A treacherous journey into Rainbow Valley is worth the effort once you lay eyes on this rugged and rocky landscape.
Read on to discover the best things to see and do in Rainbow Valley, or find and book accommodation close to Rainbow Valley today.
A trip to the iconic Red Centre is not complete without spending a night at Rainbow Valley, a spectacular destination only a couple of hours’ drive from the big smoke of Alice Springs. Heading 75km south along the Stuart Highway, this beautiful conservation reserve is accessed via a 22km unsealed road which has a bit of a reputation. Depending on the time of year, and when the track was last graded, it can become heavily corrugated so be prepared for a rough trip in.
Amazingly, this usually dry and barren landscape is home to more than 800 plant species, including the beautiful Rainbow Valley Eremophila prostrata – a fuchsia bush – and a species of saltbush, Atriplex sturtii, which only grows here. A concentrated program of weed management is ensuring the survival of these unique plants. In addition, more than 100 bird species live in this area of central Australia, along with 20 lizard species.
If you’re a photographer, Rainbow Valley should be high on your list of must-visit locations. Desert oaks dominate the landscape, and after recent rain, the usually dry desert country has exploded with colourful wildflowers and is covered with a luscious blanket of green. The sandstone rock formations – known as Hermannsburg Sandstone – also make for epic shots, thanks to their striking red and ochre tones.
Birdwatchers will also appreciate the abundance of birdlife in the region – over 100 bird species to be exact! Thanks to the lack of weeds (Rainbow Valley is actually the only weed free conservation area in central Australia) the plant and wildlife has been allowed to flourish, so also keep your eyes peeled for over 400 plant, 20 mammal and 3 frog species.
Mushroom Rock is situated right next to the dramatic rock formations of Rainbow Valley. The traditional owners request that no one climb the rocks, out of respect for their culture and to assure personal safety as the rocks are brittle. For the Southern Arrernte people, this area is an important meeting and ceremony place where families gathered when the rain was plentiful. Charcoal, grindstones and rock art, dating back thousands of years, attest to the presence of the Southern Arrernte people but can only be seen when joining a guided tour.
You pass Jack’s Lookout on the way to Mushroom Rock, and it’s named after Jack Kenny who was the patriarch of one of the local Aboriginal families and keeper of many local Dreamtime stories – he passed away in 2001. The traditional owners, the Southern Arrernte and the Luritja people, manage the conservation reserve in partnership with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service and also run guided cultural tours. Once you’ve trekked across the low-lying sand dunes, there are chairs at the top of the lookout, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the views!
Situated at the southern end of the Northern Territory, the closest major town to Rainbow Valley Conservation Area is Alice Springs.
Rainbow Valley is located 97km south-east of Alice Springs, accessed via the Stuart Highway and a 22km stretch of dirt that’s sometimes badly corrugated, and may become impassable after heavy rain.
Rainbow Valley is open all year round, however it is vital to check both weather and road conditions before travelling, as roads may be closed after heavy rain. For the absolute ideal time to visit, head to Rainbow Valley during the cooler months of April to September, as the heat in summer is often unbearable.
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