Karijini National Park is an ancient land of red rock in the heart of the Pilbara in Western Australia. The iron ore that gives the land its striking color, a deep rust red that covers everything in sight, originated over 2000 million years ago. Fast forward many millennia and the erosion, caused by a drop in sea level that allowed the rivers to run fiercely, has created an extensive gorge system home to stunning canyon pools, a lush oasis in the middle of this arid, unforgiving land.
Since arriving in Karijini National Park last week, Kane and I have been lucky enough to hike almost every gorge, swim in the serene waters of Fern Pool, freeze our asses off in the stunning Weano Gorge, and enjoy the simple life of camping far, far away from cell phone service. Kane had told me many stories of the beautiful Karijini, but words, and his cell phone pictures, did not do this land justice. We have stayed here a week, longer than we originally intended, and are honestly only leaving because we are running low on food and water. I have a feeling I could stay in this land of red dirt for a long while.
When you come to Karijini (because I firmly believe any traveler in Australia should), it should be noted that the park is truly in the outback. There is no cell service, there is no running water, and the only connection to the outside world is through the very slow wifi at the visitor’s center from 9am to 4pm. However, while this may make catching up on the evening’s sporting event or nightly news difficult, this is one reason why I love Karijini. I love that instead of wasting my time on the internet or checking the news I have finished two long books, written a fair bit, and been far more present than back in civilization. When the activity for the day is hiking, and has been for the past week, you start to notice more than you would with a beeping phone to distract you. Here I notice that the trees lining the hills look lovely an hour before sunset, that the rock becomes its richest shade of red, and that I am so blessed to get to see it. I love having nothing more to do at night than drink a beer and talk to Kane about everything and nothing. I love falling asleep with the sun and waking with the sun. I love breathing the earthy desert air. I love this park.
There are two choice of accommodation in Karijini National Park, camping at Dales Campground or staying at the Eco Retreat. The Eco Retreat is expensive ($20 per person for an unpowered tent campsite), but it is the only option for those who want luxury in the bush. The cabins, or Eco Tents as they call them, have solar showers and proper beds, but will run you $300 a night. As we are not made of money and actually like to feel like we are in the bush when we are camping, we opted for Dales. It is $10 per person per night and all sites are unpowered. They allow generators in only two loops of the campground, leaving the rest of it nice and quiet.
There are drop toilets at the campground and showers available at the visitors center. The showers cost $4, with a $20 key deposit, and are only available from 9am to 3:30pm. There is only one men’s and one women’s shower so go early to assure yourself a shower.
There are solar showers, toilets, furnished tents, and even a cafe/restaurant. This is the only place you can buy food in the park, but as we brought our own and were terrified of the prices we never bought anything.
There is bore water available, which is fine for cooking and washing, but it is recommended that you boil it before drinking. We brought 80 L of drinking water for our 6 night stay and have a 95 L car fridge/freezer powered by our solar panels so we have been fine. We calculated out our water usage for everything (including drinking water, washing water, cooking water, etc) and it came out to 12 L a day. It is always good to know your general consumption patterns so you can plan ahead.
Dales is the most famous gorge due to its accessibility and proximity to camp. There are stairs built down into the gorge, making it the easiest of all the gorge hikes. The gorge itself is wide and less shear than the others, but the real stars of Dales are its pools, Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls, and Fern Pool. For some reason Fern Pool is not marked on any of the maps, but it is by far the prettiest and most useful swimming spot.
Due to the width of the gorge, the sun shines on the waters of Fern Pool for far longer than the pools in the other gorges, making for a much more enjoyable swim. The water is still crisp, but that is in part due to the season, as we are here in the dead of winter, with days reaching the high 20s and nights dropping into the single digits.
This is the first gorge we hiked and while it wasn’t the most impressive, it was certainly the quietest. If you are looking for a secluded 3km walk next to a slowing flowing stream Kalamina is the gorge for you.
Weano and Hancock Gorges
While Dales is the most seen gorge in Karijini National Park, Weano and Hancock are probably the most photographed gorges. They have the most stunning canyon pools and steepest cliff walls of the Karijini gorges. Weano is longer than Hancock, but neither are particularly long. The difficulty of these gorges lies in their steep, often untouched, trails. Both gorges require a fair bit of rock hoping, climbing along gorge walls, and walking through very cold water. The water in the narrow gorges does not see the sun very often and will chill you to the bone.
The walk into Hancock requires at least one walk through thigh deep water and the hike into Weano has three unavoidable swims if you decided to continue past Handrail pool. I was cursing like a sailor once the freezing water passed my stomach and started vigorously shivering once I emerged from my unintentional ice bath. Don’t forget to bring a towel if you want to take a dip, you’ll need it once your hands thaw enough to pick it up. However, braving the cold is well worth the effort as the gorges are easily some of the most stunning I have seen. Kermit’s Pool in Hancock gorge is my personal favorite.
Joffre and Knox Gorges
These are two of the least hiked gorges in the park, which is a pity because I think that they are some of the most stunning. They don’t have the steep canyon beauty of Weano and Hancock, but they have their own desert oasis beauty. You could easily drive right past these gorges and not even realize they were there, as the ground seems to drop away suddenly, giving way to crystal clear streams bordered by red shale walls. Both these hikes are some of the most difficult, class 5, in the park due to their steeps descents over very unformed trail. You will be climbing with your hands and feet at some points.
These gorges are not for the faint of heart, but your effort is rewarded with pristine swimming holes, beautiful rock formations, and the wonderful solitude of taking the time to hike the hardest gorges in one of the most remote national parks in the world. We hiked here at the height of the busy seasons, winter holidays for kids in Western Australia, and still found ourselves alone in the gorges. You would not find this sort of solitude at these kinds of places of natural beauty anywhere else in the world.
What to Bring
Most people camp at Karijini, so come prepared for your chosen method of camping. You can find people towing caravans, camper trailers that go off road, sleeping in their cars, or, like us, going the old fashioned/cheap route with a tent. It is important to note that not all of the park’s roads are paved and that a 4×4 car is recommended to access all the gorges. You can do it in a 2 wheel drive, but there may be some damage to your car. This is also one of the reasons you really don’t see the big RVs that you see in the US, they simply wouldn’t survive the roads.
Our set up is a tent, solar panels, two camp chairs, a fold up table, a camp stove, car fridge/freezer, a Land Cruiser Troop Carrier lovingly named Terrance to put it all in, and the random stuff, like dishes, food, bedding, etc. One thing I wish we had brought with us to Karijini National Park is another blanket. It can get downright freezing at night and most nights I ended up wearing my jacket to bed while cuddling for warmth.
When to Visit
This year the first two weeks of July are school holidays and thus the busiest time in the park. However, school holidays change every year so make sure to check when they are the year you plan to visit Karijini National Park. If you aren’t going specifically for the school holidays it might be best to avoid these two weeks for the sake of space and crowds. We left today, the first real kick off of the school holidays, and it is already becoming a mad house. However, there is a reason to visit during winter and that is the weather. While it was pretty cold at night the day time temperature has been lovely for hiking. I can only imagine how boiling it gets in summer here. Kane has said that April is also nice time to come, on the tail end of the wet season, but before the nights turn cold.
How to Book a Campsite
There is no online booking system so it is a first come first serve basis for campsites at Dales Campground. However, there is overflow camping, which is free, but you cannot leave your stuff there during the day, it is an overnight only area. You can book a space at the Eco Retreat online.