Watarrka National Park, NT: Destination Guide

Watarrka -National -Park -960x 350

Be prepared to travel off the beaten track when it comes to discovering Watarrka National Park, but trust us when we say that this sublime and unforgettable environment is well worth the adventure.

Read on to discover the best things to do and see in Watarrka National Park, or find and book accommodation in Watarrka National Park today.

About Watarrka National Park

It would be trite to say that this is an ancient landscape – a description that applies to pretty much the whole of the Australian continent – but the fact is the range’s geological record stretches back more than 400 million years, to a time when this arid expanse, once the bed of a vast primordial sea, was a featureless wind-swept plain. For more than 20,000 years the Luritja Aboriginal people have lived on the land, and rock art sites which can be found scattered through the national park are a poignant reminder of their long-standing history with the area.  

European explorers first navigated the land in 1872, which was followed by the establishment of a cattle station in the late 1880s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that more than 1000sq km of that land was surrendered to formally declare the national park. Since then the park has proven itself to be a magnet for those keen to further understand the weathered secrets of this magnificent environment.

Things to do

The best way to explore Watarrka National Park is on foot, and the various bushwalking tracks are undoubtedly the main reason visitors flock to the area. All walks are well-marked, and the varying lengths and degree of experience required ensures hikers of all capabilities are catered for. The two most popular walks include the Kings Creek Walk - a relatively easy 2.6km journey along the canyon floor which ends at a spectacular viewing platform; and the Kings Canyon Rim Walk - an often gruelling 6km trail that involves a steep climb to the top of the plateau above the canyon, but which rewards hikers with extraordinary views of the valley and surrounding ranges.

Never fear if walking isn’t your thing though, as a range of guided activities including quad bike safaris, camel rides, and even scenic helicopter flights are offered as alternative options for additional sightseeing.

Attractions

Kings Canyon

Considering Kings Canyon is the central feature of Watarrka National Park, it would be a travesty to not lay eyes on the cavernous, awe-inspiring gorge. Luckily, with soaring sandstone walls more than 300m high, and a lush eco-system that is home to over 600 native plants, it’s not hard to miss. With a number of ways to explore Kings Canyon available, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the air, walking along the arid plateau, or looking up at the looming red rock faces from the valley below; there isn’t a bad view of the canyon that exists.

Kathleen Gorge

A visit to the cool oasis that is Kathleen Springs is yet another display of the natural diversity that thrives within the Watarrka National Park. The 2.6km (return) trail to the springs is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible, and has informative signs along the route that tell stories of the local Aboriginal history. It then opens up to a permanent, spring-fed waterhole that marks the head of Kathleen Gorge, and is a beautiful spot to relax, swim and take in the tranquillity of your surroundings.

Weather

Watarrka National Park is situated in the very heart of the desert, so be prepared to experience some extreme weather conditions. During winter temperatures can sit at 22°C, with quite cool mornings and evenings; whilst daytime temperatures can exceed 40°C in summer.

It is important to note that the national park can restrict access, or even close the Kings Canyon Rim Walk on days when the temperature has the potential to exceed 36°C. Regardless of conditions, it is imperative to always be well prepared with water, a hat, food and sunscreen when tackling this harsh landscape.

Getting to Watarrka National Park

Watarrka National Park is located 330km south-west of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory.

By car

Watarrka National Park can be accessed via the Stuart Highway, Ernest Giles Road (4WD essential) and Luritja Road (unsealed for 70km), or via Larapinta Drive and Mereenie Loop Road (unsealed for 198km – 4WD recommended). As Mereenie Loop Road passes through Aboriginal land, you are required to have a permit to travel through this area.

For a 2WD-friendly option (with all roads fully sealed), you can travel 460km via the Stuart Highway, Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road.

Where to stay in Watarrka National Park

 For more accommodation options in and around Watarrka National Park, click here.