Your Australian checklist is almost complete. You’ve driven along the Great Ocean Road, explored Sydney Harbour, sailed through the Whitsunday Islands, and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. Now you’re off to the Outback, where you’ll hike through Kata Tjuta and watch Uluru change colors as the sun sets. But it seems like a lot of travel time—a flight to Alice Springs, plus a nearly 600-mile, roundtrip drive—just to see the Red Centre. So let’s expand this trip to the Northern Territory.
The Northern Territory, in the central-northern section of Australia, is one of the country’s largest regions. The arid land is full of red soil, sparse greenery, and little water. Few animals, and even fewer people, live here. It’s the least populated area in Australia. You can drive for hundreds of miles without seeing anyone. When you do come across a gas station, stop, as there’s no telling when the next one will pop up. But there’s one thing found in abundance in the Never Never: sacred Aboriginal sites.
You’re already planning to visit two of these sacred sites: the domed rocks at Kata Tjuta and the massive sandstone rock that many know as Ayers Rock. In between Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, you’ll also find Watarrka National Park. It’s home to the western end of the George Gill Range, Kathleen Springs, and Kings Canyon. Australia’s largest canyon rises out of the flat desert like a fortress. It has a maze of sandstone domes, sharp cliffs, ancient fossils, and breathtaking views of the Outback.
There are two hikes in Kings Canyon. The first, the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, is best for sunrise or sunset. The six-kilometer loop begins with a steep climb up Heartbreak Hill. You’re rewarded with stunning views over the gorge with walls more than 300 feet high. Descend into the Garden of Eden, a cool area with waterholes, River Red gums, and feathery cycads. The ancient seabed has marine fossils etched in the rocks. Beehive-like domes and the Kestrel Falls, which flow after the winter rains, are on the other side of the canyon.
The less strenuous Kings Creek Walk follows the riverbed along the canyon’s floor. Instead of looking down into the canyon, you look up at the sheer cliffs. Zebra Finches and Dusky Grasswrens hang out by the pools of water. With lots of shady areas, this hike is better for the midday heat.
After a day of hiking, you’re relieved to see the Kings Canyon Resort only a few miles away. Since this is the only place to stay out here, the resort offers campsites, hostel quarters, and budget rooms. You opt for the deluxe spa accommodations. You grab an NT Draught and order a pizza at the Thirsty Dingo Bar. Eventually, you make your way to the sunset viewing platform. The Southern Cross is above you. The canyon is changing colors as the sun dips over the horizon. A dingo howls in the distance. Whether you call it sacred, magical, or just plain mysterious, the Red Centre has captivated you.