Sydney : Harbour Bridge, Koala Park Sanctuary, Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk
Cairns : Cairns Esplanade, Great Barrier Reef (Michaelmas Cay, Hastings Reef), Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation
Melbourne : Melbourne City and Royal Botanic Gardens, Dandenong Ranges National Park, Phillip Island and Penguin Parade
Red Center : Alice Springs, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Valley of the Winds hike, Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon Rim Walk
Sydney sightseeing got off to a gentle start by way of the F3 Parramatta River ferry from Meadowbank wharf to Circular Quay. With a weak sunlight filtering through the clouds and a steady breeze blowing on an early spring morning, it was too chilly to stand on the deck throughout the ride, but as the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House came into view, one had to abandon the shelter and get outside.
Sydney is counted among the most visually stunning cities in the world and the skyline around the harbour is crammed with iconic landmarks that would be familiar to most people. Walking amidst these historical and well-known landmarks made for a delightful introduction to the city.
Circular Quay is the beating heart of the city; behemoth cruise ships were berthed at the harbour. A steady flow of buses, trains and ferries disgorge tourists here from all over the world at all times of the day, so it is always buzzing with activity.
It was interesting to see the stacked shells architecture of the Opera House, the most recognizable of Sydney landmarks, at close quarters. Climbing up to the Pylon Lookout of the Harbour Bridge afforded wonderful views of the harbour.
The rest of the afternoon was spent zig-zagging the CBD on foot, exploring the historic Rocks district, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the length of Macquaire Street (a thoroughfare with stately buildings like Library of NSW, Parliament of NSW and various museums). Hyde Park and the nearly St. Mary’s Cathedral provided a chance to take a break from walking. From there the walk to Sydney Central station took me past the Sydney Tower, Sydney Town Hall and the quaint streets that are part of Sydney’s chinatown.
Koala Park Sanctuary
Next morning I spent a few hours at the Koala Park Sanctuary, a wildlife park in Pennant Hills. It was an opportunity to see several of Australia’s famous native species up close; an insurance policy in case I did not have a chance to encounter them in the wild during my travels through the country. The park opened a Koala Research Hospital in 1930 and cares for sick and injured native animals and subsequently releases them back into the wild. Koalas, Dingos, Emus, Kangaroos, Wombats, Echidnas. Cockatoos, Rosellas were among the species cared for at this park.
Bondi to Coogee Costal Walk
With miles of stunning coastline, it is little wonder that the Bondi to Coogee Walk finds a place in most travel guides' list of recommended activities for Sydney. The cliff top coastal trail skirts beaches, parks, cliffs, bays and rock pools and the panoramic viewa are most enjoyable when the sun is out.
A regular train service connects the city and Bondi Junction and local buses quickly get you from there to Bondi, one of Australia’s most iconic beaches. The coastal trail starts right at the southern end of the beach with a short climb and hugs the dramatic coast all the way to Coogee, a distance of about 6km.
Immediately south of Bondi is the Bondi Icebergs swimming pool, a year-round outdoor salt-water pool a favorite with hardy Aussies. The trail continues on a concrete waterfront walkway with views over the sweeping white crescent of Bondi beach and North Bondi before turning around the corner towards Mackenzies Bay. A series of pretty beaches follow shortly including Tamarama beach and Bronte beach.
Beyond Bronte, a 550m long wooden boardwalk called “Sesquicentenary Boardwalk” swings around Waverley Cemetery. Walking over this boardwalk itself thrilling, the waves crash at the wooden pylons right under your feet.
There are several lookouts along the way with comfortable benches that give you the best panoramic views. The boardwalk ends at Clovelly, a vibrant and charming beach-side suburb.
The final stretch takes one past Gordon’s Bay, a secluded bay very popular with divers and snorkelers. It is the location of an Underwater Nature Trail, a 600m bushwalking trail that is completely underwater. B
Beyond is Coogee beach, a very popular beach with 400m strip of sand facing beautiful Coogee Bay. Buses from Coogee connect back to Bondi Junction for getting back to the city.
