Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kings Canyon, NT, Australia

2015 July: Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park, NT, Australia

A leg injury prevented me from going to Kings Canyon in July last year, 2014. No such mishaps this year; and so, at last, I am here!

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is at the western end of the George Gill Range, in Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia. Due to its remoteness, it is not as well visited as Uluru (Ayers Rock). But the scenery is fantastic. If you travel all the way to Uluru, you really should make the extra effort to visit Kings Canyon.

The tourist area at Kings Canyon comprises of the Kings Creek and the cliffs around it. The 2 walking tracks are:

(1) A 7-km clockwise circuit, called the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, traces the cliff tops of the canyon and takes 3 to 5 hours to complete. Near the start of the walk, there is a steep climb which the locals call "Heartbreak Hill" or "Heart Attack Hill". It takes you up to the cliff top, with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and the gorge below. Afterwards, one goes through a maze of weathered sandstone domes, reminiscent of the Bungle Bungle in Western Australia. Along the walk, one can detour to Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life.

(2) A 2-km return walk along the Kings Creek Walk takes you through the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above.

For more adventurous hikers, there is a 22 km Giles Track that connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs. We don't have time for it, but one day, I would like to walk through it, provided I can solve the problem of how to do a car shuffle with only one car between Kings Canyon and Kathleen Springs :-)


Map for the Rim Walk and Creek Walk:
- The red arrow on the left points to Heartbreak Hill.
- The two red arrows on the right point to Cotterills Lookout.

GPS tracklog files & Route

You don't need a GPS.  The tracks are well marked and sign posted.

For what it is worth, my GPX tracklog files can be downloaded from:
•  Kings Canyon Rim Walk:

•  Kings Canyon Creek Walk:

Below is our route in Google Earth. (North is towards the top left hand corner.)
- Our GPS tracklog is in turquoise colour.
- Carpark is at the bottom of the pic.
- The bottom red arrow points to Heartbreak Hill.
- The middle red arrow points to Cotterills Lookout.
- The top red arrow points to Garden of Eden.

Tilted view of the above

In summary, our route is:
- Do a clockwise circuit of the Rim Walk.
      Also detour to Cotterills Lookout & Garden of Eden.
- Back to the car to pick up our lunch.
- Do the Creek Walk and have lunch at where the Creek Walk ends.

Timeline & Distance

Kings Canyon Rim Walk:
07:46  0.0 km  Start walking from carpark
09:29  2.4 km  At junction of main trail & detour to Cotterills Lookout
09:56  2.9 km  At end of Cotterills Lookout
10:08  3.3 km  Back at junction of main trail & detour to Cotterills Lookout
10:28  3.7 km  At junction of main trail & detour to Garden of Eden
10:37  4.0 km  At pool in Garden of Eden

Morning Tea

10:47  4.0 km  Start to retrace steps
10:55  4.3 km  Back at junction of main trail & detour to Garden of Eden
12:32  7.4 km  Back at carpark

Total:  4 hr 46 mins  at leisurely pace
           7.4 km  Distance is from Google Earth
           9.0 km  Distance is from Garmin GPS

Kings Canyon Creek Walk:
12:38  0.0 km  Start walking from carpark
13:03  1.2 km  At viewing platform - end of Creek Walk


13:28  1.2 km  Start to retrace steps
13:47  2.4 km  Back at carpark

Total:  1 hr 9 mins  at leisurely pace
           2.4 km  Distance is from Google Earth
           2.6 km  Distance is from Garmin GPS

Pictures - the day before

1)  Driving near Kings Canyon, we notice plenty of these Citrullus lanatus, desert watermelon, growing wild by the road side. So we stop the car to investigate. David, my companion on this trip, is holding one in his hand. It originated from West Africa and has become naturalized in semi-arid regions of several continents. In parts of Australia, it is declared as a pest plant.
(The red car is our hired Hyundai.)

2)  In the same area, there are plenty of camels. They are behind the fence, but are they feral? (Ricky, a friend of mine, says they are definitely feral.)

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

The next day:

3)  We are up early and are now on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. Near the start of the walk is this Heartbreak Hill or Heart Attack Hill. It is steep. Once you are at the top ...

4)  ... Once you are at the top, you get a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.
You should be able to just make out the carpark which is to the right of where the big shadow ends.

5)  Going through a narrow passage which will lead to ...

6)  ... it leads to here, a small open area surrounded by cliffs.
David, my companion, is the guy in the photo.

7)  Standing at the same spot as where the previous photo was taken, and looking back at where we just came from.

8)  This red cliff is the cliff at the centre of the previous pic.

9)  The cliff walls around where photos #6 & #7 were taken ~~~
400 million years ago, Central Australia was a windswept plain covered with sand dunes. Under all the weight of the sand, the region gradually subsided, compressing and compacting the bottom layers. Silica-rich water inundated the sand and cemented the grains together to form layers of rocks.

10)  Going through an even narrower passage ~~~
The entrance to this passage in on the right side of Photo #6.
David is the guy in the photo.

11)  Further along the narrow passage

12)  The narrow passage leads to this fantastic view of weathered sandstone domes.

13)  Scenery as we walk further along the Rim Walk.

14)  Kings Creek - which is the canyon ~~~
The carpark is at the centre of the pic.
The shadows belong to David and I.

15)  South Rim cliffs and Kings Creek, the canyon ~~~
We are walking towards the left side of these pics. Later on we will cross the creek upstream and will end up on top of the South Rim cliffs on the other side of the canyon - the cliffs that dominate these pics.

