Friday, 7 July 2017

Dales Gorge (Karijini National Park)

One of the most satisfying walks in Karijini National Park, this walk combines all the trails in Dales Gorge into a scenic loop. Initially peering down into the gorge via the Rim Walk, the trail then descends to Fortescue Falls before exploring the world in the gorge below. Featuring the stunning Fern and Circular Pools, Dales Gorge is one of Karijini's best

Distance: 4 km (loop with two return side trips)
Gradient: Alternates between relatively easy, gentle gradients and sections of more difficult terrain entering and exiting the gorge. 
Quality of Path: Largely on uneven, rocky and unmodified terrain, although a well constructed set of metal stairs and walkways leads down into the gorge.
Quality of Signage: Generally well signed and clear
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time:  2-2.5 Hours
Steps: Many
Best Time to Visit: Winter
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply.
Getting There: The trail starts at the Dale Day Use Area, located the end of Dales Rd. Dales Rd heads east off Banjima Dr closest to the eastern entrance to the park off Karijini Dr

Having returned to Karijini after our excellent side trip to Millstream Chichester National Park, Alissa and I only had two more gorges to tick off our list - Dales and Kalamina Gorges. Staying at the Karijini Eco Retreat, these two gorges were the least convenient for us to get to as they were located on the other side of the park, and were accessible either via the rough, unsealed section of Banjima Rd or via a lengthy journey back onto Karijini Dr and following the sealed roads. Having confirmed that Banjima Rd was rough but nothing our X-Trail couldn't handle, Alissa and I spent our penultimate morning in Karijini tackling the walks of Dales Gorge.

Along with Weano and Hancock Gorges, Dales was one of the gorges I was most excited about given that it is one of the more substantial walks in the park. Although Trails WA and the Parks and Wildlife Service publish the walk as several sections, it is possible to combine all the walks into a loop walk with two side trips. We opted for the following itinerary - start at Dales Day Use Area, head along the Gorge Rim Walk from the Circular Pool lookout to Fortescue Falls, descend to Fortescue Falls, take the short return side trip to Fern Pool before walking along the bottom of Dales Gorge to Circular Pool and then return up a flight of stairs to the Dales Day Use Area.

One of the great tragedies of the Hamersley Range is that it is rich in blue asbestos (crocidolite), and the mining of this deadly mineral has resulted in the serious contamination of Wittenoom and Yampire Gorges. Dales Gorge does feature a few seams of blue asbestos along its walls, and while it is safe in its unprocessed natural state, visitors should take heed of the notices advising not to break off or touch any of these formations.

The first stop along the Gorge Rim Walk is the Circular Pool lookout. A large, round and cavernous space, Circular Pool was our favourite part of Dale Gorge and this view served as an early preview of what we could expect.

The Gorge Rim Walk follows a path along the top of the gorge and is rated as one of Trails WA's Top Trails. While I disagree with this assessment (its not even the best walk in Dales Gorge!), I can see why Trails WA would promote it as such - its the easiest and most accessible walk in the area, and its one that even grey nomads would be able to complete with relative ease.

While I prefer the sections of the walk that are actually in Dales Gorge, I have to admit that the views along the Rim Walk are quite spectacular, with the deep gorge and rugged landscape almost looking like somewhere in Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon.

The Gorge Rim Walk ends at a series of well constructed stairs that lead down into the gorge itself.

A far cry from the rough and challenging descents of Knox and Joffre Gorges, these impressively constructed stairs and walkways are a fairly recent addition, having only been opened to the public in June 2016. During many of our other walks in the national park, Alissa and I would witness many older visitors venturing no further than the lookouts due to the steepness of the steps getting in and out of the gorges. The provision of railings and benches and the less steep incline of the metal stairs makes Dales Gorge a lot more achievable for grey nomads, which is a fantastic outcome.

The stairs end overlooking Fortescue Falls, however before exploring the falls area, Alissa and I followed a short side trail that leads to Fern Pool.

One of the most beautiful pools in the park, Fern Pool features a wooden deck platform that allows visitors easy access for swimming. Something I'd discovered when looking at photos of Fern Pool is that there is a small ledge behind the waterfall that is large enough for one or two people to sit on, and my plan had been to swim across with my tripod and camera and take a photo from behind the falls. Unfortunately, our visit to Dales Gorge also coincided with one of our coldest mornings in Karijini, and I decided that the effort of swimming out to the falls in the freezing cold water wasn't worth the photo. Oh well - it gives me something to look forward to a return visit!

On the way back from Fern Pool, Alissa and I saw dozens of bats hanging from the partially burnt trees nearby. Earlier in the year, Dales Gorge had been closed due to a bushfire having gone through the area near Fern Pool. While there were clear signs of the fire's damage here and further along the gorge, the area seems to have recovered quite well.

