Welcome back to “ordinary” time here at travelingwithtom.com. This week I’m taking you back to Australia for a tour of Kings Canyon located within the boundaries of Watarrka National Park. My day started at 2:50 AM! That’s so I could be ready to catch the AATKings tour bus at 4:00 AM. You see, it’s 306 km (or nearly 200 miles) one way and takes about 3 1/2 hours each way. After boarding the bus and getting comfy, I did sleep some on the ride through the Outback. The road was straight and pretty good although narrow in some places. There wasn’t much traffic during that time of day but Bruce, the driver, was on alert for wandering wildlife such as dingos, kangaroos, and wild camels!
As we got closer to our destination, the sun began to make an appearance over the horizon. This photo was taken from the bus window as the landscape keep flying by.
Our first stop was the Kings Creek Station where a delicious full service breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, toast and coffee was waiting for us. We learned that Kings Creek Station is a working cattle and camel ranch consisting of nearly 1,000,000 acres of bush. They apparently are the largest exporters of wild camels in Australia. Established in 1982, the Station, in addition to meals, offers accommodations, tours, snacks and fuel for travelers. They had to diversify into these areas for economic reasons. It was a pleasant respite before reaching Kings Canyon about 36 km (22 miles) away.
The day was getting much warmer as we reached the boundaries of Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon.
Our AATKings guide was Jakob, a strapping young fella, with a corny sense of humor and a concern for our safety. The Park also provided a guide, Tim, another young guy who hailed from the UK, it was his last day on the job before returning to England.
When we signed up for this tour we had to pledge to carry at least 3 liters of water especially if we were participating in the canyon rim walk. During our ride from the cattle station Jakob also handed out liability waivers to those who were planning to make the 3 1/2 hour rim walk. This was a critical decision point for all of us, do the rim walk and sign the waiver or take the less strenuous 1 1/2 hour walk into the canyon on mostly level ground. Jakob explained that the rim walk required participants to walk up 500 steps at the beginning to reach the rim (AKA Heartbreak Hill or Heart Attack Hill!) and that after the first 200 it was a point of no return. I’m thinking do I want to take the higher risk hike or opt out for the much lower risk walk? Ok, I went for the steep walk up the hill realizing that once I was at the top the going would be easier.
Only two people dropped out before the point of no return and I wasn’t one of them! Yes, it was a challenge for this old guy but I wasn’t the only one who stopped to catch my breath a few times along the path, even some of the young ones struggled occasionally. Several on the tour chose to take the easier route right from the beginning. After reaching the top, Jakob gave us a short rest and then we were on our way. Here’s a view from the rim with the parking lot in the middle right of the photo. At this point we were about 330 feet (100 meters) above the canyon floor.
One of the things that we noticed right away were these emergency call stations equipped with an AED and signs pointing to where helicopters can land in the event of a medical emergency. The Park does have some emergency equipment but the helicopter comes from Alice Springs about 200+ miles away, it’s also the nearest hospital. So these signs cautions one to be careful and not take any unnecessary chances.
The scenery along the rim walk was stunning. While the trail was fairly level, we did have to watch for loose rocks and areas where the stones were really polished and could be slippery. The rock is primarily sandstone that has been present for an estimated 400 million years.
The gorge below the rim is home to Kings Creek and is considered a sacred Aboriginal site. Hikers are asked to stay on the walking track as not to violate this request.
In the photos below, we can see the folks that took the easier Kings Creek walk. While it was level there wasn’t much breeze in the canyon so it was quite hot. Fortunately for those of us on the rim walk, the wind was blowing at a good clip but we were in the direct sun so it was hot, hot, hot!
Even on the rim walk, we had to make our way through some “canyons” albeit much lower than Kings Canyon. Here we could clearly see the many layers of sandstone some that were slightly different colors and some that were much softer and more worn away.
Our best rest spot was about half way through our walk when we detoured down to the Garden of Eden. It required a descent down a series of stairs, knowing full well that those stairs were the only way out! During our rest, Jakob gave a short lecture on the geology of the surrounding canyon and talked about the importance of the water source to both humans and animals in the Garden of Eden. You’ll note the presence of vibrant plant life in this “crack” in the rock.
After our rest at the Garden of Eden, we made our way along the rim to the path that would eventually take us back to the canyon floor. Jakob stopped a few times along the way to point out some of the interesting formations.
Along the way, we had to take a bridge across one of the big cracks in the rock. It was also a chance to take a selfie with a fellow traveler.
When we reached the floor, Bruce (the bus driver), handed us cold, damp clothes to help cool off. By this time, it was nearly noon and it was getting quite hot, at least 90° F (32-34° C). Bruce also had the air conditioning on in the bus so our short ride over to the Kings Canyon Resort for lunch was quite pleasant. Lunch was at the Thirsty Dingo Bar where I enjoyed a salad, a cheese and tomato toastie (essentially a grilled cheese sandwich), and a very delicious, well deserved beer plus a couple of large glasses of cold water. By the way, I had over 3 L of water at the beginning of the hike and there was very little left at the end. My fitbit also reported that I climbed over 100 sets of stairs and walked over 13,000 steps.
After a relaxing lunch and some pleasant conversation with fellow travelers, we were back on the bus for the return trip to Ayers Rock Resort near Uluru. We made a few stops along the way. The first was at an intersection of two highways where bus passengers can transfer to buses going to Alice Springs and northward. The second was at a lookout to see Mount Conner off in the distance. It’s about a 1000 feet above the floor of the desert and kind of looks like the more famous Uluru located nearly 70 miles away. Bruce told us that some visitors will rent a car in Alice Springs (about 4 hours and 180 miles away) stop at this lookout, see Mount Conner thinking it’s Uluru, gawk at it for a bit, take a couple of photos, then get in their car and head back to Alice Springs! Mount Conner is located on privately owned land and can only be accessed through a specially permitted tour.
The next stop was at the nearby Curtin Springs Station for an ice cream and a walk around the yard to see some of the birds and wildlife rescued by the Station owners. Curtin Springs, like the Kings Creek Station, is made up of several enterprises such as raising cattle (mostly of the Murray Grey breed), a store, cafe, bar, rooms for rent and a campground. Plus Curtin Springs paper is made and sold at the station. The paper is made from a combination of the 18 grasses grown on the Station and some of the paper is also used to create artisan jewelry. So an interesting stop in a lot of respects.
It was about 5:00 PM when we returned to the Resort. While it was a long day, it was a very enjoyable and interesting day. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, this is a tour I would highly recommend. Thanks to Jakob and Bruce for making the day so pleasant.
After a shower, it was time for a farewell meal. I tried out the resorts Outback BBQ where one grills their own meat and helps themselves to an all you can eat salad bar. That and a nice cold beer finished off a fine three day stay in the Red Centre of Australia.
Up next week, the trail to the Central Coast.
Until then, happy travels!