Finke Gorge National Park
At less than two hours drive from Alice Springs, this national park holds many and varied natural wonders.
Access to the park is strictly by High Clearance 4wd vehicles only. The road in from Larapinta Drive is dirt all the way, and can be both sandy and rocky in patches. Slow going is definitely recommended. Also be sure to collect your firewood along the road before you get to the parks entrance, as collection is prohibited past this point. As the campground allows for open fires in the communal pits – it’s a rare opportunity to enjoy a campfire at night a swap yarn with fellow travellers.
Once inside the park, there are excellent camping facilities, as well as a day-use area. Both have Gas BBQ’s and flushing toilets for your use, and the campsite even has hot showers!
At just $6.60 per adult and $3.30 per child – it’s definitely an affordable yet comfortable camping adventure.
Finke Gorge is home to ‘Palm Valley’, which the Arrente Aboriginal Custodians call Mpulungkinya (pronounced mool-ung-kin-yah).
Due to unique physical characteristics of the gorge, the plants here have access to a huge underground water store, allowing them to thrive in this rocky and harsh environment. One of the most unusual is the Central Australian Red Cabbage Palm (Livistonia mariae). This palm grows only in isolated pockets within the Finke Gorge, and is the only naturally occurring palm in the whole of Central Australia.
Growing side by side with the palms is the MacDonnell Ranges Cycad. Although not as rare, its growth is restricted to the rocky slopes where it is sheltered from the harsh sun, drying winds, and raging floodwaters.
The tallest palms in Mpulungkinya are estimated to be up to 300years old, with some of the largest Cycads estimated to be even older. It is believed that some of these plants were already growing in the valley before the first Europeans landed in Australia!! A stroll up the gorge is a must for any visitor, and you will be in awe of these beautiful tall palms that appear in an otherwise arid landscape, and the cycads and white gums that manage to grow out of the side of the rocky escarpment, seemingly hanging on by a thread, but in fact have probably been there hundreds of years.
For the more adventurous there are two designated walks clearly marked out by
the Rangers. The Arankaia Walk (pronounced rung-kee-ah) is a 2km loop walk which takes you up the valley past the lush groves of palms, and then up some stairs and back along the dry sandstone plateau which provides supurb views into the valley below.
The Mpulungkinya Track is a 5km loop walk which takes you further up the valley into thicker groves of palms, then back along the arid sandstone plateau, joining up with the Arankaia Walk not long before the carpark.
Having done both – I would have to recommend the longer walk, but leave early whilst it is still cool, and be sure to carry plenty of water, as the sun can be quite harsh along the top plateau.
Another main attraction in the Finke Gorge National Park is ‘The Amphitheatre’. This is a natural formation of a large open area encircled by stunning dark orange rugged cliffs.
It is here that you have the choice of another two fantastic walks. Kalaranga Lookout walk takes you on an easy 1.5km climb, providing spectacular views of the Amphitheatre. Sunset from this vantage point is just amazing. Watching the colour change in the rock from a golden hue, to a deep red just before the sun disappears is something never to be forgotten.
The 5km Mpaara Walk introduces the mythology of the Western Arrernte Aboriginal culture. By walking in a clockwise direction, you can follow the Mpaara dreaming story, as well as be rewarded with beautiful views of the ampitheatre.
Many people fly into Finke Gorge National Park for a day trip on their way to, or from somewhere, but I think it is worthy of much more than that. If you spend the time, camp up for a few days, enjoy the serenity, the beautiful landscape and the communal atmosphere of the campground by night, you will get a chance to truly appreciate this amazing part of Central Australia entrenched with history.