Written by: Brandon
Dian woke up at about 6 plus first to check if it was still cloudy due to scattered showers over the night in the surrounding area (it remained dry in our area) and unfortunately, the skies were still overcast and gloomy which meant no Uluru sunrise for us, sigh.
But more rest for today, since we’ll explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park!
We initially planned to start our first hike at Kata Tjuta at 9am but when we woke at 8am, it was 10 degrees, windy and freezing thanks to the cloudy weather and recent rain and to make things worse, it started drizzling! We had long pants and jackets but they were far too thin to do hiking in this weather and we’d probably make for a pair of very unflattering human popsicles.
So we decided to make breakfast at the dining area instead of eating and driving to Kata Tjuta to wait for the weather to warm slightly.
After breakfast, we checked with reception on the weather around 9am to ensure that it was not raining at Kata Tjuta. “Nope! You’re all cleared to go!” and with the weather warming up to about 12-13 degrees, it was time to set off to Kata Tjuta!
From the lodge to Kata Tjuta, it’s a whopping 54 kilometres which roughly translates to a 45-minute drive!
Before entering the park, we reached a toll booth where we had to purchase our Adult passes at 25 AUD each for 3 days to enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Even if you want to visit for just a day, you still have to get the 3-day pass.
Admissions to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
If you are visiting the park for the first time, remember to filter to the right lane on approach to the toll booth to purchase your tickets. Filter left if you already have your valid passes!
Do be mindful of the speed limit signs when driving in the park as the ranger at the booth told us that the Popo do regular speed checks and just pulled two cars to the side for doing just slightly over the limit (60km/h and 100km/h in certain stretches) and it’s a hefty 1000 AUD fine. So just be safe, and enjoy the scenic drive.
We eventually saw this:
Yesterday, Kata Tjuta was just this mysterious small bunch of rocks in the distance silhouetted by the setting sun from the viewing platform at our lodge, today, though slightly covered by the morning fog, Kata Tjuta loomed into view and good god she was massive! All her definitions and lines started to show and even then, it was still a 18 minute or so drive to reach the start of the hike!
About Kata Tjuta
Before we take a hike (hahahaha) (Dian: ._.), lets talk about this huge rock formation in the middle of nowhere that’s Kata Tjuta.
Formerly known as The Olgas, Kata Tjuta (silent ‘T’!) is an estimated 550 million-year-old formation of 36 sandstones packed closely together forming huge gorges and valleys in a 20 kilometer area with Mount Olga as its tallest peak standing at about 546 metres!
Kata Tjuta means “many heads” to the Anangu People whom have lived in this area for thousands of years. Many stories and legends of this place can be discovered at the cultural centre (more on that in the next post!). This place, like most places in the Red Centre, are often sacred under the Tjukurpa and Anangu men’s law and as such, always respect their wishes, and pay attention to signs around the park indicating the dos and don’ts!
Hot Hot Hot!
Heat exhaustion and dehydration are very common and real risks at Kata Tjuta as the walks are rocky, rugged and remote.
Like all walks, always remember to have sufficient plain water (No Sports Drinks) with you before starting. A good rule of thumb is to have approx one litre of water per hour of hiking activity, Though the walks have water tanks at certain points, always assume the worst and go well prepared!
Aim to finish your walks by 11am on hot days. The afternoon Australian heat can be very unforgiving especially during summer.
Kata Tjuta has two major walks to suit (almost) everyone’s appetite for adventure!
If you are looking for something mild, there’s the Walpa Gorge Walk, which is graded as a moderate 2.6 km walk which includes a 1 hour return walk.
Then there’s the Valley of The Winds Walk. Depending on your taste for adventure, the walk is split into 3 tiers:
Of course we opted for the full circuit, the 7.4 kilometre walk. We did not travel so far to not get the full experience! With the weather still hovering around 13 degrees and cloudy, it was time to start the Valley of The Winds walk!
The Valley of The Winds
After we parked the car, got all our gear and found our way to the entrance of the walk! At the entrance, there was an emergency radio post, and signage with maps and a brief description of Kata Tjuta.
