Discovery Kings Canyon isn't the kind of place you're likely to spend a night at on the back of a spur-of-the-moment decision. This is the heart of Australia's largely uninhabited Northern Territory we're talking about, halfway between Alice Springs and Uluru - a place where even the amount of water you carry for the day ahead takes some consideration. But is it a stay worth planning for? Does eucalyptus smell good? Do male kangaroos look weirdly like bodybuilders when they stand on their hind legs? Is the sight of a wild stallion galloping along the roadside pretty much guaranteed to inspire joy? Yes, yes, yes!
The single-storey property - which has recently benefitted from a multi-million-dollar refurbishment - is sensitively designed to blend in with the spinifex dunes that surround it. With options that range from basic camping pitches (and fancy glamping ones) to sprawling contemporary rooms, guests also have the run of a tennis court, two swimming pools, restaurants, bar and a convenience store. Best of all, though, is the fact that this is the closest accommodation to Watarrka National Park. The 1,052sq km park is home to Kings Canyon, a mighty natural wonder made of sandstone dating back 400 million years (and a key location in cult film Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2024). Sections of the canyon plunge to the Garden of Eden below, a sacred indigenous site where unfamiliar bird calls fill the air, a riot of foliage crowds paths and permanent rock pools provide drinking water for animals including skinks, cockatoos, wallaroos and dingoes.
If the 500-step ascent to the canyon's rim has taken it out of you, relax back at base over a candlelit multi-course meal showcasing the best of the Northern Territory's diverse natural larder, then head out into the dark to experience Discovery Kings Canyon's own man-made wonder: Bruce Munro's Light Towers. The immersive art installation will make you feel like you're not only on another continent but on another planet. And that, in our book, is a trip worth planning for.
In addition to camping facilities, there are 128 rooms. A less-is-more design ethos sees textured fabrics in a natural palette complemented by rattan lampshades, raw wooden furnishings and photographs of rugged red rock formations found locally. The star of our Deluxe room (apart from the A/C) was a deep, freestanding bathtub positioned in front of a picture window overlooking rust-coloured dust and desert oaks. The balcony, equipped with table and chairs, invites quiet contemplation (or dingo-spotting), while the spacious, grey-tiled bathroom features a stellar shower and comes stocked with Yaye products in biodegradable bottles. Pronounced "yah-yah", and meaning "big sister" in the Arrernte language, the company is 100 per cent indigenous-owned and uses native plants in its gorgeous toiletries.
What's for breakfast?
Australians don't mess around when it comes to breakfast - and especially so in remote areas like this, where many guests will have a day of demanding hiking ahead. A buffet spread is served at the on-site Carmichael's Restaurant from 5.30am to 9.30am, offering everything from cheeses, fresh fruits and cereals to bacon, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, eggs any way and sweet and savoury pastries.
How about lunch and dinner?
You'll find an all-day pub grub menu of wood-fired pizzas, burgers and barbecue - and some patisserie-worthy cakes - at the newly renovated, tin-roofed Kings Canyon Bar & Grill. Dinner is also served at Carmichael's, which specialises in outback cuisine, from zingy salads made with bush greens to pan-seared barramundi with samphire, native herb and tomato purée, burnt butter and finger lime sauce. For something more casual, there's a DIY BBQ package, where you can grill up your own meat, potatoes, corn on the cob etc, or, for experiential dining, outback-style, you've got the Under a Desert Moon dinner - a five-course, wine-paired, open-air affair that culminates with a nightcap around the fire pit.
Is there a bar?
Pretend you're in an episode of Home and Away at roadhouse-style Kings Canyon Bar & Grill, which serves up tinnies and bottled beers, spirits and wines, including a comprehensive line-up of homegrown labels.
The on-site petrol station makes for peace of mind. It's a long way to the next one. Staff are happy to help guests arrange experiences at surrounding attractions, including Kings Canyon tours, a visit to the Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Centre and the Junior Desert Eco Ranger programme for kids (school holidays only).
What are the hotel's eco-credentials like?
This place has worked hard to reduce its environmental footprint, including installing energy-efficient lighting systems, using eco-friendly cleaning products, reducing food waste through composting and using locally sourced produce in its restaurants. Native ingredients are sourced from Kungkas Can Cook, a First Nations business that has trained the resort's chefs in these foods' uses and cultural significance.
What about accessibility?
There are four newly refurbished wheelchair-access rooms. All the bars and restaurants cater to those with mobility issues, including the Under a Desert Moon dining experience.
What's the crowd like?
You're unlikely to spot anyone wearing a suit. Nor anyone that lives locally, other than the staff, who are based on-site: the nearest town, Alice Springs, is a four-hour drive away. The vibe is super-friendly, with travelling stories and tips shared freely.
Within a short walk I can find…
The bush. You'll need wheels to get anywhere, but the closest entrance of Watarrka National Park is only 7km away.
Things I should know
Bruce Munro's Field of Light installation has been wowing visitors to Uluru since 2016. Opened in April of this year, his Light Towers brings a similar kind of dazzling energy to Discovery Kings Canyon. The work comprises a circular arrangement of 69 2m-tall structures that change colour in response to a soundtrack by Orlando Gough. Viewing sessions take place at sunrise, sunset and night. Those attending at night start and end at the resort's decked Luritja Lookout, with sparkling wine and Michelin-star-worthy canapés made with native ingredients. A word of warning: if you don't have a good sense of direction to start out with, spinning around among the glowing towers may lead to complete disorientation, and having to call into the dark for a clue as to how to get out…