Rainbow Valley

6 September 2017

At the beginning of November 2016, we went to Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley is just over 100km outside of Alice Springs. Most cars will be able to make the journey, but it’ll be a bumpy ride, taking about an hour and a half to get there. If it’s been raining, then you’ll want to check on road conditions before heading out there.

 

Rainbow Valley, which is inside the Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, is known for its sandstone cliffs. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot, and well worth the drive. We camped, which I highly recommend. Although the drive back isn’t that long, it’s worth it to stay and see the sun set against the cliffs, to watch the sandstone turn different shades of orange and red. If you’re really into photography, you’ll get some amazing photos of the stars (and/or the moon) against the formation as well.

The drive out there is pretty interesting, because as soon as you turn off of the Stuart Highway, the dirt is bright red. And then, when you get those first glimpses of the sandstone, you’re instantly in awe of the place.

We arrived at the site just after 4pm. After setting up the tents, we started on dinner prep. The campsite itself is pretty basic. There are pit toilets, a picnic area with gas barbecues and even fire pits. Before you get to the reserve, you’ll want to gather your firewood. There’s plenty of dead trees, so we didn’t have any problems collecting wood for the night.

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You can do a little walk around the claypan, which is the area around the sandstone. After it’s rained, the claypan fills with water, and the photos people have taken of the place are beautiful. The walk is short, about a kilometer long.

There’s also a sign posted that informs you of the fact that it is a weed free area (so check your shoes and tents for any errant seeds before you go out there). Because there are no weeds, there is different flora in the area than anywhere else in the Northern Territory.

For dinner, we brought vegetarian Indian food that is sealed in foil packages. You submerge them in water to heat up the food, and in a couple of minutes, you have a piping hot Indian meal. It’s pretty awesome.

I played with my camera settings that night, and tried to get some night sky shots. A friend who really knows his stuff was there, and he was helping me a bit.

The next morning we did the walk out to Mushroom Rock. It’s hot in November, but the walk is about a kilometer, so it won’t take you that long. And, the other rock formations are stunning. 

The wind carved out these rocks, giving them these unique shapes.

It was a fun weekend camping in a new spots with good friends!

If you want to know more about the reserve, this is a pretty good, informative website: Travel Outback Australia.

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Palm Valley

14 August 2017

One of my favorite spots to camp is Palm Valley. I was just there again this past weekend, and my happy memories of the place were renewed. It takes about 2.5 hours to get there, although the times can vary widely, depending on the last 18 km. The first hour and a half of the trip is on Larapinta Dr, a paved road that will take you all the way to Hermannsburg, which is about 130 km west of Alice Springs. Hermannsburg is the last place to get fuel, so it’s worth filling up if you have a small fuel tank. The one gas station in Hermannsburg also has limited hours, so it’s best to fill up if you think you might need fuel.

Also, if you’re hoping to stretch your legs out a little, the town of Hermannsburg has a museum, a cafe and a gift store. It’s absolutely worth a visit. Here is some more information.

Back on the road, less than 2 km west of Hermannsburg is the turnoff for Palm Valley. It’s the second left, after the turn off for the dump. There will be a sign shortly after you turn off, warning you that the road is for 4WD vehicles only. From here, the path is fairly clear, but the terrain can vary. From the sand to the boulders, you’ll want to take your time. The first time we went was October 2016. It had been a while since it had rained, but throughout the winter and into spring, we’d had a bit of rainfall.

For the first approximately 15km, you’re able to collect firewood, but that ceases to be true once you enter into the Finke Gorge National Park. There’s plenty of dead wood to pick up along the way, so don’t feel like you need to stop at the first sight of wood.

The drive to the campsite is pretty fun, but then the campsite itself it what makes it all worth it. It’s beautiful and serene, and we got lucky – there was water in the river. There are a number of campsites available, and there are actual facilities at the campsite – fire pits, grills, toilets and even showers. Here’s the official website for the campsite.

That evening, we had a feast of veggie Indian meals, chips and salsa, fruit and veggies. All the food was cooked in the glow of the setting sun. And once the sun was down, we used our newly acquired wood to get a nice fire going in the fire pit. By then the birds has quieted down, but every once in a while we’d hear the howls of dingoes.

The next day we went to the Palm Valley hike. It’s 4 km away, but because of the rough terrain, the rangers say to allow 45 minutes to get there. For us, it took about 20 minutes.

Palm Valley is a place not to be missed because of the Red Cabbage Palm Trees. You don’t expect to see palm trees in the middle of the desert, and yet here they are. And they have been here for thousands of years.

 

The day started cloudy, which we were grateful for because we knew as soon as the sun emerged, it would be hot. Hiking in October can be risky! We started hiking just before 0900, but in a short period of time, the clouds would dissipate, and it would indeed get quite warm. The hike is about 2 hours, but once you climb through the valley, and up onto the ridge, there is no shade. Make sure you bring plenty of water and a hat!

