Tackle the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Watarrka National Park and take in one of Central Australia’s greatest walking tracks. The walk around in the Red Centre takes about four hours – and 400 million years.
Seen from a satellite, Kings Canyon looks like a buckle in the dirt of the Northern Territory’s south-west corner, a small crease in a rumpled orange bedsheet thrown over Central Australia. Sure, that gives you an idea of the scale of the place and its location four hours drive from Alice Springs. But what can an aerial view tell you about the mysterious magic of this prehistoric place? How can it possibly convey the mind-opening feeling of standing on an ancient seabed, sandy ripples and fossilised seashells visible in the rock below your feet as you stare down, down, down into the canyon, through millennia of the earth’s crust? Roughly a halfway point between Alice and Uluru, Watarrka National Park encompasses 1000 square kilometres of wide-open space and monumental landforms and is the ancestral land of the Anangu people, who’ve lived here for more than 20,000 years. Where Uluru and Kata-Tjuta began via a slow build-up of muddy deposits going back some 550 million years, Kings Canyon comes courtesy of rifts and joints pushed up 400 million years ago, well before dinosaurs emerged and no doubt failed to appreciate the magnificence of the landscape around them.
To better the extinct beasts on that front, start with the six-kilometre Kings Canyon Rim Walk. With the first 500 or so steep steps leading upwards, it’s for the relatively fit as well as the cautious – parts of the track venture perilously close to the sheer cliff edge, at times 300 metres above the ground (always follow signposted advice to avoid the fate of the aforementioned dinosaurs). In the three to four hours the walk takes, you’ll find the Garden of Eden, a lush ramble of growth, including cycads and tall gums, that sits snugly in a gorge around a permanent waterhole. There’s also the Lost City, a collection of weathered sandstone domes that look like a mini Bungle Bungles – just about the only thing that could be labelled small-scale in this extraordinary place. And you may recognise Priscilla’s Crack, a chasm seen in 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (sequins are optional). But you can’t spend the entire time hiking. Bed down at Kings Canyon Resort in glamping tents with air-conditioning and ensuites, or at working cattle and camel property Kings Creek Station, 36 kilometres away. Pitch a tent or treat yourself to one of the luxe glamping tents along the escarpment and try the onsite café’s camel burger.