I was stunned when I visited Kings Canyon for the first time.
I really wasn’t expecting much.
After all, it’s the ‘little brother’ of Uluru, and it’s an attraction that many people visit just because it’s part of an outback tour they’re doing, or it’s on
the way to Uluru.
What I wasn’t prepared for was its spectacular sheer walls, how BIG it is and how freely you can move around here when compared with Uluru.
I wasn’t expecting the lushness of the Garden of Eden, the waterfalls, or the absolutely incredible display of colour on the canyon as the sun set.
Kings Canyon, or Watarrka (pronounced what-ARR-kah) as it’s also known in a local Aboriginal language, is a spectacular destination in its own right.
If it’s not on your outback itinerary, and you’re heading to Ayers Rock, add it on RIGHT NOW.
Some people even say that it’s BETTER than Uluru.
We’re biased (Gary has been a ranger there on more than one occasion), so we’ll leave the final judgement up to you.
Located about 320 kilometres from Alice Springs, Kings Canyon is a part of Watarrka National Park, and is one of central Australia’s, if not the entire Territory’s, major tourism attractions.
Why You Should Visit
Watarrka National Park is an internationally and nationally significant conservation area with water holes and gorges providing refuge for over 600 species of plants and many native animals.
The spectacular red walls of the Canyon soar 100 metres above pockets of dense forest including ferns and cycads as well as the usual species like river red gums, grevilleas and black gidgee.
The thing that everyone raves about at Watarrka is the Canyon itself.
And there’s really only one way to see the Canyon: put on your best walking shoes and do the six-kilometre ‘canyon rim’ walk.
The rim walk will reward you with magnificent views of the Canyon rim and the amazing weathered domes of ‘The Lost City’ and an outback oasis known as the ‘Garden of Eden’. This really is an experience you won’t forget.
Remember if you are going to go walking, please be prepared.
Wear suitable footwear, a hat and sunscreen and suitable clothing. Oh, and remember to take ample water and most importantly make sure you drink it.
People seem to think they are invincible and I can’t remember how many young, seemingly fit people I have had to help off the Canyon because of dehydration.
One thing to note is that during the warmer months temperatures above 36 deg C will result in altered walking conditions. What does this mean?
When the weather forecast predicts temps above 36 deg C the rim walk will close at 9am, this means you must begin your walk before this time or miss out. These measures are put in place to protect people from heat exposure during these times.
More information about walks and overnight hikes in Watarrka National Park here.
Kings Canyon is located 300 kilometres north east of Ayers Rock/Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and 320 kilometres south west of Alice Springs.
There’s several different ways to get there, depending on the vehicle you’re driving. Of course, if you’re part of tour, you won’t have to worry about this at all. You can just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
If you’re driving from Alice Springs, it takes about four or five hours to get to Watarrka via the Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road. This is the bitumen route, and the way should go if you’re NOT driving a 4WD.
If you’re planning on driving up from Ayers Rock, it takes about 3 to 4 hours to drive to the Canyon via the Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road.
For those of you with a four-wheel-drive and some time to spare can also take the Red Centre Way through the West MacDonnell National Park and the unsealed Mereenie Loop to or from Alice Springs.
More adventurous people can drive to the Canyon via the Ernest Giles Road. This is actually the quickest way to get to Watarrka from Alice Springs. You drive south down the Stuart Highway for 130km, then turn onto the Ernest Giles Road.
Again, we recommend a four-wheel-drive for the Ernest Giles Road. We often pull people in standard cars out of bogs and sandy creek crossings on this road!
And just in case you’re wondering: fuel and basic supplies are available at Kings Canyon Resort (located within the park) and Kings Creek Station (located just east of the park).
See and Do
You might have gathered from what we’ve written above that walking and photography are a MUST if you’re visiting Kings Canyon.
There’s a number of great walks here, ranging from the short, wheel-chair accessible Creek Walk, which goes right into the heart of the canyon itself, to the 22 kilometre ‘Giles Track’, which can be done in a day but is recommended as an overnight walk.
Of course, the walk that everyone raves about is the Canyon Rim walk.
This 6km round trip hike is one of Australia’s most stunning walks, and after the first steep ascent, is virtually flat. It will take you around 3 hours – not because it’s tough, but because there’s simply so many stunning changes of scenery.
We really mean it when we say this: if you do nothing else when you visit, make sure do the Rim Walk.
There’s also a sunset viewing area where you’ll get great photos of the colours on the canyon walls as the sun sets.
And if walking and photography aren’t your cup of tea, you can take a helicopter flight over the Canyon from either the Kings Canyon Resort or from Kings Creek Station.
There’s also a lot of birdwatching opportunities in the creeks at the canyon and at nearby Kathleen Springs – which is a little known shady waterhole that you’ll find at the end of a short walk.
If you’re after something out of the ordinary, you can go for camel rides and quad bike rides at Kings Creek Station as well.
And of course, if you’re visiting during the winter months (May-October) you’ll be able to participate in one of the Ranger Guided Walks and Talks. Click here for details.
Who knows… you might even bump into Gary when you’re down there!
Where to Stay
There are quite a few options for accommodation at Watarrka, no matter what your budget.
We’ll admit that most of the time when we visit the Canyon, we get to stay in ranger’s accommodation, however we’ve also camped at the Kings Canyon Resort, stayed in the safari tents at Kings Creek Station, and stayed in both budget and luxury rooms at the resort.
Although there’s no bush camping in the park, there are a number of different options for accommodation in or near Watarrka National Park at the Kings Canyon Resort, Kings Creek Station and even a free camp at Ginty’s Lookout outside the park on the Mereenie Loop road.
Accommodation options include:
- Budget accommodation
- Luxury motel rooms
- Safari tents
- Luxury tents
More information on accommodation at Watarrka, including tips for saving money.
When to Visit
Although the best time to visit Kings Canyon-Watarrka is in the winter months from May-September, you can visit at any time and still enjoy the majesty of the canyon.
Unlike Uluru where many walks are closed during the summer months, the Canyon’s walks remain open but only if the temperature does not exceed 36 degrees. However, you will need to start your walk early and take lots water (2 litres at a minimum) if you plan to visit in summer, oh and obey the walk closures if it is too hot.
Gary has had to rescue many visitors from cooler climates (especially tourists who fly in from Northern Hemisphere winter) who’ve walked the Rim walk in summer too late in the day and have suffered heatstroke.
Ideally, to get the best out of your visit to Watarrka, plan a trip in the cooler months so you can get out and enjoy everything that this magic place has to offer.
We have a number of other posts about this special place that you might find helpful:
- Hiking at Kings Canyon
- Kings Canyon Rim Walk
- Kings Canyon Creek Walk
- Accommodation at Kings Canyon-Watarrka