I arrived in Karijini National Park at 17:00 after a long ride across from Coral Bay. Once inside the park proper the road turns to corrugated dirt that threatened to vibrate me and the bike to pieces, particularly when loaded up (remember to check nuts, bolts & spokes!).
I booked into the first campsite I came across which also happened to be the most expensive I have ever stayed in at $35 for an unpowered pitch, and the only one in the west side of the park – Karijini Eco Retreat.
I had the tent up in record time just as the sun set and dusted off the camp stove to cook a delicious dinner of bacon, beans and spicy tomatoes. Yes – the best things in life are free (or cost the same as bacon, beans and spicy tomatoes). Soon after I was tucked up snugly in bed with a full stomach and looking forward to an early rise to explore Western Australia’s second largest National Park the next day.
My plan worked well for a change and I was up by 7am for an early start and got cracking with the first gorge at Oxer Lookout – a dramatic sheer V-shaped gorge carved out of the surrounding red sedimentary rocks by water & erosion. The weather was pretty overcast and cool, but at least it was not raining.
The striking red colour of the rock originates from iron and silica-rich sediment deposits laid down on an ancient sea-floor over 2,500 million years ago. Further layers of sediment over these created enough pressure to force out all trapped water and slowly, over millions of years, these soft sediments turned into hard rock. The horizontal new rock bedding planes later underwent further compression causing the rocks to buckle and formed many vertical cracks (erosion week points). Later, when sea levels dropped during early Ice Ages, rivers cut down rapidly through week points to form the dramatic sheer-sided gorges we see today. Geological history lesson complete 🙂
In summer, thunderstorms and cyclones are common around Karijini, bringing flash floods that have claimed the lives of many tourists, and even the people sent out to rescue them. This is why you must pay careful attention to the weather before climbing down into any of the gorges. Temperature extremes are also present, aiding fast erosion, reaching over 40 degrees C in the summer and freezing in the winter.
At Oxer Lookout I bumped into a tour-rep I had first met at Denham, and again at Exmouth, and took her advice to hike down into nearby Hancock Gorge, although she did warn me I would ‘get wet’.
I’m glad I took her kind advice because the hike down into the gorge was stunning. It was also great fun and involved wading through the river at the bottom further up into the narrowing gorge. As the water grew deeper I had to strip off down to my shorts and carry my clothes & camera above my head to keep them dry, hoping I wouldn’t disappear into a deeper hole.
Near the end of the hike is something called the ‘Spider Walk’. To cross one must use both hands and feet to ‘spider’ along the narrow gorge just above the racing water below, and so I left my clothes & camera on a rock at the entrance seeing there was no-one else around. This is another reason why I love Western Australia – loads of space and hardly any people. And this means the people you do meet are extra friendly (or mad) because they probably haven’t seen anyone for days.
I managed to balance my GoPro on a rock (with waterproof housing) and took some cool photos of the Spider Walk before jumping into Kermit’s Pool at the end of the trail.
Next I had a look at the usually dry Joffre Falls which still had some water left over from the recent downpours that I had thankfully just missed.
Knox Gorge was an easy climb down with spectacular views at the bottom of the initially relatively wide gorge floor that rapidly narrowed to a sliver.
I have noticed hike timings on the useful guide plaques at trail heads are well over generous and are obviously meant for people over 100 hiking with zimmer frames, such as the tourists on the occasional tour bus which roll into the park. I shouldn’t joke about this – I seem to be getting there faster than I anticipated…
Next stop was a quick look at Kalamina Gorge – this was indeed turning out to be a busy day! Kalamina looked nice, but I didn’t go down due to time & wanting to see the next one.
Finally I rode onto Dales Gorge, which I’d heard was great, at the eastern end of the park along a long corrugated dirt track which had great lookouts over Fortescue Falls and the originally named ‘Circular Pool’. I hiked down to both which didn’t take long and the views were well worth it.
In summary, I loved Karijini National Park, although it was actually smaller than I expected, particularly as it’s WA’s 2nd largest National Park, and considering the size of WA. I managed to hike down most of the gorges in one full day, although I was going at a fast pace and I imagine one could easily spend a pleasant week exploring in more detail.
That night I turned in early again under a starlit sky ready to leave for Broome in the morning.