The Cairns Esplanade is a picturesque stretch of foreshore in the heart of Cairns. Extending over 2.5 kms, it offers several recreational opportunities including playgrounds, parks, sculptures and a 4800 sq meter saltwater pool that is lined with sand and patrolled by lifeguards. It is illuminated after dark and is a great place to hang out in the evenings. The boardwalk along the foreshore also serves as an excellent birdwatching vantage point. Pelicans, Lapwings, Curlews and other shorebirds were feeding on the crustaceans in the foreshore while the trees and grassy lawn along the path hosted numerous Rainbow Lorikeets, Willie Wagtails, Singing Honeyeaters, Figbirds, Drongos and Pigeons.
Located very near the esplanade, ‘Reef Teach’ is an excellent educational center for the Great Barrier Reef. I attended a 2-hour presentation that was not just highly informative but also entertaining and it immensely enhanced the experience when snorkelling the following day. This is something I would highly recommend to anyone planning a trip to Cairns.
Great Barrier Reef
The raison d'etre to visit Carins was to see and 'experience' the Great Barrier Reef. Consequently significant research went into identifying the right outfitter to trust this important experience with. The much awaited morning arrived, and I eagerly boarded the the Seastar at the Cairns ferry wharf. It set course to our first destination for the day, Michaelmas Cay.
Michaelmas Cay is the largest of the uninhabited coral cays in the Cairns region. It is located about 22 nautical miles away at the edge of the outer reef. It is a large and stable coral sand island with a grassy area over 200 metres long. It is permanently above water and able to withstand strong winds with rough seas. Consequently it is a home for over 35 different bird species and also considered an important nesting site.
The Seastar is only one of two vessels that have permission to land at this ecologically sensitive island. It was the first to arrive that morning, so we had it completely to ourselves. The birds appeared not to be intimidated by people, as chicks they see people every day and consider these (us) harmless creatures a natural part of their environment, so long as they kept a comfortable distance.
We soon donned our snorkel gear and walked out from the beach into the water. Snorkelling among the pristine corals here is among my life’s most memorable experiences. The minutes melted as we tailed behind a snorkel guide who constantly pointed in the direction corals, giant clams, turtles, fish, sea cucumbers, feather stars and several other underwater wonders.
In the afternoon, the Seastar moved to Hastings Reef. It is located about 30 nautical miles out from Cairns and is described as a “typical outer reef” on the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is shallow on top, but with steep sides reminiscent of cliffs falling away into the surrounding water. Being well away from the coast and with minimal effect of rivers and streams corals thrive here and shelter large schools of colorful fish.
Snorkelling just meters from the side of the Seastar, we saw numerous species of fish - colorful parrot fish, butterfly fish and a variety of brightly colored damsel fish. Hiding in the tiny coral fingers were clown fish, one of which was, of course, Nemo. The icing on the cake that afternoon was when a large manta decided to swoosh past us at high speed, heads turned in unison and it was gone before we could fully appreciate what we were seeing.
Daintree forest, Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation
The scenic Captain Cook Highway starts in Cairns and runs north hugging the northern Queensland coast. Day tours offered from Cairns go as far north as Cape Tribulation and cover many of the highlights enroute including Daintree National Park and Mossman Gorge. There are several roadside pullouts along the way to enjoy the view and the first one just north of Cairns is Rex Lookout that overlooks the pristine sands of Trinity Beach. Our first stop was at Port Douglas, a town on the Coral Sea famous for its beach resorts. It is also an alternative base to arrange trips to the Great Barrier Reef. A short hike at the edge of town to Trinity Bay Lookout provided a vantage point for dramatic views of 4-Mile Beach & the Coral Sea beyond.
North of Port Douglas, we continued on to Mossman Gorge which is about 80kms north of Cairns. It is one part of the Daintree National Park. Millions of years ago, Australia was extensively covered with rainforest. As continents shifted and glacial periods came and went, the climate became drier. Only the mountainous regions of the northeast coast remained constantly moist and these areas became the last refuge of Australia’s ancient tropical forest. The rainforests of Daintree National Park are part of the largest continuous area of rainforest in Australia and as the last remnant of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world it was declared Wet Tropics Rainforest World Heritage Site in 1988.
Mossman Gorge is located in the southern part of this rainforest. Baral Marrjanga, an elevated boardwalk leads through the forest to various lookout points and to a view of the Mossman River and mountain ranges beyond. The wet and warm lowland forests, among the richest and most complex ecosystems on earth, support an extraordinary variety of plants that in turn provide food and habitats for an abundance and diversity of animal life.
