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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: -25.2505, 131.008
The day was bookended by sun shots from the bus. We were on the coach for a magnificent pink that heralded dawn and we were still on the bus at 6.15 pm as the golds and yellows perfectly silhouetted the mountains.
The day started with a very UNwelcomed alarm at 3.30 am. A shower, last minute massaging of the packing and we were ready for Caroline to collect us in the buggy. It was almost a double blessing that we were cocooned in darkness and still in a sleepy stupor because saying farewell to all that is Longitude 131 is a little hard. But move on we must!
Our last drive down the private road and a hug of goodbye and we were back to the real world of AATKings and 54 other passengers. Caroline and Felicity had packed us a little care package for the road with lots of edible goodies (including a very special dark chocolate) that made us the envy of our fellow travellers.
The first two hours had us snoozing like everyone else. The driver called us back to the land of the living to watch the sun rise. It was beautiful .... a pink halo circled
the horizon as the sun welcomed us to a new day.
Breakfast was a King's Creek Station. Another outback shed with trestles that efficiently handle bus loads of travellers. There were lashings of toast, eggs, bacon, tomatoes and baked beans, washed down with tea, coffee or milo. And as always, seems to hit the spot and we tucked into the offerings with early morning travel gusto.
Nine o'clock saw us at the head of Kings Canyon. We have made this 15 hour detour on Richard's recommendation. And this walk would be our only extended escape from the coach. Interestingly the time spent on the coach today was the equivalent of flying from Brisbane to Los Angeles. (@Mindy&Ian managed to get from Hong Kong to Whistler during our bus adventure!)
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Rim Walker Mac got to be leader of the pack on his three hour hike high along the edge of the canyon and I easily navigated the two hour river walk solo!
Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrja National Park and is 323 km southwest of Alice Springs and 306 km east of Yulara and is some 270 m high. The walk around the rim of the canyon provided Mac
with spectacular views of the surrounding desert landscape but also close up views of the Garden of Eden (no apple trees, just serpents...went the joke for the walkers), beehive rock formations called the Lost City, the dizzying ledge view of Kestral Rock, dense forest palms, rock pools, ferns and cycads.
Located at the western end of the George Gill Range, the imposing cliffs of the canyon first formed as small cracks and then have been eroded over millions of years. The canyon, as Mac's photos show, is a series of vibrant red sandstone walls and the rim walkers were able to trek and explore from the edge of the walls.
Martin was the guide on the rim walk and he took over 15 minutes to explain to the 20 walkers that this was a hike - not a stroll - and that fitness, stamina and strength were needed to keep up the pace. He hammered this home in a number of variations, but young and old, recent heart attack victims, men and women, short and tall and even one stroller with an umbrella were determined they could make it. The start of the track was 500 uneven man made steps up
the cliff face. After the first 200, the group was stopped again and this time 2 walkers opted out and turned back. Mac had, on the way up, passed everyone of course and when it came time to move out again,everyone had to "number off." Martin nominated Mac as the lead rim walker and designated him "Number 1." Martin took up position at the rear.
Off they strode again and of course, thinking it was a hike, Mac and his new found fit 6'3" friend (Stephen) set the pace. When they reached the top and paused to look back, Martin and the rest of the group were about 200 steps below them. And thus, the pattern of the three hour walk was established. It had now changed from a hike to a snail paced meandering saunter.
Number 1 and 2 continued to lead the way along the rim, to the edge of the canyon face, through the gullies, around the waterholes, across wooden bridges and out on to the overhangs. They had ample time to read the signage, savour the views and take plenty of photos.(They were careful taking photos here because the area is infamous for tourists taking 'risky' cliff hanger
shots...,with a tourist recently plunging to her death.)
Meanwhile, I was meandering along the river bed gazing up at the brilliant colours of the sheer cliffs and revisiting the river gums, the acacias and the geology of the area with bus driver and guide John. He took his job pretty seriously and until four months ago was an engineer. Today, armed with his iPad he made the 2 km walk last two hours as we seemed to stop at every other tree and cliff face while he read from his notes.
Not quite the experience of the Rim Walker and I guess the positive was, that even going solo, I could keep up!
It was a beautiful walk....with a bit of an anti-climactic ending. We were about 80 metres from the end of the track and were met by three workers and an orange barrier with signage that said "Keep out." During the week, a large boulder had dislodged from the rim above and crashed onto the viewing ledge below. A direct hit! Thankfully, this had occurred some time during the night. So for the river walkers this was the end of the trail so we didn't get to see the valley
view of the Garden of Eden! And the walk back was "at your own pace" which was a relief!
We made perfect timing at our end and John had us back in the bus and delivered to the resort with plenty of time for lunch and a helicopter flight if needed. I settled in with a cider and waited and waited and waited for the Rim Walkers. I started checking in with the staff who indicated the tour was two hours late yesterday because walkers had got lost! Not really the comforting message I was looking for!
But arrive they did...about 40 minutes later than they should have because some of the group were just "so slow."
It was a quick lunch...with more batter than barra ... and then back on the bus for the 300+ kms back to Alice. Everything in the schedule had to be co-ordinated to perfection because there are three coaches from AATKings which converge on the junction of The Red Way to swap passengers depending on their destination. We were fifty minutes late and Karl and his passengers who had been waiting for us were "not happy Jan!" and Karl and John had a few
words about Martin's guiding strategies. Oops.
Swapped buses, did the walk of shame and found a spot in solitary confinement at the back where Mac happily re-lived the details of the Rim Walk.
Our break in the journey was at a pub, cafe, petrol station combo. Never heard of Erldunda before, but now it is one of my new favourite outback places! This was the absolute highlight of the day - along with a toilet and a coffee - I found my hat! At last: right size, right colour and right price.
We have been looking for it since we first saw them in an early stop in one of the cultural centre shops on tour out of Darwin. I was so happy, but the best bit was when Mac came in and saw it and literally did a happy dance. Victoria the store owner has asked for a photo and email because she has never seen a male so happy that money has been spent!
The run into Alice Springs seemed to take forever. We have well and truly missed our dinner date with Leo and Sue from Longitude 131 and we hoped that they realised we were not going to make
We did eventually arrive at the Chifley just after 8 pm after taking the circuitous route via all the other hotels. And, true to form, with the pressures of staff shortages, it was not exactly slick and smooth. After some discussions about the expectation of the room, we did eventually have keys in hand and made our way to 118.....after being informed how " lucky we were because it was the last room." (Note to self...we did book 5 months ago...make sure you get in early!)
I know that Longitude has spoiled us, but even on an "ordinary" day, 118 was not what we expected. And yep, we truly believed it was "the last one!" Gone was our king sized bed and tent luxury and in its place was a double bed and a wheel chair provisioned bathroom. Seriously, all we could do was laugh because we had landed in the real world with a thud.
Ordered some dinner in our room. Whined, moaned and complained at every aspect of the room, including the view and noise of the trucks on the Stuart Highway as they rumbled over the bridge of the Todd. Then heard ourselves .... and duly chastised ourselves
for being petulant and spoiled and finally accepted the reality that despite being "not happy Jan" again, we were "lucky" and laughed our way to sleep.
After all, tomorrow we are back on The Ghan.
PS The photo album is FULL of landscape shots. Just couldn't help it. The photos from the Rim Walker were amazing! He is getting the hang of this blogging thing.
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