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Home > Travelogues > 2008 Travelogues Index > Palm Valley

Circles in the sandstone floor of the valley are moisture pipes, where moisture siphons to the surface. 

 

The walk trail continued through the shady creek bed with palms and trees to where the gorge widened and there were only a few more palms. 

Eggs, which can lie dormant for up to 27 years, hatch within a few days when rain creates pools of water.  Microscopic larvae develop into adults within a few weeks.  These larvae go through a series of moults and within 24 hours resemble adults. In seven to ten days from hatching, a female can produce eggs.   Their occurrence is widespread, both through the arid and semi arid areas of Australia, and throughout the world. 

In some of these pools, we found Shield Shrimps.  Recognised as the oldest living species on earth, these tiny Shield Shrimps looks like a bizarre combination of different creatures.  They have a hard shield that covers the head and thorax of the animal, and an abdomen which extends like a tail, with two long whip-like tails coming from it.  On the under side, these shrimps have a mass of feathery legs.

We took the full Mpulungkinya walk up the valley where most of the palms grow.  A shorter walk can be taken, leaving the valley sooner and looping back across the top of the gorge to the car park and the tour coach guides took their passengers on this shorter option. 

Being a true palm, they have netting which when dropped onto the rocks looks like a huge moth.  

The red colouring that gives the palms their name is only seen in young palms, when stems and leaves can be quite red. 

This unique species of red cabbage palms Livistona mariae subsp. Mariae is restricted to a small portion of the Finke River and its tributaries, with the majority of occurrences in the Finke Gorge National Park.  This species grows predominantly on the floor of gorges fed by spring waters in Hermannsburg Sandstone, and most specimens can be found in the protected Palm Creek Valley, as being shallow rooted, they cannot stand up to the effects of flooding in the Finke River valley.  They grow up to thirty metres in height. 

This access road follows the Finke River bed, with the sandstone alongside the cutting looking a uniform dark brown in the early afternoon light.

At the entrance to the National Park, an electrified crossing has been set up to prevent horses and other feral animals from entering the park.  The electric wires were held just off the road with springs. 

Central Australia 2008.  Unique red cabbage palms at beautiful Palm Valley and visit the area where artist Albert Namatjira lived and painted.

Walking into the valley we found many small shallow pools as it has rained a week or two earlier. 

The track then followed Palm Creek for short way into the Palm Valley Campground. 

Next morning we drove four kilometres to the Valley of Palms car park and the start of the walk trail.  This track took us along well washed creek bed rock, and was not easy driving.  Although it makes a very long walk, for those without a suitable vehicle it is possible to follow the creek line all the way from the camp ground. 

 

Some wise people left their vehicle near the  Valley of Cycads and walked the remaining one and a half kilometres, as this last stretch was the most difficult section to drive.  Another ancient plant species found in Palm Valley is the Cycad Macrozamia macdonnellii, and although another relic from ancient times, they are found in a number of other places in the MacDonnell Ranges. 

Towards evening, the sky became overcast.  From the pleasant camp ground alongside the creek, we watched the setting sun.

As we neared Hermannsburg, the road became more and more corrugated, until we took the Palm Valley turnoff. 

Although the Finke River bed to the south of Palm Valley has a permanent shallow water table, it is subject to severe water wash, and the few clumps of shallow rooted palms found there are restricted to areas which escape the full force of the floodwaters.

Near the intersection of Larapinta Drive and the Mereenie Loop (permit required for Mereenie Loop), numerous underground high pressure gas lines cross the roads from the West Mereenie Oil and Gas fields, and these continued all the way to the Palm Valley turn off. Palm Valley area also has gas fields, and there were tracks to the gas operations along the access track to Palm Valley.  Horses were numerous alongside the Mereenie Loop road, and appeared to be in good condition.  The soft orange sand was too loose for us to leave the road, so we continued on towards Palm Valley near Hermannsburg. 

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The trail took us up to the top of the ridge, and part way up, we rested in the shade of an overhanging rock while looking left to the last few palms and right to the valley we had walked through.  Pools of water were even remaining on the higher rock platform.

Coming back to the edge of the gorge, a tree clung to the cliff top, looking down over the palms.  Cycads can be seen on the shady far wall of the gorge. 

Ernest Giles, on his 1872 expedition, had seen dead palm fronds washed down the Finke River, and he discovered the palms and a variety of wildflowers near the creek later called Palm Valley.  Thirty or more rare plants have been recorded in the area, although not all are unique to Palm Valley. 

The ridge top return walk took us through mulga scrub and woodland areas with occasional ghost gums, including this tree which has balanced itself on the hard rock with roots running along the surface.  A cooler alternative would have been to return to the valley after climbing to the lookout point and retract the pleasant Palm Valley walk. 