Thirteen out of the nineteen primitive flowering plant families and some of the most primitive cycads, ferns and mosses are found in Daintree. Having survived millions of years in the thick dense rainforests, these plants provide botanists with an insight into how certain species have evolved over time.
The tour continued north to the Daintree River where the road ends abruptly. Vehicles have to cross over in a ferry and fortunately we did not have to wait too long for our turn. The windy road continues through the Daintree forest all the way to Cape Tribulation beach, the only place on earth where two natural World Heritage listed sites, the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest, exist side by side. While we had the beach to ourselves, the glare of the midday sun forced us to beat a retreat to “Cape Tribulation Camping” a wooded area interspersed with cabins.
On the return drive to the Daintree River, we made a few more stop to admire the view, notable among which was Alexandra Lookout. From here one has a view of the dense rainforest which extends all the way to the ocean (and the Daintree River) and gives one a better perspective of the expanse of this protected area.
The Daintree river estuary is one of the most densely populated mangrove estuaries anywhere and we boarded a barge for a short river cruise to view estuarine crocodiles. Several were spotted, most basking on the waters’ edge. Among the interesting birds spotted here were Little Egrets and two beautiful kingfisher species, Torresian Kingfisher and Azure Kingfisher.
My first day in Melbourne, September 20th 2019, coincided with the Global Climate Strike week. A series of strikes had been planned in several major cities around the world to demand that governments take action to address climate change. In Melbourne, all educational institutions and businesses were encouraged to take time off and gather at various locations to demand climate justice for everyone. The people of Melbourne rallied behind the cause enthusiastically and made for an interesting day to be exploring the city on foot.
Melbourne is regarded as the cultural capital of Australia and its multicultural character is very evident in center of city. The CBD has a wide array of elegant buildings and historically important landmarks. Public transport is easily accessible and there is also a free 5 station city loop leaving from Southern Cross that is very convenient for visitors and residents alike.
The CBD is compact area and I spent the morning just walking around the core - Federation Square, Flinders Street, Collins Street, Bourke Street and Elizabeth Street - taking in the ambiance. The city’s famed graffiti is easily viewed by following a graffiti trail map. As the day wore on, crowds had gathered at the Public Library of NSW on Swanston Street and after listening to a few passionate speeches, moved in a procession to the Parliament buildings where more speeches followed. In the interest of security, the Parliament Building was shut down to visitors on this day.
In the afternoon, I crossed the Yarra river over the Princes bridge and walked to the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Melbourne's most popular tourist attractions . It is home to over 8,500 species of plants and turned out to be delightful birding location as well.
Dandenong Range National Park
Venturing out of the city the following morning, the first destination was the Dandenong Ranges National Park, a mere hour’s drive away. The park is known for its extensive network of walking trails amidst imposing pine trees, beautiful fern gullies, crystal clear streams and waterfalls.
Within the park in the Sherbroke forest area is Grants Picnic Ground where commercial bird feeding is allowed. Consequently large numbers of sulphur-crested cockatoos, rosellas and parrots congregate in the trees around awaiting easy pickings. While this is a controversial practice that I would not actively encourage, it was a good opportunity to see large numbers of these beautiful birds up close.
William Ricketts Sanctuary
Within the park but hidden away in a dense inlet along the winding Mt Dandenong Tourist Road is the William Ricketts Sanctuary, one of Dandenong’s more iconic experiences.
William Ricketts was a quiet gentleman who had spent much time living with aboriginal communities in central Australia. He believed that all Australians should adopt the Aboriginal philosophy to life i.e respect the spirituality of Mother Earth and all things in the natural world. He created this sanctuary as 'a place for quiet reflection and replenishing the spirit'.
On sanctuary grounds are over 90 sculptures depicting the Aboriginal people 'engaging with the earth' in a forest setting. These mystical statues are carved into rocks and tree trunks and pay homage to indigenous Australians for ecological stewardship. Some of his works also depict his feelings on the takeover and devastation of the natural environment after colonization of the continent.
From Dandenong, it is about a two hour drive to Phillip Island, another popular day trip from Melbourne. Phillip Island lies just off Australia’s southern coast and the headland at the western tip of the island is called Nobbies. Along the way we made several stops to watch families of Cape Barren Goose. Easily identifiable by their outsized yellow nose studs, several pairs scampered through the grass with their brood in tow.
