Hiking The Red Centre: Kings Canyon, Northern Territory
Kings Canyon is situated at the heart of Australia’s red centre, approximately midway between Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) and Alice Springs.
The canyon exists in an area of land called Watarrka National Park, home to the Luritja aboriginal people for over 20,000 years. The soaring sandstone walls of Kings Canyon were formed when small cracks eroded over millions of years ago in the red earth plains.
Whilst I was under no illusion that Kings Canyon would rival the magnificence of somewhere like the Grand Canyon in the United States, I was intrigued to see how this canyon would look and feel in this remote part of Australia.
What I discovered was an ancient landscape that blew me away with its geological formations. There was a tremendous sense of things having been exactly the same way as I was experiencing them for thousands of years before I walked here.
It’s this feeling of time immemorial that really hits you when you tread the red dust of the Northern Territory.
Kings Canyon Rim Walk
Like most walks you want to undertake in the Northern Territory, it’s best to get up early and get it underway first thing. With day time temperatures often soaring to over 40 degrees centigrade, and without much shade, you don’t want to be caught out in the midday heat.
The walk along the rim of the canyon takes around 3-4 hours. With the temperature in mind, I set off with my companions at dawn to begin the 6 kilometre hike.
The most challenging section of the walk is what faces you right at the beginning. As soon as you leave the car park you have to ascend the canyon wall to the top of the rim. It was certainly a heart-racing vertical ascent and my friends and I nicknamed this “Heart Attack Hill”. If you’re going to face any problems during the walk, it is likely to be here!
Still, take your time and know that there are a few conveniently placed trees at the top to sit in the shade and rest under.
From that point onwards, you are treated to the most spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape. I certainly felt that the view was worth the climb, as the saying goes. Witnessing the gigantic space opening up before you as it had done so for millions of years was enough to make you feel incredibly small and insignificant – but in a good way!
The Garden Of Eden
We descended into the Garden of Eden which was a chasm sliced into the top of the gorge. It is called the Garden of Eden because it bursts with palm trees and other foliage, clearly acting as a vital life source for many species.
Further into the chasm we found a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. I sat and watched a couple of crows on the rocks above the water, cawing to each other and keeping into the shade. This area is said to be incredibly significant to the aboriginal land owners as a crucial water source and a ceremonial area. For that reason, you cannot swim here, but a rest in the cool air of the waterhole is most welcome.
The Lost City
We crossed a flat plateau of unusual, weathered rock formations known as the Lost City. It was here that my guide directed us to a small, cactus like plant. The aboriginal people call this a Yippee Yippee. As he cut open a thick stem, you could see the plant oozed a white liquid that was reminiscent to an aloe vera plant.
The aboriginals have been using this plant to heal their cuts and wounds for centuries. Applying a little of this liquid to your cut acted as balm and quickly knitted your skin back together.
An Icon Of The Red Centre
I have spoken before on the blog about how much I enjoyed exploring the Northern Territory in Australia.
The realisation that the bustling metropolises of Melbourne and Sydney were thousands of kilometres away couldn’t be felt more keenly in those moments. Out amongst the red earth and scrubby bush, under the hot sun and the blue sky, I felt a connection to the land. I am sure any indigenous person I met would have told me this was exactly how I should be feeling.
I summed up how I felt when I visited Uluru in a previous blog and also wrote about why I feel the Northern Territory should be top of your Australia hit-list. I feel that some visitors to Australia skip over what I believe to be the cultural heart of this great country.
Here, I felt a greater understanding towards the indigenous people as there was no denying that I was on their land. In modern cities like Melbourne, it’s hard to appreciate that the land ever belonged to anyone else before the first high rises sprouted.
Other Walks At Kings Canyon
If the thought of ascending to the top of the canyon seems like a little too much, there is a shorter and easier Kings Creek Walk along the canyon base. This takes you through lush ferns and eucalypts to a platform where you can enjoy views of the sheer canyon walls above.
For the more adventurous hikers out there, you can choose to walk a 22-kilometre path called the Giles Track that connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs. Please remember to set out early and ensure you take all the appropriate gear for extreme temperatures.
Where To Stay
If you have decided to stay locally, then a useful base for exploring the wonders of Alice Springs, Uluru and Kings Canyon is the Kings Canyon Resort. Although I did not stay there myself, the resort offers accommodation ranging from deluxe rooms to budget backpacker-style lodges as well as caravan and camping facilities.
Kings Canyon is located approximately 300 km north east of Uluru and 450 km south west of Alice Springs. Ayers Rock and Alice Springs airports are around a three-hour flight from Sydney and Cairns or a two-hour flight from Darwin or Adelaide.
I did not have my own car when I was exploring this part of Australia, so I opted to join a group tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs. You can read all about what I thought of this adventure and the other points of interest it covered along the 1,540 kilometre journey.
Hints And Tips
- The most comfortable time to visit is the cooler winter months between May-September.
- Climb to the top of the rim of Kings Canyon at sunrise or sunset -you may find the route is actually closed to walkers if you attempt to start too late in the day.
- Drink plenty of water! Take at LEAST two, ideally three litres with you per person. You should be aiming for one litre of water an hour at the minimum.
If you want some more inspiration for a trip to the Northern Territory, take a look at:
- Things to do in Darwin
- Highlights from my trip to Kakadu National Park
- A four day itinerary for Kakadu National Park
- A day trip to the beautiful Litchfield National Park.
Have you visited Kings Canyon, or would like to? What is your favourite part of the Northern Territory? Do you have any questions about Kings Canyon?
Love it? Pin it! (Note: Image below is half sized. For a full sized image, click the Pin It button on my floating social media share menu.)