We didn’t get our first off-roading experience until the second day of our trip, when we left the West MacDonnell Ranges and made our way to Finke Gorge National Park. Along the way we stopped to look out upon the site of the Tnorala Crater, the remains of a 142 million year-old impact originally 20 km in diameter. We even drove into the Gosse Bluff Conservation Park to see the crater from the inside.
We arrived at our destination by sunset, hundreds of kilometers later along bumpy red dirt and gravel roads, and set up camp within Finke Gorge National Park. This would be the most remote camping spot throughout our entire trip, and probably the most remote place we’ve ever camped, accessible only by 4WD vehicles.
The next morning we continued along the 4WD-only road to make the final stretch to Palm Valley. This last 5-km section, which we were warned about, would prove to be the most difficult four-wheel driving throughout the entire trip. At least it was difficult for us, having very little previous four-wheel driving experience. After half an hour of crawling over boulders and sand dunes, we decided to abandon our car and walk the rest of the way!
Here, in the middle of a harsh arid landscape, was an oasis nourished by ancient underground springs. Here we would encounter a landscape reminiscent of Australia’s tropical past. Throughout the valley were hundreds of Red Cabbage Palms, a prehistoric plant species found nowhere else in the world.
And we also witnessed this awesome halo around the sun. Any atmospheric scientists want to explain this to me? Something about refraction through ice crystals…
That day we ventured on along more bumpy outback dirt roads, almost running out of petrol, before finally reaching King’s Canyon in Watarrka National Park, 60 km after our fuel empty light first went on.
The journey (and risk of being stranded in the middle of the outback) was certainly worth it. After the sunrise next morning, we did the spectacular 4-hour King’s Canyon Rim Walk.
Most interesting of all was the alien landscape, a maze of beehive rock formations appropriately called the Lost City. It felt like being on another planet! Any sci-fi filmmakers out there?