Sunday, 2 July 2017

Joffre Gorge (Karijini National Park)

A short but steep walk in Karijini National Park, the Joffre Gorge walk leads hikers to the foot of Joffre Falls. Initially descending from the car park, the trail crosses the watercourse near the top of the falls before a steep scramble into the gorge itself. Finishing in a stunning natural amphitheatre and swimming hole, this shorter walk is a great introduction to the gorges of Karijini. 

Distance: 1.3 km (loop with return sections)
Gradient: Alternates between relatively easy, gentle gradients and sections of difficult terrain requiring a lot of scrambling
Quality of Path: Largely on uneven, rocky and unmodified terrain. Includes climbing down natural steps and shuffling along ledges
Quality of Signage: Generally well signed and clear
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 1-1.5 Hours
Steps: Many
Best Time to Visit: Winter
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply.
Getting There: The trail can start at either the Karijini Eco Retreat or the Joffre Falls car park. Both are accessible off Banjima Dr closest to the west entrance/exit - for the Eco Retreat, continue straight onto Weano Rd and follow the turn off to the reception area. Add an additional 2 kilometres if walking from Eco Retreat. For access via Joffre Falls car park, follow the right turn to continue on Banjima Dr heading towards Dales Gorge. 

With the July School Holidays upon us, Alissa and I packed the car and headed north to tick off a major item from the bucket list - Karijini National Park.  After an evening and the good part of two days driving up from Perth, we had made our way through the dramatic mountains of the Hamersley Range and checked into our tent site at the Karijini Eco Retreat by the mid afternoon. This allowed us the opportunity to check out one of the shorter gorge walks in the park, and with Joffre Gorge being a the closest to the Retreat, it seemed like as good a place to start as any.

It is a bit unclear from the national park brochure, but Joffre Gorge can be accessed from two different starting points - from Karijini Eco Retreat itself or from a car park just south of the falls. Although we were staying at the Eco Retreat, Alissa and I decided to start the walk at the Joffre Gorge car park given that this is probably the more common starting point for general visitors. From the car park, the track almost immediately descends, traversing a section of cap rock that looked very similar to the top of laterite ridges but with a hardness that quickly revealed their high iron content.

This first stretch of the track was not as clearly marked as later sections but was nevertheless easy to follow. Almost immediately, the track reaches the top of Joffre Falls, allowing us to have our first glimpses of a Karijini gorge in action.

The trail crosses the gently flowing water from upstream, taking Alissa and I to the northern side of the gorge.

From the northern side, we were able to see the large pool of water at the foot of the falls - the ultimate destination of this hike.

Walking along the rim of the gorge, the track descends into a shallow side gully. This is the junction with the track from the Karijini Eco Retreat.

Continuing on the trail down towards the foot of the falls, the trail changes from a relatively easy Class 4 to a more adventurous Class 5 scramble with walkers having to negotiate a series of slabs as they descend down into the gorge.

At times, this descent can look a bit scary, however it is very well signed with arrows indicating the safest way to make your way down. A French tourist commented; "Australia - they never have any safety railings!"

While this is true to some extent, it was easy enough to maintain three point contact throughout the descent and the rocks were never too smooth or too slippery to hold onto. I can imagine it being a different and more dangerous story in the wet, but as long as you take your time this descent should be in reach of most able bodied walkers.

Once at the bottom of the gorge, Alissa and I stopped for a second to take in the landscape that we had found ourselves in. Kalbarri National immediately came to mind, with the rocky descent having a lot in common with that park's Z Bend Trail. To the left, the gorge narrows to a slot canyon, however we could clearly see a sign indicating that access beyond the slot was not permitted and that penalties applied. As such, we followed the other walkers heading right towards the foot of the falls.

This was to be our first of many ledge walks in Karijini, with Alissa and I making our way along a narrow ledge that ran beside the large pool. Compared to some of the more challenging ledges we would encounter in both Weano and Hancock Gorges the next day, this was quite easy to negotiate and served as a good introduction to this frequent aspect of walking in Karijini National Park.

The ledge leads to a narrow point that separates the pool near the descent from the pool at Joffre Falls. At this point the water is shallow enough for hikers to cross over to the other side of the gorge where the trail continues along the left wall.

Following a series of stepping stones, Alissa and I found ourselves in the spectacular natural amphitheatre of Joffre Falls.

Surrounded by walls of iron rich red rock and featuring an island beach of crushed rock in the middle, the falls amphitheatre was absolutely stunning, and a very much worthwhile final destination for our first walk in this most special of national parks. That said, the mood was slightly marred by another visitor who decided he wanted to show off by ignoring the no climbing signs and continually jumped into the water from a high ledge. At the very least his initial actions only put himself at risk, but he then decided he wanted to climb all the way up the falls which led to him confusing walkers up the top into thinking that they had to walk down into the gorge the same way. As someone who likes to see the rules followed, I was pleased when a ranger happened to arrive in the gorge and delighted to know that the guy was going to be getting something of a dressing down once he made his way back down to the bottom!

From there, it was a short but steep climb retracing our steps back to the car. Even with the leisurely time we spent at the bottom of the gorge, the entire walk took just over an hour. Being one of the shorter gorge walks, completing Joffre Gorge admittedly did not provide us with the same feel of achievement that some of the longer walks elicit, however it did serve as an excellent introductory walk in Karijini National Park. The beauty of the falls and the natural amphitheatre definitely make this a very worthwhile endeavour, and we would thoroughly recommend checking it out. 


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