Back near the metal stairs, Alissa and I began our descent to the bottom of Fortescue Falls. This was one of the trickier sections of the walk - while the gorge had eroded as a series of natural steps, a constant trickle of water made the steps somewhat slippery. As such, we undertook this descent slowly and with caution.

Fed by a spring, Fortescue Falls is apparently one of the few permanent waterfalls in the park, flowing even in drier years. Fortescue is a nice waterfall, however I have to admit the more epic Joffre Falls and the small but pretty waterfall flowing into Spa Pool left a much greater impression on me.

The trail continues past Fortescue Falls via a series of stepping stones that cross over to the other side of the gorge's watercourse.

Once on the other side, a trailhead indicates that this is the start of the Dales Gorge Walk that follows a trail along the gorge floor. Filled with Fig Trees and Eucalypts, Dales Gorge is easily the most forested of all the gorges we'd visited.

Initially providing easy walking along rocky platforms under the shade of many tall Eucalypts, the trail leads to a large pool along the watercourse. A tree that has grown on an extreme angle provides a most remarkable natural lookout point.

Past the large pool, the trail narrows to an alternating series of stepping stones and ledge walks that are easier than the challenging ledges of Weano and Hancock Gorges.

Clearing the ledges and stepping stones, Alissa and I reached another broad, rocky platform that provided easy walking. Along this stretch of the trail is an interesting feature - a thin column of rock that seems to have improbably survived millennia of erosion. Its only a matter of time before this column also collapses however, and signs nearby dissuade walker from sitting under the overhang.

Its not long before the trail narrows again, following another series of narrow rock ledges.

This section of the gorge opens up to another large pool that is more open to the early morning sunlight, with many reeds and Eucalypts growing along its banks.

The trail runs along the edge of the pool, with the water flowing down a series of gentle cascades to smaller pools below.

Although the trees closer to Fern Pool show more obvious signs of being burnt, there are pockets of Eucalypts further down the gorge in much better condition. The white, smooth barked Snappy Gums are particularly beautiful closer to the Circular Pool end, with the odd angle of the trees perfectly framing the walking track.

Another series of stepping stones leads walkers across the watercourse to the other side of the gorge. Shortly after the crossing, the trail heads through an area where the gorge wall has collapsed into a pile of rectangular boulders.

Just beyond the boulder section is a large, broad area filled with cairns constructed by other walkers. The reason for the sheer number of cairns in unclear, as its not like the gorge is particularly difficult to navigate nor is this an especially remarkable section of the walk either. Nearby is a series of steps leading back out of the gorge, however Alissa and I continued on along the gorge to the side trail to Circular Pool.

With water flowing from small cracks in the gorge walls, this part of the gorge had a particularly tropical feel about it, with tree roots not worrying about the lack of soil given the sheet amount of moisture. Although badly burnt, the Fig Trees growing along the gorge wall made the area look like we'd suddenly found ourselves at Angkor Wat  or some lost city, and reminded Alissa and I of the constant rainforest wetness along the Blue Mountain's Grand Canyon Walk.

Framed by some particularly beautiful Fig Trees, the trail leads walkers through to Circular Pool itself.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Although I'd heard a lot less about Circular Pool than Fern Pool, Alissa and I agreed that it was one of our favourite pools in the park due to the massive amphitheatre-like space. Joffre Falls was similarly round and carvernous, however the abundance of trees, ferns and aquatic plants growing around Circular Pool made it even more beautiful, with a slow but constant drip of water coming from a spring located behind the gorge wall. Although we'd decided by this stage that we were not going to swim today, two other visitors to the gorge said to us that the water was refreshingly cold rather than freezing - you can just make them out swimming in the photo above.

After enjoying the surrounds of Circular Pool for about 20 minutes, Alissa and I decided it was time to head back out and complete the last bit of our Dales Gorge walk.

The steps out of the gorge at the Circular Pool end are more rustic in construction than the metal staircases near Fern Pool, having a similar appearance to those at Hamersley and Weano Gorges.

It should be noted however that there are some steep ladder climbs further along the ascent. Less fit or sure footed individuals would be better of continuing back through the gorge to the stairs at Fern Pool if they are not confident about their abilities.

Once out of the gorge, it was only a short walk back to the Circular Pool lookout and then to the trailhead in the Dales Day Use Area.

Due to its convenient loop nature and the particularly lush scenery on offer, Dales Gorge would have to rank as one of the most satisfying walks in Karijini National Park, with Fern Pool and Spa Pool being particularly beautiful highlights. While I would consider the rugged terrain of the Weano and Hancock Gorges walk to be superior, Dales is a fair bit easier to complete as scrambling is not required. Given its more accessible nature, I would suggest Dales Gorge is the best family friendly gorge in the park - a decent alternative to Weano and Hancock if you only have time for one gorge walk and are not confident with scrambling and wading through pools. Highly recommended. 


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