At the end of the road is Nobbies Center. It provides basic information and amenities for visitor to Phillip Island. From the rear of the building, a series of well placed boardwalks stretch for over a kilometer along the coast providing magnificent views of the Southern Ocean. There are several lookouts that provide views of offshore islands called Seal Rocks that are home to a large colony of Australian fur seals. The grassy areas between and along the paths are home to rabbits and we even spotted swamp wallaby during our time there.
About an hour before sunset, we went to Summerland Beach to witness what is popularly referred to as ‘Penguin Parade'. Just after sunset each evening, Little Penguins (that have been fishing at sea all day) return ashore and make their way back to their burrows.
Little penguins are the smallest of all penguin species. They breed in colonies along the southern coastlines of Australia and New Zealand and Phillip Island is home to an estimated 32,000 breeding adults. In the interest of protecting these penguins and their habitat, a visit to this area at sunset is highly regulated (and commercialized). Tiered seating is provided for visitors to sit quietly as they await the penguins. In order that camera flash not spook the birds, photography is strictly prohibited.
The returning penguins seek safety in numbers and either arrive in small groups or organize into groups of 3 to 10 birds before scuttling across the exposed expanse of sand to the safety of their hillside burrows. View of the penguins can be close or distant depending on where one sits relative to where they decide to land on a particular day. But there is elevated boardwalk that runs very close to the burrows and enable one to view these cute pengins at close quarters.
Great Ocean Road
Named ‘The Great Ocean Road’ the stunning coastal drive along Victoria’s dramatic south-west coastline is one of Australia’s top attractions. Officially the scenic drive starts at the coastal town of Torquay, 100-kms south of Melbourne. It runs 243 kilometres westward to finish at Allansford. For much of this distance it hugs the coastline and traverses rainforests, beaches and cliffs composed of limestone and sandstone, many of them susceptible to erosion.
While the entire length could be done in 2 or 3 days (or a week if you have plenty of time to linger), a long day trip from Melbourne is a popular option for those short on time.
On the day trip version, one is able to comfortably drive as far as Port Campbell, notable for all the natural limestone and sandstone rock formations in the vicinity including The Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto and London Arch. Throughout the drive, expansive views of the Bass Strait and the eternally angry Southern Ocean ensures one’s eyes are glued to the window. There are also several several surfing beaches on the stretch between Cape Otway and Torquay, earning it the Surf Coast moniker.
As the third-largest town in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs is the ideal base to explore Australia’s Red Center - an extraordinary landscape of desert plains, weathered mountain ranges, rocky gorges and some of Aboriginal Australia’s most sacred sites - Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta.
On the flight into town, we had the opportunity to appreciate the barren, ochre hued expanse of land from the air and we were looking forward to experiencing it on ground level on a road trip into the Northern Territory outback.
We had arrived in the afternoon and used the reminder of the day to explore this remote outpost on foot. In contrast to the countries big cities, Alice Springs is a small, compact town with a general relaxed pace of life. It also seemed to have a higher proportion of aboriginal population compared to the other big cities. We criss-crossed through town and caught sight of several new birds species (for us) in a neighborhood park including the Australian Ringneck, Crested Pigeons and the lovely pink Galah!
We visited the Royal Flying Doctor Museum, a well-known Alice institution.The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia is a unique aeromedical organization that provides emergency and primary health care services for those living in rural, remote and regional areas of Australia. The outback is home to very small communities that are separated by vast distances which makes it challenging to provide healthcare. With their fly-in, fly-out GP and nurse clinics, mobile dental services and patient transfers the RFDS can reach anywhere, no matter how remote, within hours. The history of the RFDS and the work of these dedicated doctors is chronicled in this excellent, informative museum
A short walk south from town is the Olive Pink Botanical Garden, a network of meandering trails through 40 acres of arid native landscape showcasing the native flora of Australia’s Northern Territory. It was founded in 1956 by and named for the prominent anthropologist, aboriginal justice-fighter, artist, and passionate gardener, Olive Pink.
As we wandered along the paths, a noisy Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater kept trying to distract us from behind several layers of branches.
