The red center is known largely as the home of Uluru, but there is much more to see in the heart of the Australian continent. Located about half way between Uluru and Alice Springs lies a natural wonder, beautiful beyond words, Kings Canyon. Part of the George Giles Range in the Watarraka national park, Kings Canyon was by far my favorite stop in our tour of the area.
We did it as part of our five day, four night tour of the area between Uluru and Alice Springs. From Uluru its about 3.5 hours (306km) drive from Ayers Rock Resort to Kings Canyon Resort all on sealed roads. Kings Canyon Resort was a lovely little oasis in the desert featuring hotel and spa accommodations as well as powered and unpowered campsites for those who are on a budget or just like to sleep out side. We paid $20 per person for an unpowered sight, and prices go up from there. The resort provides cooking facilities such as a stove and electric kettle, so cooking is not a problem. For those who do not wish to cook, the restaurant at the resort does a wonderful dinner and frequently has live music to go along with your food. They also have a bar on site, which is not terribly over priced. The staff members were all very friendly and helpful and they have people on call 24/7, which is amazing for such a small and remote place. There is a pool, of course, and numerous shaded benches for relaxing during the heat of the day. All in all the resort was wonderful and well worth the stay.
Now for the main attraction: Kings Canyon!
It is about a 7km drive to the parking lot from the resort. It’s best to start early to avoid the heat, and I have read that sunrise in the canyon can be wonderful. We did not get there till about half an hour after sunrise, so I can neither confirm nor deny such statements.
There are two main walks to do. The first is the short 2.6 km creek walk. We did not do this walk so if you want any information look it up online. From what I have read it is a lovely little walk through the canyon with various info plaques about the local flora. Part of it is also supposed to be wheelchair accessible. For those visiting during cooler months, or with a bit more go-get -um, both walks could easily be done in one day.
The other walk is the rim walk. It is roughly 6 km and meanders around the top of the gorge. It is an amazing walk. While 6 kms could easily be done in less than two hours, plan to spend at least four doing the walk. There is just too much to see and too many cool pictures to take to do the walk at normal speed.
Since 2002 the walk has been restricted to one direction, so from the car park the trail heads left. The first bit is the only real challenging part of the walk. It goes straight up a rather steep slope to the top of the gorge. There are numerous steps, and though it is actually rather short, the incline makes it a tough stretch. Take a brake at the top and enjoy the first of many wonderful views.
The terrain on top of the canyon is mind blowing. The sandstone is an amazing shade of red. It is essentially the iron ore color I picture when I hear the term “red center”. The rocks also have streaks of black and white running through them, which adds a degree of texture. The top is surprisingly flat, which makes walking easy. There are numerous places where corrugations were worn into the rock in times long past. It was rather surprising to not only learn that much of Australia, including top of the gorge, which stands over 100meters above the level of the rest of the valley, was once covered in water, but to actually see the results worn into the rock. It was an amazing piece of geological history.
In the initial stretches of the walk I was amazed by the amount of small, flat topped columns of rock, which sprout up like miniature mesas. They prevent one from seeing too far and help give the walk a much more intimate feel. They also provide good spots for picture taking. After a few Ks of winding though the red rock mesas, you come to a small bridge, which takes you over a large crack in the rock and over to the edge of the gorge. Marvel at the flat rock faces where large chunks have fallen into the canyon bellow. The sheer sides of the gorge contrasts well with the rugged, textured terrain of the top of the gorge. You can also look over the edge and see some of the massive chunks mixed in with the vegetation in the valley floor.
A bit further down, the trail works its way down a set of steep wooden stairs into a slot canyon. A short 300 meter walk through the heavily vegetated canyon brings you to the “Garden of Eden,” a permanent water hole nestled between the sheer walls of the gorge. Sit and enjoy a snack next to the pool, feel the wind on your face, and connect with and feel the serenity of the outback. Swimming is frowned upon, but I have read that it is frequently done. There were multiple tour groups doing the walk at the same time we were, so we chose to play by the rules. It is a rather unique little oasis in middle of the canyons.
One of the most unique parts of the landscape are the weathered rock domes. I am under the impression that these domes were formed when square sections of rock split apart and were then weathered down by wind and sand over millions of years. However they were formed, they are a wonderful feat of nature. Because of these domes, they have named a section of the walk “The Lost City.” The name is spot on as the numerous domes rising to various heights do resemble a city of tower tops. Mixed in with the domes are the occasional thin jagged spines with multiple diagonally split layers of rock. These formations stick out like a sore thumb amongst the weather smoothed rock due to their jagged nature. The wonderful color, the unique geology, and the easy walk make this hike a must do for any one visiting the area. It was our most enjoyable memory by far of the red center.
For those who are looking for an even more unique experience, there is the Giles track. It is a 22km overnight track that goes from Kings Canyon to Kathleen springs. We were not prepared for such a hike, especially with the heat in the mid 30s during the day, but we have been told it is an experience worth doing if the time and planning are right. It is also not normally done by tourists, so if you are looking for something of a uniquely Aussie experience in the area, that could be the go.
We arrived at the resort in the afternoon on a Monday and spent the rest of the day lounging and eating. We did the hike in the morning on Tuesday and were off again after the walk. Sadly, besides the walk, there really isn’t much to do in the area. Should you desire to spend two nights there it is doable, but one night is more then enough for most people. If you are in the area though, you must do Kings Canyon. Like I said before, it was hands down the most memorable part of the circuit.