 

Biking to Simpsons Gap

18 June 2017

Last October, on a lazy weekend, we decided to bike to Simpsons Gap. We knew that the transition from spring to summer was well underway, and that daytime temperatures would be hot, so we decided to start our journey early. The bike ride is about 24km from our house, so we figured it would take about 2 hours to bike it (although, not having ridden in a while, I was allowing for closer to 3 hours!). We packed a picnic in the saddle bags, and then off we went a little after 0700 to meet up with a friend who was cycling with us. Here‘s the official trail information.

The first 7ish km are from Alice Springs to Flynn’s Grave. You’re riding in the street, but fortunately there’s not a lot of traffic, especially at 0700, so it didn’t feel claustrophobic to be on the street with the cars.

Flynn’s Grave is a landmark in Alice Springs. It’s located on the opposite side of the street that you’re riding on, and it’s definitely worth checking out. The man it commemorates is John Flynn, a minister who lived and worked in the Outback over a century ago. His persistence for better rural medical care is what led to the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

From this point, it is another 17km to Simpsons Gap. The trail easily meanders past various Outback plants, like Mulga shrublands and grasslands. We were on the lookout for kangaroos and rock wallabies, as well as the perenties!

This was our first time on the trail, and the views of the MacDonnell ranges are breathtaking. The trail is well maintained, and wide enough to ride two abreast. There are also multiple interpretative signs along the way that explain the current and ancient landscape.

About two hours later, we made it to Simpsons Gap. We parked up the bikes and then found a shady spot under a tree to enjoy our view and eat our food, and to drink lots of water.  Even though it was only 0900, it was getting warm and we knew we didn’t want to be out in the hot sun at 1200. We chilled for about half an hour, and then back on the bikes we went.

The way back felt a little longer, and the hills a little harder, but that’s probably because it was inching up past 30ºC, and we were starting to bake. But, we made it back by 1100, after biking more than 40 km. We felt pretty good about our day! We even went to the Central Australian Aviation Museum on the way home!

If the video in the begnning doesn’t work, you can find it here.

Hiking part of the Larpinta Trail

20 May 2017:

At the end of September 2016, we decided to go on a camping trip. It was a little late in the day when we decided this, but the weather had been really nice, and we wanted to take advantage of it.

We decided to head west on Larapinta, and chose Glen Helen as our starting off point. They let us park our car there, and then we walked across the street, just a couple of minutes west until we saw the trail. At Glen Helen, there was a sign that said we were 4.3 km from the Larapinta Trailhead at Finke River. Once we reached the trailhead, we had to decide if we wanted to walk Section 10 or 11 of the Larapinta trail.

The path to the trailhead is vehicle accessible, and it meandered next to the Finke River. There had been some recent rains, so the river, while not full, did have some water in it. There were a number of people who had driven out to spend their weekend by the river. We walked along the trail for a while, until we came to a fence. Seemingly it was preventing the cars from going any further, as there was an opening for people. Since we’d left our map at home, we just continued to use the Finke River to orient ourselves.

After walking for about an hour, we came across a part of the riverbed with some water, and we decide to stick our toes in.

About ten minutes up from where we stopped was the trailhead for the Larapinta Trail. It’s about 4:30pm by this time, so we know that we won’t be able to complete either trail. We decide to head West to Redbank Gorge. Now that we’re on the trial, there are blazes that guide us along the correct path. We head west until about 5:15pm, looking for a place to set up camp. When we don’t find one, we decide to head back towards  the Finke River, where we know we can camp. Sun set around 6:15pm, so we didn’t want to still be looking for a place to camp once the sun went down.

We found this awesome spot along the river to set up our tent. Our tent is almost all mesh, so you have a fairly unobstructed view outside of the tent. Once the tent was up, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, which we enjoyed as the golden glow of the sun descend upon us.

By 7:30pm, the sun was completely gone, and we enjoyed looking at the starry sky, trying to guess which constellations were above us.

That morning, after many hours of sleep, we had some granola bars for breakfast and then packed up our tent. We thought about walking further along the trail, but decided instead to have a lazy morning and head back to the part of the river that had water in it. We stayed there for a couple of hours, and then headed back to Glen Helen. We got some ice cream, and then walked out to see the gorge. Then back in the car for the hour and a half drive home. Weekends in the Outback don’t get any better than this one!

Our first visitor

19 March 2017

At the beginning of September, we had our first visitor, Sophia, a friend of mine from college. We met when we studied abroad in England, and bonded over our love of travel and excitement to see the world. Since our study abroad days, we’d only been able to meet up a handful of times, but we both have continued traveling as often as possible. Finally, the stars had aligned, and she was coming to visit me in Australia!

We had a whirlwind agenda planned, meant to cram in as much of the Outback as possible. She flew in from SFO on Friday, and after scooping her up at the airport, we went back to the house long enough for her to put her stuff down, grab a quick shower, and then pack up the car. The plan was to head to Uluru Friday night, explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta on Saturday, and then on Sunday, drive to Kings Canyon and explore, heading back to Alice Springs on Monday.

Off we went.