We retraced our path north to Anzac hill and climbed up Loins Walk path to the top. From the war memorial there is a 360-degree view over the town. Stretching out hundreds of kilometres each side of Alice Springs are the East and West MacDonnell Ranges. From the top one has a clear view down to Heavitree Gap on the southern end of town.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park - Uluru Base walk
Next morning we joined a small group organized by Wayoutback Australian Safaris for a road-trip into the Northern Territory outback. Rising dramatically from the Central Australian desert, the huge red rock of Uluru is one of Australia’s most iconic attractions. It is now part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It is about a 5 hour / 450 km drive from Alice Springs and is accessed via the Stuart and Lasseter highway, both sealed roads. Even as you leave town, the ruggedly beautiful MacDonnell Ranges stretch east and west; on is quickly among ochre-red gorges, pastel-hued hills and ghostly white gum trees.
Our first stop was at Erldunda Roadhouse, about 200kms south of Alice at the junction of Stuart and Lasseter highways. It is a popular rest stop on the drive to Uluru and besides a restaurant, gas station and hotel, it also has an emu farm on site. The trees around provided some birdwatching opportunities.
From here it is 244km to Uluru on the Lasseter highway that is sealed all the way. At around 150km along on this road we made a second stop at Curtain Springs, also a roadhouse, with fuel, meals, a pub and accommodation.
Before we made it to our campsite at Yulara (the purpose-built tourist town for Uluru), we picked up a couple of people at the Uluru airport. They were joining us for the trip but had elected to fly directly into Uluru.
Post lunch, we headed to the Uluru Cultural Centre that is located at the base of Uluru. It supports the local community and through its exhibits, helps one learn about the park’s natural environment. It provides an introduction to the culture and traditions of the Anangu people, who have inhabited these parts since time immemorial and for whom Uluru is more than a big rock. The center is built from locally-made mud bricks, the free-form structure has won awards for its architecture. It also hosts Aboriginal art galleries and several community-owned shops and facilities.
From the rear of the Cultural center, a path leads to the Uluru Base Walk, a track that follows the perimeter of the monolith. Due to its sacred status for the local Anangu, whether one should climb Uluru has always been somewhat controversial. There were several signs discouraging visitors from climbing. Given the imminent mandatory ban against climbing that was being imposed end of October, there was a rush to do that before the ban came into effect.
The Uluru base walk is about 10 km of track that takes you around the whole circumference of the rock. Walking along the perimeter does give you an appreciation for what this massive rock is all about and to view several interesting rock formations at close quarters.
The first section of the trail is called the Mala Walk and passes by a few landmarks like the Kulpi Nyiinkaku teaching cave and the Kantju Gorge. Other sections take you through acacia woodlands and some unexpectedly lush grasslands and we took our time to linger and take photographs. We also spotted a large group of Little Woodswallows during this walk and gave them their due attention.
On the Kuniya section is Mutitjulu Waterhole, one of the few permanent water sources around Uluru. It is considered a very special place and Uluru’s traditional owners regularly bring VIP visitors (like the Dalai Lama) here. The Kuniya walk itself is a living cultural landscape and the site of one of Uluru’s most dramatic creation stories that our guide narrated in detail.
After all of us had satisfactorily examined Uluru from every conceivable angle, we drove over to the Uluru Sunset Viewing Point and joined the hordes of vehicles (both private vehicles and tour buses). Vehicles jockeyed for prime parking spots with uninterrupted views of Uluru at sunset while enjoying a glass of bubbly with cheese and crackers. This evening “high champagne” seemed to be a standard part of every tour company’s program.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park - Valley of the Winds hike
A pre-dawn departure from the campsite brought us to an elevated lookout, the perfect spot to watch the golden light spread over Uluru and Kata Tjuta as the sun peeked over the horizon. Despite the cold at this very early hour, the quiet stillness of the morning, a magical time in the desert, made this a very enjoyable experience.
Then it was a short drive to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), an aboriginal word for “many heads”, to explore its domes.
While Uluru gets most of the attention from visitors, the area around Kata Tjuta deserves just as much. An incredible rock formation made up of 36 different domes, Kata Tjuta is one of the most scenic places to visit in the Outback.
Kata Tjuṯa covers an area of over 21km.sq. and is composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock comprising varying rock types including granite and basalt and cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest dome, Mount Olga stands 546 m above the surrounding claim.
A popular way to explore Kata Tjuta is to hike the Valley of the Winds Walk, which takes you on a 7.4km loop through the Olgas and takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete. This walk is completely different from the base walk around Uluru and physically more challenging.
