The centre of Australia is dominated by millions of square kilometres of sunbaked red earth, punctuated irregularly by geological features that vary in their degree of spectacle from interesting to completely mind blowing. Modern tourists seem to be on a quest for seclusion- as the world gets smaller and smaller we are running out of places to escape the 'madding crowd', so we are broadening the scope of destinations we visit. As a result deserts are seeing a surge in the number of annual visitors, as no where else can really offer the isolation and the wide open spaces of a desert. Various spots in the Australian Red centre have benefited from this shift in trends, and one such spot is the Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory, home to the majestic Kings Canyon.
When in the Alice Springs region a campervan tour to Kings Canyon is a novel way to get out on the road and see some amazing scenery. 350 kilometres south west of Alice, Watarrka National Park lies on the Western Side of the George Gill Ranges, and is characterised by high sided gorges and mountainous rocky landscapes, all showing the same red hue that is seen across most of the outback. As an important conservation area the Park is home to over 600 species of flora and fauna, many of them very rare, and all of them adapted to the desert environment in weird and wonderful ways - think jumping snakes, bearded dragons and thorny lizards!
The main feature of the Park is Kings canyon. At its deepest point it reaches some 270 metres in depth, and its high walls provide protection for the forests of palms and cycads that flourish on its walls and floor. The area has a rich and interesting Aboriginal history, and has been home to the Luritja people for more than 20 000 years. Westerners are relative newcomers to its charms, with the first white man to discover it being Ernest Giles in 1872. Today it is one of the most visited areas in the Northern Territory, and caters towards thousands of visitors a month. There is a visitors centre about 20 kilometres away from the gorge, and although this isn't always manned it provides a good introduction to the history, culture and attractions of the region.
The best way to see Kings Canyon is to take one of the walking trails into the canyon, past the best viewing points and normally away from the crowds. A short and easy walk leads into the centre of Kings Canyon, and is suitable for kids or anyone with mobility difficulties. Theres is a longer one (6 kilometres), which takes about three hours to complete and goes along the canyon rim. From various points on this one you can see such attractions as The 'Lost City', which is a series of beehive like rock formations that look like an ancient ruins. Another is the Garden of Eden, a deliciously cool valley with serene waterholes surrounded by lush vegetation.
The Kings Canyon has a little sister too, it lies nearby and is known as Kathleen Gorge. This gorge has a spring fed waterhole at its head known as Kathleen Springs, which are popular amongst bushwalkers looking to cool off after a hot day in the sun. There are a number of bushwalks here that are suitable for children, and there is even one that joins up with Kings Canyon. This should only be attempted by the very fit, and rangers must be notified about your walk before you set out. Many people choose to overnight on this walk, as it is a long distance to cover in a single day.
Being such an isolated spot, accommodation out here is fairly limited. Kings Creek Station is a camel and cattle ranch that has a large and shady campsite where you can park up your motorhome with the other campers. There are also safari like lodgings for travellers who arent into the camping thing! A restaurant and a swimming pool complete the creature comforts, and dont visit here without trying one of their infamous camel burgers!
Your journey to Kings Canyon can go through a number of places. You can include the East Macdonnell Ranges in it, then return to Alice via Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the West Macdonnell Ranges. Research is required here, and you will need to adjust your trip and where you go according to how long you have on your holiday. However long you take and whichever places you visit this holiday is likely to instill a deep affectation for desert environments in you, and be warned it is hard to get rid of. So I guess we'll be seeing you again next year!