A Wanderer’s Guide to: King’s Canyon and Palm Valley

Situated between West MacDonnell National Park and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park lie Watarrka National Park and Finke Gorge National Park, two spectacular places that offer some truly awe-inspiring and unique landscapes in the heart of Central Australia.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is the main attraction of Watarrka National Park and for good reason; the sheer sandstone cliffs are often referred to as “Australia’s Grand Canyon”. There is a fairly easy walk through the bottom of the canyon but by far the best way to appreciate Kings Canyon is with the 6km Rim Walk. If you’re unsure whether you’re fit enough to do this walk, the first 500m or so will help you decide; the walk starts with a thigh-burner of a climb practically straight up to the top of the canyon, complete with a D-fib at the top if you need to get your heart going again!

View of Kings Canyon from the starting climb

If you can pass this test, the rest of the walk is a breeze. From the steep summit you follow the canyon along, into a lush crevice known as the Garden of Eden, which unfortunately was a bit dry during our visit but would look stunning after a proper rain. It’s one of the few walks we’ve ever done that it actually took the recommended amount of time to complete the walk (3-4 hours), not necessarily because of the difficulty, but more so because we couldn’t help but to stop to admire the views over and over again as we traversed along the cliff’s edge. We’d even go to rate it one of our favourite walks of our trip so far.

You’ll be mesmerised by the beauty of these sheer cliffs!

Just be sure to start the walk early on during the hotter months; there is practically no shade to give you relief from the sun on a hot day! For that reason, on hot days the climb must be completed by mid-morning, after which the gates are closed and you cannot access the climb.

If looking to camp near Kings Canyon but not too keen on paying for (what we consider to be) an overpriced patch of dirt, you can’t go wrong with Morris Pass Lookout, a 48hr free camp that we’d rate as one of our favourite camp spots thus far. You get sweeping views over Watarrka National Park, while not being crammed in with other campers or paying any fees!

Views you definitely won’t get from any of the paid campgrounds in the area!

From King’s Canyon, to get to Finke Gorge National Park and Palm Valley, you have two options: either north along the Mereenie Loop and south through Hermannsburg or southeast along Luritja Road and Ernest Giles Road up through Boggy Hole. Both, but especially the second option, require a 4WD.

Palm Valley

Palm Valley is the main attraction of Finke Gorge National Park, thanks to its unique vegetation, particularly the red cabbage palm. These tall, slender palm trees are endemic to Central Australia and found in the largest numbers in Palm Valley, and they offer a contrasting landscape to the rest of the surrounding arid and semi-arid regions.

The landscapes here are unlike anything else you’ll see in the Red Centre

Access To Palm Valley is via Larapinta Drive just out of Hermannsburg along a track that meanders along and through the Finke River bed, which at the time was dry for us but could easily become inaccessible after rain. 16km in you’ll reach the campground, which has some great facilities including toilets, solar-heated showers, fire pits, bbqs and lovely camping spots just off the banks of the Finke River.

Another great camp spot along the Finke River

To get to the Arankaia and Mpulungkinya walks (which are the best of the park in our opinion), you’ll need to continue on from the campground for another 3-4km and will definitely need a 4WD for this section as it requires navigating water crossings and rock steps.

Tackling a tough section of the track to Palm Valley

The Arankaia walk is 2km long and takes your through the peaceful valley floor along these impressive palms, but to get a full appreciate of the beauty of this area, the Mpulungkinya walk (5 km in total) continues along and climbs up to give you sweeping views over the palms and beyond.

Views come to those who climb

The other walks in the area are the Mpaara and Kalarranga Lookout walks closer to the entrance of the park, both of which take you through and give you great views of the beautiful rocky landscapes of Finke Gorge National Park.

Some of the rocky outcrops of Finke Gorge NP

Finke Gorge National Park

To access the rest of the park from Palm Valley, you’ll need to backtrack to Hermannsburg to reach the Finke Rive 4WD route. The trip from Palm Valley to Ernest Giles Road will easily take you most of the day as it’s pretty slow going along the track. We didn’t camp here but bush camping is allowed in designated areas, including at Boggy Hole, a permanent waterhole of the area.

The well known Boggy Hole in Finke Gorge NP

We also came across a very red-tinged waterhole and a red sand dune (a good warm up for the Simpson Desert!).

A Red waterhole in the Red Centre

As we exited the park and rejoined the highway, we even spotted a hungry dingo having a meal from a dead cow (the things you see in the Outback!)

A dingo’s lunch

We capped off the night at a lovely rest area, heading behind the dunes for a nice secluded spot and enjoyed the rest of the night around the campfire and looking up at another dazzling Central Australian night sky.

Have you been to Watarrka and/or Finke Gorge National Parks? Tell us about your favourite parts!

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