After the wonder of Omiston Gorge, we rolled the swag and headed out. A Kings Canyon our intension. We had no real expectations or planning other than potential free camp with a view on the way in, else the sister resort to Yulara situated closer to the royal canyon.
The country opens and the jump ups dot the horizon along the way and despite the sealed road, we rarely encountered other traffic and felt marvelously small and free in the world. Once the bitumen ended, we were well and truly alone with our thoughts, and the mild corrugations. Mereenie Loop had promised to be rough and it delivered. It was more the washed out dips and impromptu erosion humps that kept my eyes firmly in front, taking in the rugged country in short glimpses side to side.
The free camp is actually a signed lookout rest area heavily wooded with mulga. Heavily littered, even a wrecked dome tent. Despite the large grated bins, we were thoroughly disgusted with what we saw. There were half a dozen campers but it seemed like perhaps the area had or could host that thrice over.
To paint the picture, the sky at its daily iridescent blue,
cloudless. The ground is dark rust red and stony; separating these Australian colours is the almost black of the foliage. Ignoring the necessarily obtuse rubbish bins, the scene is confettied with white. Toilet paper everywhere you look. The occasional drink tin or bottle. Honestly, the idea of camping anywhere, near the toilet paper where who-knows-who may have been squatting was eye-watering.
We wondered through and down the washouts to the edge to take in the view, attempting to ignore the already discounted camping area we knew we would be abandoning shortly. Kings Canyon on the horizon posed a very masculine form and despite the gorge and jump up country we had just left, painted a somewhat Utah picture.
A combination of the tantalising and enormous geology waiting for us, and the toilet paper streamers decorating the wooded descent directly in front, we turned tail and were back on the road, making our now tarred descent. Switchbacks and the narrow road feeling a little more east coast in the shade but soon enough the bitumen ended and we were churning a dust tail into Watarrka National Park.
Unlike Yulara, the Kings Canyon Resort was subdued, quiet even. Minus the Finke competitors in their bivies we shared with at Yulara, the camper trailers and caravans dominated the grounds and sparsely as best. The small tent and swag area was a bollard marked beige patch, empty except for one half erected tent. At the same exorbitant cost as Yulara we unrolled and checked out the amenities and the pub. Both sufficient but by no means a representation of the entry fee. We’re rarely one to balk at the cost and conditions of travel but given the lack of customers, and what we have experienced elsewhere, a decent daily or twice daily clean of the aromatic amenities wouldn’t go astray.
We showered and changed to freshen up for the sunset viewing hosted out on a picturesque boardwalk. My portrait lens totally inappropriate at this distance, we simply cooled off in the breeze and took it all in, sipping something sparkling. Despite the quiet resort, all of us together on the platform with a portable bar, proved quite the soiree. Kings Canyon quietly going about its transformation in the distance.
Dinner at the hotel was a steak and a shock from a keen dingo sniffing at me, he disappeared out of the fire light as quickly and quietly as he appeared. We were seated outside, shade, leafy and present with up cycled wine barrels and tables, allowing us to enjoy the communal fire. Our neighbours had their beautiful Border Collie and we talked of travelling with dogs but mostly about the superiority and life enhancement of Border Collies in general.
There was no Telstra here and the only WiFi was a magnificently expensive 100mb. We logged in to check emails in lieu of our replacement tank. No news. Unsurprisingly, 100mb practically evaporates in today’s standard of internet so little else was achieved. We put some washing on in the old Maytags, and wasted our money on the old dryer. Draping our damp clothes on the bullbar before retiring to the swag, several gold coins poorer.
The sun and birdlife woke us early and we had a hot breakfast at the pub before rolling up the swag and driving the short distance out to the Canyon. My tourist backpack packed we used the far superior WiFi in the carpark to check in before ascending the Heart Attack Hill that the full Rim Walk demands as entry fee. True to its name, the angle is steep and my head spun when we paused, swung around to check our ascent.
Once at the top, the walk is relatively easy albeit technical. Keeping your footing affords you an interrupted view of the cliffs edge. Thankfully and terrifyingly, there are no fences, merely signs suggesting grisly death and quiet drama should you venture less than 2m to the edge.
The wind was unnerving, perched up here, it swirled and refused to be ignored. Nonetheless, the views were intoxicating and almost impossible to take in. I found myself watching other people, a way of putting it in perspective I think, that we were all seemingly hanging out up here, unguided, unsupervised. An incredible geological creature, putting up with our visit, as it had for thousands of years.
We enjoyed the walk fairly silently, only briefly did a family with five or more noisy children, everyone of them running around as only a carefree and ignorant as children can at that age and height, making me nervous. We doubled our pace for a short turn to lose them easily. We had a banana and respite in a serene little gorge with a few grey haired walkers. Barely any words transgressed as we all enjoyed the rugged isolation in the shade.
By the time we were back at the LandCruiser, the temperature had risen and being only around midday, it was hinting at a warm afternoon ahead. We ruined our walk by having hamburgers at the pub before saying our goodbyes to Watarrka, reuniting with the Mereenie Loop to backtrack towards Hermansburg. Our original plan-less plan was actually to head east from Watarrka and the north through the Finke to get to Hermansburg but we had promise of our tank replacement arriving and opted for a quicker route towards Alice.
Experiencing the same corrugations a second time felt no less jarring and as we stopped to air up, a truck driver in our dust tail pulled up to check his load, he hated the loop, but said as long as he stopped regularly to tighten everything up again he and his cargo lived to ride it again and again. The road sealing was slowly closing the gap, so I am positive his remaining teeth would appreciate its completion soon enough.
Our drive to Hermensburg was something new, horses were everywhere. We missed the memo, camels were out, horses were in. And going off too, several roadkill victims cast long shadows along the newly sealed road. We were making our way to a historical township that offered camping, scones and tours. As we rolled in, the Aboriginal township was stark but clean and we didn’t see anyone. We turned into Hermansburg historical precinct, the sun brilliantly lighting up the plastered old buildings.
After chatting with one of the volunteers we paid up our fee and unrolled the swag under some inviting date palms. Our outlook was a grove of eucalyptus through the fence, strikingly green after the red of Watarrka. We had a few neighbours, no canvas campers but nonetheless, like minded caravaners who enjoyed the quiet. One had a brilliantly handsome German Shepherd, only one family directly nearby with a couple of school age kids.
We showered in the impeccably clean bathroom and I cooked vegetables and rice. We stayed up late, enjoying the cool. Brumbies interrupted the quiet, snorting and doing invisible horse-like things in the dark grove. Falling asleep to the horses and rustling palm fronds was definetly new.