Australia’s Grand Canyon… Kings Canyon

The New Year brings a new journey for us… well not quite!

As we move into 2019 we are preparing for our next big trip to mainland Australia but for now I am flat-out trying to piece together the final weeks of our incredible journey across the Australian Outback.

Arriving home after 10-months on the road and then with Christmas and New Year celebrations… and of course catch up with family and friends, I have unfortunately neglected my updates.

The next leg of our journey from Uluru (Ayres Rock) takes us to Kings Canyon then on to Alice Springs and the West and East MacDonnell Ranges. From there we head south to the iconic Oodnadatta Track, up the Birdsville Track to Birdsville, east past the ghost town of Betoota, through Windorah, Quilpie, Charleville, Morven, Mitchell, Roma, Miles, Chinchilla, Dalby, Toowoomba, Warwick, Beaudesert and back to the white sandy beaches of the sunny Gold Coast.

Retracing our tracks south we will then travel through coastal towns we had frequented at the beginning of our journey.

The last couple of weeks we travel via Sydney, Canberra, Bredbo, BunyanCooma, Jindabyne, Thredbo, Mt Kosciuszko, Yackandandah and Beechworth,  then on to St Kilda where we board the ‘Spirit of Tasmania‘ for home!

With that all to come let’s head back to Uluru where our journey continues on to…

Kings Canyon (Watarrka National Park)

Apart from hiking and checking out the amazing scenery we have also been spending a lot of time putting kilometres on the car; mostly on gravel, sometimes flooded, outback roads.

Kings Canyon was another long drive of 300-kilometres but this time along a sealed road.

In this part of the world the locals believe Coober Pedy, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon and Alice Springs are quite close together (just around the corner in fact), even though they are hundreds of kilometres apart!

Off in the distance our attention was drawn to Mount Connor and given that Curtin Springs, the property that surrounds Mount Connor, is over 1-million acres, I guess by outback standards distance is nothing to the people who live out here… so what was another 300-kilometres when we only have a couple of thousand more kilometres to travel ourselves!

For tourists driving Lasseter Highway from Erldunda Road House there is another big rock hiding out in the desert and you can’t help but spot this mysterious rock when it appears on the horizon at some point during the long drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Mount Connor is a 700,000,000-year-old sand and rock mesa often mistaken for Uluru (Ayers Rock) by first-time visitors to the centre and we were no exception on our last trip. It certainly fooled us back then so we nicknamed it ‘Fool-uru’, but this time there was no chance of that confusion having just left Uluru (Ayers Rock)!

To us Mount Connor appeared to be a ‘forgotten wonder’ compared to its more famous cousin… but it is actually the 3rd of the greatest monoliths of Central Australia and 3-times the size of Uluru (Ayers Rock).

img_3574Also known as Attila (sometimes spelt Artilla), Mount Conner is located on the border of the Curtin Springs Cattle Station. It reaches 859-metres above sea level (300-metres of which is above ground level), and is a flat-topped and horseshoe-shaped mesa believed to be part of the same vast rocky reef thought to be beneath Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (Olgas).

Curtin Springs, where Mount Conner is located, is a working cattle station owned and operated by the Severin family. The family took over the pastoral lease in 1956 and still live on and run this station today having opened their homestead in later years as a roadhouse and a key stop for passing travellers on their way to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

img_3570What originally started with a few petrol pumps and a small store that saw only 6 people in the first year, today provides accommodation, free unpowered camping sites, powered sites, a licensed pub, petrol, diesel, auto gas, basic groceries and station tours… so if you don’t want to admire their famous rock from a distance book a 4WD tour and head off on a desert day trip.

Their hospitality has made them a legend in this part of the Northern Territory and if you happen to stop in, pop inside and grab the opportunity to take a look at their history through the old photo albums scattered around the place… and in case you’re wondering, yes, there is a Geocache here.

By the time we arrived at the Curtin Springs Roadhouse the temperature had already reached 35-degrees.

We had really enjoyed camping at this roadhouse on our last trip and the free camping, basic facilities, nice atmosphere, spectacular sunset, red dust and a very expensive ice-cold beer was all we needed to convince us to pull in and set up camp…

… and of course ‘Mongrel’ the resident ‘old man emu’ still wanders the campsites harassing campers.

p9110009Mongrel has resided at this roadhouse for many years and even though the signs in the pub and restaurant state ‘Do Not Feed the Emu’, it was obvious either the patrons couldn’t read or the emu was quite good at convincing people to feed it. If that didn’t work he scavenged from unsuspecting campers while they were away from their campsites.

And the latter it was… Mongrel knew exactly where and how to scavenge and we certainly had a fight on his hands as we tried to protect our much-needed snack! It was bets on who was going to eat the sandwich first… the emu or us!

This emu just wouldn’t leave us alone. He drank our very expensive beer, ate our food and was a general nuisance when we tried to organise meals.

Whatever we opened looked appetising to him… he ate almost a whole loaf of bread, stole our tea bags and retaliated to ‘shoo’ gestures with a nip on the back of the hand!

