Following the Finke River

May 31

Camp 1 - Hermannsburg - Palm Valley - Boggy Hole

Published at 23:01
Dispatch created from email
30th and 31st May

Total distance - 90km

Day 2

After the drama of the previous evening when we struggled to find each
other, the morning of Day 2 was sublime. There was a chill in the air as
the sun rose over the white gums and sandy river bed; the campfire still
smouldering from the evening.

It was 9.20am before I set off, able to follow the vehicle tracks made
by Bob the previous evening. Bob and Brian caught me at 15 Mile Camp
after about an hour and we made our way down the river - with the
vehicle going ahead and waiting for me about every 5km.

There was a brisk head wind which added extra resistance; I am
constantly working to stay upright, whether on sand or loose stones.
Following in fresh vehicle tracks in sand is generally much harder than
cycling on virgin sand because the wheels disturb sand that has settled
by the elements. Following Bob’s tracks over the loose stones tends to
help because the 4 tonne vehicle compacts the bed of stones somewhat.

All along the river were animal tracks. The hoofed animals make a real
mess of ‘my’ surface and really made it much rougher. We saw a few
cattle, a couple of donkeys and, nearer to Hermannsburg/Ntaria a lot
of brumbies.

In Ntaria we tried to look up an Arrernte Elder whom Amelia Turner in
Alice Springs had recommended, but he was not well and in Alice Springs
hospital. We were wanting to meet some local people to get more of a
feel for what the river means to them, but didn’t get anywhere. We
eventually set off toward Palm Valley at 4pm, pushing along the river
bed as before. After 8km our route joined with the main 4WD track to
Palm Valley, which is on the Palm Creek, a tributary of the Finke. We
made a diversion to the camp ground, about 12 km on the good track and
made it there as the sun set turning the rugged gorges and hills a
fiery red.

Day 3

The word has been getting around that I am cycling the length of the
Finke and when travellers at the campground see my bike, they tend to be
blown away. There are all sorts of questions, but universally people
seem to be incredibly interested.

We drove the 4km to Palm Valley over an incredibly rough, rocky track
and were in awe of the location; red cabbage palms (that probably got
there transported by birds or people and not, as I once learned, a relic
of prehistoric times), cycads and ghost gums against the red cliffs.

We returned to where I stopped cycling yesterday and I set off at 11am,
firstly along the same 4WD track which wound it’s way back and forth
over the river, before turning off after 8km to follow some wheel tracks
towards Finke Gorge.

It was utterly spectacular. The next 20km following the river bed -
sand, loose stones, sometimes over grass, and through the bush - was
incredibly rough going but it was one of the days where I just wanted to
video the whole experience to keep it forever.

There was no evidence of hoofed animals here and I was often cycling
over the fine, soft sand with incredibly rugged, red-rust coloured
cliffs that have been there for at least a hundred million years. The
place feels timeless too. It is easy to see why it is so important for
the local Western Arrernte people. It is believed that this the part of
the river is some of the oldest because it meanders through the ancient
mountains and rivers don’t meander through ranges, normally the water
runs off - therefore it is thought that this part of the river was there
before the mountains were formed. The ranges were once bigger than the
Himalayas and have eroded over time.

I had been worried that the support vehicle couldn’t get through this
section as no tracks were visible on our various maps, but Bob is such a
skilled driver, often making his own track and using intuition to make
the right choices when following old tyre tracks.

While Bob and Brian were waiting for me at Palm Glen Valley (there were
a few cabbage palms here too), Bob spotted a cave high in the cliff face
and the two climbed and scrambled up the scree for a bird’s eye view of
the valley.

Brian had a great day with his drone, capturing incredible scenery from
high above the valley. Towards the end though, he crashed it into a tree
and he and Bob between them managed to fix it with fencing wire and a
small stick on mulga wood! It works fine now and Brian was able to
capture the late afternoon light at Boggy Hole.

Today I covered 40km (starting at 11am), and although my body and the
bike are taking a beating, I feel I am starting to feel stronger. The
experience is well worth the effort so far!Images courtesy of Brian



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