Kings Canyon: 400 Million Years in the Making


As you plan your Australian adventure, Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory should be on your list. This fascinating geological formation situated within the Watarrka National Park is a mesmerizing blend of nature’s raw power, ancient cultural heritage, and unique biodiversity.

Getting to Kings Canyon

Getting to Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon might seem a bit challenging, given its remote location, but that’s part of the adventure. The site is located about 450 km from Alice Springs and 310 km from Uluru, two significant points of departure in the region.

You can travel to Kings Canyon via a self-drive itinerary, which is a popular option due to the scenic routes available. There are two main roads leading to the canyon: the Luritja Road from Uluru, and the Stuart Highway via Ernest Giles Road from Alice Springs. Both roads are well maintained and are suitable for regular vehicles, although a four-wheel-drive is recommended if you plan to take the Ernest Giles Road.

For those who prefer a less hands-on approach, coach tours are available from both Alice Springs and Uluru, providing a comfortable and informative journey. Flying is another option, with charter flights available from Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, and Darwin airports, landing at the Kings Creek Station, just 36 km from the canyon.

Geological Evolution of Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon’s breathtaking cliffs were shaped by over 400 million years of geological history. The canyon was initially formed by a gradual uplift, bending the rock layers with the earth’s shifting crust. This natural uplift eventually led to the formation of the George Gill Range.

Over time, erosion from wind, rain, and the ancestral Kings Creek etched the canyon into the sandstone bedrock, creating the deep chasm we see today. The canyon walls, reaching over 100 meters high, are a striking red, a color imparted by iron oxidation – essentially the rocks rusting over millions of years.

Biodiversity of Kings Canyon

In 1986, Kings Canyon was recognized as a significant natural site and listed on the Register of the National Estate by the Department of Environment. It is regarded as one of the most stunning canyons in Central Australia, renowned for its unique biodiversity. Kings Canyon is home to around 572 different plant species, including 60 rare or relict species, making it a remarkable “living plant museum.” Additionally, the canyon boasts a rich avian population, with 80 species of birds. Notable features of the canyon include stands of cycads and permanent rock pools. Visitors can also appreciate well-preserved Aboriginal paintings and engravings within the area.

Keep an eye out for Blue-Tongue Lizards

The canyon’s walls rise impressively to heights of over 100 meters (330 feet), with Kings Creek flowing at the base. Parts of the gorge hold cultural significance as Aboriginal sacred sites, and visitors are advised to stay on designated walking tracks.

Walking Tracks

Three distinct walks are available at Kings Canyon. The Kings Creek Walk, covering two kilometers and taking approximately an hour, follows the base of the gorge and offers views of the canyon walls.

The Kings Canyon Rim Walk, a six-kilometer loop, leads hikers along the top of the canyon and typically takes three to four hours to complete. It starts with a steep ascent known locally as “Heartbreak Hill” due to its steepness and provides panoramic views of the gorge and the surrounding landscape. Along the way, a detour leads to the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. The latter half of the walk navigates a maze of weathered sandstone domes, reminiscent of the Bungle Bungle formations. A gradual descent eventually returns hikers to the starting point, and while it’s possible to do the loop in reverse, it is encouraged to follow a single direction for safety.

Access to the walk may be restricted during hot weather. Additionally, the 22-kilometer Giles Track connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs and is favored by more adventurous hikers.

Walking in Kings Canyon

The canyon’s natural beauty also attracts various bird species, including the spinifex pigeon, zebra finch, grey-headed honeyeater, dusky grasswren, black-breasted buzzard, and peregrine falcon.

Solar Power

Notably, Kings Canyon was also home to the Kings Canyon Solar Power Station, which began operation in December 2003. This photovoltaic power station had a generating capacity of 225 kWp and produced 372,000 kWh of electricity annually, making it the largest single installation of its kind in Australia at the time.

Preservation efforts focus on managing threats to the ecosystem, including invasive species, fire, and the impact of tourism. Biosecurity measures are in place to prevent the introduction of new species, while controlled burning is used to mitigate the risk of large wildfires.

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