Karijini is frequently described as ‘like nowhere else in Australia’. It is a truly unique and fascinating environment. We (Bazz and Fran) were thrilled to share this part of our journey with our friend Cherie.
Situated in the Hamersley Ranges in Western Australia’s Pilbara Region, Karijini is the second largest park in Western Australia and a visit to the deep chasms, clear pools and fascinating geological features will leave you thankful that it is protected for future generations. The Traditional Owners Banyjima, Yinhawangka and Kurrama People have inhabited this land for 30,000 years and their stories and songs can be found in the Visitor Centre. Their message to visitors is “Go with a clear, open and accepting spirit and the country will not treat you badly.” Its harsh country and more than 40 rescues were required from the Eco Lodge end last year alone so their advice is well heeded.
No description of Karijini would be complete without the Geology. The banded iron formations are more than 2500 Million years old. These deposits have been accumulated on an ancient sea floor and transformed through pressure into tough bedded rock. Horizontal pressure has caused the rocks to buckle and develop vertical cracks. Erosion over millions of years has sculpted the landscape to its current form.
Rock formations in Hammersley Gorge
For the first three nights of our visit we stayed in the Dales Gorge Campground, a National Park facility with lovely spacious campsites, Aussie dunnies and no showers. This is a great spot to explore Dales Gorge from but many of the more interesting gorges are closer to the Eco Retreat over 65 Kilometres of the worst corrugated road we have come across since leaving Port Lincoln. We moved to the camp ground at the Eco Retreat for the last two nights of our stay and enjoyed flushing toilets, hot showers and a restaurant meal on our last night.
Camping under the stars at Dales Campground
Venturing first into Kalamina Gorge in the early morning we climbed down a short path and turned right to see a small waterfall. Retracing our steps we then followed the river down stream crossing back and forth to view small cascades and rock pools. This gorge is best photographed on a bright day and we were unfortunate to have cloud for the first part of the morning, which meant it was difficult to capture the reflected colours that are a feature of this gorge but the cloud did clear later. Paper Bark Trees are dotted throughout the Gorge and the softness of their trunks contrasting with the rich red ironstone layers is amazing.
Colour and movement in the cascades at Kalamina Gorge
Hammersley Gorge is in the north west corner of the park. This is the location for the iconic “Spa Pool” which Fran photographed on a previous trip but which is now off limits for safety reasons due to a number of incidents. Taking the rough steps to the bottom of the Gorge reveals a waterhole that visitors can swim in and some of the best water reflections in the Park. Banded, twisted rock formations in white, grey, orange and deep red are a photographers delight.
Reflections in Hammersley Gorge
Dales Gorge, closest to Dales Campground is the most accessible of all the Gorges but don’t let that fool you. That simply means there are solid iron steps – more than 200 of them - to take you down to the TOP of Fortescue Falls. Once at the top of the fall turning right will take you past rock walls lined with maiden hair ferns and ficus tree roots to the delightful Fern Pool which is a popular and safe swimming hole with a small waterfall too good not to explore. Tracing the path back to the main falls it is then a climb down the side of the falls to the river floor where a 3 kilometre path takes you past rock pools, and cascades to Circular Pool a significant site for Aboriginal people and where they ask that you enter and leave the water quietly. Bazz was anything but quiet entering the icy cold water of this pool.
Maiden Hair Ferns line the walls in Dales Gorge
Circular Pool at the end of Dales Gorge
Weano Gorge is one of the more challenging gorges both to get into and in terms of the walk once you are there but the challenge brings great rewards. The descent into Weano is over rough steps in gorge wall and once at the bottom the gorge once again goes both ways. One way is a creek walk with nice reflections but following the circular disks to Handrail Pool is the more challenging and rewarding walk. We set off with cameras and bathers but a water section had us turning back to leave our cameras behind – a difficult decision for keen photographers!!! We just weren’t confident of the dry bags we had with us. On the second attempt, we waded and swam through a section of very cold water and then found our way through a narrow, high walled gorge to a hand rail by which we were able to edge our way along and down a waterfall to a circular opening in the gorge with a waterhole. Cherie loved the pool and spent sometime swimming. Bazz had a quick dip (too cold) and Fran watched from a rock ledge trying to fight off the cold. Getting down to these places is all very well but then you have to get out again. Fortunately we were able to climb back up the handrail using the foot holds bolted into the rock face and we were pretty chuffed with our achievements. Coming out through the water section we realized that hugging one wall meant there was a ledge that avoided the need to actually swim that section.
The handrail descent into Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge (iPhone photo)
Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge (iPhone photo)
Hancock Gorge was absolutely the favourite gorge for all of us. Fran was completely determined to carry a camera into this gorge as she knew what reward there would be if she could get it through. Another dry bag was found and with the oldest camera and lens now packed inside three dry bags and carried by Bazz, a tripod slung over Fran’s back, dry clothes and phones (for their cameras) in another dry bag carried by Cherie we were ready for the challenge.
Looking back at the narrow spider walk from Kermits Pool
Hancock Gorge is rated Level 5, the most challenging level for the publically accessible Gorges. The descent is long and steep but two ladders over the steepest section make it achievable. Once at the bottom a short walk across the river bed stepping from rock to rock brings you to a narrow water section. The water here was once again very cold but by hugging the sides we were mostly able to stay in waist deep water with occasional deeper sections. At the end of the water section a small climb up the face and the gorge opens up into a spectacular amphitheater. This is a wonderful spot to marvel at the formation of the sheer cliffs and it has a two-tiered small cascade. Next is the Spider Walk. In this section the cliffs are literally just arm widths apart and the river slopes down. We made our way avoiding the black slippery sections by hanging on with both hands wedged on opposite cliff walls and shuffling our feet on the sides of the cliff. Around the next corner is the amazing Kermit’s Pool. The pool, which is aquamarine in colour seems almost to be in a cave such is the height of the cliffs here. Bazz and Cherie swam across with phones to photograph “The Chute” on the other side of the pool. At this location you can see down the chute and light reflects amazing colours from the surrounding cliffs on the water and wet rocks. We felt so fortunate to have this location to ourselves it wasn’t until we were almost out again that we encountered other visitors coming in and many of them were not prepared to get wet to see what was at the end.
Kermits Pool, Hancock Gorge
Across the other side of Kermits Pool is off limits without a guide but from the top "The Chute" looks like this (iPhone Photo)
Later on our last afternoon Bazz and Cherie climbed down into Joffre Gorge the last section of which is also a Level 5 section. The waterfall in Joffre is the first to dry up but recent rains meant that it was flowing on this occasion.
Cherie makes the ascent out of Joffre Gorge can you see her?
Up on top of the gorges the land is Savannah with termite mounds, spinnifex and white trunked trees. There are stunning panorama views of the ranges and the landscape is so vast it’s almost impossible to capture.
At the end of our five days we celebrated with sunset at Oxer Lookout where gorges meet followed by dinner at the Eco Resort Restaurant, which was truly delicious. Wrapped in warm blankets against the cold desert night air we toasted the achievements of this bunch of 60+ year olds.