Though the entrance is covered by a lot of bushes and trees, the path eventually expands out into this:
The first thought that ran through my mind was how much the landscape reminded me of planet Mars with its massive brownish-red sandstones and the very rocky grounds that make up the whole area. If you wanted to know how would Mars have probably looked like with foliage and fauna, this is probably the closest you’re gonna get!
It just boggles me how huge these sandstones are. Pictures never do justice to them. Everywhere we walked, they were like skyscrapers that carved huge beautiful valleys and gorges along the way.
It was still chilly and windy at this point in the morning, so we had our jackets on.
After about 40 minutes of hiking up a gradual slope, we reached the first checkpoint of the walk, Karu Lookout! From here, we were treated to the view of the other massive sandstones in the distance! From here, you can choose to loop back to the car park or continue on to the second checkpoint, Karingana Lookout.
It’s important to note that walks beyond the Karu Lookout are closed after 11 am if the temperature is forecast to reach 36 degrees and above, for safety reasons. Hence, do proper planning and aim to start all your walks early to avoid disappointment!
As we hiked along, the amount of foliage and fauna that dominated the area astounded me. It’s amazing how this seemingly inhospitable place full of sand, rocks combined with the blistering heat still allowed trees and flowers to bloom.
Look to the sandstones as it gives you a clue to their survival. The dark algae marks on them shows where fresh water from storms and rains would pool up and cascade down the sandstones, giving them the much need water supply.
Birds can be seeing flying about chirping and going about their daily business. I’m pretty sure that more animals reside in Kata Tjuta but we didn’t see anything else other than a couple of lizards darting about. Maybe you might be luckier?
The hike to Karingana was a less straight forward one. The paths can get very rocky and fairly steep in some places.
It’s highly recommended you wear a good pair of shoes for this and tread carefully. We crossed dried creek beds and narrow rocky paths, some with stunning rock formations.
Eventually it opened up to incredible wide open spaces:
Around the corner, we were met with this steep and very rocky incline up. It was the steepest part of the walk, so you have to take great care when climbing up or you’ll end up tumbling down.
It took us about 10-15 minutes to slowly inch our way up the hill and when we did reach the top, this was the view:
The Valley of the Winds!
The first thing that hit us was the really strong cold 13-degree wind blowing in our faces followed by the sheer size of the valley and the incredible view of the valley below and sandstones in the distance. They say that the Karingana Lookout is well worth the hike and I agree without a doubt. Just remember to hold on to your hats! They call this The Valley of The Winds for a reason!
From here, you can turn around and backtrack your way to the carpark, or head down to the valley to see what else this amazing place offers. For us, we were just about halfway done with the hike!
The trail that leads down to the valley from the lookout via a rocky and sometimes unclear and steep path eventually expands out to a vast plain where you can see tons of flowers in bloom, another few lizards darting about here and there and find very picture worthy trees!
As we moved along towards the last leg of our hike, it was a pretty tiring one. Though less narrow, it was a series of gradual uphills and downs and of course, more rocks!
It was starting to get warmer, so we took off our jackets.
But before we made our way out of the plains, we turned around and saw this:
It’s just a great pity that though the weather was a cooling and windy, the cloudy skies sapped away all the beautiful blue skies that would have made many of the photos today even more vibrant!
You’ll know when you’ve reached the last leg of the hike when the trail eventually leads you back to the 1st lookout (Karu). From there, it’s just a relatively tiring backtrack back to the carpark.
So it took us about only 3.5 hours instead of the Visitors’ Guide estimate of 4 hours. But of course, your attempt will vary according to your fitness level, rest stops and instagram-whoring/spamming (which I’m shamelessly doing now)!
Once we made it back to the car, we immediately opened the mobile fridge and got out our bottles of ice cold Sprite and Ice Lemon Tea to celebrate our accomplishment! It was utter satisfaction.
The time was about 12ish and with so much of the day left, we decided to drive over to the next star of the national park which we’ve traveled so far for, Uluru.
More on that in the next post!