Sleeping in has a delicious freshness to it, especially when outside. As long as you haven’t woken to the sun beating down on your canvas threatening to steam you like rice in bamboo. It will always beat the anal-retentive neighbour and his lawn mower on the weekend.
Under the remarkable shade of our own palms, we accomplished a good sleep-in. Woken by the chatter of birds, and people. The hour so late, folks had arrived to tour the old buildings of Hermannsburg and partake in their rated bakery. We dressed and promptly joined them. Vegetable pasty, possibly the greatest ever made and a big mug of coffee for our brunch in the quaint, picket fenced yard. The country tale made true with some errant pigs wandering around making a mess of the pot plants and draining the bird bath. A perfectly themed man chased them away with a broom.
I wasn’t sure how to take the history here, equal parts dark and ambitious. I am hesitant to accept full glory when the element of religion is intertwined with the survival of the indigenous population. Nonetheless, the information afforded to our tour spoke of hardships, but also partnerships. Joint endeavours and a common ground of peace and fruition in a temperamental landscape and time. Unlike some of the ruins we had explored elsewhere, Hermannsburg is a bustle of restoration and a real steady enthusiasm to keep both the history alive, and in frame.
Afterward, we reclaimed our chairs in the shade and ordered more coffee and scones. The official holiday diet.
Our fuel tank arrival to Alice Springs was imminent and as we were going to be without a vehicle, we got about thinking what we could explore in Alice. A call on the satellite phone put those plans on hold. Next time I am on the dreaded Pennant Hills Road I will take a brief moment of thanks for the churning, albeit loud and aggressive productivity of haulage in this country. Our tank may well have been on its own scenic tour from Victoria to Alice, the frequency of freight quite different to the east coast.
Without too much concern, full of scones, we rerouted our next few days and decided to check out Palm Valley. Rolling up the swag we said our farewells to Hermannsburg and headed out the short distance to the Palm Valley turnoff. The road was immediately corrugated and we stopped to air down. The temperature was high today and it was going to be interesting to see the famed Palm Valley, a real-life oasis out of the movies. A few vehicles blew passed, I can only assume they had lowered their pressures already, but given the corrugations, perhaps not. We took our time, a new track and no real rush, the track rambled onwards towards the ranges and as they got closer we were very definitely tracking the river.
The sand became more consistent and beige, rather than red. Nothing the LandCruiser couldn’t handle. There were some wheel rutted, deep, sandy bits to articulate that we enjoyed. The only ‘eek’ moment was when a big unimog tour bus came our way and we had to skirt the edges to allow them through. At the time it felt hairy, but in hindsight, the simple fact that we all squeezed through shows it wasn’t that tight after all. I think it was just the shock of the huge vehicle coming around the bend. Sometimes you can actually forget you’re in a serious tourist area. Took us a few hours to make it to camp and we set up in the shadiest, site, furthest away from the facilities. We were sharing with only a few other campers but the sites were huge, designed I think for trailers parked next to their vehicle, bollards keeping wheels off the grass. We unrolled the swag beyond the bollards and took in our new surroundings.
There had been sporadic burn off going on since we arrived and it appeared as though we had arrived sometime after the Finke Gorge had had its turn, the ridge was blackened and the heat had not allowed for new growth as yet, which would come with the wet. The char contrasted with the golden grass and deep red sand.
The facilities were at the Northern Territory standard that still impressed me, a large camp kitchen with gas burners and BBQ plates, flushing toilets and solar powered showers. We gladly paid our tiny fee to National Parks and settled back at camp. Beautifully quiet. After a while a few other campers rolled in and some of the gaps were filled, no one especially noisy and a good variety of age groups, us being the youngest I think.
Inspired by the baked goods at Hermannsburg, and the facilities, I thought I would use the camp kitchen to attempt a damper. Somewhat earlier than dinner time I figured I could bake a loaf without annoying anyone. Making it up as I went along I combined Buckwheat flour and long-life milk to create a mini dough for our Snow Peak mini oven. The resident dingo liberated the rest of my milk whilst my back was turned, at least I didn’t have to think about how to use the dregs of the carton. The thief had devoured the milk and left the carton nearby after I silently shooed it off. Their cat-like behaviour but dog like appearance confusing my natural instinct to either hiss him or her away like a cat or ‘Get out of it’ command like a naughty pup. My silent turnabout was enough and he dropped the carton. The loaf came out crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy dense on in the inside, pretty chuffed. The buckwheat made it look almost like a rye loaf, or a cleverly baked poo. But it tasted amazing with butter.
Our first night in the Finke Gorge was amazing. The moon was waning but still intense under the mesh of the swag. Listening to dingos, there were a couple sniffing around camp looking for morsels, but they barely kept me awake. We did hear a Subaru struggling along the track for quite a while though, late that night. The Boxer engine unmistakable, as was their persistence. After a while there was silence but no new resident of the camping area, we could only assume they had given up for the night and planned to sleep where they were. In the morning we awoke to the same burbling engine pulling in, an old Forester we had camped with in the MacDonnell Ranges. Whilst his Low Range would have helped, I think the low ride of his old Forester would have hampered his progress.
After a leisurely breakfast we watched the young ranger come and clean the amenities and kitchen. We cleaned up too and left camp to drive the few kilometres out to Palm Valley. It was supposed to be a considerable walk, a perfect way to spend the day, albeit the temperatures were high again. The few kilometres actually took AGES. The sand gave way to ancient river bed stone, and it’s undulating and downright swallowing holes and ledges. There was no time to take in the view of this drive; my eyes were firmly on the ground.
At some points it’s unclear which way to go as the riverbed opens up and there are multiple ways you can go. Simply scouring for the deeper holes or bigger bushes to avoid seemed the only method. There were occasional signs of struggle with black tyre marks or white scourges in the rock. We had no trouble, but it was slow for the need of concentration. When we finally arrived, there were only a few vehicles and no shade to park under.
We spoke with a lady resting in the gazebo; she was waiting on her husband on the walk. We would pass on this message if we saw him, unlikely as it was. Drink bottles in hand we set off, the warmth bouncing off of the rock. Protected from the breeze we listened to our own footsteps and the insects until we eventually rounded the bend to find the first of the mature palms. Their offspring were underfoot along the way, deep purple single frond plants.
The grove of palms was thick and alive, the remnants of last wet season mere puddles of life-granting nutrients at their feet. Penetrating their huddle would be formidable, they had reportedly been there a long time, and intended on staying for some time still.
We left the throng of insects and birds in their sky scraping heights and continued the longer of the walks around, following a wide carved gorge around. The markers took us climbing up to eventually scale the ridge and took us meandering back towards the carpark, it was hot now and our pace slowed, the vegetation was more expected up top, black mallee and grasses and prickles. Beautiful gold and creams against the blood red stone.
And somehow, we enjoyed the entire walk without seeing a soul. By the time we returned to the carpark, there were no vehicles and our waiting lady was gone. The drive back to camp took just as long, the route we needed to take less recognisable from this direction.