Experience slow travel in the Red Centre – part 2

Dec 09, 2022

In part two of a two-part story (read part one here), travel writer Petra O’Neil experiences our 5-day Walk the Red Centre pack-free guided walk.

DAY 3 – Kings Canyon rim walk
Kings Canyon, sited at the intersection of the George Gill Range, Simpson and Western deserts and MacDonnell Ranges, is one of the most spectacular sights in central Australia. After a hearty buffet breakfast to start our day, we set off with a steep climb up 500 stone steps to the plateau, the most challenging part of the trail.

Along the way we passed the weathered beehive domes of the Lost City before the track skirted along the canyon’s precipitous rim, reaching the highest point at Cotterill’s Lookout. The dramatic views overlooking the vast wilderness below and the sheer cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon were spectacular.

A series of wooden staircases then descend to a lush valley, the way lined with ghost gums and cypress pines, ending at a deep pool known as the Garden of Eden. Surrounded by ferns and ancient MacDonnell Ranges Cycads, it provides a habitat for many plants and animals.

On the sides of the cliffs are scattered markings of white guano; raptors flew overhead, and spinifex pigeons darted about. Stairs led back up to the sandstone plateau from where the hike continues around the edge of the rim and back down to the carpark.

At Kings Creek Station, seated under shady gums, frogs croaked in the garden and we enjoyed camel and veggie burgers in an authentic outback setting before departing for Uluru 300km away.

With Bec, our other guide having compiled a playlist of favourite hits to sing to, it was an enjoyable drive on the Lasseter Highway with a stop at Lake Amadeus, a massive salt lake, which is nothing short of exceptional. We also drove past Mt Conner, a huge flattened mountain, which is often mistaken for Uluru, and is also impressive.

Day 4 – Kata Tjuta
In 1875 the explorer Ernest Giles described Kata Tjuta as “enormous haystacks…ancient and sublime.” To the Pitjantjatjara, they mean “many heads”. The 36 ancient domes of Kata Tjuta stand side-by-side covering an area of 35 sq km, with Mt Olga 200m taller than Uluru.

Dating back 500 million years, they consist of a conglomerate of granite, basalt, sand and mud, giving a rough pitted appearance. The Valley of the Winds is a loop walk that provides a close-up view of the towering domes. The track is well maintained, beginning with an ascent on roughly cut rock steps that skirt around a hill before climbing to Karu lookout, which is sited on a rocky saddle.

The track then descends steeply over loose rocks to a valley encircled by the domes, before continuing between two steeply sided domes for the ascent to Karingana lookout, which offers stunning views across the valley.

Climbing to a rocky plateau before a steep descent down a rocky shelf to the valley floor, the track then meanders along a dry creek bed lined with river red gums and bloodwoods through open scrubland of grevillea, mulga, spinifex, and wildflowers. After a steep ascent, the walk finishes at the Karu lookout and then the carpark.

Day 5 – Uluru
When William Gosse reached Uluru in 1873, he named it after Henry Ayers, the then premier of South Australia. The traditional owners, the Anangu, have always known it as Uluru and to them it’s sacred. I’ve seen Uluru in winter and summer, in wet and dry, and at different times of day, and the colours are never the same. In the afternoon it appears brown, and at sunset and sunrise it glows a brilliant orange, turning deep red as the sun recedes.

Measuring 3.6 km x 2.4 km, it stands 348m above the surrounding dunes, and is 9.4 km if you walk around the base. The base walk allows you to see the textures, the deeply pitted and sliced rough sandstone, the grooves and folds that form dark shadows, with caves and waterholes to see along the way. At the Mala and Mutijulu waterholes there are fine examples of rock art of goannas, frogs and Wanampi the ancestral water serpent.

The full circuit is over flat even ground of open grassland of desert oak, spinifex, and mulga, and you will see an abundance of sunning skinks, noisy finches and nankeen kestrels soaring above on the thermals.

To walk in the Red Centre is memorable in so many ways, but nothing can prepare you for the immensity of the landscape or for the effect it will have on you. As soon as Uluru appears on the horizon, even from a distance there is a connection, which is why I keep returning to it.

Words and photos_Petra O’Neil