Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is located about 75 km south of Alice
Springs along the Stuart Highway. From there take the left turn onto unsealed
road. A 4 wheel-drive is recommended, with the total distance being
approximately 97 km.
These free standing bluffs and cliffs form part of the
James Range. It is a place where the dune fields meet the ranges, providing a
place of stunning contrasts, with varied scenery and diversity of plants and
During the good times, heavy rain fills the claypan, providing a stunning mirror
reflecting the cliffs of Rainbow Valley. Although flooding rains is a rare
event, when it happens, the desert moves into top gear. Plants spring in to
frantic growth, flower and then set seed before the soil dries out again. During
this time, insect, birds, reptiles and mammals go into feeding and breeding
frenzy, whilst the bounty lasts.
There are some stunning photographs available of Rainbow Valley reflected in
the water laden claypans. For those not so fortunate, the late afternoon and
early mornings are some of the best time to view the ‘rainbow band’ colours of
Drought of course is the normal state of affairs here in the valley. During the
hard times, desert life adapts as the conditions become drier. Many plants such
as desert oaks and spinifex simply slow right down to conserve precious water.
The soft grasses and herbs wither and blow away, their seeds remaining dormant
in the sand for years until the right conditions return again. Many of the
wildlife either move on or die off as the food shortages become critical. Others
survive by slipping into hibernations as they await the next rains.
Things to do
You can walk to the arch-shaped formation known as ‘Mushroom Rock’. Allow one
hour for the return walk.
There are a number of other short walks in the planning stage at the time of
There is a recommended cultural guided tour with the
Valley Cultural Tours. Experience the landscape with traditional Aboriginal
custodian of the land, where you will learn about the cultural significance of
the region and
taken on a tour of the land revealing bush food and medicine, rock art and
Access to other areas of the Reserve is by permit only.
Late afternoon in winter provides some of the best times to be in Rainbow
Valley, as you can photograph it glowing in the setting sun. In summer, the sun
is too far south, and the main rock face is in shadow at sunset.
is permitted in designated areas only with facilities including gas, wood
barbecues, picnic tables and pit toilet. It is advisable to bring in your own
firewood and water.
For those who want to stay until sunset, but don’t want to
drive the 99 km back to Alice Springs,
Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway has fuel, camp sites, motel rooms and meals.
Turn left at the highway, and Stuarts Well is approximately 15 km further on.
also provides the opportunity for visitors to get up close with camels and also
have a camel ride.
Care should be taken on all roads at night, as you may encounter a variety of
wildlife including kangaroos, camels, donkeys, horses, and cows.
Be Prepared When Walking
All walkers should wear a shady hat, sun block and sensible footwear and clothing
on all walks. It is essential to carry plenty of drinking water, particularly in
Avoid strenuous activity in the heat of the day. If walking ‘off-track’ for
any distance avoid walking alone and always notify a reliable person of your
route and intended time of return.
Survival in a harsh land
The Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve forms part of the traditional lands of
the Southern Arrernte people. Their association with the region stretches back
many, many thousands of years, as is evident from numerous sites that include
evidence of rock shelters and camping places, providing evidence of grinding
stones and stone tool chips. Also around the hills and ridges are numerous rock
engravings or petroglyphs and rock paintings, some are faded due to exposure to
the environment, but can often be seen under the right environmental conditions.
The best way to view this history is through a guided tour with the descendents
of the original traditional owners.
Immediately to the south of the main rock formation stands a large rock
massif, known as ‘Ewerre’. This outcrop, together with the surrounding 50 m, is
a registered sacred site, of deep significance to the southern Arrernte
Aboriginal people. You are asked to respect their culture and beliefs and do not
photograph this area or remove any rocks.
Source: NT Parks and Wildlife Commission signage
For more information contact the local tourism visitor information centre. If
you are looking for a place to stay, check out our listing of
Central Australia accommodation.