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Red Centre

Watarrka National Park

30 June - 13 July 2002

Aerial view of area near Kings Canyon

This article was written by Alan Shell, one of the participants on the trip. The photos were taken by Robert Hock, another one of the participants on the same trip.

Watarrka N P The park is situated about 330k south-west of Alice Springs and includes the George Gill Range. The range comprises sandstone outcrops, escarpments and rock gorges forming deep canyons with a few precious permanent rock pools.The world renowned King's Canyon is located on the southern escarpment and now attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

Petrified remains of an ancient sea

Where the ancient sandstone has fractured at right angles the weathering across time has created large beehive shaped formations reminiscent of the Bungle Bungles in W A. On the plateau towards the southern rim there is suprisingly an area of stablised sand dunes.

Watarrka evening with group

The first explorer to discover the range was Earnest Giles who in 1873 saw and named The Olgas but was dissuaded from continuing by his companions thus missing Uluru. From this base he tried to cross the deserts to the W A coast finally succeeding on his 3rd attempt. The park was created in 1989 and the name means country along the Dreaming Trail to King's Canyon.

Rock climbing in Watarrka

Willis Walkabouts
Russell Willis offers walks in the Kimberly, Kakudu and the Red Centre focussing on areas away from tourists and tends to cater for experienced walkers from clubs. Walkers provide their own gear, breakfasts and lunches and the guide the evening 3 course meal based on dried veges, fruits, fish and a little meat all of which is nutritious and appertising due to skillful cooking. Willis is the only organization offering walks in the park and indeed this was only the second 2 week trip attempted and was really explorative as the previous trip was not so ambitious.

Watarrka view stop

The Walkers
The group included a young German doing a photography course at R M I T,a Dutch girl travelling Australia, 6 very fit experienced walkers from Clubs here and N Z, myself and my friend from the Red Hill Ramblers - first time pack carrier. A very compatible lot including some great story tellers, much fun around the camp fires.

Watarrka rock art

The Walk
We ascended the tourist trail to the Kings Canyon rim and then set off across the plateau to set up camp on rock ledges above a pool. Using this as a base we explored the surounding area including gorges and caves where we found rock art probably unrecorded. The deep gorges often contain cycads, remnants from a higher rainfall period. Further on we reached Carmichaels Crag from which Giles saw the Olgas (as we did).

Fig growing on rock

Our guide pointed out bush tucker such as native fig, passion fruit and the caustic vine used by the aboriginals as an antiseptic - it exudes a white paste when cut. Also on a cliff face an amazing white fluted bee hive 1.5m long.Spent a wonderful day walking around Back Canyon and watching the zebra finches coming in for a drink at our swimming hole. Then with the aid of a helicopter prearranged water drop we camped on the northern escarpment with its views across Dry Creek valley to rolling unnamed ranges.

Helicopter food drop

At the end of the first week the helicopter delivered food and water before attempting the difficult and dangerous walk down a rocky gorge (more later) to the dry sand bed of Stokes Creek along which our guide had observed a rock hole during his helicopter recon.

Watarrka camp site

Found this late in the afternoon with some relief. It was idealic surrounded with red rock walls and trees reflected in the setting sun and became our base for 2 nights.

Collecting water

After this perfect camp spot we visited Kathleen Creek with its beautiful water hole and joined the Giles Track along the southern escarpment branching off for side walk to camp in the sand hills. This proved to be another highlight as it is entirely a different eco-system.

Desert flower

We were delighted to see desert grevilleas and thriptimene in flower and the rare upside down plant (flowers from the root).

Evening sky

Altogether a memorable walk in spectacular country with its sandstone domes, gorges, rock pools and surrounding deserts.

That's the end of Alan's short story. But more of Robert's photos follow below.

Desert tree and sky Lucky smile Spinifex in the late afternoon Wildflowers Watarrka waterhole
Lizard Happy walker

We'll finish with a comment from the guide, Justin Harrison, who lives in Alice Springs.

No other area I have explored in central Australia gives the client an experience of EVERY major habitat - and art sites as well. High ranges, desert dunes, riverine, gorge country and culture. This trip has all of it in one walk.

More information about our next Watarrka trip

Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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