Hi there,

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

King's Canyon

King’s Canyon (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
304 km

lizards SPOTTED:

After the magnificence of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, it was nearly impossible to imagine that anything could assail our senses with such stunning and memorable sights as those astounding rocks. But, of course, we were wrong!

Travelling from our base camp at Uluru, we turned our humble trailer firstly east and then northwards, following a windy stretch of road along for about 300 kms, following a series of craggy mountain ranges towards a part of the world known as King’s Canyon. The camp site didn’t present us with anything particularly special – but it did have a pool to douse off weary travellers after a long car journey or a hike through the canyon itself.

Our next destination, King’s Canyon

Having arrived at our campsite, we set up our humble living quarters and set off on a mini-adventure – a ramble, perhaps – along a well-trodden path through the base of the canyon. Although incredibly steamy and hot, there were shady moments of shelter from the beating sun amongst the massive ghost gums and overhangs of dusty red pancaked rocks. The canyon floor was crossed here and there by dry river beds, lined with smooth pebbles and, at times, rocks the size of footballs – their silkiness a testament to the waters which once flowed there.

Riverbed at the heart of King's Canyon.

Here too were lizards. In fact, more lizards, of more sizes and more shapes than we had encountered on our journey to date. Indeed, this sheltered canyon was a place of refuge for animals of all types. Falcons soared above. Zebra finches and host of Spinifex Pigeons darted out crannies amongst the canyon walls; flitting down to perch briefly amongst the weather-beaten gum trees and hardy shrubs in the shade below.

A 'congregation' of lizards (yup, that's what you call a group of these little blighters!)

The only mar upon the fantastical meandering journey was the large swatches of cloth, plastered like enormous band-aides over many of the ancient gum trees. Signs dotted along the trail apologised for these anachronistic fabric patches amongst the prehistoric trees, and also explained that they had been placed on these stately plants to prevent infection from the scars that have been carved into them by other travellers to this place. That is, those names and initials that had been scoured into the thin bleached bark of these river gums, for whatever purpose or intent that was in the mind of the scribe. Thanks for that you plonkers… I bet these are the same sods that talk in movie theatres and stick chewing gun to the underside of tables. hmmmph!

As we walked further along the trail, despite the beauty of the canyon floor, one’s eyes were constantly drawn upwards. And I mean UPWARDS! Far up towards the top of the canyon. Up passed the sheer walls surrounding us. The more I walked, the more the rock faced changed. At first it resembled a roughly hewn conglomerate of intensely coloured rocks. Soon there were new features, with layers of rock that had been forced upon from deep within the earth; stacking layer upon layer like books bound in ruddy leather lying discarded in a library reading room.

Pancaked rocks, thrust up out the ground.

Towards the end of the canyon, as if a giant wielding a razor sharp knife had cleanly sliced the walls of the rock like cheese, there were perfectly vertical walls (or at least damn near close to vertical) stretching up for hundreds of meters. Along the top of these various rock faces, our destination for the next day could be glimpsed intermittently. That’s right, not content with merely wandering along the base of the canyon, we had our sights set on something we hoped would be even more splendiferous – The Cliff Top Walk.

Are you sure you want to walk up there?

Now, unlike my brother – who will merrily throw himself out of a perfectly good plane whenever the whim takes him (believe me, this is where the two peas in the proverbial pod most definitely part company) – I consider myself more of an earth-bound creature. I would be more at home in a muddy puddle than soaring like an eagle in the wild blue yonder. It is also my firm belief that falling from 50 meters is just as deadly than falling from 50 leagues (only you have more time to regret your actions the higher up you careen from) – but the key word in the sentence above, at least to my mind, is deadly. Sudden stop. Squished. Kaput!

Now, I’ve always believed myself to be a sure footed little mountain goat, and I’ve been happily able to creep my way cautiously to a safe distance from which to peer into the bowels of a ravine or two. But, despite my profession as a person who seeks to bring out the best in others, when faced with a large cliff – I have an innate difficulty in trusting that other people will not suddenly transmogrify into lemmings and inexplicably develop the urge to throw themselves over the edge. For some reason, the assumption that others will not be able to preserve their own life by simply not walking those extra 10 steps extends to strangers and well as those I hold dearest to my heart. Perhaps this can be attributed to the countless times I’ve yelled ‘STOP’ to my kids, and they’ve blithely kept on performing whatever potentially lethal flight of fancy has taken them at that moment; leading me to constantly question my capacity to prevent my own children from thinking it would be super fun to jump of a sheer cliff face… if only to see the look of maniacal terror on my face as they giggled on the way down.

