Hidden within Finke Gorge National Park, 1.5 hours from Alice Springs you’ll find Palm Valley, a desert oasis overrun with tropical palm trees.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Arrernte Nation, the traditional land of the Arrernte people who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Palm trees in the desert
- 4WDing along a dry riverbed
- Off the beaten track hikes in The Red Centre
- Spectacular red rock gorges
The Hidden Red Centre
When you think of The Red Centre, crusted red dirt gorges, dry riverbeds, and rich Indigenous culture come to mind. The last thing you’d expect to find is a grove of ancient tropical palm trees over 1000km from the coast.
Read more: Roadtripping The Red Centre Way
But that’s exactly what Finke Gorge National Park has to offer on top of all the other red centre gems you’d expect. The best part is that this spot is a little off the beaten track and you need a 4WD to access it so you get all the outback glory with none of the overwhelming crowds!
It’s worth making the effort to get out here for the views, the nature, the culture, and to escape the crowds.
The roads in and around the park are all 4WD only, but the first part is relatively easy, although quite often very corrugated. It’s not strictly necessary to lower your tyre pressure for corrugated roads but it makes the drive much more comfortable!
The gravel road is gradually replaced by a long dry, stony riverbed sandwiched between spectacular red cliff walls that loom on either side of the river.
Once you get past the turnoff to the campground, the road changes its tune. The track gets increasingly rocky with boulders, drop offs and big ruts in the track. Some sections are entirely made from undulating rocky slabs that form the base of the riverbed.
You’ll need to be in low 4WD with your tyres down to about 26 PSI. and take it VERY slowly. This reduces your likelihood of breaking something in your car and makes the ride way smoother.
It took us around an hour to get from our camp to the beginning of the Palm Valley walking trail. The advantage of taking your time is that you have the chance to take in the spectacular views of the gorge walls and stunning red rock surrounding you.
Mpulungkinya – Palm Valley
The circuit around Palm Valley is a 5km loop that takes you up onto an arid sandstone plateau before descending deep into the palm dense valley, along the riverbed and back to the car park. The views from the top of the plateau show just how miraculous it is that there are palms growing out here.
Somehow, The Red Centre Cabbage Palm thrives in the most unlikely environment, 1000km from its closest relative on Queensland’s coast. As you descend the plateau, the walk takes you deep into the grove of tall, green, and sometimes curly trees.
The bright green leaves contrasted against the red rock landscape is nature at its finest.
Mpaara Walk & Kalarranga Lookout
As you walk this track, signs along the way gradually tell the Dreamtime story of Mpaara the Tawny Frogmouth and the Pangkalanga Devil Man. The story builds as you climb the outer wall of the gorge with the final message right at the top.
Once you reach the top of the wall you’re met with a magnificent panoramic view down into the gorge and across to Palm Valley. It almost feels like something you’d see in the middle of Arizona, with huge looming red towers and ridges rising from the flat earth.
The walk then winds down the steep crumbly side onto the flat centre of the gorge. This steep descent is quite challenging and requires you to use your hands even though the walk is only a grade 3.
Try and time this walk for the last few hours of the day so you can witness the walls of Kalaranga glow red in the afternoon light and top it all off with sunset from Kalaranga Lookout.
Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather
Palm Valley Campground
It gets pretty hot out there in The Red Centre so we’d recommend staying a couple of nights and doing any hiking in the early morning and late afternoon. Palm Valley Campground is the only official camp spot in this section of the park so luckily it’s a beauty!
There’s plenty of space and shade and you can gaze across at the fantastic walls of the gorge while you relax at camp with a fire.
You’ll also find showers, toilets, gas BBQs, picnic tables, and fresh drinking water available here too.
You can’t book ahead so it’s first in best dressed with payment via cash at the honesty box. The cost is $6.60 per person per night.
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
How To Get There
The turnoff for Palm Valley is 1km from the town of Hermannsburg, 1.5 hrs West of Alice Springs along Larapinta Drive. The Palm Valley Campground is 17km from the turnoff which takes around 30 minutes.