KINGS CANYON: HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT TO DO
The way from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs is full of hidden delights.
I am constantly amazed by the fantastic sights and places we discover on the way to somewhere else. It is a sad traveller who doesn’t make the most of the journey to their intended destination. Don’t they know that getting there is half the fun?
We found ourselves in Canberra with a promise to assist some folk on a project in Halls Creek, WA. Which meant we had a 4300km journey ahead of us; there had to be something to see on a journey of such a distance — otherwise the kids might go crazy from boredom. Last year when we ventured into the Northern Territory, we traversed the 266km Lasseter Highway and toured Uluru and The Olgas for a day, vowing a return visit to Kings Canyon next time. So this new cross country trip was the perfect opportunity for a stop there on the way.
Getting to the canyon is easy enough; turn off the Stuart highway at Erldunda Roadhouse and then turn right after 108km. It’s about 170km from the Lasseter, and so requires some planning in terms of distance and supplies.
It was with great anticipation that we left our campsite at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse early in the morning, in order to reach Kings Canyon before the sun reached its pinnacle. When we got there we found there are two different walks. There is an easy 1.6km walk (return) along the canyon floor that takes in the creek running along the bottom and the huge rock walls rising above. But we decided to follow the more difficult six kilometre canyon rim loop track, which takes you to the top of and right around the canyon.
The track immediately heads straight up a steep rocky hill, known as either ‘Heartbreak Hill’ or ‘Heart Attack Hill’ by the locals, and with good reason. From then on you meander along the top of the canyon, following the walls and taking in the sights. And it is breathtaking! Sheer rock walls wear glorious reds and oranges — revealing they contain iron ore. Ancient cycads dot the landscape and the track takes you through the ‘Garden of Eden’, a protected pocket of lush vegetation cradled by the walls of the canyon.
It took us about 3 hours to complete the walk, with plenty of time spent taking photos. We carried a backpack with enough water for everyone, entirely necessary as parts of the walk are quite steep and involve some rock climbing — thirsty work in the desert. There are lots of unfenced sheer cliff faces, so keep the kids close for a stress free bushwalk.
That night we camped at Kings Canyon Resort. Here there are rooms, restaurants, tours and a large camp ground suitable for all styles of camper trailer, tent, caravan or motorhome.
The next day, we stopped at the Shell service station and purchased the Mereenie Loop Tour Pass, the permit required to travel on Mereenie Loop Road. The road heads north from Kings Canyon and then turns east towards Larapinta Drive near Hermannsburg. The permit is $5.50 per vehicle (this cost varies from free to $5.50 depending upon where the permit is collected), and is required because the road passes through Aboriginal land. The dirt road mostly follows a valley between two ridges of exposed rock mountains. This is Albert Namatjira’s homeland and the landscape inspired many of his beautiful paintings.
Instead of driving into Hermannsburg, we turned left onto Namatjira Drive and headed for Gosses Bluff. Rising abruptly from the flat landscape it is a huge meteorite crater five kilometres across. The road takes you into the middle of the ring of mountains — right where the meteorite hit. This sacred aboriginal site is for day use only, and access is restricted to certain areas, but there is a 1.4km hill walk and visitor information signs.
Continuing north, our next stop was Tylers Pass. This small rest stop has panoramic views across Gosses Bluff and the surrounding district, where marshmallow-like puffy hills roll away into the distance.
Back on the road it veered east again and we stopped at Redbank Gorge to walk the two kilometre track along the creek. At the end is a large pool of croc-free water that is deep enough for swimming — if you don’t mind the cool temperature. There is a bush camp ground here, with special access for 4WDs.
Further east on Namatjira Drive we found a great spot for a late lunch at Ormiston Gorge. It is a popular spot for tours from Alice Springs and it is not difficult to see why. The water-filled gorge stretches for 13km and is an excellent place for swimming, fishing, canoeing, camping and bushwalking. After lunch we headed for the ochre pits, where aboriginal people mined the multi-coloured rocks in a creek bed. Feeling a bit over-gorged, we skipped Serpentine Gorge.
As we drove into Ellery Creek Big Hole camp ground, we felt like we had arrived somewhere very special. Camping there costs just $7.70 for a whole family; and with flushing toilets, barbecues, picnic tables, and an excellent swimming hole it was a very nice camping spot. Unfortunately, we had arranged to meet people in Alice Springs that night so we mournfully left in that direction.
At the end of this trip, we reflected that it would have been nice to have done it in reverse. If you head out from Alice Springs, as you work your way east the gorges increase in size, to their natural climax at Kings Canyon. All the brochures say to allow two or three days to explore, and we have to agree. There is so much to see and do that you need to allow a bit of extra time. And make sure you plan to camp at Ellery Creek Big Hole, we wish we had. Hopefully sometime soon we will be headed somewhere and can stop off there on the way.
FAST FACTS ABOUT KINGS CANYON
- Kings Canyon Resort Tel: (08) 7999 6035
- Mereenie Loop Tour Pass, Central Land Council Tel: (08) 8951 6211.
- Ellery Creek Big Hole and Redbank Gorge Tel: (08) 8956 7799.
DISCOVER THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
Adapted from Camper Trailer Australia #44