Alice Springs Stories and Tips

The edge of Infinity - the spectacular Kings Canyon/Watarrka NP

Travel Photo by IgoUgo member

I am rather proud at completing the Kings Canyon hike.

I can now add this to my list of accomplishments. The view from the rim into the inky depths and across to the red rock landscape was heart-stopping. From its edge you could not just see the walls of the canyon but all around me was a fantasy land of strange russet red rock shapes and textures. The great horseshoe canyon has rusted over the millennia to reveal fantastically rich reds and orange. And from the rim you can see where the great canyon opened up out onto the plains, which from this height seem to stretch into infinity..

Kings Canyon is unmissable. Its a long way from "Alice," over 320 miles directly southwest. And makes up the northwest corner of the Alice/Erldunda/Uluru rectangle. If you come from Alice then its about eight hours driving over some very bumpy roads. When you get there, although the Canyon is free to hike, there isn't many facilities. The camel rounding station of Kings Creek is about twenty miles away (www.kingscreekstation.com.au) which has camping and cabins. But at the Canyon itself the amenities are basic providing water, toilets and a car park for visitors. The usual rules for hiking in the Outback apply - wear comfy shoes, stock up with water and avoid the heat of the day. Most visitors, like us, seemed to hit the Canyon at 8am in the morning.

And it is an arduous climb. By the time I had ascended to the rim of the Canyon I had lost my sense of humour completely and felt like I had run a marathon. The reason being is that to climb to the canyon rim you must climb a near vertical stair. From below it looked sheer and reminded me of "The Stair of Cirith Ungol" from "Return of the King. It was 300 feet of sheer cliff wall, with stairs carved into it somehow. Carolyn, our guide, takes this trip three times a week and bounded up like a Thompsons gazelle. Myself and the others were somewhat slower taking our time. After the first hundred steps my back began to ache—it was very hard going. But I gamely ploughed on concentrating on one step at a time and using my knees to propel me. I reached the top in a foul mood and turned around to watch the others come up and noticed the 300 foot drop behind me. Several Aussie pensioners bounded up, showing no sign of strain and putting me to absolute shame.

The climb was worth the view from the Canyon rim. All around me was a lunar scape of scarlet rock called mereenie sandstone. The bright red colour impregnated everything from the rock slabs we stood on to the walls of the Canyon. We could see across to the far side as the Canyon is a horseshoe with vertical water stains noticeable to the naked eye and the far wall was made up of a rich red hue of horizontal bedding planes. Our guide got nervous about anyone approaching the edge and we were advised that if we did want to see the bottom of the Canyon it was better to crawl to the rim on our stomachs and look from there. I tried this and although it alleviated our guides worries about one of her charges going over the edge - it didn't do much for my vertigo.

On the northern side of the Canyon was one of the strangest landscapes I have ever seen. Stretching into the distance was "The Lost City" - hundreds and hundreds of red shale domes stretching into the distance. It was a sight that stopped you in your tracks and reminded me of the pictures I had seen of "The Bungle Bungles" that newly discovered geographical oddity in Western Australia. The beehive rocks looked so weird and otherworldly (see photo) that they reminded me of the surface of another planet.

You have to be careful around the edge of Kings Canyon. A trail of little blue stars leads you around its edge but it is extremely uneven and on occasion precarious. The usual urban myth told of a Japanese tourist (aren't they always) who backed up too far and went over the edge. But everyone follows the trail to the apex and wooden stairs leading down to "The Garden of Eden". It was cautious going descending into the cool of the Canyon. No one is going to take risks on a staircase 100ft above an abyss. Eucalyptus and palms grew on the walls of the Canyon and began to block out the light and the floor of the Canyon was covered in cicadas and gum trees. At the back of the Canyon were the sheer walls of a red cliff. These were reflected in the still waters of a pool.

It was too cold to swim, but it was a nice place to sit back and watch the sun turn the waters gold as it caught the edges of the Canyon.

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