Monday, 3 July 2017

Weano & Hancock Gorges (Karijini National Park)

An adventurous hike in Karijini National Park, this walk combines all the trails in the Weano Day Use Area. Initially exploring Weano Gorge and the rugged beauty of Handrail Pool, the trail ascends to the Oxer Lookout before the steep descent into the even more rugged Hancock Gorge. A thrilling expedition, this is arguably Karijini's best and most exciting walk. 

Distance: 3.4 km (loop)
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 ladders and steps, shuffling along ledges and descending alongside a waterfall via a handrail. Some sections require wading
Quality of Signage: Generally well signed and clear
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Many
Best Time to Visit: Winter
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply.
Getting There: The trail starts at the Weano Day Use Area. Access is best from the western entrance to the park. Follow Banjima Dr and continue straight onto Weano Rd when Banjima Dr turns right. The day use area is at the end of the road. 

While researching for our visit to Karijini, it became apparent that most of the walks in the National Park are quite short in length. This seemed slightly disappointing to someone who named his blog The Long Way's Better, however further investigation revealed that a number of the trails could easily be combined to create walks of a more substantial length. One of the most obvious candidates for an extended walk was to combine all the walks at the Weano Day Use Area together. By starting with the Upper Weano Walk, we could continue on along the Lower Weano Trail to Handrail Pool, return back up the stairs at the junction between Upper and Weano Gorge, follow the trail to the Oxer and Junction Pool Lookouts and then do the return walk to Kermits Pool in Hancock Gorge. Sounding like one of the most exciting walks in the park, we decided to tackle the combined Weano and Hancock Gorges on our first morning in Karijini, after having completed Joffre Gorge the previous afternoon.

Starting from the Information Shelter, the Upper Weano Walk leads northwards to the left of the shelter, walking through the typical Pilbara landscape of Spinifex, Snappy Gums and massive termite mounds.

Not long into the walk, walkers get their first glimpses of Weano Gorge as the trail heads down to the gorge floor.

Unlike the other ascents and descents in Weano and Hancock Gorges, this was a fairly easy walk down given that the gorge is relatively shallow at this end.

Although the stream running through the gorge is fairly shallow at this point of the walk, the constantly flowing water has resulted in an abundance of life, with far taller trees growing along the watercourse. The trail crosses over to the other side of the water via a series of stepping stones.

Although initially straightforward walking along a distinct trail, the route eventually requires some scrambling up and along ledges. I mean, you could walk through the very shallow water, however the somewhat stagnant appearance and the slipperiness of the algae did not make it very inviting. Besides, the ledge walking is definitely good practice for some of the more challenging parts of the walk further along the gorge.

The trail leads to the first large pool of the walk, crossing over to the other side of the watercourse just above a small waterfall. From here it is only a few metres to a set of stairs leading out of the gorge, however continuing downstream allows walkers to continue onto the Lower Weano Trail.

The Lower Weano Trail follow similar terrain to the Upper Weano section of the walk for a few metres before reaching a body of water. There are no ledges on either side of the water so wading is required to continue any further.

The wading is fairly easy, however walkers should take note of the trail markers as they point the way for the shallowest section of wading. Alissa initially ignored the signs and walked in a straight line, only to find herself heading for water that was more than waist deep.

Around the corner, the trial continues along a ledge before leading to a narrowing of the gorge.

This is where things get really exciting, as Alissa and I had to negotiate a series of boulders into a narrow slot with the water gently flowing beneath our feet.

I had been excited when Alissa and I walked through the narrow slot in Kalbarri's Z Bend Trail but this was even more incredible, having a wild, intrepid feel like we were entering another world altogether.

Around the corner, the slot opened up to a small, circular pool. Alissa was absolutely blown away by the beauty of this spot, saying that she felt it had an almost spiritual quality. I'm afraid my photograph does not do justice to how stunning this pool is, and I wish I had taken the time to take a 360° photograph (more on that later).