Two things: firstly, yes, I took this photo… and secondly, I told you it was a long way down!

I truly hope this neurosis isn’t particular to me… perhaps I should see a psychologist (or at the very least a psychiatrist) in an effort to cure myself of these demons.

But, as I stood there on the canyon floor, I knew the top of the cliff was where we were going – nay, where we needed to go in order to truly experience the wonder of this geological masterpiece… And so, the next day that’s where we went.

Unfortunately, the neck craning of the day before had set my ‘family preservation system’ into overdrive. I woke up that night, on more than a few occasions, with dreams of Daniel having a world shattering hissy fit because I wouldn’t let him go closer to the edge… resulting in him running head first into the abyss.

So the next day, as we ascended the steep jagged steps towards the top of the canyon, I held on tight to my littlest rug-rat and made sure that I reiterated my safety briefing to him every five minutes or so (sooner, if I felt his little hand tense in joyful boyish glee – I have come to know that tell-tale sign of tensing as being an indication that a no-good course of action has begun to surge through his seven-year-old brain).

…tough climb!

But, as we reached the top, fear gave way to awe (well, perhaps awe tinged with fear… slight feelings of hunger and dire thirst, as well as a little bewilderment thrown in for good measure). I even found that my grip on Daniel’s sweaty pink little hand relaxed a little here and there – and to my amazement he didn’t suddenly plunge off the cliff into the depths below (although, by now, in my somewhat unhelpful imagination, these depths had also been filled with giant spiders, crocodiles and, for some unknown reason, tribes of natives from the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom movie… I’m surprised there wasn’t a giant boulder also perched at the top of the hill, poised to roll down and squash us all too!).

The only way is up!

As the hike continued, the full splendour of King’s Canyon was soon laid out before us. To my relief, it became apparent that the trail wasn’t going to be a six-kilometre tightrope walk of impending doom. In reality, the path at the top of the cliff was – for the most part, at least – a broad track that made its way deep into the heart of the mountain range.

Broad mountain paths atop King’s Canyon.

There were, of course, heart stopping moments when the path burst out of the relative safety of the mountain’s interior. But, once my breath returned to my body, it was possible to sit and stare, watch and think – and most of all, drink in the whole scene. 

Sure, we might be bad parents… but, what a photo op!

Between these adrenaline-filed moments, the path guided us towards broad mountain top, where we were met with vistas of weather worn rock sculptures, a valley oasis filled with flourishing plants, stands of 200-year-old cycad plants, and undulating rock faces carved by the motion of prehistoric and obsolete seas. There were also plenty of dome shaped rocks here – a series of mini Kata Tjuta’s, if you will – like children lined up to eagerly enter a class room at the sound of the morning bell.

Oasis in the heart if King’s Canyon.

Daniel reaching back in time to an ancient river bed.

By the end of the six kilometre cliff top journey, the grip on my son’s hand relinquished slowly as we began to descend from the heady heights of the canyon-top walk; toward the more mundane path to the car park below.

Our camera full of memories and our brains goggling with all that we’d seen, my boys and I also learned a little about trust. As much as I hate to admit it, I know they are turning into fine young men – with good heads for self-preservation on their shoulders. As such, a little relaxing of one’s grip isn’t always a bad thing…

One small step for some boys… one giant leap for fatherhood.

…but perhaps we could have started with a ten-meter cliff and left the 300-meter plummet ‘rite of passage’ for somewhere a little further down the track. Perhaps when they are 80 and I’m happily resting soundly in the great never-never.

Ok boys, seriously, it's time to come down now...

Daniel the daring…. (umm, this image may have been rotated by 90 degrees in post-production)

Bye ‘d bye,



  1. I hear you. I am scared of heights myself but terrified when it is family members near the precipice!

  2. I know, right? So I'm not the only one who has this morbid terror?!? I've had scores of people write to me after reading this post, saying that they got where I was coming from. Well, perhaps 'scores' might be stretching the truth just a little... OK, it might be more accurate to say 'you and my dad', but for a blog I never really intended any one to see, that seems a lot to me!

    I've come to think of that feeling of terror, which creeps up from the soles of my feet and nestles itself uncomfortably around my heart and my throat - like a gnarled old hand slowly choking the life out of me, at as proof of Darwinian theory in action. “Hey, don't jump off that cliff...”, a hissing voice screams deep my bones “you're my entry into the genetic lottery, I can’t lose you or I’m done for!”