Noted for its incredible gorges, canyons and waterholes, Karijini is Western Australia’s second-biggest national park. Here’s why it should be on your bucket list.
Words and images Sandy and Marc van Mourik; www.thewanderersatheart.com
Ever had people talk up a place so much that when you get there, you’re actually a bit let down because it isn’t quite what you had pictured? Well, Karijini National Park is NOT one of those places. With its never-ending canyons and gorges with pristine swimming holes, Karijini is a must-do when travelling to the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The mining town of Tom Price is the closest town for supplies, and it’s a smart idea to stock up as the park campgrounds are a good hour or so away. There are two options for camping in Karijini. One is at the Karijini Eco Retreat in the central section of the National Park, which offers unpowered sites with toilets, showers, drinking water, and a camp kitchen, as well as a cafe that often gets rave reviews. No dump point is provided. The other option is the National Parks camp of Dales Campground on the eastern side of the park. This bush camp consists of several loops which are either generator or non-generator specific. Most sites are decent sizes, with bush toilets and a nearby dump point. Online bookings are required and often need to be booked in advance due to popularity. Rubbish bins are not provided at either campground so all rubbish needs to be taken out with you.
The best time to visit Karijini is from April to October. The park in the summer months gets extremely hot (sometimes in excess of 45 degrees C) and can close due to flash flooding. If visiting in the winter months, be prepared for the cold as it can get below freezing overnight!
From Dales Campground there are multiple swimming holes within walking distance – an easy walk except for the long staircase down into the gorge. Not so much of a problem coming down, but it will definitely get you huffing and puffing on the way back up! Nevertheless, you’ll forget all about the future cardio workout once you reach Fortescue Falls, a beautiful stepped waterfall nestled in a deep stone amphitheatre. It is the only permanent waterfall in the park, and there are plenty of ledges perfect for bringing a picnic, having a rest after a refreshing swim, or simply soaking in the beauty around you. A small detour to the right from the bottom of the stairs leads to the spring-fed Fern Pool, or ‘Jubara’, which will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a lush, water-filled fairyland. Following the water downstream takes you through Dales Gorge and up a tough scramble to the Circular Pool lookout.
From Dales Gorge, there are two options to get to the central part of the park. The first, longer route is to go along the highway and take the turnoff onto the sealed portion of Banjima Drive. The second, potentially shorter trip is to take the unsealed road west from the info centre. It is highly recommended to check the condition of the unsealed road beforehand as it can deteriorate very quickly and significantly.
Joffre Gorge, within walking distance from the Eco Retreat, has a couple of lookouts with great views, but to fully appreciate it, the climb down is a must. It is a moderately challenging hike with a bit of rock-hopping/climbing to get to the bottom. After having a look at Joffre Falls (which rarely flows), it’s time for a swim! This is one of the longest swims in the park, about 200 meters each way; you can always bring a flotation device if you’re not a confident swimmer.
The road to Hancock and Weano Gorges, which is also the road to the Eco Retreat, can be done in a 2WD, but you’ll be a heck of a lot more comfortable in a 4WD. It is not uncommon for vehicles to suffer from a smashed window along this road, so be aware and drive to the conditions.
Hancock Gorge is probably the most interesting and adventurous of all the walks. It starts with climbing down steps and ladders until you get to the bottom of the gorge. From there, you walk along the creek, at times either wading and swimming through water or opting to “spider walk” along the rocks until you reach Kermits Pool, a deep pool framed by layered rock.
Back at the car park, you have the option of taking the Upper Weano gorge walk or going straight to Lower Weano and Handrail Pool. From the easy walk through the gorge, you’ll reach a narrow chasm with a handrail attached to it – useful due to slippery ground – which leads to a climb down into an open amphitheatre-type pool. There are places to sit and enjoy or for the more adventurous, you can continue the swim a bit further. Be warned, the water gets little sunlight so it is icy!
Last but certainly not least is Hamersley Gorge, situated on its own little corner in the northwest section of the park. The road to the gorge is unsealed but is regularly used by mining companies which means it’s generally well looked after. Access into the gorge is by rock steps down to a lovely open pool. Following the markers to the right involves climbing up the rocky slope, with an optional swim to the main attraction: Spa Pool. This picture-perfect little circular pool being fed by a small waterfall will be hard to tear yourself away from. The colours and brilliance of Hamersley Gorge shift and change throughout the day, making it an ideal place to spend some extended time.
Karijini is the perfect natural playground for the adventurous, both the young and the young at heart. You most certainly will not leave disappointed!