There is a 100 km short cut between the end of the West MacDonnell Ranges and the little Aboriginal community of Hermannsburg. This short cut has a fearsome reputation for being stony and corrugated. And whilst it does go past the 4.7 million year old, 5 km wide meteorite impact crater of Gosse Bluff, it also saves you only 100 km. Whilst I was very keen to see the crater, the potential for new stone chips on the van won out and we decided on the chicken run on the bitumen. It was a wonderful treat to drive back past the ranges, aptly described by one scientist on a National Parks podcast as ‘a pile of Persian carpets folded up with the top then cut off’.
Hermannsburg was founded in the 1880’s as a mission by a few German missionaries, one of whom was Finke, who was lucky enough to have the local river named after him. Nowadays, it is separated into the aboriginal community (with no white access), and the original mission, where we camped. The story is unusual in that Finke, Schultz and the other missionaries were progressive enough to try to retain and not completely destroy the indigenous culture. Although as history is typically written by the victors and not those they oppressed, there were certainly very clear elements of westernism that crept into the mission statement until it was handed back to the locals in the 1920’s.
Our whole raison d’etre for coming here was to use it as a launch point to visit Palm Valley, a short drive on a 4WD track noted as ‘severe’. The first 22 km you could probably do in a Corolla, the last 2 km however, were pretty rough and we needed both inches of the Cruiser’s lift kit to avoid scrapes. Our first stop was Kalarranga lookout, about half way to Palm Valley. This offers breath taking views of the surrounding iron oxide red sandstone cliffs and boulders that rim the lookout.
Views from Kalarranga lookout. Really sensational.
I thought ‘even if Palm Valley is a dud, this will have made it worthwhile’. Lucky we stopped there, because we all felt that the actual Palm Valley was a bit underwhelming. The red cabbage livistona palms, nestled in a shallow valley, are well away from the walking tracks, so rather than walking through the palms, you walk beside them in the sun. Not entirely pleasant in our case on a 35 degree day. I did the longer 5 km walk whilst Kris and the boys did the shorter 1.5 km walk. They didn’t miss anything.
After a fun 4WD trip back (meaning lots of video of me going over rocks – which looked rather tame in replay), we visited the Hermannsburg museum for its famous apple strudel and a walk around the mission buildings. A gallery houses some original works by Albert Namitjira, the famous Indigenous landscape painter who was born here. Tragically, after being granted citizenship in 1957 (I’m pretty sure the aboriginals were here first), he died two years later after a spell in prison for selling alcohol to a mate(aboriginals were not able to buy alcohol at the time, only white ‘Australians’). The gallery also had a few similarly styled paintings by his children. They were not even a pinch of his quality, but as Wilde once quipped, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.