He soon outstayed his welcome and pet or not, Mongrel needed to be distracted the only way possible… so with a few scraps we soon short shifted him to the nearest garbage bin where he continued to scavenge for food bits.

As the day drew to a close we weren’t nearly the most fatigued residents at this campground!

Mongrel soon found himself a nice cosy little spot in the bush over from our tent and nodded off far sooner than us. Apparently when emus get tired they just give up standing and collapse into a heap of feathers and that is exactly what Mongrel did! The sound of the crash was terrible and we were sure he had hurt himself… but instead he was snoozing blissfully on the ground with his head tucked in his feathers, oblivious to everything going on around him.

We were up very early the next morning but so too was the menacing emu and unfortunately he had turned his attention away from slumber and towards our meal… AGAIN. After managing to take a few pecks at our porridge we eventually shooed him away and finally with Mongrel held at bay it was time to pack up our gear and head off!

After paying for the very expensive diesel at $2-02-litre (that was after the bowser was unlocked to get the fuel), we hit the road for Kings Canyon. It seemed fuel was a real problem here also going by the locks on the bowsers!

Soon after leaving Curtin Springs, we pulled off the road at a rest area signposted the ‘Mount Conner Lookout’ to enjoy the view of Mount Conner.

With the rest area and parking area on one side of the highway (southern side) and the viewing area on the other, we crossed the road where we climbed a red sandy dune that offered amazing views of Mount Conner and the surrounding landscape.

As we stood admiring the monolith in the distance I heard one lady say to a couple standing next to her ‘I can’t believe we mistook this rock for the other’!

Then the reply came back ‘THERE’S ANOTHER ROCK?’

The lady continued with the explanation that many tourists initially confuse Mount Conner with Uluru (Ayers Rock) – including themselves, and after the surge of excitement and a lots of photos, it eventually dawned on the embarrassed onlookers that this rock did look quite a bit different from Uluru’s famous silhouette they had seen in all the tourist brochures.

To our surprise the view of Mount Conner and the surrounding countryside was not the only view we were privy to at this lookout. On the other side of the dune as we turned away from the mountain we had come to see were huge dry salt lakes that stretched for kilometres… and a beautiful sight not to be missed – but unseen from the highway!

img_0951Hidden from view unless you climb the dune!

Continuing on, the road into the canyon was pleasant and uneventful, that is apart from avoiding lots of animal dung on the road, which we thought was produced by wild horses but it was actually wild camels.

We were a bit disappointed with the lack of sightings of animals in this part of the country. We had only seen one dingo around the camp at Uluru (Ayers Rock), emus in paddocks – one very annoying one at the last campground and a couple of dead camels and a goat and a horse on the side of the road.

Apparently the kangaroos around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park are not partial to the spinifex grass, which totally covers the plains we were travelling across, so they had moved north. There were not a lot of camels either. We were told they had been culled as they were eating all the vegetation… so I guess that explains the lack of animals!

Around mid afternoon we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort, which is the main campground for Kings Canyon. This resort is separated into 2-areas, with the resort hotel style accommodation on one side of the road and the campground on the other.

Surprisingly, it is also home to many dingoes and like the campground at Uluru (Ayers Rock), there were lots of advisory signs warning not to feed dingoes or leave rubbish lying around.

Here they roamed freely around the sites and just came and went as they pleased not worrying about anyone. They would appear from nowhere and disappear just as quickly as if they were ghosts… too fast for a photo!

After setting up camp we prepared for the forecast rain and bad weather that was to come but luckily for us the weather held until the following evening, so next morning, armed with our water bottles and our trusty fly nets we headed off for a day in the canyon!

Kings Canyon is pretty spectacular and one of the Territory’s most remarkable natural features and is often referred to as ‘Australia’s Grand Canyon’. It is a large gorge carved out by a river that only flows in the wet!

Named in 1872 by explorer Ernest Giles after Fieldon King, a sponsor of his expedition, the 100-metre sheer walls of the canyon rose from a creek bed in which there were numerous rock pools and lush vegetation including ancient Cycad Palms.

The temperature had already reached the mid 30s when we embarked on the climb up the steep, rocky face of ‘Heart Attack Hill’.

As the name suggests… lots of people had succumbed to this hill so it is advisable to start this canyon walk very early in the morning to avoid strenuous activity during the sizzling heat of the day!

To get to the top of the canyon we had to climb the steep sides, which at first (with my fear of heights) was a discouraging start to the rim walk. It was in fact more like a mountain climb.unknown

To those less able to climb, please consider your health and fitness when choosing which track to take, as there is another walk on the other side of the canyon that is far less daunting!

As we began scampering up the first part of the track, it became quite obvious why they called it ‘Heart Attack Hill’. Puffing and panting we finally reached the top (and survived the walk what’s more!) where we were rewarded with amazing 360-degree views that were certainly worth the effort. It was a breathtaking sight and one we would never tire of!

Lucky for us we each carried a water bladder on our back and a few well deserved water stops allowed me to take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. On all these walks it is very important to carry sufficient drinking water. It gets very hot, some of the walks are long and there is not a lot of shade! Another reason to also to wear a shady hat, sunscreen and suitable clothing and footwear.

