Then came the moment I'd been waiting for all day, sunset. The time when the colours of Rainbow Valley come alive, certainly living up to its reputation of one of the most spectacular locations to watch the sun go down.
Our driver for the day was Craig Cotterell, who grew up at Stuarts Well 90km south of Alice Springs
. Craig studied geology at uni and was full of information on the formation of the geological forms along the way. At the intersection of the Stuart Highway and the Rainbow Valley road we met up with Craig's dad, Jack Cotterell. Jack's a well known local identity, having helped set up the original accommodation at King's Canyon
. He was accompanied by another of Stuarts Well's famous residents 'Dinky' the singing dingo. Unfortunately we didn't have a piano handy, so 'Dinky' wasn't able to give us a demo.
The road in is recommended for 4WDs, and can be rough and corrugated at times. About 30km in we can see the ridges of Rainbow Valley poking above the horizon. Soon after we turn off down the 'back road' and head around behind the valley itself. Here we come to a locked gate. This area is now off limits to the general public, and Alice Wanderer has exclusive rights to this area of the reserve.
Soon after we arrive at ranger's station and were greeted by Ricky Orr, a traditional custodian of the area. Over a delicious lunch of cold meats and salads, plus billy tea, Ricky explained his family's connection with the land, and about the cultural values of the area.
After lunch we continued onto the site which the Southern Arrernte/Luritja people, the traditional owners of the Wurre (Rainbow Valley) lived for hundreds of generations before the arrival of Europeans. The site has been left in its natural state. No signs, no handrails or fences to interrupt the experience of walking through this amazing place.
As we walked away from the coach Ricky picked up a large stone with a distinctive smooth depression on its face. This was a grinding stone, used to grind up seeds into paste that was then combined with other ingredients and cooked in a camp oven to produce a type of traditional damper.
Also scattered around here were small pieces of quartz, which were off cuts from a larger piece of quartz that may have been fashioned into a knife of a spear tip. Since the nearest quartz quarry was several hundred kilometres away, the fact that it was found here was evidence of trading between Aboriginal tribes.
Ricky then showed us a number of Petroglyphs (symbols that were carved into solid rock) scattered about the area. Many of them have a meaning that has been lost in time, whilst others depict some of the local wildlife, such as perenties and bush turkeys.
A short climb leads to a rock overhang that the Aboriginal people used as a shelter. Here we found a boulder that had a number of grooves worked into it by thousands of hours of sharpening spears.
Further on was a small gorge with more petroglyphs, and a number of paintings and hand stencils inside another small overhang. Along the way Ricky pointed out a number of plants that his people used as a food source and for medical needs.
After our walk around the occupation site we were driven around to the side of Rainbow Valley that most people see. There we walked around to Mushroom whilst Ricky explained the story of the hailstones (small round rocks that littered the ground), and even performed a traditional ceremony to help bring about some much needed rain to the region.
Then we returned to the coach where Craig had a platter of nibbles prepared, and a glass of champagne for each of us.
Then came the moment I'd been waiting for all day, sunset. The time when the colours of Rainbow Valley come alive. This distinctive formation is made of ochre of a range of colours, from white, to a deep red. It certainly lived up to its reputation of one of the most spectacular locations to watch the sun go down.
Afterwards we boarded the coach and were driven back to Alice Springs
, all very happy about the day we'd had.
This was certainly a unique tour, and the fact that you venture into an area off-limits to most was really special. I found it most interesting listening to the different ways with which the geologist (Craig) interprets the landscape, from the way traditional custodian (Ricky) views the natural features.
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