A waterfall in Central Australia!!
Not many would believe you. But sure enough, there it was, hidden away behind a facade river gums, mulga scrub and acacia bushes.
Fern Falls Forest
Although not a raging waterfall by tropical standards, a shower of water cascades gently down a series of small waterfalls. Located in the Chewings Range in the foothills of Mount Giles, which is the third highest peak in Central Australia and 1389 meters above sea level, this waterfall is not known to the wider public and I have given it the name of Fern Falls.
We had only been living in Alice Springs for a short while and most of the surrounding attractions were unknown to us. So at every available chance we were out exploring the magnificent gorges in the West MacDonnell Ranges.
We had heard of these falls from members of the bush walking club and drove along a very rough track west through the Alice Valley to reach our destination. There is a track marked on the Hermannsburg 1:250,000 Topographical map and it goes through 8 Mile Gap after leaving the bitumen off Namatjira Drive. The 47km from the turnoff to Giles Spring Yard is a slow drive and it can take up to 5 hours to complete. Then a further 2km on over some horrendous rocks and a deep gully you come to an open space and a place to camp.
If you value the paintwork on your vehicle then it is best to use a hire car or the company vehicle as the body is bound to be badly scratched. The last 23 km of this track is very rough and low range first and second gear is the order of the day. Mulga scrub, gidgee, corkwood and ironwood trees as well as river gums and acacia bush lie close to the track as it winds its way over one in one climbs, descents, washed out gullies and creek beds which have to be negotiated at acute angles and with extreme care. Jagged schist rocks protrude above the ground surface to rip the side out of your tyres while broken timber lies scattered along the track to trap the unwary.
Fern Falls is an amazing contrast to the surrounding harsh and desolate environment. Spring waters which accumulate in a fault line in the quartzite rocks high up in the Chewings Range feed the falls and a number of smaller waterfalls to the east and keep them flowing year round. As the waters reach the lowest pool it disappears underground to feed some very large river gums and bloodwoods.
These springs now lie within the boundaries of the newly gazetted West MacDonnell National park which stretches for 220km from Alice Springs in the east to Mount Zeil in the west. This new park will be world class encompassing all aspects of visitor requirements. Its diverse fauna and flora, unique to Central Australia, may be viewed by those willing to walk the full length of the ranges along the Larapinta Trail. This trail has been hacked out of the rocky terrain along the top of the ridges. You will be able to walk the trail for the full length of the park or do it in stages. Significant tourist attractions such as Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, Serpentine Chalet Bush Camp, the Ochre Pits, Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge and Ormiston Pound, Redbank Gorge, Mt Giles, Mt Sonder, Mt Razorback and Mt Zeil, are all included inside the park.
Ernest Giles, regarded as the last of the nineteenth century Australian explorers, travelled through this country in 1872, marvelling at its diversity and the stark beauty of the ranges now known as the West MacDonnell Ranges. From the top of Mt Giles a panoramic vista spreads before you. Gosse Bluff, a horseshoe-like comet crater, formed 130 million years ago, when a comet collided with the earth, can be seen from Mt Giles. Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil stand out majestically in the distance.
These breathtaking views along with exposed geological landforms which heighten you sense of timelessness are there to be witnessed by the fit and the healthy. Which ever way you look at it a climb to the top will be at least four hours of hard slog, crunching over loose rocks and pushing your legs between extreme prickly Spinifex clumps. Proper clothing is a must for this climb.
At Fern Falls, along the tumbling waters of the stream, thousands of ferns grow in profusion. Some so dense that you can hardly push your way through the thickets. Cycads and mosses, as well as many other inland plant species are prevalent in these small gorges. We noticed bottlebrush, ficus and also caustic vine. One of the fern species common name is Tender Brake. According to a botanist who works at the Arid Lands Research Centre in Alice Springs, much of the plant life in the Chewings Range is unique to this area and the world and is of important scientific significance. The ferns are of remnant native vegetation that has survived from the days of the dinosaurs in the shelters of the rock crevasses.
Post script: Latest information in 2003 is that there is a fence around the spring as some very rare new plants have been discovered there.. The NT Government has bought the Station over which the access track runs. This land borders on to the West MacDonnell National Park and may be destined for inclusion into the park.