It’s not even 6 AM yet and I’m staring straight up heart attack hill — the start of our 6 km hike around Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park. The sun’s light is just starting to peek over the canyon walls and some stars are still left in the last of the night’s sky. It’s a beautiful way to start this stunning hike.
On hot summer days with temperatures predicted to be over 95° F/36° C, like this day, you have to start the hike before 9 am. And unfortunately, you must also start with the dreaded heart attack hill: 1000 steps nearly straight up the canyon. You are required to begin with this hill as a way to deter those who can’t handle the physical demand of this hike. But don’t worry, if you can handle the hill, you’ll be just fine for the rest of the hike.
I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, taking occasional stops to take pictures (read: catch my breath). But with views like this, how could I not pause to get a snap?
After a pretty tough climb, I finally made it to the top just in time to watch the sun break over the canyon walls, revealing the most spectacular golden sunrise.
I enjoyed a quiet moment sitting watching the sun rise and basking in the golden glow. And also maybe still catching my breath — seriously, the heart attack part of “heart attack hill” is no joke.
Chief, our quintessentially Australian tour guide, let us enjoy the sunrise and talked to us about the Canyon’s history, the flora and fauna, and the aboriginal people, before leading us on to the rest of the hike.
But not before I snapped a couple more pictures of this glorious golden light of course.
There are a couple things that you will need for this hike. First and foremost, you need about 1 liter of water for every hour of walking. You will also need comfortable shoes (I wore tennis shoes and they were suitable) and a hat to help shade from the sun. Sunscreen is recommended too. You may want a fly net as well. I found the flys not too bad at Kings Canyon, but everywhere else they were miserable. And of course, you’ll want a camera to capture the canyon’s stunning views!
I don’t know what it is about the Australian Outback, but I swear the rocks glow red. It’s tempting to want to get right up on the edge to look down into the vast canyon below, but Chief warns us to stay at least 2 meters back, making his point by picking up a clump of dirt/rock and crushing it between his fingers. We hike on, passing through the notable Pricilla’s Crack made famous by the classic Aussie movie, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
Halfway through and you’ve arrived at the “Garden of Eden” — well almost, you must first descend down a series of fairly steep staircases built right into the canyon wall.
Aptly named, the Garden of Eden appears out of nowhere, a beautiful oasis amidst the red rock. It is so green and full of life. This shady watering hole is a great midway resting point along the hike.
After enjoying the break, it’s time to ascend back up the stairs on the opposite side of the canyon. Once back on top, you’re faced with a view of the amazing “lost city,” an endless sea of sandstone mounds that seem to go on forever.
Chief takes this opportunity to remind us how important it is to stay on the designated path marked with blue arrows. He tells us of a man who strayed from the path, got so turned around because the landscape looks all the same, that they ended up finding him 10 km away almost a day later! I found myself staying just a little bit closer to Chief for the remainder of the hike.
Something I found really interesting was the ripple marks that are evidence there were once shallow lakes over Central Australia millions of years ago! The ripples are still preserved in the stone — how cool is that?!
The last noteworthy landmark on the hike is Kestral Falls, a waterfall that flows after heavy rains. Unfortunately, it was dry when I was there.
Continue along the path to the final descent down stone steps to the parking lot. It’s not as steep downhill as the start, but it was still a tough descent — I nicknamed it “ankle breaker” as I was pretty sure my ankles were going to give out on those last few steps.
If you are visiting Australia’s Red Centre, I urge you to visit Kings Canyon. Uluru gets all the attention with double the amount of yearly visitors and though it truly is incredible and a must see, Kings Canyon is equally deserving of a visit too!
Want to see both in a weekend? This tour is a great option and I highly recommend!