Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park: A complete guide to exploring this hidden gem. How to get there, what to see and do, where to stay and more.
About the Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
The Palm Valley Area is a small section of the stunning Finke Gorge National Park in Central Australia. Found 140km south west of Alice Springs, it is accessed from the Larapinta Drive close to the small town of Hermannsburg. Tucked away in the north-east of the park, the Palm Valley area is a hidden gem and was one of the highlights of Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip.
Home to one of the oldest rivers in the world, the Finke River, this section of the park is full of staggeringly beautiful scenery. With massive rock formations, hidden creeks and lush valleys to explore, there’s plenty to see and do. You’ll also find some diverse flora and fauna here and none more so than the ancient Red Cabbage Palm. This rare plant species is found only in this part of the park in its famous valley and namesake and no where else in Central Australia. As well as these natural wonders, there are culturally significant sites to learn about and an awesome campsite to base yourself. Often bypassed by tourists, this is a locals favourite and a great place to get a little off track and enjoy one of the most underrated locations in this part of the Northern Territory.
Getting to Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
Hidden away off the less trafficked ‘Inner Loop’ of the Red Centre Way on Larapinta Drive, Palm Valley is found about 20km south of Hermannsburg. Just west of Hermannsburg, Palm Valley is entered via a 18km 4WD track, most of which follows the predominantly dry Finke Riverbed down to the campsite. And it’s this relative remoteness that helps keep the Palm Valley such a special and secretive spot.
For those without a 4WD or just no interest in driving themselves, day trips can be booked through companies like Emurun or AATKings. Both offer full day trips with pick ups from Alice Springs during the cooler months of April to September.
Palm Valley Campsite
There our 22 allocated camping sites and an ‘Overflow Camping’ area at Palm Valley Campground. This awesome campsite has a great setup. As well as on-site camp hosts, facilities include toilets, drinking water, communal fire pits, gas barbeques, picnic areas and solar hot showers! The latter were the first hot showers we had had since Standley Chasm, several days earlier on Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip. If visiting during the colder winter months, particularly those wanting to wash their hair (Imbi), then this is a real bonus!
Remember, ‘where possible to select a campsite that matches your camping equipment and make efficient use of your space’. We camped in site 11, one of the tent sites down by the Palm Creek. We were lucky enough to be there when the ‘mostly dry’ Palm Creek was flowing and it was a really beautiful spot to pitch our little tent.
As with most campsites in this part of the Northern Territory, payment is based on an honesty box system. All you need to do is head over to the box take and fill out the details on an envelope. Then put the correct money for your stay inside the envelope, seal it, tear off the ticket to display on your windscreen and post the envelope in the box. At the time of our visit (May 2021) prices were: Adults $6.60 p/p per night; Child (5-15 years) $3.30 p/p per night; Family (2 adults, 4 children) $15.40 per night (correct change is required).
Things to do in Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
Apart from the obvious and aforementioned camping, there’s lots of other things to do in Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park. These include hiking the various trails in and around Palm Valley, 4WDriving, wildlife spotting and watching some spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
Walks of Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
There are 4 awesome little walking trails in the area and all are easy to follow along clearly marked tracks. Two trails are close to the campground – Kalarranga Lookout & Mpaara Walks. Both walks are connected to the campsite via a 1km walking track, or you can drive and park at the trailhead shelter. The two other walks start about 4.5km down a rough and bumpy track (4WD essential) at the actual Palm Valley – Arankaia & Mpulungkinya Walks.
Kalarranga Lookout Walk – 1.5km (return)
The Kalarranga area is aptly described as a “landscape of sculptured rock and hidden valleys” and there is no better place to view it from than the Kalarranga Lookout. This short and simple walk provides awesome panoramic views of the Amphitheatre and the surrounding semicircular sandstone hills as well as great views over to the campsite. A great spot early evening!
The Mpaara Walk – 5km (return)
The Mpaara Walk offers a bit of everything – interpretive signage, incredible views and lots of flora and fauna. As you circumnavigate the massive sandstone bluff before cutting through and up the Mpaara Creek, you can learn of the ‘Dreamtime’ story of Mpaara, the Tawny Frogmouth Man and the Pangkalanga Devil Man, via the information signs. Once up the creek, there are spectacular views over the Amphitheatre, Kalarranga and way beyond. Finish by hiking down into the Amphitheatre and past the Kalarranga Lookout.
Arankaia Walk – 2km (return)
A really scenic 2km walk along the Palm Valley floor and then back up along the plateau ridge line. This is the shorter of the two walks in the actual Palm Valley, which gives you a perfect taste of this amazing oasis. Starting on the valley floor you’ll pass the famous Red Cabbage Palms found no where else in Central Australia before heading up the stairs to the plateau above. From here there are awesome views down to the valley below.
The Mpulungkinya Walk – 5km (return)
This 5km walk is the ultimate Palm Valley walk. Taking you about 2.5km further into the valley into the thick palm groves, you’ll be amazed at how lush and green this valley can be. At the halfway point, you ascend to the plateau above, taking a path that leads you away from the gorge and through an arid section of the park full different flora. You then rejoin the Arankaia Walk for those views of the valley below.
