Watarrka National Park
After Uluru we drove over to Watarrka National Park. This is the home of Kings Canyon, which is often billed as Australia’s Grand Canyon. It was a short drive, but man was it HOT out. Like, at least 40 degrees. I know that’s actually pretty average for the Outback in spring/summer, but at this point it was pretty much the hottest temperature Chris and I had ever experienced, so thank god the Kings Canyon Resort has a pool.
Since we made good time on the way to the park, we had a quick (and sweaty) stopover at Katherine Springs before getting to the resort, which is another one of those hotel/campground complexes. We saw a lot of people that had also been at Uluru with us (it’s pretty hard to mistake those Wicked vans), so it seems like the Red Centre Way is a popular drive. Since it was a billion degrees out, we spent the afternoon lounging in the pool. Hilariously, after our swim Chris left his swimsuit on a rock to dry and one of the local dingoes tried running off with it. Thankfully one of our fellow travellers from Uluru managed to chase the dingo away.
The resort has a nice platform for viewing the sunset over the canyon, so we took advantage of that in the evening. Even though it was not the busiest season the platform was packed with pretty much everyone there – note to self, walking a bit away from the obvious viewing platform equals unimpeded views!
The next day we were up at the break of dawn again, since temperatures necessitated that we start our Kings Canyon Rim Walk early enough to complete it before 11am. A number of other people were doing the same thing, but we quickly forged ahead since we are basically pros at climbing up steps at this point.
As promised the canyon is pretty impressive, with lots of huge cliff faces and fun rock formations. There is a nice waterhole called the Garden of Eden in the middle, and we saw some cute lizards.
There are also ferns that are from dinosaur times – Chris was pretty excited.
Finke Gorge National Park
After the canyon we decided to separate from our fellow travellers and take the Mereenie Loop road to Finke Gorge National Park, then the track to Palm Valley. Both are 4WD only roads, so we decided to take them BECAUSE WE CAN. The Mereenie Loop goes through Aboriginal land, so we had to purchase a permit to drive it. It’s quite scenic and we saw a lot of wild (maybe?) horses and donkeys on the way, which was nice. Not much of a 4WD route, it was just an unsealed highway, but some particularly bad corrugated sections are probably what keep the 2WDs away.
We made it to the campground by Palm Valley relatively easily, then decided to drive the last 4km of the track to the actual valley for a late afternoon hike. That was when the drive got exciting. Chris loved it. The track basically goes along the Finke River bed, which means you’re crawling on crazy bumpy rocks the whole way.
The exciting drive got Chris all testosterone-y, so he was uncharacteristically spry on our walk, despite it being a pretty sweltering afternoon. Palm Valley is special because (as the name suggests) the valley is full of Red Cabbage Palm trees, the only place they are found in Australia and also THE WORLD. It’s believed that the seeds were brought to the valley by Aboriginals hundred of years ago. Apparently scientists used to think they were just left over from a previous wetter period and protected by the gorge, but turns out that isn’t the case. The current thought also lines up with the Aboriginal stories which supposedly go back 11,000 years? So it’s pretty cool that science validated the old stories.
As there are also a lot of cycads in the valley, it’s fun to walk through as it’s kind of like being in Jurassic Park or something. We were the only ones in the valley, save for another couple of grey nomads we saw at the campground.
The next morning we took a quick hike up to Kalarranga Lookout to see the sandstorm formations, before heading to the Macdonnell Ranges.
Gosse Bluff Conservation Reserve
Enroute we stopped to see Gosse Bluff, which was created by a comet impact. Chris was pretty pumped to stand in the middle of a meteor crater. The Aboriginal story has something to do with a baby falling from the sky and creating the impact and then the moon looking for it every night or something, kind of a weird and slightly morbid story.
West Macdonnell National Park
When we got to West Macdonnell National Park, our first stop was Redbank Gorge. It was a bit of a hike in to get to the waterhole (Chris was dragging his feet quite a bit by the time we arrived), which made for a super refreshing swim. The water was pretty cold. You can hike further up the gorge to successive waterholes, but with the dry season the next one looked pretty low and stagnant.
We stopped to camp in Ormiston Gorge, which has it’s own very lovely waterhole. The next day we went on an early morning hike around Ormiston Pound, where we got some great views and also saw a lot of the famous ghost gum trees. The hike was great because it ended back at the waterhole, so we cooled off with a dip. It actually rained a bit during our hike, which (in 38 degree weather) was both surprising and delightful.
We headed onwards to Alice Springs, stopping to check out the Ochre Pits and Serpentine Gorge on the way. It was an unexpectedly strenuous hike to the Serpentine Gorge Lookout (Chris started out much too fast haha) but the view was pretty crazy at the top.
Our last stop before Alice Springs was Ellery Big Hole, the biggest (and therefore most popular) waterhole in the MacDonnell Ranges. We went for a swim and watched a gang of Aboriginal kids hilariously fend off a snake (a.k.a. “rainbow serpent”) they found in the gorge by throwing rocks at it and poking it with a stick. Don’t know if that is kosher or not but oh well.
By late afternoon, we had arrived at the famed Alice Springs!