Watarrka National Park
Located at the western end of the George Gill Range, Watarrka National Park is a landscape of rugged ranges, isolated rock holes and gorges, the most imposing of which is Kings Canyon, a massive cut of red sandstone that towers 100 metres over the canyon ﬂoor. Ancient rock formations, shaped by the forces of wind and water over thousands of years, rise from the plateau.
From Alice Springs via Stuart Hwy, Ernest Giles Rd (4WD) and Luritja Rd; or via Larapinta Dr and Mereenie Loop Rd (4WD recommended); from Alice Springs or Yulara via Stuart Hwy, Lasseter Hwy and Luritja Rd (all sealed)
April to September
302 km south-west of Alice Springs
- PWCNT Watarrka (08) 8956 7460
- PWCNT Alice Springs (08) 8951 8250
A permit is required for the Mereenie Loop Rd, which passes through Aboriginal land; available from Alice Springs Visitor Centre (08) 8952 5800 or Kings Canyon Resort (08) 8956 7442
72 200 ha
Alice Springs (08) 8952 5800 or 1800 645 199
Kings Canyon Resort (08) 8956 7442
Featured Activities in the National Park
Climb to the top of Kings Canyon for spectacular views of the surrounding desert country
Contemplate the peace and stillness at the Garden of Eden
Marvel at the weathered, eroded surfaces of the beehive domes in the Lost City
A look at the past
Explorer Ernest Giles was the ﬁrst European to visit this area, in 1872. The following year, William Gosse travelled through, turned south, and discovered and named Ayers Rock. Soon pastoralists followed, with cattle to graze on the often-dry grasslands.
The Luritja people are the traditional owners of the park, which they now jointly manage with PWCNT. For them, Kings Canyon was an oasis in a harsh landscape. In times of severe drought many groups retreated to the moist gorges and shady overhangs and there are occupation sites, engravings within the canyon and rock art along the southern escarpment of the George Gill Range. The park is named after an acacia tree (umbrella bush or Acacia ligulata) that the Luritja people know as watarrka.
Ayers Rock, Mount Conner, the MacDonnell Ranges and George Gill Range are formations of rock that dispel the myth that central Australia is a ﬂat and barren landscape. Kings Canyon is an enormous natural amphitheatre with 100-metre walls of sheer rock – from the rim of the canyon you can look out over the desert and down to thick bushland. A maze of weathered domes and rock shelters make up a formation known as the Lost City, while elsewhere are cool, damp gorges and valleys, and a peaceful retreat called the Garden of Eden, a verdant area surrounding a chain of pools and shady trees in a sheltered valley. A natural spring at Kathleen Springs feeds a cool rock hole.
More than 750 plant species have been recorded in the park. The sandy country surrounding the canyon is dominated by desert oak with an understorey of spinifex, and wildﬂowers bloom after rain. Acacias and eucalypts are found clinging to the narrow ledges and rocky overhangs of Kings Canyon and a range of plants grows in the gorge, including a fern species only found at Watarrka. A huge grove of the cycad species, Macrozamia macdonnellii, populates the Garden of Eden, and is among 60 or so rare or relict species, such as the creeping swamp fern, that have survived for more than 50 million years, from a time when rainforest covered the area.
Rock-wallabies and dingoes are some of the larger animals found in the park. Smaller mammals and reptiles are shy and often nocturnal. Large numbers of insects and seed-bearing trees attract an array of birds – about 80 species. The white-fronted honeyeater, red-capped robin, hooded robin and crested bellbird ﬂit among the mulga trees around Kathleen Springs. Riverine vegetation houses several species of honeyeaters and other birds including the red-browed pardalote and black-eared cuckoo. Ground dwellers and seedeaters include the spinifex pigeon, dusky grasswren and painted ﬁnch.
The main attractions at Watarrka are Kings Canyon and Kathleen Springs. There are several spectacular walks but visitors must be aware that the climate can be hot at certain times of the year – always carry plenty of water and avoid walking in the hottest part of the day. There are regular nature talks by rangers between May and October at the Canyon carpark shelter and Kathleen Springs carpark.
Kings Creek Walk (2.6 km, 1 hour return, easy) wanders among fallen boulders and the vegetation of the canyon ﬂoor to a lookout. It is an easy trail, ideal for families, and is accessible to wheelchairs for the ﬁrst 700 metres. Kings Canyon Rim Walk (6-km loop, 3–4 hours, moderate–hard) has an initial climb up 500 well-formed but steep steps to the rim of the canyon, which is slightly demanding but the view is well worth the effort. The track weaves among the weathered rock formations of the Lost City then on through the quiet seclusion of the Garden of Eden. Kathleen Springs Walk (2.4 km, 1½ hours return, easy) leads to a beautiful spring-fed waterhole and is accessible by wheelchair. Interpretive signs along the track explain Aboriginal culture and pastoral history. Giles Track (22 km, 2 days) traverses the George Gill Range from Kathleen Springs to Kings Canyon. An entry or exit point is at Lilla. PWCNT have walking notes available. Walkers should register with the Overnight Walkers Registration Scheme on 1300 650 730.