South of Alice Springs; Chambers Pillar, Rainbow Valley, Owen Springs and Henbury Craters

Monday, Sep 01, 2008 at 00:00


South of Alice Springs, including Chambers Pillar, Rainbow Valley, Owen Springs and Henbury Meteor Craters.

Leaving Alice Springs via the Old South Road (Finke Road), we followed the alignment of the now disused Old Ghan Railway. A section of the line has been retained to MacDonnell Siding; the site of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame and Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum - see a previous blog about these. A tourist train takes visitors along this eight kilometre stretch of line.

The small Aboriginal petroglyph site at Ewaninga almost 40 kilometres south of Alice Springs consists of a group of sandstone rocks, many with fine etchings, alongside a claypan. When it rained, the claypan would have been a source of water and food when animals came to drink, so Ewaninga was a special place to the Arrernte people.

Diverting from the continuing road to Finke, which at this point becomes a narrow track, we headed towards Maryvale Station and the track to Chambers Pillar.

After Maryvale and the adjacent Titjikala Community, the track deteriorated as it traversed 43 kilometres through the station.

It was a steep climb to cross the Charlotte Ranges from the top of which Chambers Pillar could be seen in the distance. Before reaching the Reserve, we crossed a number of sand dunes which had been stabilised with limestone to make crossing easy. The track was narrow over the crests, and signage asked for travellers to announce their approach on two-way radio and specified channel 10.

It is said that in the Dreamtime the Gecko ancestor Itirkawara left the Finke River and journeyed north east. Then he disregarded the strict marriage code and took a wife from the wrong skin group. His enraged relatives banished them both. The two retreated into the desert, Itirkawara raging in fury, the girl shrinking from him in deep shame. Among the dunes they rested and turned into prominent rocky formations - Itirkawara into the Pillar, and the girl, still turning her face away from him in shame, into Castle Rock.

The explorer, John MacDouall Stuart, heading north on his earliest attempt to cross Australia, first recorded the pillar in April 1860 and named it to honour his friend and financial supporter James Chambers. Prior to the overland railway, the Pillar was a significant landmark in the desert for travellers. Messages were sometimes left at the base of the pillar. Early travellers carved their names into the soft sandstone of the pillar, including John Ross, the leader of the exploring party for the Overland Telegraph Line construction and his second in command Alfred Giles.

The four wheel drive track traverses what was once a 1780 square kilometre cattle station. The Owen Springs station was acquired by the Northern Territory Government in 2000 and opened to the public in 2003. The track is quite firm, apart from the riverbed sand where the track follows the Hugh River through Lawrence Gorge.

The historic track through the station follows the route taken by John McDouall Stuart on his explorations between 1860 and 1862, which opened up Central Australia to white settlement. The telegraph line when constructed followed Stuart’s route along the Hugh River and through Lawrence Gorge in the Waterhouse Range.

Rainbow Valley, known as Warre to the local Aborigines, is a small but beautiful Conservation Reserve, with coloured sandstone that is soft, smooth and creamy looking. It is very fragile and the main ridge is slowly dissolving into the claypan, giving it a pink surface. There are different textures as well as a variety of colours in the beautiful sandstone formation. These features form part of the James Range.

Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve contains twelve craters which were formed when meteor fragments hit the earth's surface around 4,700 years ago. The craters range from seven to 180 metres in diameter and up to fifteen metres deep to six metres wide and only a few centimetres deep. The smaller ones of these are now barely visible due to the effects of erosion. The largest crater has been formed by two fragments, so is really two overlapping craters. Two spurs of dark rock on opposite outer edges mark the division which has been eroded away.

Come with us on our journey to Chambers Pillar, Rainbow Valley, Owen Springs and Henbury Meteor Craters.

Read more about this and our other adventures in our travelogues on Australia So Much to See


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