There was some water in the canyon stream but it was mostly stagnant. There was even a curious rock wallaby in the canyon (see also a videoclip). The "i's" turned out to be a natural formation. Later I kidded the Palm Valley ranger about putting their information center in such a remote spot. He had never noticed the "i's" before.
On the morning of the second day in Palm Valley, we decided to do a partial Mpulungkinya Walk, i.e., just the part along Palm Creek past the Arankaia Walk staircase. We had made our way up the creek for about an hour and 15 minutes, and were approximately 30 minutes past the staircase when Deb had her encounter with the eastern brown snake (see the Warnings or Dangers tip). Everyone was nervous after that. Deb understandably had a case of shock and needed to get back to camp. Needless to say, we went back faster than we came in, and were back at the campground in about an hour, including negotiating the four fords between the trailhead and the campground.
Mpulungkinya (Palm Valley) is in the Finke Gorge National Park. It is a beautiful site with red rock cliffs and the clear Palm Creek. Things to do include the Cycad Gorge and several walks. The Arankaia Walk (2 km, 1 hour return) is a loop that goes up to and along the valley's south rim, then back down using a man made staircase, and returns along Palm Creek. The Mpulungkinya Walk (5 km, 2 hours return) is a much longer trek up to the rim, then southwest to the upper end of Palm Valley, and returns along Palm Creek. The Kalarranga Lookout is on a spectacular rock formation, one part of which looks like a camel. It is an easy 20 minute climb (1.5 km, 45 minute return) with spectacular views of Kalarranga itself (a rock amphitheater) and rugged cliffs. The Mpaara Walk (5 km, 2 hours return) loops around the Kalarranga Lookout via the Finke River, Palm Bend and the Kalarranga valley. It introduces the mythology of the Western Arrernte Aboriginal culture in the area.
It was a cold morning but the water in the creek was still warm from the sun the day before. This made a fog rise from the water. Before sunrise you could hear the eerie calls, almost screams, of a Bush Stone Curlew (also called a Bush Thick-knee). There were many other birds also greeting the sun as it came up. See also a videoclip.
The first evening at the Palm Valley campground was beautiful, but when the sun went down, it got really cold! However, we had no campfire since our campsites were not near the designated fire pits and it would have been a very long way to where we were allowed to collect firewood. Zyg had an especially hard time with the cold since he was used to the warm weather in the Darwin area. Rosie made a nice pasta dish and we had cake and warm custard for dessert.
Cycad Gorge has the not so rare MacDonnell Ranges Cycad (Macrozamia macdonnellii) and it is where you first see the rare Red Cabbage Palms (Livistona mariae subsp. mariae). Cycads are the dinosaurs of the plant world belonging to an ancient group of plants called gymnosperms. Macrozamia is a genus of 38-40 species of cycads, in the family Zamiaceae, endemic to Australia. The majority of the species occur in eastern Australia in southeast Queensland and New South Wales, with one species in the Macdonnell Ranges of Northern Territory and three in southern Western Australia. The common name Burrawang, originally referring to M. communis in the Daruk Australian Aboriginal language, is often used for all the species in the genus. Macrozamia macdonnellii is not eaten by the Arrernte people of the Macdonnell Ranges due to the extensive process of toxin leaching that is required. I did not cross the creek to take close-up pictures of the cycads at the base of the cliff (Zyg did), but I have included a picture here of a cycad from Kings Creek, so people can see the difference between a cycad and a fan palm. See a separate tip about the Red Cabbage Palm. They are tall fan palms that grow up to 26 meters tall. The tallest palms are 100 - 300 years old, but the largest cycads are considerably older. See three videoclips of Cycad Gorge and Palm Valley.
The stairs down to Palm Valley from the plateau take you into a different world. Arankaia (pronounced rung-kee-ah) is the Arrernte name for the Red Cabbage palm. You also rejoin the Mpulungkinya (pronounced mool-ung-kin-yah) Walk. Down in the valley there are also pools of water with fish (like Spangled Perch - Leiopotherapon unicolor), shield shrimps (Triops australiensis), tadpoles and frogs. There are also, as we found out the next day, eastern brown snakes (see a Warnings or Dangers tip)! With all our picture taking, it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to do the Arankaia Walk.
Palm Valley is home to a diverse range of plant species many of which are rare and unique to the area. The Red Cabbage Palm is found only in Palm Valley and a few other small locations in the Finke Gorge National Park. A survey was done in 1993 and it determined that the population was approximately 12,300 plants, but only ~1200 mature palms. They are tall fan palms that grow up to 26 meters tall. They grow 10 - 30 cm per year depending on their access to water. The tallest palms are 100 - 300 years old. These palms are the remnants of the rainforest that once covered the area in a wetter geological time 60 million years ago and retreated into the valley as the climate got cooler and drier.
Hydrogeologist John Wischusenhas has written a PhD thesis, about how the palms might have survived through the extreme temperatures of prehistoric times because of very old ground water, and that they continue to tap into this 300,000 year old water. This water is moving slowly enough through the underlying Hermannsburg sandstone that could probably sustain the palm population for hundreds of thousands of years without any further rainfall.
There is a problem with young palms being destroyed by visitors not knowing what they are walking on. The continual regeneration of the palms is necesary for the survival of this population. Please be aware of where you are walking and keep to marked tracks where possible.
