Karijini National Park is a rare gem located in the remote Pilbara mining region of Western Australia. The Pilbara is a barren, scorched land, a harsh place reputed for hard work and hard living. Driving into Karijini, the park almost seems out of place. Suddenly, the pancake-flat land gives way to the rolling Hamersley ranges. Gorges are carved, knife-like, into the earth. Water is flowing. It’s not the most famous National Park, but for me it’s one of Australia’s most beautiful.
The traditional owners of Karijini are the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga Aboriginal tribes. The nearest town, Tom Price, is an hour away, while Newman (2 hours drive) and Port Hedland (4 hours drive) are the next closest. In a state where you can drive for 8 hours and still end up in the middle of nowhere, this is relatively close!
We visited at the end of September. The Australian Spring was underway, with the temperature inexorably marching higher toward the approaching summer. Days were a pleasant maximum of 30 degrees Celsius, and the nights were cool, but not unbearably cold. Plenty of water ran in most of the gorges.
The gorges are Karijini’s star attractions. We were fortunate to stay 5 nights, which was adequate time to explore. We walked in the early morning, and late afternoon taking a break in the middle of the day. This was the most pleasant time to walk, and offered the best photographic light, as the gorges were shaded.
Karijini contains two main hubs, based around the two accommodation options. The first option is Karijini Eco Retreat, close to the Weano recreation area comprising the Oxer Lookout, Weano Gorge and Hancock Gorge. Joffre, Knox and Kalamina Gorges aren’t far away. The second option is Dales campground, which has basic facilities and is located 45 minutes drive from the Eco Retreat. It provides close access to Dale’s Gorge and it’s attractions Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool and Circular Pool.
Weano Recreation Area
Iron rich, red rock walls surround marshy vegetation at the top of the gorge. There are numerous waterholes to wade or swim through. Approximately halfway, the gorge narrows alarmingly and the descent becomes steeper. The final descent runs through a tiny, slippery slot canyon before dropping into Handrail Pool. There literally is a chunky handrail stuck in the rock, to assist the scramble down the last waterfall, hence the name. The rail was installed by miners who visited the waterhole on their days off.
It doesn’t take long to reach the floor; a short and steep descent down rock scree is followed by a ladder climb. Hancock gorge remains very narrow with extraordinary layered rock walls. Water flows down the middle of the gorge; be prepared to clamber up the sides if you can’t afford to get wet. It’s an adrenaline rush clinging to the slippery side of a cliff, especially with expensive camera gear on your back upping the ante! Slide down the final waterfall into the incredibly photogenic Kermit’s pool. Here, the walls are finely polished, and form beautiful lines. You can either swim through, or crawl along an adjacent rock shelf to pass. From here the rock forms incredible concentric rings overlooking Regan’s Pool. Abseiling equipment is required to proceed further. Hancock Gorge is short, sweet, and my favourite walk at Karijini.
Easily accessed via a 5-minute walk from Weano carpark. The lookout offers views over Weano, Red, Joffre and Hancock Gorges.
The towering red walls, and narrow width make you feel insignificant. Many broken rocks litter the floor. Knox Gorge is most impressive at its narrowest point with finely layered rock bands resembling wrinkles.
The path to Joffre Gorge passes across the top of the main waterfall, before descending steeply down the sidewall. Immense in size, and can be viewed from every angle. Joffre Gorge is usually reasonably dry; the remaining water is coloured a luminous green by algae. Best seen in early morning before direct light hits.
The shallowest and widest gorge. Walk amongst the flowing, mini-streams cascading over the terraced rock. Generally flat and open. Quite dry when I visited, and the least impressive gorge for me.
Dales Recreation Area
A giant waterfall crashing into a beautiful swimming hole. Surrounded by huge tiered steps, like an auditorium.
A short walk past Fortescue falls, lush vegetation surrounds a perfect, blue swimming hole. This could have been taken straight from a scene in the movie Avatar. Fern pool is a sacred Aboriginal site, so the Department of Environment and Conservation are not allowed to advertise; you won’t find any acknowledgement of its existence onsite.
A beautiful blue pool surrounded by sheer cliffs. The walk into Circular Pool is just as amazing. Perfectly cut rock terraces run alongside a square channel. With water trickling over the rocks, and ferns sprouting through the cracks, it felt like a natural Water Temple.
The pools at Dales gorge are the easiest in the park to access. They seemed most popular and at times there were just too many people. Visit in the early morning before the crowds arrive.
Hamersley Gorge is an hour’s drive away from the main park hub. Rock bands in the walls form enormous colourful waves, and there are a number of beautiful swimming holes. The highlight is Spa Pool, an uncannily round pool bored into the rock by a waterfall. Not to be missed, despite the distance.
No outback adventure is complete without a flat tyre!
Thanks go to Nicole, Shawn, Jane and Renee for a great trip!
Click here to see more of my portfolio photos from Karijini National Park. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about visiting.