Kings Canyon

Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kings canyon 23rd August  - Watarrka National Park

If I were a travel writer, I would describe the drive from Alice to Kings Canyon something like this: "Heading south, deeper into the inhospitable Australian outback, with the relentless sun shining down.  In the distance, Willie Willies kick up dust, whilst Ghost Gum Trees sway in the wind.  By the road, animals killed by the only other transport around - Road Trains - are eaten by the large Australian Ravens and various Hawks and Kites.  A lone roadhouse, the oasis in this desert, looms ahead, where weary travellers refuel their transpoort and themselves.  All this punishment however, is worth it for the destination - Kings Canyon".

Since I'm not a travel writer (Though I did write the above) I'd describe the drive something like this: "Dull, boring, nothing to look at, even the road trains have got boring now.  Something is rattling like made in the back.  My back is killing as I drive slouched over.  Whats on the radio? Oh static.  Nice.  Whats out the window?  Red dirt, some far off mountains and a few odd trees here and there.  Roadhouse is coming up, hurrah! Time to jump out and stretch.  Why is there graffiti in every roadhouse toilet saying nasty things about my Mum?  Better fill the van up too.  $2.10 a litre?  Better drive slower to conserve the fuel.  Oh well, only adds another hour to an already 7 hour drive."

But to be honest, it's not too bad, it could be worse, so I soon buck my ideas up and snap out of it.  Eventually the scenary changes.  In the middle of the desert, large trees, with green swaying branches appear.  Desert Oaks, they are.  Like a cross between an oak tree and a willow.  Bizarre that they can survive out here.  Also, we are going up in elevation, with the temperature plummiting rapidly and the wind picking up strongly.

After four hours of driving, we make it to Watarrka National Park.  Better known for it's main attraction - Kings Canyon.  It is a large canyon in the middle of the Giles Ranges.  It's only recently been opened up to the average tourist - around 1994 was when the nearby resort (campsite) was opened up.  These days 300,000 people a year pass through, and it's easy to see why.  

There are two choices of walks in Kings Canyon.  The short, easy one follows the canyon floor to a viewing platform.  The other is a much harder walk, of around 7km, of which the first part is easily the most difficult - straight up 150 metres.  The rangers admit half the reason it's so steep and difficult is to act as a filter for the rest of the walk.  It stops people who probably shouldn't be doing such a walk.  This walk follows the rim around, and is called - surprisingly - the Kings Canyon Rim Walk.  

Which is how we spent our day.  Except for the very difficult first part, the rest was a lot of fun - some scrambling over rocks; a lot of viewpoints - many on the side of the rim; a load of different types of geology; and did I mention the viewpoints?  Seriously, the view from up top is amazing.  It's not quite the Grand Canyon - but to be fair can anything compare to that? - but it's close enough.  The top is very rocky, with lots of bizarre "beehive" formations of sandstone, which you walk around (and over) on the way.  

You also pass over the canyon floor at an area called "The Garden of Eden".  At this point are waterholes, and water running underground, so trees and plants abound here.  Also, there are numerous types of birds and animals, so I guess it could well be described as Eden when you consider the harsness of the landscape just 40 metres either side - rocks, wind and a scorching sun.  Many of the plants here date back millions of years, when the climate was a lot wetter (it's not rained here since November!), and some of the plants themselves are around 400 years old.  Amazing stuff - no wonder they are called "relic" species.

You eventually get to the other side of the rim (via steps, bridges and lots more scrambling), and after a while you begin a gentle descent down to the carpark.  A great lot of fun, and not as hard as it's made out to be - a lot of people are put off by the first part, which is fair enough, as it's very tough - but I thought the rest was fairly easy, even for fatty Darren.  

I can't really describe the walk that much, hopefully the photos will do it for me.  

The rest of the day was spent listening to a Ranger talk about the plants and animals that are able to survive in such harsh conditions, and why they can (because of they are all pretty tough and clever when it comes to conserving water - some trees even kill branches off so the rest of it can live.  Clever trees.).  Soon though it became a general Q&A, and we heard a few grim tales of people who got far too close to the rim; or who decided the walk was easier than it said, and went up unprepared.  In the middle of summer.  Then got lost.  Some interesting stuff from the Ranger, and a really good insight into their role and the various jobs they have to do.  

We stayed at the nearby resort, of which the campsite is very windy and cold.  And full of Dingoes.  They seem to be everywhere around here, no doubt attracted by the free food that some people keep giving them.  There are signs everywhere telling them not to do it - it's no good for anyone - but anything to get a photo.  The Dingoes don't look that healthy (especially to those weve seen in the middle of nowhere), and probably can't fend for themselves after all the human interaction.  Poor things. 
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