We stopped at the various roadhouses along the way, filling up the fuel tank at every opportunity, just in case the next roadhouse was out of fuel (so far they have never let us down).

While headed to Uluru, about half an hour after the turn off for Kings Canyon,  Mount Connor comes into view, which, to the untrained eye, looks like it might be Uluru.

Mount Connor
Mount Connor

Mount Connor, which is also known as Attila and Artilla, is 859 meters above sea level and 300 meters above ground level. Read about it more here.

Finally, after being on the road for just under 5 hours, we made it to the Ayers Rock Campground. There is every type of accommodation available at this resort/campground, from the non-powered tent site (which we chose), to the $400 plus a night rooms. There are outdoor grilling/cooking locations, as well as fancy restaurants. You can even book a number of experiences through the resort, from dinner in a Field of Lights to helicopter rides above Uluru.

After we set up our tent, and Sophia set up her swag, we grabbed our cameras and positioned ourselves to watch the sunset, which at this time of year was just before 7pm.

We walked from the campground to one of the resort food courts. On the way there, the path was easy to follow, but on the way back to the site, it was pretty dark, so I’d recommend you bring a light. Food was fine – we went to the Noodle Bar and enjoyed their large portions.

The next morning, we woke up before the sun so we could get to the the Kata Tjuta dune viewing sunrise area. The entry to the National Park is about 20 minutes away. The Park opens about half an hour before sunrise, so check when you’re there for those times. We got there just before 6:30 am. We chose the Kata Tjuta dune viewing sunrise area because one of Ayers Rock employees recommended that location, as you can see the sun rise over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

After the sun came up, we headed to Kata Tjuta. We chose to do the Valley of the Winds walk, which is 7.4 km if you do the full walk (about 4 hours). There’s two lookout points along this walk, the first one is 2.2 km return (one hour), and then the second one is 5.4 km return (2.5 hours). There are a couple of water points along the way, but it’s recommended you bring one liter an hour per person. (More on the walk here and here.)

There had been recent rains, so the wildflowers were in bloom and it made the landscape beautiful.

After this hike, we decided to check out Walpa Gorge. It was a quick walk, but worth stopping for, as the views are beautiful there too.

After that we left the park and went back to the campsite to take showers and to grab some snacks to eat for our sunset watching plans back in the park at the Uluru sunset viewing area.

We were not disappointed.

The next morning we got up early, but not before the sun, and packed up the campsite and headed to Kings Canyon, which is about 3 hour drive away.

We went straight to the Kings Canyon rim walk, knowing that the walk would take about 4 hours. More here, here (this one has some great info!), and here about the walk.

Back at the Kings Canyon Resort, we set up camp, and then headed to the sunset viewing area.
Sunset
Sunset over the George Gill Ranges
The perfect end to an awesome trip!

Giles Track

22 January 2017

A bonus hike for us when we were down in Kings Canyon in August 2016 was walking the Giles Track. We stayed overnight at the Kings Canyon Resort Campsite. It was fine, but we liked the Kings Creek Station Campsite better. The Resort is slightly cheaper, but the camping area was just a couple of grassy areas where you could pitch a tent. But, if you don’t bring your own food, this place definitely has more places to eat (and they are open later than at Kings Creek).

Giles Track is mentioned as a walk in the Watarraka National Park. It’s 22km return, with the midway point at Kings Canyon. We weren’t planning on doing a 2 day hike, but we wanted to check it out.

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Giles Track

From the road, the Giles Track is not signposted, so you have to follow signs for Kathleen Springs. Until we saw this information sign a few steps into the walk to Kathleen Springs, we still weren’t sure we were at the right starting location. We decided to hike to Hill Mulga Creek, which according to this sign, was two hours away. On a cloudy day, a four hour hike with six liters of water seemed like a good goal.

We started just before 10:00 am, and pretty quickly we were rewarded with great views down into Kathleen Springs.

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Looking down into Kathleen Springs from Giles Track

There had been quite a lot of rain recently, so the landscape was lush and green. There were pretty little flowers all over the track, but beware the spinifex, which will sting you if you get too close!

At the beginning of the trek, the markers were a little hard to follow, but if you pause long enough, you should be able to spot them.

The map we had of the hike was not detailed enough for us to know when we reached Wanga Creek, or Hill Mulga Creek, so we did our best to use bends in the road as landmarks. We think this is Wanga Creek. We spent a good deal of time exploring this little area and enjoying the scenery.

Then we trekked onwards, continuing west. Around 12:00pm, we decide to stop and eat. We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, plus an assortment of trail mixes and nutrition bars.  We had an awesome view of the valley as well.

It had been about 2 hours since we started, so we started to think about turning back. Since we weren’t quite sure where Hill Mulga Creek was, we decided to push on a little further, to see if maybe we could spot it. The trail, while there are blazes to keep you on the right path, does not provide any information signs.

We walked for another 20 to 30 minutes until we thought we came to Hill Mulga Creek.  And then we headed back.

We got back to the Kathleen Springs Trail just after 3:00pm. The Giles Track is definitely a hike I want to do in full!