One hour northeast of Uluru (by car) is Watarrka National Park—the home of Kings Canyon. I was lucky enough to check this one off my list on my adventure to the Red Centre in September 2013, which one year later I am still writing about.
Kings Canyon is a massive gorge, with red sandstone walls that rise over 100 metres to a plateau of rocky domes and other sandstone formations.
Like so many of the beautiful features of Central Australia, Kings Canyon is a sacred Aboriginal site. Water, of immense importance in the desert, is one of the keys to the sacred aspect of the canyon. The canyon traps falling water and as a result is teaming with life (at least by comparison to its surrounding environment). At the bottom of the canyon is a pool of water that remains year round. At one time, weary hikers would take a plunge into its cool waters. But given the cultural significance of the site, swimming is no longer allowed.
The “Garden of Eden”—
a permanent waterhole in Kings Canyon.
What is most attractive about Kings Canyon is the solitude. It has half as many visitors as Uluru. The remoteness is further enhanced by the fact that visitors are only allowed to enter the Rim Walk from one direction, which limits the number of people you come across on your hike.
There are actually two hiking choices: (i) a 2km walk along the base of the gorge that takes roughly one hour and (ii) a 6km loop along the top of the canyon that takes roughly 4 hours. This latter walk, also known as the “Rim Walk”, is the most impressive.
The word of warning I bring here is that solitude can equal danger. There is no water on the trail and so you will only have what you bring. The heat is scorching and dry. Daytime temperatures in summer can exceed 104° F. And this is a very remote location. If something goes wrong, getting medical attention will likely not be swift.
In short, the Rim Walk is not a hike to be taken lightly. In fact, when I was planning my parents’ vacation in Australia this year, I originally wanted them to visit Kings Canyon. On reflection, I thought better of planning such a trip as it seemed to me that the Rim Walk was a bit too ambitious.
The most difficult part of the Rim Walk is the beginning. You start the walk by ascending the canyon via what is known as “Heart Attack Hill”. This diabolical stairway is actually part of a grander plan. It weeds out the weak for whom the hike would be too dangerous. I barely made it up the steps. My fingers became swollen. My breathing became labored. And I turned a deep shade of purple.
The base of Heart Attack Hill.
Once at the top, things weren’t so bad (though I did drink a lot of water).
Start your hike early to avoid the heat of the midday sun and to have the best chance of spotting wildlife. And stay away from the edges of the canyon and the stunning jutting outcroppings. Although they make good photo opportunities, they are dangerous and could collapse.
As I walked the canyon walls changed color with the movement of the sun. The black and red mounds of rock that had slowly worn away were hard to distinguish and yet the shadows made then seem almost alive. There was a point where the trail allowed us to scramble up some rock mounds and jump from rock plateau to plateau. My nerves got the better of me at one point and I hunkered down and enjoyed the view from a spot midway across this detour.
Like so many place in Australia, Kings Canyon is a location for which photos don’t do justice. The vista is too vast and the lens can’t capture the intricate erosion of the sandstone mounds. Below are a few of my better attempts.
The older rock is black.
White rock like this is the result of a chunk of the canyon wall falling down.
of “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” fame.
Staring down Heart Attack Hill.