From Uluru, our next destination of Kings Canyon was ‘just up the road’ in outback terms (ie. a few hundred kilometres). We had both been to Kings Canyon on our 2003 school central Australia trip, but I remember it being a highlight and we were keen to do the canyon rim walk with the girls – a real test of how far we could walk with them!
The Kings Canyon Resort campground was a pleasant change from the Uluru dust bowl…well, it was still dusty, no surprises there really. But we had plenty of space around us, trees even, great toilet and shower facilities (despite the exorbitant camping fees at Uluru I had a few cold showers! Not happy, Jan!) and our neighbours Our Van Tribe had made their way here too – kids to ride bikes around the campground with! We got to camp fairly late and turned in for the night early in anticipation for a pre-dawn alarm to get up to the canyon to start the rim walk before the heat of the day.
Again, sacrilegiously, we woke our sleeping children – packing a breakfast, snacks, water and first aid kit into the backpack and headed off on the arduous climb to ascend Kings Canyon…
I had been dreading these steps, over 500 of them, steep and rocky. I remember it being difficult as a spritely 16 year old, so I wasn’t looking forward to it as a 31 year old with a 16kg toddler on my back! But, I think we definitely built it up a bit in our minds as being harder than in reality – I was somewhat surprised that, with a lot of rest stops and a fairly slow pace, we made it to the top of the canyon for breakfast without breaking much of a sweat. I must say, the Ergo I use for Harriet (and did for Eleanor as a baby/toddler too) is exceptional – lightweight and easy to pack/use, and distributes the weight perfectly. Some other hikers we passed commended me on carrying her and I legitimately said “Oh I can’t even notice her!” without it being a word of a lie!
At the top of the canyon, looking into the impressive gorge below (cliff danger had me all “SIT ON THAT ROCK AND DO NOT MOVE!”) we had breakfast and soaked in the view over the morning light. I quietly pondered where they had filmed Priscilla: Queen of the Desert…
Onwards across the rocky but fairly flat canyon ‘top’ – weaving our way through the sandstone domes and past the remarkable ghost gums which seemed to just grow out of…nothing?! We made our way to overlook the ‘garden of eden’, down and up more steps, a lot of stops and starts, snacks and a bit of Eleanor walking once we got away from cliffs, although the in/out/in/out of the backpack can be tiresome. As heavy as she is to carry (the whole 25kg of her!) Matt often prefers to just carry her in the backpack than deal with the snails pace and whinging voice trailing behind us!
Over the other side of the canyon we met up with Jake, Shell, Alfie and Evie, who had undertaken the southern canyon walk rather than the whole loop. Evie was only a little bit older than Eleanor and walked the whole way – much more stamina than our blossom! The cliffs on this side of the canyon were sheer, and scary! I didn’t get too close to the edge, but from seeing them on the other side of the canyon I knew exactly how severe they were.
Back to the carpark, as it got warmer and warmer, I was really grateful for an early start, and a reminder that perhaps we should start walks even earlier! Matt did the short walk along the creek at the base of the canyon, while the girls and I had a rest and snack back at the car. A well earned pool dip back at camp and then pizza and beers at ‘The Thirsty Dingo’ back at Kings Canyon Resort, before we hit the road again the next morning…
We continued north from Kings Canyon, along the Mereenie Loop road, which required a permit to travel through Aboriginal land. Not long into the drive we saw our first feral camel! The road was corrugated, but wide and fairly uneventful. We inched our way closer to Hermannsberg – once a Lutheran mission settlement and now a small Aboriginal community. We explored the old heritage buildings and mission precinct, discovering how German Lutheran’s made their way from Europe to this desolate place in the late 1880’s – quite amazing that they jumped off a ship in Adelaide, then just trotted off blindly into the abyss of inland Australia, all in ‘aid’ of converting the indigenous people of Australia. Imagine! Talk about a culture shock/baptism of fire. The girls thought that the church with the music playing in it was the best part, and as Eleanor said “that’s a lot of porridge!” You’re not wrong!
From Hermannsberg we didn’t have much of a plan, but decided to drive into Palm Valley to camp for the night, we had heard it was quite good. The drive in was 4WD only, which you never really know what to expect… it was along the dry river and through some pretty country, over ranges and through more dry creek beds with their majestic river red gums standing guard over them. After we reached the campground (and had to continue driving a few kilometres to the actual Palm Valley) it got considerably more rocky though, at Cycad Gorge we met some other campers who advised if we were to go further (to the end at Palm Valley where the walk we wanted to do was) we should probably drop the trailer. So poor Tilly got left behind, unhitched and locked up while we continued the extra 1.5km to Palm Valley. A lot of people usually walk this last distance, but with the girls and a walk ahead of us still, and it very late in the day and we hadn’t made camp yet, we thought we’d just drive. It was indeed slow going, not impossible with Tilly on too, but a lot easier without her. We did a loop walk along the base of Palm Valley, and then climbed up to the top of the escarpment to walk back to the car along the top of the ‘gorge’. Eleanor walked this one by herself, in sandals and dress no less. Her stamina was improving for longer walks (this one was about 1.5km), as long as they were fairly interesting – rock scrambling and stairs or bridges are always an incentive – as were Paddle Pops waiting in Tilly’s freezer for the first person to spot the car back at the carpark!
After inching our way back to Tilly (it took us about half an hour to go the 4km back to the campground) we found a pretty little campsite by the banks of the dry creek, with half a dozen other campers there, but apparently only a few weeks ago this place was packed out and you couldn’t get a spot. Definitely worth the drive in here though, glad we decided to do it on a whim!
The next day, after chatting to our neighbours from Townsville about our travels/their travels and our plans to cross the Tanami, we headed off towards Gosse Bluff – a giant meteorite crater. A quick scramble up the rocks gave us a great overall picture of the ‘crater’ (which is hard to see when you’re down at ground level surrounded by the ‘mountains’ created by the meteors impact.) We continued on to have lunch at Tyler’s Pass picnic area – where you could really get a sense of the crater!
Further along we came to one of the first gorges of the West MacDonnell ranges – Redbank Gorge. We decided to do the walk (only about 2km return) up the sandy river bed and then a climb over the rocks at the end – so many rocks! Eleanor said they were like giant building blocks or Lego that God had put there. We saw a few rock wallabies, quite friendly, peering inquisitively down on us from the steep rocky outcrops. At the end of the gorge we found a little waterhole – quite stagnant as it hadn’t seen rain in a long while I’d assume, and freezing cold. Of all the gorges and gaps and waterholes along the West MacDonnell ranges ‘Namatjira Drive’ towards Alice Springs, I think Redbank was my favourite and most impressive.
On we went towards Glen Helen, where we had heard there was a good camp at ‘Two Mile’ campground. We pulled off the road not expecting all too much, but were pleasantly surprised to find one of the nicest free camps we’ve ever had in Australia – a big call! On the Finke River, with beautiful river stones and soft sand (which yes, we got bogged in again, us and the Finke River do not agree!) The river stones were a nice change from red dust! We settled in for the night right up the end of the area designated for camping, this was definitely a popular spot though – with good reason. Sunset over the ranges with the waterhole, birds and beautiful river red gums in the foreground was picture perfect.
There was a handful of other campers dotted along the river bank, but I could see in peak season this would be busy. We had a fire, the last of our ciders before hitting town for a well overdue supermarket shop (we hadn’t really gone shopping since Murray Bridge in South Australia!) The girls had an absolute ball at this campsite, collecting and sorting rocks and playing in the soft ‘beach’ sand in the morning…