The Palm Valley campground is in a beautiful location on Palm Creek. It has running water toilets, hot showers and gas barbeques for overnight campers; however, only 3 of 22 campsites are designated for tent campers. Eleven of the campsites are for camper trailers. Campfires can only be built in two designated fire pits and you must bring your own wood. Camping fees are payable on site (cash only) and camping is only permitted in designated areas. Unfortunately the morning of the second day that we were there, the sewer system got blocked and they closed the toilets. They did re-open them around 18:00 but only for non-solid waste. There were other toilets ~0.7 km up the road at the day-use picnic area, but to get there you also had to cross a ford on a small side creek. BTW, we were careful not to pitch our tents under the river gum trees which are known to drop limbs indiscrimately.
The turn south to go to Palm Valley from Larapinta Drive is about two kilometers from Hermannsburg just west of the Finke River bridge. It is 18 km to the Palm Valley campground and 22 km to the Cycad Gorge. The road spends much of the time in the sand and gravel Finke River bed, and has many fords. It is absolutely a high clearance 4WD road. Watch the videoclip and you will believe me. Also believe that it is completely worth it. Palm Valley was the nicest remote place that we visited during the 2010 VT Survivor Camp.
Albert Namatjira is perhaps Australia's best known Aboriginal painter. He is famous for his watercolors of desert landscapes in the Australian outback. The National Archives of Australia have a nice summary biography:
"Namatjira was born into the Arrernte community at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, near Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He was first named Elea but then christened as Albert when his parents adopted Christianity. At 13 years of age Namatjira was initiated into the Arrernte community and taught the traditional laws and customs. At 17 he married Ilkalita (Rubina) of the Luritja community.
Namatjira met Australian artist Rex Battarbee who visited Hermannsburg in 1934. Battarbee tutored Namatjira in the western tradition of painting and helped him to organise his first exhibition in Melbourne in 1936. This exhibition was a success and Namatjira was encouraged to exhibit his work in Adelaide and Sydney. Other exhibitions of his work followed, especially during the 1950s.
Success brought Namatjira money, which he used to lease a cattle station. Granted in 1949, the lease was cancelled in 1950 when it was realised that cattle grazing in the area would not be viable. Namatjira then attempted to build a house in Alice Springs, but was hampered under the terms of the Aboriginals Ordinance (NT) 1918–1947. Namatjira was granted full citizenship rights in 1957. Unlike many other Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory, Namatjira was then entitled to vote, to live where he wished and to purchase alcohol.
In 1958 the Alice Springs Police charged Namatjira with supplying alcohol to Aboriginal people. He denied the charge and fought the sentence he received in both the Supreme Court and the High Court. His appeals were unsuccessful and he was sentenced to two months in prison. Albert Namatjira died in 1959."
The house where Albert Namatjira and his family lived in the 1920's is located approximately 5km west of Hermannsberg. It is a two-roomed cottage and has a small fireplace. The house was lived in by Namatjira and his family for only five years until one of their children died. So as with Aboriginal custom, they moved out of the house. This may have been 1928, since according to the detailed chronological biography by Artists Footsteps, "The 1920's were times of severe drought in Central Australia. Albert's daughter Nelda, who was born with symptoms of malnutrition in 1928, lived only seventeen months, and Albert's younger brother died, aged twenty-one. Pastor Albrecht is recorded as noting that '85% of the children died at this time'." Relatives cared for the house over many years. Following renovation in 1971 and conservation work in 1986, it was used as a small museum. Now it is pretty much abandoned and just sits empty.
On 15 Aug 2010, it was a cold morning. There was frost on the tents and car windows. We packed up camp, fueled up the cars at the Kings Canyon Resort, and headed to Palm Valley via the Mereenie Loop Road (Hwy-3) and Larapinta Drive (Hwy-6). Our first stop was at the Morris Pass Scenic Lookout, which is ~30 km north of the resort where the road goes up a steep escarpment. Besides the fantastic views, there is nothing at the lookout except for a parking lot.
Even though there was evidence in the lower part of the gorge that the creek had run 3-4 feet deep, in August 2010 there was no water until you were close to the boardwalk that goes the waterhole created by the spring (and 2010 had been a very wet year). It must have been typical and also why a windmill and water tank had been needed by the cattlemen. The videoclip of the waterhole also shows the boardwalk.
Because of the spring, there is a permanent waterhole at the head of Kathleen Gorge with a stream running out of it. The water attracted emus and kangaroos, and abundant food plants grew in the gorge. This made it a crucial site for the nomadic Luritja people. The gorge is a sacred site: the spirit of a Rainbow Serpent lives in the waterhole and guards it; and there is a ripple rock left by one of the Tjukrrpa spirit beings called Inturrkunya (pronounced un-door-goon-you) or the Carpet Snake. More recent artifacts include the cattle trapping yards where a windmill was used to pump water from the spring into a water tank. The Kathleen Springs Walk is about 1.2 km return and takes an hour. See also the videoclips of the trailhead, trapping yards and waterhole.
We saw a couple of "wild" animals at Kings Canyon that had been around people too much. One was a young dingo on the access road. Although we saw their tracks several times, it is unusual to see a wild dingo. Zyg thought that passing cars must be throwing food out the window for it, so it hangs around the road for easy meals. It was a little shy and moved out into the field by the road when we stopped. I did get a short videoclip of the dingo trotting across the field.
There was also a spinifex pigeon on the upper part of the Kings Creek Walk that was unusually tame. They are found in rocky gorges and riverbeds near permanent water, and are known to become quite tame when they have frequent contact with people. This one actually came up to me within 12 inches of my shoe. It took a while but I got a videoclip of it doing its display.