For more detailed information on all 4 of these walks checkout our guide: Walks in & around Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park.
4WDriving (4×4 Driving)
Finke Gorge National Park is also particularly popular for 4WDriving. The initial drive down from Hermannsburg snakes along the Finke River. Though predominantly dry, there are some pretty deep and sandy sections to cross. And then there’s the 4.5km track down to the Palm Valley park area from the campsite, passing Cycad Gorge. This is good fun for novice 4×4 drivers. There’s some steep, sandy and rocky areas to negotiate and sometimes even decent amounts of water to drive through.
For those with a little more 4×4 experience you can enjoy the more adventurous 4WD route down the Finke River to Illamurta Springs and onto Ernest Giles Road. Passing through the aptly and suitably alarmingly named Boggy Hole, this drive is only for those with a good bit of 4×4 experience. It requires plenty of preparation and careful planning.
Our visit coincided with one of the occasional ranger talks on the flora and fauna of Finke Gorge National park, which was both interesting and informative. Check the campground notice board for timings of these talks. We learnt about the ‘Natives’ and ‘Ferals’ of the park and area. The natives being Red Kangaroo, Euro (Common Wallaroo), Black-footed Rock Wallaby and Dingoes. These large natives are seldom seen however early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to try to spot them. As well as the ‘natives’ there are 3 ‘introduced’ species (camel, brumbies and cows) in the park. These ‘introduced’ or ‘feral’ species are being phased out of the park as they cause significant damage.
Despite seeing plenty of evidence (scat) from some of these large mammals around the park, we didn’t actually see the animals themselves. But we did come across a few brumbies close to the park shortly after we left, along the Larapinta Drive.
Although the larger mammals can be a bit elusive, there is no shortage of much smaller reptiles and insects in the park. We came across plenty on our walks. The Mpaara and Mpulungkinya Walks proved particularly popular with the skinks and dragons. We saw several Ring-Tailed Dragon, Long-Nosed Water Dragon and Fire-tailed Skink. Annoyingly the latter were always too quick for our camera! Of the insects there were also plenty of butterfly, ants and grasshoppers.
Whilst we saw plenty of birdlife on the tracks, it was the area around the campsite where we saw the most. The magnificently crested Major Mitchell Cockatoo’s fed in the trees all around the campsite. And there were Budgies (Budgerigars) literally everywhere after the wet few months at the start of the year. Others birds we saw all around the park included Magpies, Zebra Finches, White-necked Heron, Australian Ringnecks and Galahs.
There’s actually laminated photograph identification leaflets in the toilets to help you recognise the common species of wildlife you see in the park, which were particularly useful.
Where to go for sunrise
If there is a bit of water in the Palm Creek, it couldn’t be simpler! Head down to the creek as the sun rises and you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular reflections. For us, this was the perfect spot to the start the day with a coffee in hand.
Where to go for sunset
This is another really easy and worthwhile adventure. Close to the campsite, you can easily walk or drive to the Kalarranga Lookout to watch the golden hour light light up the amphitheatre just before sunset. Then sit tight and make the most of this great vantage point for both the sunset and awesome twilight colours that follow.
Checkout more: Walks in & around Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park for more photos and details about this great sunset spot.
When to visit Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
Open all year round, the park is at its most popular during the cooler months. The period from April through to September provides comfortable camping temperatures and perfect walking conditions. Visiting during the summer months can be brutally hot. It’s worth noting the park can also become inaccessible if the Finke River floods.
Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park was probably our favourite destination on Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip. It offered amazing ancient flora, stunning rock formations, lush valleys and creeks, scenic walks and a great campsite. The understated Palm Valley had it all. So if you’re planning a trip around the Red Centre, don’t miss out on a visit to one of its best kept secrets.
Useful information and packing essentials for Palm Valley – Finke Gorge National Park
- You can’t book this campground in advance. Campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. So don’t arrive too late in the day or you’ll risk missing out on a campsite. This is especially important during holidays and weekends. There is an overspill section available, but it’s best to arrive early to avoid disappointment.
- As mentioned, payment is made via the honesty box, so ensure you have the correct change.
- The prices we paid were correct as of May 2021. However these prices are apparently due to go up slightly as of July 1st 2021.
- As always leave no trace and take all your rubbish out with you and dispose of it correctly. There are NO bins in this Park.
- We recommend staying at least two nights here, especially if you want to do all the hikes.
- There’s no fenced viewpoints on these walks, so use common sense when near any edges. There are some incredibly steep drops!
- Hiking boots are not required, but sturdy shoes with good grip are recommended especially if it’s been wet.
- Consider your health and fitness levels when choosing a walk.
- Keep to designated roads and tracks to avoiding damaging the fragile surrounding landscape.
- The nearby Hermannsburg also sells Mereenie Loop permits, compulsory for all those travelling on the 160km stretch of predominantly unsealed road connecting the West MacDonnell Ranges to Kings Canyon. As permits are only valid for 3 days from purchase, you can easily buy one as you leave Palm Valley.
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