“Kings Canyon” sounds grand and so it is, but it’s also a very long way from anywhere. Almost in the geographic centre of Australia, as you stand on the top of the canyon, the nearest town to the west is Carnarvon on the west coast of Western Australia. That town is around 2000 km away. To the east other than a few small settlements, the nearest town is Hervey Bay on the east coast – again about 2000 km away.
Geology – where it came from.
Kings Canyon is a sandstone canyon – according to geologists, it’s the left overs from a tectonic uplift that occurred around 350 million years ago. They say there is two main layers of sandstone – the top one is more recent and was formed by wind action blowing desert sand into dunes which over considerable time compress into stone. The earlier and bottom level was formed by sand settling into layers during the period when central Australia was covered by an ocean. The lower level which is exposed in some places contains some fossilized remains of sea creatures.
Looking today, the layers of sandstone from both eras are very visible. Mostly you can see the horizontal layers from the later period but occasionally you discover sections of the lower level that have been uncovered like these ripples in the rock…
Tours begin early.
Tour operators offer guided tours of the rim and an easier tour of the valley. Most start around dawn because the track will close if it gets too hot and its much more comfortable walking in the cool of the morning.
If you are planning to visit and do a tour of the rim you need to be reasonably fit to take on the challenge. The first part of the track you see is a steep hill – – a 500 step near vertical climb known as “heart attack hill”. But that’s is just the beginning. The bus driver said we should avoid this tour if you can’t take a step higher than your knee. That advice was well founded. There are many steps. both up and down, as high as my knee on the 7km track.
It took us a little over 3 hours to walk the track. though the guide said he had a couple of friends that do the track regularly in an hour. One is a school teacher who needs stress relief occasionally and the other manages the medical centre and occasionally has to hurry to someone on the track. So both are very fit and neither are retired! We found it was a difficult track, though the guide said he had one woman of 92 take the tour, but she was incredibly fit and made others in the group ashamed of their own fitness levels.
The track path is not always very obvious and though you could do it on your own, you may get lost from time to time. It is marked fairly often by blue arrows so you would eventually find your way out and you may be overtaken by the many tour groups doing the same thing.
In the centre of the track is a 600m detour into the “garden of Eden” a water hole that is also an aboriginal ceremonial site. It is like and oasis in the centre of the desert. It can be a quiet resting place if there are not too many other groups there. Along the way at various places, you can see cycads that started life somewhere between 600 and 900 years ago.
The outstanding trees in this part of the world are the ghost gums that grow up to 20m high. If you have ever seen a painting by Albert Namatjira you will know what they look like. They seem to grow out of sheer rock walls and crevices on both sides of the track as well as in the dry creek beds. If you look closely you may even see some drop bears in the tree near the top of heart attack hill.
You can get to Kings Canyon from either Alice Springs or Uluru. And you can fly into either places from any capital city. You can of course drive from either place or you can take a bus. Three AATKings buses from Alice springs, Uluru and Kings Canyon all meet at the intersection of the Lassiter Highway and Laritja Road (the turnoff to Kings Canyon) so you change busses there.
If you hire a car in central Australia, the all seem to come with only 100km free . Thats about enough to get you around the block in this part of the world! But if you hire a camper van you can get unlimited kilometres and they can cost as little as $40 per day. Of course, if you or someone who is travelling with you needs a plug in hairdryer, you don’t have to sleep in the camper van. The only downside is they are a fair bit heavier and so will use more fuel.
There are various tour operators offering to take you to Kings Canyon from Alice Springs or Uluru. The cheapest I found was Emu Run tours though there are others. You may have to ring them to get a price and details, if you want to go with them. They have a three day tour for about $400 and you will get to see the magnificent night sky as you get into your tent or swag.
So what do you need to do if you would like to visit Kings Canyon? Firstly you need to do it sooner rather than later! The older you are the more restricted your movements will be. Secondly, get fit. You should start with a long walk and build up to around 10km per day. I know the rim walk here is only 7km but it is a bit more difficult than you will find on most suburban roadways. You could also try yourself on a 500 step hill somewhere if you can find one. If you find these things too difficult or your doctor says don’t even try, you could still visit Kings Canyon and plan on doing the valley walk. Either way this is a fantastic part of the world to visit so just do it!