When we reached to top of the ridge, the view of end of the gorge, the last of the palms along Palm Creek and the distant hills became clearer.

Late in the afternoon we went a short way back along the access track to take the Kalarranga lookout walk.  This short walking trail goes to a wind carved rock balanced on a platform, with views of the valley. 

After a warm night we started the Mpaara walk early in the day.  The first part of the trail roughly follows the road as far as the old ranger station near the Finke River.  This old house would have been well and truly inundated during the floods of 1983. 

Not far past here and on the edge of the river bed is Palm Bend.  Although not the first Glen of Palms discovered by Giles, this one guided him into Palm Valley, which he did not investigate at this time due to impending wet weather.

 

For those wanting to see Red Cabbage Palms without visiting the Valley of Palms or taking any of the longer walking trails, by stopping near the old ranger’s residence it is only a short easy walk to Palm Bend.  

Some of these palms are very tall, and they have survived the ravages of floods.   

Coming around the hill, the view into the ‘amphitheatre’, where the sandstone shapes surround the plains.  The walk trail descends into the plains and returns to the car park.

Ranger talks are given weekly on different evenings at different parks during the tourist season.  We stayed an extra night atPalm Valley in part to attend the ranger talk. 

After quite a climb, we looked back up the Finke River Valley in the early morning light.  Plaques around the walk trail progressively tell an Aboriginal story to add interest. 

After leaving Palm Valley, we visited Hermannsburg.  The whitewashed buildings of the old mission are now faded, and the sad looking locals did not smile or respond in any way to a cheery wave. 

Turning west again we returned on the same road we had come in on, passing again artist Albert Namatjira’s house near the Finke River. The house was constructed by Albert and some assistants in 1944, following the success of an exhibition of paintings in Melbourne.

Albert Namatjira was born on 28th July 1902 near Ntaria (Hermannsburg Mission).  Albert attended the Hermannsburg mission school. Visiting artist Rex Battarbee first taught him the technique of watercolour painting and Albert became the first Aboriginal artist to paint and exhibit professionally in a Western style. He painted mostly landscapes of the local scenery, producing almost two thousand pictures and founding a school of painting. Namatjira’s first solo exhibition was held in Melbourne in 1938 where all paintings sold.

The house is a two-roomed cottage constructed of hand cut local sandstone bricks which have been rendered in a similar style to the buildings at the Hermannsburg Mission, with a corrugated iron roof.  Albert and his family only lived in this house for five years at which time the death of a child saw them move out for cultural reasons.

Over the next ten years exhibitions were held in various capital cities of Australia and Namatjira became a celebrity. He was awarded the Queen’s Coronation medal in 1953 and met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1954.  In 1957 he was granted citizenship, which was denied to most Aboriginal people at the time.  This citizenship brought him exemption from the restrictions imposed on other 'full-blooded' Aborigines.  He therefore had access to alcohol, which he shared with members of his family in accordance with Aboriginal custom. As a result of this custom, in 1958 he was charged with supplying alcohol to another Aboriginal artist and was sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour. Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months and Namatjira finally served two months of 'open' detention at the Papunya settlement in 1959 before he died of heart failure that year at Alice Springs Hospital. 
From his cottage were views across soft orange sand to the dry and sandy Finke River bed, lined with ghost gums which feature in many of Namatjira’s paintings.  The West Macdonnell Ranges are lilac in the distance. 
Some of Albert Namatjira’s landscapes of the West Macdonnell Ranges have been featured on Australian postage stamps, and although the vibrant colours may appear to be “artistic licence”, they are very real.

From the campground the hill, overlooking the Kalarranga sandstone carved rocks and around which we took the Mpaara walk, glowed in the last rays of light of day. 

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Lovely Mount Sonder in the purple of the distance is framed by a ghost gum in Albert Namatjira’s painting featured on a postage stamp.

Mount Giles; the highest peak in the West Macdonnell Ranges painted by Albert Namatjira and featured on a postage stamp
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See also Question and Answer about taking a camper trailer to Palm Valley
Albert Namatjira
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A postage stamp featuring Albert Namatjira’s painting of a ghost gum against the background of orange rocks and the distance blue West Macdonnell Ranges.
Strange shapes rise from the plains.  The sandstone which looked such a dull brown in the middle of the day glowed orange at sunset.  This hill, viewed from the camp ground, is where the Kalarranga and Mpaara walk trails are, with the carved rocks of Kalarranga being visible low in front of the hill.  The Mpaara walk goes around behind this hill.