At 300 kilometres south west of Alice Springs, with the first 130 kilometres south along the sealed Stuart Highway and then 170 kilometres west, at the end of the unsealed Ernest Giles Road, lies Watarrka or Kings Canyon National Park, one of the most spectacular sites in the Central Australian outback. It can also be reached by four-wheel drive vehicle, following the Mereenie Loop Road via Hermannsburg; however, a permit is needed for this road.
Kings Canyon offers sights unlike any other in the Northern Territory. It is set in the George Gill Range and must have evolved over millions of years. Over those epochs cracks appeared in the sandstone and as this fractured, huge boulders fell into ravines, eventually weathering to beehive shaped domes, now called the Lost City. Eventually a valley with vertical sandstone cliffs, 100 metres high, was formed; the porous sandstone collects water and slowly filters it through to the bottom of the ravine, where many plants and animals flourish.
The park includes a range of environments: there are permanent springs with ferns and cycads, living fossils; there are red sandhills covered by desert oaks and spinifex grass; but its most spectacular feature are those sandstone canyon walls, especially when they are lit by low sun at dawn and dusk. And there are great views from the canyon rim over the weathered rocks of "The Lost City" and the waterholes and lush vegetation of the "Garden of Eden", with its palms, ferns and ancient cycads. There are many reptiles here, from the large desert perentie to small skinks and around the waterholes, with its yabbies (small shrimps) there are many birds. The Luritja Aboriginal people, who have lived in the region for over 20,000 years, are the traditional custodians of the park and have a strong voice in its management; they also operate tours that show aspects of their culture. The name "Watarrka" in their language stands for a species of acacia.
It was the explorer Ernest Giles and his party who found water here during their expedition in 1872; it saved their lives. The gravel road that runs between Watarrka and the Stuart Highway bears his name. 13 kilometres before the turn off is Henbury Meteorite Craters Conservation Reserve: here, 4,700 years ago, a meteor, travelling at around 40,000 kilometres per hour and weighing several tonnes disintegrated before impact and formed at least 12 craters here. The largest of these craters is about 180 metres across and 15 metres deep. Rock fragments have been found and turned out to be mainly metallic: one of these was the size of a football and weighed an incredible 46 kg!