Karijini National Park is one of the most spectacular parks we’ve visited in West Australia and we’ve been to a few. It’s also one of the most under rated. We spoke to West Australians who’d never visited and it’s in their backyard. Perhaps it’s because we’re so far from home and we’re deliberately seeking out places that till now I’ve only seen on a map.
We didn’t book our campsites online (which is the only way) until the day before we arrived, and the process was convoluted and ridiculously messy, to say the least. But we made it and over four days we got to know and love Karijini.
Here are my picks on the five best gorges
This was our first taste of Karijini and undoubtedly the worst road to get there. It’s four wheel drive only and so corrugated it stuffed up our car fridge again. But the walk was awesome. The sign said three hours to complete the walk but we find the times are always exaggerated. After a steep descent it was flat walking to the gorge, enjoying a swim halfway and again at the end. It was just us and another couple there. With red rock surrounding us and the freshest aqua coloured waters it was sublime.
Dales Gorge (Fortescu Falls and Fern Pool)
This is the most popular and easiest gorge to access from Dales campground. You can take the steel staircase to Fortescu Falls or do as we did and walk the roughly 2.5kms gorge rim across the top then down to the bottom, ending with a swim at the stunning Fortescu Falls and further on the very deep and crazily blue Fern Pool, a significant cultural site for local Aboriginal people.
This is a grade 5 walk but don’t let that put you off because once at the bottom it’s easy going. Before then however it’s super steep and very rough going with loose rocks that resembled a landslide so it was slow and careful walking to avoid any slips. Once at the bottom it gets easier and you’re rewarded with a magnificent oasis to swim in. This gorge is not as popular as the others so you could have it to yourself. Except for perhaps a resident water monitor.
I LOVED this gorge. It was probably my favourite and the most fun though I’ll be honest, reading the cautionary signs at the top unnerved me. It’s the most challenging of all the gorges with regular accidents and injuries caused by falls from slippery rocks.
After we climbed down two steep steel ladders to get into the gorge it was an easy walk to reach the first pool. There you need to do a bit of rock hopping until you reach the second long chasm. That’s where we changed into water shoes as the rocks in the water are smooth and slippery. So at this point my backpack was held over my head. Then we had to swim.
Trying to cross the chasm by clambering onto the sides to avoid getting wet is when accidents can happen. So the rest was spider walking as we manoeuvred, using both our arms and legs for balance, through two narrow chasms that ended at a spot called Kermits Pool. It was time for a rest, as the sun filtered through the cracks and we found warm dry rocks and fellow travellers.
This one is remote and a long drive to get there (on another corrugated road) but it’s also the easiest of the gorges to walk into and enjoy a swim. We’d heard of the heart shaped “spa pool” but forgot to ask where it was. So we swam and swam. We swam the entirety of the gorge and back (about 500 metres) before finding out from a very amused woman at the other end that it was back where we’d began. We’d gone left instead of right!
When we eventually found the infamous spot she was there again and we laughed as she congratulated us on completing the entire Hamersley experience. So, was the marathon swim, scramble, rock clamber and final plunge in the spa pool worth it? You betcha!
Five tips on making the most of a stay at Karijini
1. If you plan on visiting a few gorges consider staying two nights at Dales campground and then two nights at Eco Retreat Campground which is at the other end of the National Park. That saves you the constant driving plus the Eco Retreat gives you closer access to the gorges at Weano, Joffre and Hancock.
2. Do the Dales Gorge circuit walk early in the morning, before it gets too hot. By the time you reach Fortescu and Fern pool you’ll be ready for a refreshing swim after the long walk.
3. Forget about wearing good whites here. The red dust of Karijini has a way of getting into everything. By the time you leave you’ll most likely have what’s affectionately known as a pindan tan where your skin looks the same colour as the earth. My advice is to simply embrace it and let the outback seep into your pores. It gives a literal meaning to being at one with Mother Nature. I’ve never felt healthier.
4. The best time to walk and have a swim is in the middle of the day. That’s because most of the water holes in these gorges see very little sunlight so are really cold. At midday however the sun’s at its highest peak, making it the best time to swim.
5. Talk to other travellers. There were no maps available at the Visitors Centre when we visited and no telephone and internet service in most of the park (except Mount Bruce) so information sources were scarce. Signage in the park is good but we found the best information was from fellow travellers who’d walked the walks so could talk the talk.
Part of any journey is the people we meet along the way. Ranger Jay (who we met a few times during our stay) was a fantastic since of information. It was reassuring to see him on some of the tracks and he was always happy to share knowledge and suggestions.
As we walked through the incredible chasm of Hancock Gorge he was there again. He happily gave us tips on the depth and the best way of manoeuvring through the rocks. We also met a group of young European backpackers, from Belgium, France, Spain and Italy. And how amazing, the guy from Italy was from the Veneto region where my parents were born. What a small world.
Karijini National Park is truly the jewel of the Pilbara and an adventure two billion years in the making. It’s ancient, dusty, magnificent and full of wonder. We saw a lot but by no means did we see it all. The park is huge and encompasses eight gorges that are accessible. That leaves three we didn’t walk and three very good reasons to go back.
For now though our road trip continues out of this rocky wonderland to the blue waters of the West Australian coast.
Keep looking up, find the wonder and embrace the ups and downs of life for it’s all part of the journey.
In love and light.