“That will be $16.50”, the cashier smiled at the German family in front of me. Looking on, I tallied up the items that were sitting on the counter; a packet of spaghetti, a pasta sauce and a tin of tomatoes, normally a cheap meal by any one’s standards, but $16.50? Perhaps I had missed something; maybe they had slipped in a block of chocolate, a packet of meat or a bottle of soft drink without me noticing. I couldn’t really be sure. However, later that evening when I had met up with the family in the communal kitchen and inevitably asked what they had thought of Australia, one of the first things they mentioned was the expensive cost of living. As I watched them stir their pasta sauce and thought about what I had paid for our room for the night, I found it hard to disagree. When you stay in the middle of nowhere, you expect that there will be a surcharge on items such as groceries and fuel to cover the cost of transport, but we are on one of Australia’s prime tourist trails and after earlier passing a truck stop cafe selling cereal and toast for $13, I can’t shake the feeling that someone is taking us all for a ride.
We had arrived in Kings Canyon and at almost half way between Uluru and Alice Springs, it is a great stopping point on the outback trail. Named after Kings Creek, which intermittently flows through the bottom of the canyon, Kings Canyon was given its formal title after the explorer Ernest Giles passed through the area in 1872. Whilst its title may allude to royalty, Giles apparently named the creek, and subsequent canyon after a kindly friend, Mr Fielder King.
With no real town or mobile phone reception, the isolation at Kings Canyon is no more evident than when speaking with the resort staff; many of whom are backpackers who without their own transport have been unable to venture any further than they can walk.
Unless you’ve taken one of the numerous organised bus tours that blaze their way across the country, the only real way to experience this part of Australia is with your own set of wheels and given the great distances between sights, it’s best to do this with as much time on your hands as possible.
Unfortunately we were on a tight timeframe and could only spare an overnight trip to visit the canyon, so after enjoying the sunset views of the canyon from our accommodation that night, we set off early the next morning to complete the Canyon Rim Walk. The Rim Walk skirts around the sandstone cliffs before descending into the Garden of Eden, a lush green oasis hidden inside the red canyon walls. Small arrows mark the path of the walk, taking you passed rough rocky outcrops and leading you almost to the edge of the canyon itself. With our baby strapped in our baby backpack, we were able to comfortably complete the walk in just under two hours, despite the estimated three to four hours advertised. The cool of the early morning made the initial climb up 500 steps somewhat more bearable than had we left things until later in the day. It also meant we could push ahead of the day-tripping bus crowds and be back in the car ready to head back to our base at Uluru by late afternoon.
After filling up our car with fuel ready for the return journey, I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up a light snack before we took to the road.
“That’ll be $12 thank you”.
I smiled back at the cashier as I handed her what was left of the change in my purse and grabbed the bottle of water and hot pastie. Maybe they were taking us all for a ride but I was hungry and it would be a long ride home.
- Kings Canyon is located within the Watarrka National Park, Northern Territory
- It is 461 km from Alice Springs (4 1/2 hour drive) and 306 km to Uluru (3 hours)
- You can travel to Kings Canyon in a 2WD on sealed roads from both Alice Springs and Uluru.
Popular walks to complete at Kings Canyon include:
- The canyon Rim Walk is 6 km and is estimated to take 3.5 hours. Given the desert heat all year round, it is best to complete the walk in the early morning or evening.
- The Kings Creek Walk is 2.6 km and is less challenging than the Rim Walk as you do not need to climb up the initial 500 steps.
- If you’re interested in trying something a little different, the Giles Track is an overnight walk that stretches 22 km from Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs. Further details can be found: