Uluru is the one that gets all the worldwide fame and attention, but even from the plane coming into the area, I could see that Kata Tjuta looked like it could be equally impressive. Whereas Uluru is a giant monolith, Kata Tjuta is a series of huge dome-shaped rocks that were formed around the same time – and are in fact a fair bit bigger in terms of area and quite a bit higher too. Between the domes are a series of narrow valleys, and I was looking forward to the Kata Tjuta sunset viewing much more than the equivalent at Uluru – mainly because rather than just looking at the sunset we’d actually have the chance to walk through the most famous, the valley of the winds.
Sadly though, I hadn’t done my research on the area properly, as I’d arrived at one of the hottest times of year – and in the narrow valleys, the temperature gets even higher than the already pretty hot surrounding area. On the day we got there, it was forecast to be close to 50 degrees in the valley – and so it was closed off to walkers, so we just got to see the start of it. I was gutted.
So, after another disappointment, it was time to head back a bit to see the sunset. And this time, as we settled down in the viewing area with a glass of champagne, there was no letdown. As the sun went down, the rocks were lit up such a bright red they almost looked like they were glowing. It was absolutely stunning, and way more impressive than the Uluru equivalent – and not just because of the colours. The multi-domed shape of Kata Tjuta is much more impressive-looking in my opinion.
Day three was yet another early start as we headed off on the long drive to Kings Canyon, a couple of hundred kilometres away on the way to Alice Springs. My only knowledge of the place is that it was the setting for the ‘cock in a frock on a rock’ scene from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – but that was enough to know that I couldn’t come to the area without seeing it.
There are two main options for seeing the canyon – an easy walk upstream to see the canyon from inside, or a longer walk around the canyon rim, which the guidebook describes as quite strenuous (which was further unlined by the fact we had to sign a rather scary release form by the tour company before we started!). But really – if you’re moderately fit, it’s really not that hard at all (again, the forty degree-plus temperature is the main challenge, but there’s plenty of time for a slowish pace, and plenty of stops, so with enough water it’s no problem).
The toughest bit of the hike is a very steep uphill section right at the start, but with that out of the way it soon got quite easy, and the views from the top make all those steps totally worth it. The rocks round the canyon are all red, and there’s all kinds of cool rock formations of different kinds on the way round. Standing on the canyon rim itself (although not right on the rim – it can be quite crumbly in places, and there are some huge overhanging bits you can be standing on without realising) gives fantastic views across the narrow gap to the other side (and it’s the perfect shape for some fantastic echoes, which was great to play around with). It’s a beautiful spot, with far fewer crowds than the rock, and well worth the long day trip from the rock to get to, as it’s just as beautiful as Uluru & Kata Tjuta.
I’d been asleep on the long drive there, so the way back really gave us the opportunity to see the landscapes around, and if anything this was just as much of a highlight for me. Not because there is anything to see – in fact the whole thing that stood out for me was the sheer lack of anything. For hundreds of kilometres, there is almost nothing, just red earth, scrub-like plants and small trees, and the odd farm. Coming from a rather small, very crowded island, I found the vast emptiness of the centre of Australia stunning. If I return to the country for a fourth time, I’d love to make a long road trip through the centre of the country, there really is something about the place I find strangely compelling. Along the way, the driver gave us a long and fascinating explanation of the history of the area, on the early pioneers, through to gold-prospecters and farmers, which really brought the place to life.
Final stop on the way back was a viewing point on the highway to look across to the area’s third huge rock formation – and one that I’d never heard of – Mount Connor. It’s a huge mesa (table-top mountain), much bigger than Uluru or Kata Tjuta, but like them rising straight out of the flat desert landscape. It was hard to really appreciate it from that kind of distance, but it looked pretty impressive and if I had more time in the area I’d have definitely given it a closer look (it turned out to look even more impressive as I flew over it the next day on the way to Sydney).
On making it back to the hostel, I walked up a nearby sand dune to get one last look at the rocks at sunset – and you know what, after paying all that cash for expensive sunset viewings of Uluru & Kata-Tjuta, I was treated to the best sunset of the lot right there. Whereas the sunset tours place you with the sun setting behind you, so you can see the rocks changing colours, with this angle, I got to see the sun set behind Kata Tjuta, with the setting sun lighting the sky a beautiful golden yellow, with the huge domes appearing in profile. And all for free.
Despite the huge cost and the few slight disappointments, ultimately I’m so glad I made the effort to get there. The rocks in particular are really unique sights, and the experience of being in the red centre was one that made me just want to go back for more.
This post is part two of my account of my three days in the red centre of Australia. You can read part one (about Uluru / Ayers Rock) here.
You can see all of my photos of the area here.