Just beyond the small circular pool, the narrow slot leads to the famous Handrail Pool.

With water flowing beneath our feet, the trail descends just to the side of the waterfall via its namesake handrail. Its admittedly a bit scary, however the railing provides a decent hand hold all the way down. Additionally, some steps have been constructed, making the descent a bit easier than it would otherwise be.

Handrail Pool was an incredible end destination for the Lower Weano Trail, and we spent some time taking photos and enjoying having the gorge to ourselves.

At the end of the pool, the gorge continues as a narrow slot canyon, however the water at this point of the gorge is fairly deep and would require swimming to reach the other side. Having started the walk at sunrise, the idea of a freezing cold swim was not very inviting, and I decided to leave it for another time. For those interested in what lies beyond, photographer Rod Campbell has some excellent photos on his blog.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The large, round space and lack of large crowds made Handrail Pool the perfect place for us to try out a new toy - a 360° camera that had been kindly loaned to us by the Parks and Wildlife Service. Back in the '90s I had the Wild About Western Australia CD-ROM put out by CALM, and I loved how the CD-Rom used 360° photos to promote the then new Tree Top Walk in Walpole. When I started the Long Way's Better, I was keen to give people a sense of what it is like to actually walk a certain trail, and I think these 360° provide a perfect opportunity to provide readers with as close an approximation as possible to actually being there. 

Climbing up Handrail Pool proved to be easier than going down, and from there Alissa and I retraced our steps back to the start of the Lower Weano Trail.

At the junction with the Lower and Upper Weano trails, a set of formed steps lead out of the gorge.

This is a steeper and more strenuous ascent than the one leading into the gorge, however it is still less steep than the entries to Hancock, Knox and Joffre Gorges.

Out of the gorge, Alissa and I followed a trail heading left towards the Oxer and Junction Lookouts.

Although I personally feel that the view within a gorge is more impressive than looking down into one, the sheer depth of the gorge at this point is quite incredible. It should be noted as well that this section of the gorge system is where Joffre, Weano, Hancock and Red Gorge all meet together, and that access to that part of the gorge is restricted to West Oz Active's canyoning tours due to the highly challenging and potentially dangerous terrain. Adjacent to the lookout is a sad reminder of how dangerous this place can be, with a crucifix marking the point where the body of SES rescue volunteer Jim Regan was pulled out from the gorge after he had drowned in a flash flood. The tragedy of his death is that it occurred in the line of duty while he was saving ill-prepared tourists who had ventured into a Class 6 section of Hancock Gorge that is now restricted.

From the lookout, Alissa and I retraced our steps to an emergency radio located along the trail. This emergency radio marks the start of the spur trail leading to Hancock Gorge, with the trail crossing the unsealed road.

The descent into Hancock Gorge is particularly steep, and is easily the hardest in the Weano Day Use Area.

It is so steep in fact that ladders are used at one point in order to safely bring walkers to the gorge floor.

The trail heads to the left, almost immediately requiring walkers to either wade through the shallow water or walk along a narrow ledge. The ledge walking was fairly easy, so we chose to do the latter.

Once past the narrow ledge, the trail then crosses to the other side of the gorge via a series of stepping stones.

Walking along the right side of the gorge, the trail leads to the first of two pools that require either swimming or fairly awkward ledge walking.

Due to the high volume of water that flows through the gorge in the wet season, the ledges have been worn smooth, making hand holds more difficult. Although we basically had the gorge to ourselves on the way in, we saw a few different approaches to this obstacle on the way back, with some walkers heading higher up the gorge wall. While this is an easier option, it also inevitably means a longer distance to fall if something goes wrong. The safest ledge walking option is to go along the bottom, as for most of the distance there is a decent ledge just below the water's surface.

After a brief respite, the trail once again runs along a very narrow and well worn ledge. From memory this section was even more difficult than the first ledge walk, made all the more awkward due to the cumbersome camera gear and tripod I was carrying in and on my backpack.

