Ahhhhh, the serenity! After a whole week in compulsory caravan parks (there really is no other options at Uluru and Kings Canyon) we were going totally bonkers and in desperate need of some remote camping.
We had always planned to do the Mereenie loop after Kings Canyon, but were unsure of the road suitability with our Glamper. After speaking to a couple with kids and a camper trailer in Winton who had done it, we were sure we would be fine. On our departure from Kings though, we checked in with the reception people to do a last check of the road conditions especially after about 4 days of slight rain. The road was open with only a couple of spots with “slight caution” and one spot with “extreme caution”, we decided to ignore the “unsuitable for caravans” bit….. Karen is a camper, not a caravan!
Anywho, on the way back from the reception I got chatting to a bloke who had taken the Mereenie loop just yesterday to run into Alice to pick up some bearings for his busted trailer, they had been doing some pretty rough stuff. He said it was up there with some of the worst road conditions he had driven yet! He strongly advised that we don’t do it in Karen Camper…..hmmm…. This would mean we would have to go back to Alice the way we got in, ie back track over road we had already driven…. Something Jess and I have realised we have a rather severe allergy too.
I confirmed that it was plenty wide enough to turn around if we don’t like it, and decided we would give it a shot. We bought the permit required ($5.50 per car from the servo) and grew ever more nervous as the attendant told us 2 4wd’s had already turned around this morning, so we filled up with magical rocket juice (at $2.34p/L I assume it’s magical??) and headed off.
Well, it was fine. Sure Karen lost a mud flap and the foot off one of her legs, Peter Prado has a new rattle (or 7) but it was fine. We dropped tyre pressure down to 25psi all round and took it eeeeeeeasy. This road was different to the Plenty or the Harts Range road, which were both really just corrugations and a few exposed razor blades, the Mereenie Loop was corrugations, washouts, pot holes (or craters more correctly speaking) soft sand, rocks, boulders, the odd spare tyre just lying on the track (had the wrong stud pattern to be any use to us, bugger!) and a few random mountains of brumby poo…… All and all not that dissimilar to the Bruce Highway.
After being told we couldn’t do it by a number of people, we thought we would take our sweet time and take a few days to get to Glen Halen Station, but, because we were making good time we decided to branch off and check out Palm Valley, the thing attracting me was the “extreme high clearance 4wd track, no caravans”. After a week “camping” next to 40 foot caravans and Maui and Britz motor homes filled with foreign tourists running their aircon and hair dryers all day and night, this looked like a winner.
Well! I can tell you, this place is a must do on anyone’s list! It took us about an hour and a half to get in, driving some really beautiful country, essentially 80% of it driving up the dry Finke river bed (washed river rock base, all smooth large rock/pebbles plus sand) Beautiful!
The campground has gravel sites with some grassed areas, 3 communal fire places, flushing dunnies and……. Hot Showers! (Well, it’s solar hot water, but being the sun has come out since waaay back when Julia was Prime Minister there was none) and how’s this, the ranger came down at 1900, lit a big fire and sat around telling us all about the park, the challenges, future plans, joint management etc, very informative. Although I think he has talked Jack out of being a ranger now with his many references to the fact that a ranger is just a glorified maintenance guy, fixing fences and signs, and cleaning toilets. So Jack will now do a bachelor of science majoring in biodiversity, or just become the next Steve Backshall.
So we found a spot without too many dingoes circling, set up and planed the next day, head down to Cycad Grove and the actual Palm Valley.
Now this track was “high clearance 4wd only”!! There were a bunch of “diff banger” spots on this track, and man-o-man was Peter Prado flexing his legs, we had a ball! It was great to be unhitched and push into somewhere not every bloke and his Rav 4 can get too. (Sorry Benji, I think even Raging Rav would have got hung up on her diff’s through here, there were plenty of gouges and scratches on the rocks through here). As rough and tumble as this was, I only engaged the low range once for about 10mtrs of very uneven rather steep rock hopping.
Anyway, we made it to the beginning of the walks (a dirty word for the kids at the moment, poor kids, I reckon they have done about 40klms of walking in the last week!) whilst this was a spectacular spot, and very few people, I think it would probably be more enjoyable if you were into the Red Cabbage Palm, which is really the whole point of Palm valley. This is the only place on the planet where they grow.
Not saying it wasn’t a nice place to have lunch.
So, if you find yourself in this neck of the woods, make the trip into Palm Valley, you will easily get a camper in (although a few of the other punters down here see us and wonder if we got Karen Heli dropped in) it is well worth it and there is a great track to really test the approach and departure angles along with the limits of your rigs suspension.