Road Trip: Along the Outback - Episode 2

June 30, 2024
By Patrick Cros

Rainbow Valley, in the magic of the Outback

Following our journey "Along the Outback" (Read Episode 1 / Coober Pedy, the lost opal town - click here) - About 640 kilometers north of Coober Pedy and 105 kilometers south of Alice Springs, Rainbow Valley is a wonder to behold, filled with living, breathing plants and wildlife. At sunset and sunrise, a jagged ridge of red sandstone wedges, weathered by millions of years of erosion, reveals glowing layers of orange, yellow, and white, further unveiling the beauty of this exceptional natural site.

Text and Photos by Sebastien Cros & Patrick Cros / Goway

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Time stands still, suspended in the last light of day. In the calm and silence of the bush, the crackling of branches reveals a discreet but intense life. A Black-footed Rock Wallaby emerges, climbing nimbly over the rocks that dominate the canyon where a now-dry river has carved its bed over millennia. There is a primal force emanating from this remote place, considered sacred by the Arrernte, the local Aboriginal people.

In this arid region, occasional heavy rains trigger the blooming of abundant vegetation and attract animals to the waterholes formed in the clay soil. These conditions provided the Arrernte with an exceptional hunting ground, as evidenced by several sacred sites where they regularly gathered. After this natural bloom, drought quickly reclaims the land, ochre soil and stones burned by the sun, in an unchanging, perpetual rhythm. Many plants have adapted to this extreme environment, such as the desert oak and spinifex, which slow their growth to conserve maximum moisture. The more fragile ones dry out, leaving their seeds to lie dormant in the sand for months until the rain returns. The reserve is home to some 400 plant species!

A lost trail

This is a place where red sand dunes meet rugged hill chains, offering a landscape of striking contrasts and a rich ecosystem.

From the Rainbow Valley Campground—where you can put your tent or park your camper for the night—a trail crosses a sandy and spinifex bed leading to a hill of stone beautifully sculpted by erosion: Mushroom Rock.

As the howls of dingoes occasionally echo in the hills, daring visitors can follow the path that winds through the rocks. The trail then disappears into the bush along ochre sandstone cliffs, dating back over 350 million years. Crafted by the elements, their crests and walls erode, forming intriguing twisted shapes.


Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is located 105 km south of Alice Springs, signposted off the Stuart Highway. A 4WD vehicle is recommended, as the dirt road leading to the reserve could be rough. The park is accessible year-round but is best visited during the cool, dry months from April to September. Camping is permitted only in designated areas, with facilities including wood barbecues, picnic tables, and pit toilets. It is advisable to bring your own firewood and water. Costs are payable on-site (

For those who want to stay until sunset but don’t want to drive to Alice Springs, Stuarts Well Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway offers a good alternative with petrol, campsites, motel rooms, and meals. Extreme care should be taken on all roads at night, as you may encounter a variety of wildlife including kangaroos, camels, donkeys, horses, and cows.

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