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Water in Central Australia

River, Lakes, Waterholes in Central Australia

Water in Central Australia
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Rainfall and Water in Central Australia - River, Lakes, Waterholes

Central Australia is a vast arid region that stretches from Western Australia, through southern part of the Northern Territory, northern part of South Australia and the south west corner of Queensland.

It is a region spanning endless flat landscapes, huge sand dunes, salt encrusted claypans and lakes, gorges and mountain ranges. Etched in this desert landscape are the tracks of dry river beds cutting across the land, many seeming to just disappear into the sand, whilst others converge from tributaries into the major arterial riverways, that flow in to dry basins and lakes, that may be salt encrusted, such as can be seen at Australia’s largest salt lake, Lake Eyre.

Rainfall is a rare occurrence in Central Australia compared to other parts of the continent. Yet when it does rain and depending on the storm severity and the amount of the rainfall, the rain can bring flash floods and torrents, with the deluge sweeping through formerly dry channels and dry riverbeds. These swollen rivers carry such force that whole trees, boulders, pebbles, sand and other debris can be swept along the river.

Many roads get cut off, and unwary or foolhardy driver have had their vehicles swept along the river whilst attempting to transverse roads that are in the path of the swollen rivers.

Such rain often fill dried rock holes, replenish the permanent waterholes, claypans and lakes, and depending on the amount of water that has fallen, can be the trigger for the appearance of an amazing array of life. Desert and burrowing frogs appear, mate and lay their eggs, spawning the cycle of tadpoles and frogs. Desert fishes seem to appear out of nowhere and every body of water provide habitats for a variety of amazing tiny crustaceans such as fairy shrimp, clam shrimp and shield shrimp.

These small crustaceans lie dormant in the clay and sand, awaiting the arrival of rain. Once enough water has fallen is the trigger for the eggs to hatch. Like a number of other creatures in this arid landscape, they live an accelerated life cycle, laying more eggs before they die.

Palm Valley

Just as suddenly as they appear, rivers can dry up within days or hours, often leaving debris deposited across the roads. Some rivers can last longer, depending on the amount of rain that has fallen in the region, especially if the rivers are fed by a number of effected tributaries. Such rain fall patterns are often the result of weather conditions during the big wet up the far north, or rain clouds blown across from Western Australia and Queensland.

Many of these wet weather conditions are a welcomed change in a region where rain is infrequent.

Finke River System
One of the largest river systems in Central Australia is the Finke River, also cited as being ‘the oldest river in the world’, it’s starts in the MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory.

‘The Finke’ starts at the confluence of the Davenport and Ormiston Creeks, just north of popular Glen Helen. It then meanders for some 600 plus kilometres passing through the Finke Gorge National Park and like the Hugh, Palmer and Diamantina rivers all flowing inland, to the western edge of the Simpson Desert in northern part of South Australia and eventually ending up in Lake Eyre.

The Finke River winds pass Palm Valley, in fact, those visiting Palm Valley will find that part of the route is along the dry river bed of the Finke River. During times of heavy rain in the region, water also flows through Palm Valley to feed into the Finke River.

Todd River
Anyone who has visited Alice Springs, will be aware that the town sits on the Todd River. Like most rivers in Central Australia, the Todd River is a dry river bed whose origins begin in the MacDonnell Ranges. From there it winds its way pass the Telegraph Station, almost through the centre of Alice Springs, out through Heavitree Gap and continuing on for some distance  before it becomes a tributary of the Hale River, that eventually flows into Lake Eyre in South Australia.1

The Todd and the Finke, are typical examples of rivers throughout Central Australia. On the surface they appear to be dry, although at certain points along the length of the river you may find the occasional water hole. Places like Ellery Creek Big Hole and the Boggy Hole are examples of waterholes that rarely run dry.

Palm Valley
Located within the Finke Gorge National Park is the internationally renowned Palm Valley, a narrow gorge that is home to the Red Cabbage Palm (Livistona mariae), remnants of a tropical rainforest that covered this area 60 million years ago.

Much of the lush vegetation in the area is fed by groundwater discharging from the deep sandstone aquifer. The spring water can be seen seeping from small fractures and bedding planes at a number of places along the valley floor2.

River Red Gums
One of the common trees seen in Central Australia growing along the banks and even within the river bed are the iconic River Red Gums. To the original inhabitants, the Indigenous Aboriginals, the presence of healthy River Red Gums, are one of the indicators of water not far below the river bed. The knowledge of course is to know where to dig.

Check out some of the following images that show rainfall events in Central Australia:

River, Lakes, Waterholes in Central Australia - Images

Alice Springs Todd River - click here to see our gallery images of Todd River...
Todd River looking towards the MacDonnell Ranges, south of Tuncks Rd  (8 January, 2007).
Todd River

Todd River across Palm Circuit
Todd River spilling across Tuncks Road, Alice Springs.
Todd River across Tuncks Road
East MacDonnell Ranges - click here to see our gallery images of East MacDonnell Ranges ...
Trephina Gorge (Trephina Gorge Nature Park) in the East MacDonnell Ranges.    
Ellery Creek Big Hole - click here to see our gallery images of Ellery Creek...
Ellery Creek Waterhole, also known locally as ‘Alice Springs Beach’. Dingo, cooling off in Ellery Creek waterhole. Ellery Creek Waterhole (West MacDonnell Ranges)
Finke River - click here to see our gallery images of Finke River...
Recent rain and an overcast day looking across the Finke River now filled with water... Finke River from the overpass road of the Stuart Highway... The chocolate coloured water in the Finke River...
Kings Canyon / Watarrka National Park - to see our full range of images, click here...
The Garden of Eden - Kings Canyon / Watarrka National Park    
Mount Sonder Lookout - click here to see our gallery images of Mount Sonder...
As well as the famous view of Mount Sonder, this lookout takes in the beauty of the surrounding ranges, including Finke River....
West MacDonnell Ranges taken from the Mount Sonder Lookout.    
Ormiston Gorge - click here to see our gallery images of Ormiston Gorge...
Ormiston Gorge and Pound Ormiston Gorge and Pound  
Palm Valley - click here to see our gallery images of Palm Valley...
Many of the flora growing within the valley floor are fed by groundwater discharging from the deep sandstone aquifer, that can be seen seeping from small fractures and bedding planes...
Palm Valley - Finke Gorge National Park Red Cabbage Palm - Palm Valley, Finke Gorge National Park Finke Gorge National Park and Palm Valley
Palmer River - along the Stuart Highway...
Approach to Palmer River whilst travelling along the Stuart Highway... Stuart Highway over the Palmer River... Palmer River along the Stuart Highway...
Simpson Gap - click here to see our gallery images of Simpson Gap...,
Simpsons Gap (West MacDonnell National Park) Euro in the sandy dry river bed lined with Red River Gums at Simpsons Gap.  
Standley Chasm - to see our full range of images, click here...
Standley Chasm has been gouged from tough sandstone by the floods that, over untold millions of years, have surged down a narrow tributary of the Finke River system. The result is a deep red cleft, with slopes on either side rising 80 metres above the floor. During periods of high rainfall, water can be seen flowing through the chasm...
Standley Chasm - Pool of water in the main chasm. Standley Chasm - Pool of water in the main chasm.  

River, Lakes, Waterholes - Other Links

1 Australian Bureau of Meterology - Todd River and Alice Springs Region Rainfall and River Height Info
2 NRETA (Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport) - Palm Valley Spring
3 Sunday Territorian (NT News) - Todd Floods for Christmas (Paul Jackson)
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