The first part of the track is a steep, straight path over red dirt and loose rocks towards the Karu Lookout. The views from the lookout are spectacular and lets visitors immerse themselves among Kata Tjuta’s domes.
Our guide took time to tell us about the unique geology of the area, pointing out the native flora and fauna. As we sat listening to the guide (and using the opportunity to catch our breath), we were entertained by a Willie Wagtail bathing in a small puddle besides the trail. A Singing Honeyeater kept busy on the top bare branches of a distant tree, testing the limits of our camera zoom. Following the Karu lookout, the trail makes a circular loop before meeting back up with the path towards the parking lot. We proceeded in the anti-clockwise direction down into a valley and creek beds. Walking through narrow passes in between the does, one gets a better sense of what these rock formations feel and look like. With many steps and some steep sections, this was a more challenging section of the trail. Our next step, the Karingana Lookout, has one of the best views of this trek - one can see all the way down a corridor between two of the domes, and take in the view of several more domes further out in the distance. We took some time to just sit back and enjoy the view from the top before making our way back.
Post lunch, we did the Kata Tjuta Dune Walk, which takes you to a viewing platform with spectacular panoramic view of Kata Tjuta and distant views of Uluru. It is a well designed interpretive walk through sand-dune country, it has a number of informative signs along the way explaining how anything could survive in this harsh yet fragile desert landscape. Rather than reproduce all the detailed information, we have included these signs in the album for those interested.
We retraced part of the way on Lasseter Highway, headed for Kings Creek Station located on the edge of Kings Canyon/Watarrka National Park, and our campsite for the night. Before the junction with Luritja Road, we stopped at a lookout, an excellent place to view the distinctive, flat-topped Mt Conner. The summit of Mount Conner (along with the summits of low domes in the Kata Tjuta complex and summit levels of Uluru), is considered to be a classic example of a ‘inselberg’, a mountain created by erosion of surrounding strata.
As a bonus, across the road and up a small sand dune are more views of Mount Conner as well as views of very large, white, salt flat, remnant of an ancient inland salt lake. The white of the salt flat contrasts beautifully with the ubiquitous red sand all around.
Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park
While not exactly a pre-dawn departure, we were still subject to an “early rise and shine” schedule on our third day.. We had camped right at the edge of Watarrka National Park and a quick breakfast and short drive was all that separated us from the planned early morning hike.
Watarrka National Park attracts only half as many visitors as Uluru, which is a shame given its equally spectacular landscape. Kings Canyon is a mighty chasm with sheer red rock faces that soar over 100 metres above lush palm forests.
There are two main walking trails in Kings Canyon: the easy, 2 km Kings Creek Walk along the creek bed and the more challenging, and more rewarding, 6 km Kings Canyon Rim Walk which as the name suggests skirts the edge of Kings Canyon, allowing you to peer (carefully) over sheer sandstone cliffs into the shadowy depths of the gorge.
The initial ten minutes of uphill slog brings you level with the rim of the canyon, 100-150 m above the surrounding country and 600-700 m above sea level and was a good way to warm up on a chilly morning. Under your feet is a fractured sandstone plateau, eroded by wind and water and around you are honeycombed cliffs. The uneven track then curves and goes up and through a wide gap between high walls called Priscilla’s Crack a great place to pause and observe shapes and shadows across the rocky landscape.
From the first named lookout, one can look across to the other side of the canyon and make out the distinctive layers of alternating layers of hardened slate and Mereenie sandstone and a scree slope of Carmichael sandstone.
A wooden staircase leads down into a gorge called the ‘Garden of Eden' where a footbridge crosses Kings Creek. After more stairs, a gently undulating side track leads past river red gums and cycads that are 300 to 400 years old. The shady pool at the end, surrounded by high sandstone walls, is a cool and shady refuge for wildlife as well as walkers.
It is the only waterhole for miles for most of the local wildlife so one is discouraged from touching or jumping in. Back up the staircase and into the sunshine again, you pass through a spectacular “lost city” of striped sandstone domes before crossing over to the other side of the canyon and looping back to the beginning.
The shortest route back to Alice Spring that afternoon involved a 100km section of unpaved track (Ernest Giles Road). We held on tightly for the entire bone-jangling drive and as if to reward us for good behavior, an Australian Thorny Devil materialized in the middle of the dusty track. Thankfully our guide spotted it in time, picked up between his fingers and brought into the vehicle for us to examine at close quarters.