Everything good in Central Australia happens at dawn. Whether it be walking, hot air ballooning, photography or just admiring the views, dawn in the desert is outstanding. Getting up is hard but once you are up it’s worth it. For us it was tackling Kings Canyon, the set piece walk of the vast ochre wonderland of Watarrka National Park between Uluru and Alice Springs. This 6km rim walk, which kicks off with a 500 step ascent, offers staggering views of the western desert as you trek through surreal red rock formations and includes a brief dive into a ferny oasis. It is a super popular trek with backpackers, families and fittish grey nomads.
This is not a regular walk. The desert’s fierce summer temperatures and this walk’s sheer drop offs have led to some avoidable tragedies over the years. At all times you must keep two metres away from the cliff face (bear in mind this entire walk is practically a cliff face) and you must carry two litres of water per person (if you are on a guided walk this needs to be sighted before you start). Nowadays if the forecast temperature is 36 degrees and over you must commence the walk before 9am. Tour guides must pass strict accreditation to lead groups and, although you can do the walk independently, a guided walk is a good way to learn about the history and geology of the canyon.
Despite the warnings, the walk itself wasn’t as hard as I anticipated. The 500 steps are divided into three tiers with viewing platforms at each, the view getting more mind-boggling the further we ascended. Once at the top the landscape changed from arid ochre rocks, referred to as lost cities, and sheer drop offs(we steered well away of these). As we walked along the top of the ridge we saw havens of soft green spinifex and gnarled eucalyptus and best of all a lush green oasis with swimming hole called appropriately The Garden of Eden. The final part of the walk is a gentle downhill trek on a well-defined track.
Of course, this walk is not for everyone. The 500 steps at the start and the sheer drop offs can be a turn-off, in which case there is a river walk at the base of the canyon, where you can look up at the rim. Another option is a helicopter ride with Professional Helicopter Services. For the thoroughly reasonable price of $150 for fifteen minutes they will sweep over the scenic rim walk and offer boundless views of the western desert. It’s really the only way to get any kind of perspective of this timeless territory and the good news is you don’t need to do it at dawn.