Australia’s Outback

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Hiking Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park

The steps before me were natural red rock and offered a steep climb – the first leg on a 3.7-mile loop to see a majestic canyon and laze in paradise. Named Heartbreak Hill – sometimes even known as Heart Attack Hill – I was in the outback of Northern Australia and nothing was going to hold me back from the views of the gorge and surrounding landscape this journey promised.

I was hiking to Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park about halfway through my three-week trip around Australia. I’d signed on to The Rock Tour so named after the “rock” I’d see later in my three-day sojourn: Uluru. On the way to the iconic inselberg, or “island mountain,” my ragtag group of backpackers – the name given to younger (usually early 20s) travelers living on the cheap – was experiencing other natural wonders of the Australian Outback: Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta.

The trip commenced with a 6:15 a.m. start and a 200-mile drive in a funky Toyota Coaster bus with an attached trailer that held gear and also converted into a primitive cooking shack. After the early wake-up call, most of us eventually sacked out in the van for hours until we rolled to our first stop at Watarrka to hike Kings Canyon.

Our guide and driver Scott was quite the bohemian with shoulder-length dreadlocked hair and a green canvas Rock Tour uniform stained with pen ink, detailing what we could expect over the next few days. Just 23, he’d been on the job for nine months, but his devotion to the subject matter and those under his care conveyed wisdom far beyond that amount of time.

That initial 500-step climb brought us to the canyon rim with walls nearly 1,000 feet high and Kings Creek at the bottom. So much rain had drenched the desert in 2010, it was the wettest year ever on record, and the trees and shrubbery were vibrant greens, and small streams had developed in areas throughout the park where they had never been before.

Parts of the gorge are sacred Aboriginal sites and we descended into the Garden of Eden, a waterhole that stays hydrated year-round despite the desert climate. We rested for a bit here and some of us swam in paradise.

Along the hike, I swapped cameras with an Italian guy, another “older” traveler like me, and we served as each other’s plus-one to chronicle the other’s experience. His lack of English speaking skills was equal to my lack of Italian, so we got along mostly in silence and communicated with assorted hand gestures – a handing off of a camera and a sweeping of the arm as if to say, “Capture me and ALL this.”

Moments captured along the way:

Starting the hike at “Heartbreak Hill”

Kings Canyon features ancient sandstone walls, sculptured by the elements, rising up to a plateau of rocky domes

About half way along the hike, a detour descends to the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by riverine vegetation

Established in 1989, the park’s scenic landscape of rugged ranges, rock holes and gorges acts as a refuge for animals and 600 plant species

Soaking up the sun and admiring the view at the rim of Kings Canyon

For more information visit The Rock Tour.

Veteran journalists Wendy Geister and Marcus Woolf launched The Adventure Post to share their passion for travel and outdoor adventure. They chronicle their journeys to inspire others to explore and provide insider tips that steer people toward richer travel experiences. The Adventure Post also includes contributions from other experienced travelers, as well as detailed gear reviews and reports on trends in outdoor recreation and adventure travel.