anyone could swim in the water and we have no idea if it was cold.  We made our way back to the car – the walk took about two hours.
They look tempting but cannot be eaten

Soon after the Redbank Gorge the bitumen ran out and we started on our favourite dirt roads again although at that point they were in reasonable condition.  We have been interested in seeing what looked like small melons growing along the roadside.  We stopped and took a photo and picked one of the melons so we could find out more about them.
 Redbank Gorge info
We stopped at the Tyler Pass lookout (175 kms west of Alice Springs) for a late lunch – from here we could see a huge oblong rock formation in the distance.  This is Tnorala Conservation Reserve (Gosse Bluff) which is an ancient crater with a 5 km wide rim.  We set the coordinates for this area into the GPS and set off.  The GPS advised us to turn right up this narrow track, which didn’t appear correct, but we initially followed it.  At a fork in the road (one saying no entry Aborginal land access only) we continued towards the crater and the track deteriorated rapidly.  Although we could see the crater ahead of us we decided that it was time to call a halt and turn around, which is what we did.
Peter during Redbank Gorge walk
Back on the original road we soon came to a sign to the crater – obviously the GPS was taking us a different route.  We took the road into the crater and we were a little disappointed that although there was a good view of the crater walls you could stand and have a circular view.  The reserve is for day visitors only although was well set up for camping with gas BBQ’s etc.  We were the only people there and it was really peaceful and we would have enjoyed setting up the tent.

 Gill during Redbank Gorge walk
We continued on and although we had purchased a permit to allow us to drive the Mereenie Loop (which is a 4wd road) to Kings Canyon we decided to take the left hand route back towards Alice Springs so that we could go to Finke Gorge National Park.  We made a short stop at historic home of Albert Namatjira, a well known Aboriginal artist.  We have found that we can be without mobile or internet coverage for long periods, but as soon as we come across an Aboriginal settlement we have coverage.  This happened at this historic home.  There were no other houses but we had internet and mobile coverage.
The waterhole at Redbank Gorge
The road into the National Park if high clearance four wheel drive only and is 18 kms into the camping area.  The road varies from dirt to deep sand and rock and for a good part follows the Finke River and is challenging in parts.  Apparently after heavy rain the track becomes impassable but we haven’t had rain since the 5th August and no rain was anticipated so we didn’t think that would cause us a problem.

 The second waterhole at Redbank Gorge

The camping ground was amazing – it was well laid out on the edge of the lagoon.  The facilities included flushing toilets, solar heated showers, drinking water and gas BBQ’s.  We set up camp on the grass beside the lagoon and stayed two nights.  Each night there were up to twenty camping groups so there was plenty of company and it was interesting to learn where other campers had stayed.  We camped beside two German couples who were visiting for six months.  One couple had brought their own campervan from Germany and the other couple had purchased an ex Britz camper on arrival.  They were interesting to talk too.  The first night we had seen a dingo wandering around and during the night we were woken to hear a chorus of dingo howling – the dingo are wild but not a risk to visitors if you just ignore them.  They are much more afraid of us than we are of them and run off if approached.  Other than the dingo we saw a variety of birds, lizards and no snakes or kangaroo.

 Redbank Gorge
 Note the rubbish collected when the river was in flood
 Tyler Pass lookout info re Gosse Bluff
Gosse Bluff Crater from Tyler Pass
 Time to change tracks
The great track into the crater
 Legend of the crater
 Balance of legend
Well these places are a girl's best friend in the bush! Not really
what she was saying to me at the time.
The Gosse Bluff crater
Some of the crater
 As close up as we could of the crater
  Back to the corrugations
Namatjira's house (Artist)

 Info about Albert Namatjira (Artist)
 Albert Namatjira's house

  Albert Namatjira
  4wd track into Finke National Park
Welcome to Finke Gorge National Park
 On way into Finke Gorge
 Rock formations Finke Gorge