Then the real hike began.

Fortunately, the rest of the track was a lot easier than ‘Heart Attack Hill’ and although a little difficult in places it was nowhere near the climb we had just completed!images

What followed was a few hours of rock hopping along the rim of the canyon checking out rock formations and reading signage of its natural history, the flora and fauna and the Aboriginal story. It was stunning, interesting and quite remarkable!

Wildflowers clumped in the nooks and crannies and lone trees grew from the canyon face.

The walk along the rim allowed us many opportunities to gaze in awe at the yawning chasm of the sandstone canyon plunging 270-metres to the canyon floor below… even if I did stand way back from the edge! These towering walls and overhangs would make even the most hardened people think twice about venturing too close.

We were privy to spectacular sights that included the beehive formations of the ‘Lost City’, a series of massive domes that dominated the landscape and resembled the ruins of an ancient city.

We discovered Cycads around a permanent waterhole in the exotic ‘Garden of Eden’, an oasis in the desert, which we reached by a short descent from the canyon top.

With its extensive foliage, an abundance of bird-life and cool, clear rock-pools (where we frolicked in the icy water), it certainly was convincing that this part of Australia had had a much more tropical climate many years past.

This canyon has played an important role in the lives of many Aboriginals over thousands of years and there were many informative signs along the walk explaining how the Aboriginals used the area and its cultural significance to them.

‘Aladdin’s Lamp’ was an unusual rock formation across a narrow chasm that was definitely not to my liking.  I much preferred the safer ledge while Guy checked out the view and sheer drop from the other side.

The final stretch along the rim took us through ‘Lilliput’ a collection of tiny rock formations that from a distance resembled tiny people and we were so glad of our fly nets as when out of the wind the flies were terrible.

Fly nets are something they don’t mention for the avid Aussie tourists… but our fly nets were ‘a must have’ while travelling Outback Australia!

Finally we descended the many steps back to the car park!p9150091.jpg

King’s Creek Walk was a more leisurely walk in comparison to the rim loop and took us along a path (2.6 kilometres), that meandered beside a creek past huge gums, imagescoolabahs and cycads to a viewing platform where we had stunning views looking up at the massive canyon walls.

Kings Canyon was quite different to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and  KataTjuta with huge willowy grasses, bright flowers thick with perfume from the heat, red gums lining the creek beds and layers of the red, rocky outcrops.

At the end we were hot, sweaty and tired and relieved to head back to the campground where we found a spot of red dirt under a lone tree in an attempt to stay cool then relaxed around the pool, which was probably only minus 3 degrees!

That evening as the sun dipped behind Carmichael’s Crag and the George Gill Range we headed for our tent! We wanted an early start the next day when we headed off for Alice Springs so with books in hand we hit the sack really early, which was nothing unusual of late and it didn’t take long to fall into slumber land!

It was another spellbinding sunset as we watched the changing colours over the canyon as the sun disappeared to end another day. Millions of stars graced the night sky and with only a short walk to the campground we left the many people had come to enjoy the spectacular view and take in the magical environment.

Each night seemed to be an early night since we had started travelling. We were constantly on the go either riding our bikes or embarking on long walks and today we had worn ourselves out rock hopping and scrambling around canyons!

An invitation from an American couple to take the shorter (100-kilometre) unsealed Ernest Giles Road left us undecided whether to take the short cut or travel the long way around to Alice the next day but our minds were soon made up when we woke the next morning to an amazing storm with spectacular thunder and electrical activity and heavy rain.

It seemed the heavens had ripped apart again as the sky flashed and banged with a tremendous force. Storms are so much more spectacular in the outback and it was all we needed to decide against the Ernest Giles route, as it was now impassable with flooding!

Our plan from Kings Canyon was to head to the Stuart Highway then south to the Oodnadatta Track but this was looking doubtful as both the Oodnadatta and the Birdsville Tracks were still closed from previous rain!

With a long drive ahead of us we left the campground giving ourselves enough time to stop at Kathleen Springs Gorge on the way out.

Signage along this track told the story of centuries of aboriginal culture and the cattle industry of the 1960’s and it led to a delightful spring-fed waterhole at the head of the gorge, which the Aboriginals believe, is home to the Rainbow Serpent, and hence they won’t swim in the water. Apparently they used this waterhole to trap animals when they came to drink and with nowhere to go because of the steep cliffs the animals did not have any hope of escape. In later years cattlemen herded their cattle into the gorge, which made it easy to brand them then transport the stock out for sale.

It was a lovely cool place to enjoy the scenery, have a drink and read up on the history of the place but when we emerged from the shadows of the gums back at the car park, it was like someone had turned up the heat…the temperature had risen considerably from the cool of this shady gorge.

Our next stop was the Erldunda Road House. From there we were unsure if we would turn south and head for the Oodnadatta Track or north to Alice Springs, it all depended on the weather report and if the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Track were open after the recent downpours and flooding!

Stayed tuned for the final adventures for this trip.

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