Watarrka National Park. National Park in Northern Territory, Australia

Watarrka National Park

National Park in Northern Territory, Australia

kings canyon Photo © Rupert Ganzer

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Watarrka National Park

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Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National
Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Benjamin Jakabek
Watarrka National Park is an Outback national park located in the southern part of the Northern Territory in the heart of Australia’s Red Center. The national park encompasses the western part of the George Gill Range, a stunning landscape of gorges, ravines, wild mountains, sandstone cliffs, waterholes, and rockholes.

The one major attraction in Watarrka National Park is Kings Canyon. It is so famous that most visitors don’t even know the real name of the national park, but instead refer to it as Kings Canyon National Park. This massive canyon runs through the George Gill Range and has gotten its present-day shape after enduring millions of years of erosion. Kings Canyon is made up of 300-meter-high sandstone cliffs, permanent waterholes, and green, palm forests that cover the valley floor. This dense forest consist of cycads, ferns, and palm trees and is flanked by massive, red sandstone, rock walls, providing a desert refuge to more than 600 species of native animals and plants. Examples of bird species that can be spotted in Kings Canyon are Zebra Finches, Spinifex Pigeons, Peregrine Falcons, Black-Breasted Buzzards,and Dusky Grasswrens. High-profile animals that live in the national park are Camels, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Emus, and Dingoes, among many, many others.

Watarrka National Park lies about halfway between Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National
Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Benjamin Jakabek


The landscape of Watarrka National Park had formed in the course of hundreds of millions of years. Some geological formations in the park date back a stunning 440 million years. Other ancient features in the area are the 800-million-year-old MacDonnell Ranges in West MacDonnell National Park, the ancient Finke River, Uluru and Mount Sonder (Wikipedia Article). To put these periods of time into perspective, Kings Canyon was formed around the time when the first animals appeared on land and the dinosaurs have been extinct for ‘only’ 65 million years.

Those lands have been inhabited for more than 20,000 years, by the Luritja Aboriginal people. Incidentally, the word ‘Watarrka’ is the Aboriginal name for the Umbrella Bush. The first European explorer to visit the area was Ernest Giles in 1872.

Kangaroo -
	Watarrka National Park
Kangaroo - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Jon Wiley

Things to Do

The majority of Watarrka National Park’s visitors go there to see the magnificent Kings Canyon. The sight of the sheer, red-rock walls flanking a palm-tree-filled valley is absolutely impressive. Several hiking trails allow visitors to explore the area some more.

The Kings Creek Walk is a 2.6-kilometer walk that winds its way along Kings Creek on the valley floor. The first 500 meters are accessible by wheelchair. Information panels provide details of the vegetation in the region and of the history and culture of the Aboriginal people. The trail ends at a lookout point that offers great views of the red cliffs. It is suitable for all ages.

A walk from an entirely different category is the Giles Track. This 22-kilometer overnight hike is only recommended for experienced hikers. It connects to the main features of Watarrka National Park, Kathleen Springs and the Rim Walk. It is of vital importance to be informed and prepared before starting this walk as it runs through desert lands where temperatures often exceed 40°C.

The real star attraction in Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park is the Kings Canyons Rim Walk. This is what most visitors come for. This 6-kilometer (3-4-hour) loop hike climbs the cliffs and then follows the canyon’s northern rim over a weathered, sandstone plateau. The views from the lush valleys below are spectacular. This hike requires a medium fitness level and bringing sufficient water is essential. At the end of the rim, hikers can see a collection of sandstone domes, known as ‘The Lost City’. In addition, there is the opportunity to descend into a valley which is home to a permanent waterhole. This is another feature of the national park, known as ‘The Garden of Eden’.

An easy hike, suitable for families, is the flat Kathleen Springs Walk. It is 2.6 kilometers long and has signs telling stories of Aboriginal culture and cattle farmers. This short trail ends at a waterhole in Kathleen Gorge, a cool place with quiet areas.

Other suggested activities are helicopter flights, four-wheel quad tours, and camel rides. They can all be booked at the Kings Canyon Resort, which also has a general store and gas station.

Kings Canyon -
	Watarrka National Park
Kings Canyon - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Claudio Jofré Larenas

How to Get There

Watarrka National Park is located about 320 kilometers southwest of Alice Springs and 1,300 kilometers south of Darwin. The Stuart Highway connects Alice Springs and Adelaide. The national park can be accessed by 2WD on Luritja Road from Yulara, and the paved Lasseters Highway. Unsealed roads that lead to the park are Larapinta Drive and Ernest Giles Road. For these toads, it is recommended to have a 4WD. A suggested drive in the region is the Red Centre Way that connects Alice Springs, Uluru, and Kings Canyon.

Similar Landmarks

There are several similar national parks in the Outback of Australia: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, West MacDonnell National Park, and Finke Gorge National Park. Further north lie Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park. Northwest Western Australia is the location of Purnululu National Park.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 13, 2015

Pictures of Watarrka National Park

Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National Park
Kings Canyon, NT - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Benjamin Jakabek

Kings Canyon - Australië - Watarrka National Park
Kings Canyon - Australië - Watarrka National Park. Photo by Rita Willaert


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