Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine 1993
This scenic bluff is part of the James Range just 75km south and 22km east off the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs.
The area first came to the notice of Cameleer Noel Fullerton of Camel Outback Safaris in the 1970’s when a local miner took up a quarrying lease over the sandstone outcrops in the valley. Noel was operating camel treks through the area and realised the tourism potential. He made representations to the NT Government and was successful in getting the valley classed as a conservation reserve.
The valley is rich in geological phenomena as well as sites of significance of aboriginal occupation in the past. The Northern Territory Conservation Commission excised 30 square kilometres from the pastoral lease of Orange Creek Station and by 1986 Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve came into being.
Today the area is fenced with special gates installed for camel traffic. You are able to drive up to the main bluff in your vehicle but the last 1km is 4×4 only as the track that skirts the claypan becomes very sandy. The public is requested not to drive on the claypan when wet as bogging is inevitable and tyre tracks and gouge marks detract from the beauty of the place and damages the environment. Camping is allowed and there is an honesty box charge system. Steel barbeques have been provided as well as pit toilets. There is no water or fire wood so take sufficient supplies with you.
The rainbow coloured bands in the sandstone cliffs are caused by water leaching downwards. Thousands of years ago when the central Australian landscape was experiencing wetter conditions than the present the red iron of the sandstone layers was dissolved and then drawn to the surface in the drier periods. The mineral in the soil formed a dark red ironised surface layer and exposed leached white sand layers below. The dark red surface capping is slow weathering whereas the white leached soil types weather quickly into loose sand.
On the eastern side of the bluff the desert sands have been blown into a dune against the sandstone wall.
The Arrernte clan of aboriginal people lived in the area for thousands of years. Throughout the surrounding hills many petroglyphs as well as ochre paintings may be found. Scientists have not been able to date the petroglyphs accurately but many believe they may be between 10,000 and 30,000 years old. Photographs of the Arrernte people as recent as 1930 show them to be walking around naked and still living in this area. They were hunters and gatherers and practised a very strict and complicated social structure. Their religion encompassed totemic beliefs in rocks, trees, mountains, water, etc.
Rainbow Valley is accessible all year round but the best time to visit would be in the cooler months from April through to September.
Early mornings and sunsets are a photographer’s delight.