September 2nd, we awoke at what felt like the middle of the night, packed the required gear for our trek to King's Canyon, dressed in layers and downed the instant coffee that was in our room before walking out the door to meet the bus. We chatted with the bus driver a bit, making friendly talk while I ruminated on how best to fold my fleece jacket into a pillow for the 4 hour ride to the canyon when he casually mentioned that we had the best seat on the bus for spotting kangaroos, wallabies, camels and other assorted wildlife. My need for sleep took a back seat to my wildlife spotting desires. Now I was wide-eyed and eager. Frank opted for sleep. As I was listening intently to the driver's descriptions of what we might expect to encounter throughout the day's activities my neighbor across the isle and I discovered a common bond: we had someone to chat with while our husbands nodded off. Her name was Pauline, she lived in a suburb of Sydney and we hit it off immediately. We didn't see any kangaroos, but certainly did witness several brushfires burning at random. Our driver told us that these are nearly always burning somewhere and are often deliberate burns, although more often than not they are runaway fires that will take out an entire station before it burns out. Mid morning, we stopped at a cattle station for breakfast. Everything is so remote in this part of Australia that there aren't really rest stops, per se, just very large stations that also offer amenities to the remote traveler. We used the bush toilet and then went to place our food order at the large outdoor dining area. We sat at long tables and our tucker (breakfast) was cooked right there outdoors by a couple of friendly blokes, as I suppose any rancher would arrange for his drovers or whatever the ranch hands are called. It was very good, but once again we were stuck with packets of instant coffee. They just don't do brewed coffee in this country.
We were on a tight schedule and were herded right back onto the bus fairly quickly for we still had quite a long drive ahead. We had traveled nearly 40 minutes when off the side of the road we spotted a herd of Brumbys, wild horses similar to the Mustangs in America. The herd was reasonably large, and apparently a very rare sight according to our driver. I scrambled to grab my camera but by the time it booted up, the Brumbys were long gone.
We finally arrived at King's Canyon. I simply cannot describe this beautiful geological wonder. It is sacred Aboriginal ground and so magical that it boggles the mind. A canyon out in the middle of nowhere and seemingly coming out of nothingness, it is a wonder to behold. The colors and rock formations are so beautiful that although I took many, many photos they just don't do this place justice. We hiked the rim, which is only about a 6 kilometer walk, but takes approximately 4 hours and is not an easy go. The first very steep climb up to the rim is comprised of 500 steps, according to the ranger, and commonly referred to as heart-attack hill. At the halfway point we stopped for a breather. The ranger took this opportunity to evaluate each of us and to help us determine for ourselves whether we were fit to continue. This sent a few of the guests back to the bus. It was rigorous. Frank became red in the face and so winded that I got a little worried. Many people had to make several stops just to breathe. My heart felt it was pounding out of my chest but I couldn't stop or I would lose my momentum, so I stepped around those who were abruptly stopping in the middle of the track and bending over gasping for breath. I did my gasping at the top. Our guide had warned us this was no walk in the park (national park that is). It was well worth the exertion because when we arrived on the rim we were rewarded by the splendor and magnificence of the view. The geology kept changing along the way which enhanced the experience even more. Eventually we arrived at a deep gorge fittingly called The Garden of Eden. Here again Nature revealed her creative side as we left the red, amber, golden and deep brown rocky ridge behind to behold lush greens and tropical palm trees. At the very bottom rested a serene little lake banked on one side by a lovely beach. Other visitors were lounging there and wading into the cool water. How amazing. The birdlife really impressed me, in particular the Bowerbird. The male Bowerbird builds a unique nest/structure, called a "bower", that (to me) resembles a basket with handles sticking up and is comprised of rocks, sticks, colorful objects the brighter the better in order to attract a female. Often the nest contains pretty shells, bits of trash that have a reflective or sparkle bit, coins, etc. The males competing for females will often conduct raids on each other's bowers. It is rare to find one of these nests, and yet we happened upon one just off the trail leading back up the other side of The Garden of Eden. The ranger did not encourage us to leave any sparkly trash for the bird to put into this bower. Another species we saw in here was the Spinifex Pigeon. A pretty little bird with a crested point on top of his head, much like a cardinal.
After this short respite, our legs were beginning to really feel the strain as we hiked back out of the Garden. By now, Pauline and I were hiking mates leaving her husband Martin and Frank pretty much behind. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the hike and especially the return part that was all downhill.
Back on the bus. Weary travelers were we all. Round about the half way point of the return journey we stopped at Curtin Springs Cattle Station, 1,028,960 acres BIG. It featured outback campsites, caravan hookups, a bush-style restaurant, a small shop, bush toilets, showers, and even a phone booth. Frank and Martin stumbled thirstily toward the bar. Pauline and I had a look around and settled for ice cream bars. The rest was short enough and soon we were back on the bus heading for Yulara. I finally began to nod off and after a little while, someone yelled, "Camels!" Sure enough, right there just along the roadside was a large herd of camels. The bus must have started them because they took off at a trot. This time I did manage to snap a few shots of the camera before we lost sight of them.
That evening, we met Pauline and Martin for dinner at the Outback Pioneer BBQ and Bar, where you grill your own steak. Outdoor venue, located at one of the local lodges. It was really good! We were draggin by then, so dinner was an early affair, and so was bedtime. Next morning was another 4:30 wake up call to depart for sunrise at The Rock. We were delighted to find that Pauline and Martin were scheduled for that tour as well.