16)  Walking pass the weathered sandstone domes

17)  Weathered sandstone domes

Detour to Cotterills Lookout

18)  Cotterills Lookout is a fantastic place, as you will see!

19)  We've crossed the bridge and looking back at where we just came from - wonderful view of the weathered sandstone domes.

20)  While I was standing on the bridge of the previous pic ...
- At one side of the bridge is a narrow slit.
- The other side is the canyon formed by Kings Creek.

21)  Around Cotterills Lookout looking down the length of Kings Creek, the canyon.

22)  Around Cotterills Lookout

23)  I hop on top of one of the weathered sandstone domes and snap this photo of other domes.

24)  South Rim cliffs and weathered sandstone domes around Cotterills Lookout ~~~
The lower photo is continuation to the right of the upper photo.

25)  More weathered sandstone domes

26)  Cliffs & weathered sandstone domes

27)  Still around Cotterills Lookout

28)  Looking down on the trail leading to Garden of Eden ... but I love the sandstone domes!

29)  All this is natural, even though it looks like an ancient citadel.

Back on the main Rim Walk

We've left Cotterills Lookout, now back on the main Rim Walk.

30)  A poem by Australian poet Judith Wright ...
    "A long curved wash of ripple
    left there its fingerprint
    one long-before-time lost day.
    I turned a dead sea’s leaves
    and touch that day and look."
400 million years ago, Central Australia was a windswept plain covered with sand dunes. The climate was dry, but the ripples in this photo are evidence that shallow lakes had dotted the landscape.

Detour to Garden of Eden

31)  We make a detour to Garden of Eden where there is a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. On the right of the photo is a Macdonnell Ranges Cycad (Macrozamia macdonnellii)

32)  Macdonnell Ranges Cycad (Macrozamia macdonnellii) is one of 17 relic species that have survived in the Watarrka National Park since dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the climate was wetter.
In the last 20 million years, Australia has become drier. However, some of these primitive plants have been able to survive in moist refuges such as Garden of Eden.
Cycads grow very slowly. Scientists can estimate their age by counting the old leaf bases. Some of the cycad in the Watarrka are a few hundred years old.

33)  We leave the Gardens of Eden and are now heading back to the main Rim Walk.

Back on the main Rim Walk

34)  On the main Rim Walk ~~~
The lower photos are zooming into sections of the upper photo.

35)  Weathered sandstone domes that are like a lost city

36)  How the domes are formed
(Click on the pic to enlarge it.)

37)  Scenery along the Rim Walk

38)  Further along the Rim Walk

39)  We've just crossed Kings Creek.

40)  A few of this Grevillea wickhamii (Holly Leaf Grevillea) are found growing from cracks in the rocks.

41)  Red cliffs of the North Rim ~~~
We came from the top of it not too long ago ... see Photo #26.

42)  Looking back at North Rim and at where we crossed Kings Creek ~~~
We had walked all the way around the top of the cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon.

43)  Further along on the Rim Walk - weathered sandstone domes

44)  More weathered sandstone domes

45)  And more weathered sandstone domes

46)  Taking a break from looking at the desert landscape  :-)   ~~~
Love these coloured shoes of the young lady in front of me  :-)
They stand out against the brown colours surrounding us  :-)

47)  Back to the scenery

48)  Walking towards the carpark now - the spectacular rock formations never end !

49)  We are now at Kestrel Lookout - another spectacular rock formation ~~~
- The red arrow on the left points to the dry Kestrel Fall. It will become a spectacular waterfall after heavy rain. It is named after the Australian Kestrels that roost in the cliffs in this photo.
- The middle arrow points to white stains made by kestrel's droppings.
- The right arrow points to stands of Hill Mulga (Acacia macdonnelliensis) ... smaller waterfalls pour enough water onto this dry slope to support them.
- Else where only hardy mallees, eremophilas and spinifex can survive.

50)  Descending towards the carpark.

After the Rim Walk, we go back to the car, put our lunch into the backpack, then go for the Creek Walk which is along the valley of the canyon.

Kings Canyon Creek Walk

51)  How Kings Creek, the canyon, is formed

52)  Well formed track along the valley of the canyon - the dry Kings Creek ...
(Are the trees with white trunks River Red Gums? ... please let me know.)

53)  Some trees are protected from graffiti artists by cloths wrapped around the trunks.

54)  A square rock halfway through the walk

55)  Looking up at the canyon rim

56)  25 minutes from the carpark, we come to a viewing platform.

57)  The viewing platform is the end of the Creek Walk.
Beyond the platform is sacred to the Lurtja people, the local aborigines. Only men fully initiated in Luritja culture can venture further up the creek from here.

Contrast the lush vegetation of the above scene with the arid landscape at the top of the canyon ... Here, it is an oasis. When it rains, water and nutrients wash down the slopes and collect in rocky crevices, remaining long after reserves in the rest of the landscape have disappeared.

58)  At the viewing platform - cliffs of the canyon rim ~~~
The left pic is to the left of the previous photo. And similarly, the right pic is to the right of the previous photo. (Click on the pic to enlarge it.)

We have lunch at the viewing platform, and that is the end of my trip to the red centre of Australia. After lunch, we'll drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock). From there, I'll fly back to Sydney. David will spend an extra 2 days to climb Uluru, the rock, and to do some hiking around the Olga Rocks area (Kata Tjuta).


  1. This is an exceptionally well done coverage of Kings Canyon. It is a real credit to you. We have been there 3 times and always do the rim walk - it never ceases to amaze, and I don't think you have left out one single feature or got one bit of information wrong. Congratulations guys.


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