Touring the Outback: Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon

Australia is one of the oldest landscapes in the world; the tectonic movements that created many of central Australia’s rock formations occurred around 400 million years ago. To put that in context, the Himalayas were formed around 50 million years ago, and the youthful Alps are only about 30 million years old. At that time, tectonic movements far away created the forms of Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta.

Kata Tjuta (which translates as ‘many heads‘), is a collection of 36 connected domes about 15 miles away from Uluru, and are the same red orange colour, caused by the oxidation of iron in the surface of the rock. After an early, pre-dawn start we went to a viewing point to watch my third consecutive sunrise, before heading to Kata Tjuta to do the ‘Valley of the Winds’ walk. The trail, in and around the gigantic lumps, was dry, pretty and very orange. It was nice to do some walking again and our guide taught us a bit about some of the plants in the area, like the mulga tree, used by aboriginal people to make spear tips (due to its poisonous qualities), hunting boomerangs and, antiseptic from the roots.

King’s Canyon, which we visited the following day was impressive in a different way. We did the 7km King’s Canyon Rim Walk, starting with ‘heart attack hill’ and were introduced to some of the plants that make the canyon one of the most biodiverse areas in Australia, and saw the fossils of wave forms and sea cucumbers in the rock. Descending into the canyon, we walked through the ‘Garden of Eden’, which contains species plants and insects that evolved with the dinosaurs.

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Bugs

Interesting and lovely as the various landscapes were, the highlight of the trip for me was, surprisingly, the camping. On the first night we camped in our section of a large private campsite used by several tour companies, with a campfire and a basic dining area. Things got a bit more remote on the second night, when we stayed at a much more remote camp on King’s Creek Station, which felt even more so when we were left there without transport. On our way to the camp, as we collected some wood for a campfire, our guide had hit his head getting a pretty bad concussion (he later needed five stitches in his head and lots and lots of pain killers), so we were driven to the camp by another guide before he left to take our guide to get medical attention. We started getting our dinner ready as it got dark, waiting for a replacement guide to arrive, and joking that we’d be helpless in an emergency with no transport, phone signal or any knowledge of the area. It did start to feel a bit like the beginning of a horror movie when I went over to the doorless, roofless, cold water shower. It’s always the one who leaves the group that gets murdered first… Returning from my shower feeling elated at surviving and from being clean, we had our dinner and sat around our fire until our new guide showed up and reassured us all.

Both nights I slept in the open in a swag, a kind of big canvas sleeping bag with a thin mattress and pillow inside, that you sleep in inside an actual sleeping bag. Although it was a bit chilly on the first night, it was surprisingly comfy and cosy, and best of all it let us look up at the stars as we went to sleep. With barely any artificial light and hundreds of miles from the nearest town, the sky was fantastic, reminding me quite how in the middle of nowhere I was.

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The group
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