Hiking the Valley of the Winds – Kata Tjuta. A complete guide to one of the best walks in the Red Centre of the Northern Territory, Australia.
About Kata Tjuta and the Valley of the Winds hike
The Valley of the Winds walk is found in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park of Australia’s Northern Territory. Unlike its famous neighbour, the iconic sandstone monolith of Uluru, Kata Tjuta is quite different in shape. Formerly referred to as the ‘Olgas’, it is now generally referred to by its traditional Aboriginal name of Kata Tjuta. Meaning ‘many heads’ Kata Tjuta is made up of 36 domes and has an almost otherworldly appearance. Often just viewed from afar, hiking the Valley of the Winds is a wonderful way to really experience the Kata Tjuta landscape up close and explore its rich variety of habitats. For us it was one of our highlights on Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip.
Valley of the Winds hike Information
|Distance: 7.4km (return)|
Trail Type: Circuit (start and finish in the same location)
Start Point: Valley of the Winds car park
Finish Point: Valley of the Winds car park
Duration: 2.5-4 hours
Difficulty: Grade 4 (Moderate – Difficult)
Map: See below
Hiking the Valley of the Winds
You start hiking the Valley of the Winds trail from the car park. This busy little car park also has drinking water to fill your water bottle – one of three locations on this hike where you can do so. The time of year of your visit should dictate your departure time. For many, this hike is often undertaken after driving from the ‘Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing’ area after sunrise. In the hotter months particularly, an early start is important to avoid the brutal heat later in the day. On days where the forecast is more than 36° the track is actually closed at Karu Lookout and you are unable to hike the full circuit. For our May visit, heat was not a major issue and we set off late morning.
It’s a relatively easy walk to the first viewpoint – Karu Lookout. From the car park there’s an easy to follow, predominantly paved path leading you 1.1km to the Valley of the Winds first lookout. From here you get your first of many amazing views of Kata Tjuta on this hike. The contrasting colours were spectacular – The blue sky with white clouds, vegetated green valleys and creeks, Pink Mulla Mulla plants and of course the huge orange domes of this unique rock formation.
For many this is as far as they go before returning back the way they came to the car park. But we highly recommend continuing on for even more impressive vistas. There’s clear signage pointing you on your way and trust us… it is worth it. Not only do the views get better but any crowds of people tend to thin right out.
From the Karu Lookout, it’s a further 1.6km to the Karingana Lookout with more stunning scenery. Heading down into the valley between the domes, you cross a small bridge from where you join onto the circular loop which guides you through and around this part of Kata Tjuta. We followed the signage in the anti-clockwise direction from here and began a gradual ascent up.
To reach the Karingana Lookout, you climb up to the saddle. With towering domes on either side and behind, it’s a pretty impressive section of the trail. Although a slightly steep climb up structured stairs, it only takes a few minutes to reach the top for the vValley of the Winds pièce de résistance – the Karingana Lookout.
From atop the saddle you get the famous Valley of the Winds photo. With two mighty domes framing the shot, there are tunnel like views over the tree-filled valley below and to the domes in the distance. It really was spectacular and photos definitely don’t do it justice.
After soaking up the views we started the descent down into the valley below. Taking you down the tree-lined path there was plenty of birdlife in this section. Bearing left around the towering domes you’ve just come through the views begin to open up again. Every time we looked back along the trail, there were yet more photogenic angles of the ‘many heads’ of Kata Tjuta.
Once passing the final water station, the trail leads you along the base of the domes until rejoining the path back to the car park, close to the Karu Lookout. It’s a steepish climb back up past the lookout and your final opportunity for a few last Valley of the Winds photos.
Wildlife whilst hiking the Valley of the Winds
As a very popular track, you’re unlikely to see many big mammals on this hike with all the foot traffic. But look carefully and you’ll find all sorts of the smaller critters. Colourful caterpillars, butterfly and other insects are everywhere. And Lizards are particularly prevalent and diverse. Blue-Tongues, Thorny Devils, Ring-Tailed Dragon, and Long-Nosed Water Dragons are all common. And then there’s the snakes, we found a tiny one by a small stream. Not being reptile experts we weren’t too sure what it was. At first we presumed it was some of Whip Snake or even a Western hooded scaly-foot (Legless Lizard). But we have since been reliably informed the little snake we were looking at was actually a juvenile Brown Snake. Glad we didn’t get too close, as even at a young age we read they are still highly venomous.
You’ll likely see plenty of birdlife on your hike too. None more so the the tiny Zebra Finches. One of the more common species in Central Australia, small flocks will flee the vegetation close to the trail as you pass by. Depending on your time of visit and recent rainfall you may see thousands of the migratory budgies, or none at all! Other birds you could well see include Diamond Dove, Crimson Chat, Hooded Robin, Australian Ringneck, Splendid Fairywrens, several species of Honeyeaters and various Raptors. It is also another great spot to see the unique Western Bowerbirds. As with Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs, if you know what to lookout for, these birds can be quite easily found.
Hiking the Valley of the Winds is so worth it! This hike really allows you to explore Kata Tjuta properly. Taking you in and around some of the massive domes you certainly appreciate the size, scale and texture of this amazing site. This is something that you definitely don’t fully appreciate from afar. With its stunning views, snaking valleys and plenty of flora and fauna, hiking the Valley of the Winds is a must for all those really wanting to see Kata Tjuta in its full glory.
Useful information and packing essentials for hiking the Valley of the Winds
- Walking tracks in the Northern Territory are graded according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System. The Valley of the Winds is rated as Grade 4 which means ‘Moderate – Difficult’ – For more info on this, see HERE.
- For our May Valley of the Winds hike, extreme heat was not an issue. But, in the hotter months an early start is essential to avoid the oppressive heat later in the day. On days where the forecast is more than 36° the track is actually closed at Karu Lookout and you are unable to hike the full circuit. So it is really important to plan accordingly and be prepared.
- There are 3 water stations on the Valley of the Winds trail. So you can refill along the way, so make sure to bring a good size refillable water bottle along with you.
- Decent footwear is important for this hike. Boots aren’t required but sturdy shoes with good grip are recommended. It can be wet and slippery and there is rough terrain and loose rocks.
- The flies here were the worst we encountered during Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip. It’s worth investing in a fly net to keep them off your face!
- As always leave no trace and take all your rubbish out with you and dispose of it correctly.
- A ‘National Park Pass’ is required for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and its Valley of the Winds hike. At the time of our visit (May 2021) it was $38.00p/p for 3 days. For up-to-date info and to purchase your pass from Parks Australia see HERE.
Other places to enjoy Kata Tjuta from
If hiking the Valley of the Winds is not for you, fear not, there are plenty of other ways to experience it. The nearby Walpa Gorge offers a much quicker and easier, but similar experience to the Valley of the Winds. Leading you up to a viewing platform the 2.6km return walk takes you through two of Kata Tjuta’s massive domes.
And for those without a desire or the time to do any hiking there are the ‘Sunset Viewing’ and ‘Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing’ areas to stop at to admire from afar. Or you can of course just enjoy it from the comfort of your own car driving around the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
But for the ultimate views of Kata Tjuta, take a scenic helicopter flight with Professional Helicopter Services. Our 36min sunset flight took us up and around Kata Tjuta offering unparalleled views over the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Checkout our Our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip blog for more.
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