Alissa is not the biggest fan of scrambling, and became quite nervous during this second ledge walk. She did very well however, and was particularly proud of how much of an adventurer she looks like in the above photo.

The ledge walk ends at the Amphitheatre - a large semi-circular area that actually looks a man made amphitheatre.

Near the bottom of the Amphitheatre, the water flows down a small waterfall before descending into a narrow slot.

This narrow slot is the famous Spider Walk of Hancock Gorge - a section that requires hikers to walk with their hands and feet on either side of the gorge walls as they continue down the slot canyon.

Or so we were told. The need to 'spider walk' may be necessary earlier in the year shortly after the end of the wet season, but in mid-July it only requires ankle deep wading. The flowing water does make the ground slippery, but the walls provide enough hand holds to prevent slipping.

The slot widens as it reaches Kermits Pool, presumably named after the beloved Muppet due to the greenish tinge to the water. This is basically as far as most people go, however it is possible to awkwardly climb up the ledge to the left and continue for a few more metres before reaching the start of the Restricted Access sections of the gorge - there is even a 'Class 5' marker indicating that the trail is intended to continue just beyond Kermits Pool.

Although Alissa was happy enough to have reached Kermits Pool, I was keen to press on so I could get a photo of the pool on the other side and peer into the Restricted Areas beyond. The most obvious route to climb to the other side has been worn smooth and I didn't feel confident I could climb up this way. Eventually, I found that I could shuffle and crawl along the top of the ledge, allowing me to capture the image above.

Hiding around the corner was one of the West Oz Active tour guides, who was waiting for a group about to arrive for a canyoning tour. Next to him was a roped off area and signs indicating that walkers cannot continue on without the express permission of Parks Management. This was the end of the line for the walk, however I was able to get a photo of the cascades and the pool below. Formerly known as Plunge Pool, it has since been renamed Regan's Pool in honour of Jim Regan as he was saving a tourist from this location when distaster struck in 2004.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

By this time, Alissa and I were joined by a few other walkers reaching the end of the gorge. Although a similarly empty photo to Handrail Pool would have been preferable, I decided to get a 360° photo while I was on the other side of Kermits Pool. From there, I had to crawl back to the other side of Kermits Pool and found that I couldn't actually get back by crawling the way I came. As such, I had to try and climb down the awkward section I hadn't felt confident in climbing in the first place. In spite of doing all the other Class 5 walks in the park, this was the only point in the whole trip where I genuinely feared I might slip and fall and become another Karijini injury statistic. Just as I was about to climb down, another West Oz Active tour guide arrived with a canyoning group and kindly helped me down. If I were to do this walk again, I think I would simply brave the cold water in Kermits Pool and swim to the other side as it would be safer than the awkward descent off the ledge.

From there it was a simple matter of retracing our steps, although a new influx of tourists meant something of a bottle neck at the Spider Walk. Heading past the Amphitheatre and back to the ledge walking section, Alissa decided that she wanted to have a swim, so I took her bag and did the ledge walk while she swam across to the other side. Although cold, Alissa said it was refreshing rather than freezing - though some other onlookers seemed a bit skeptical of her appraisal!

After climbing the steep ladders and walking up the steps, Alissa and I were back at the top of the gorge. Rather than turning right and returning back to the car via the Information Shelter, Alissa and I took a path leading to the left. This leads directly to the car park, thus ending our traverse of all the short walks in the Weano Day Use Area.

While doing my research for Karijini, Weano and Hancock Gorges were repeatedly singled out as the most beautiful of all of Karijini's jewels. I would have to agree; although somewhat difficult, every challenge was amply rewarded by some of the most beautiful landscapes we've ever seen - this is a shoe-in for a future edition of our Top 10 Day Walks in Western Australia. Handrail and Kermits Pool are of course definite highlights, but there are so many small moments of beauty along this walk that it really must be seen to be believed. While scrambling and wading means this won't be for everyone, those who are fit and agile enough will find a lot to love about this walk. Others have said it before and I have to agree - if you're only going to do one walk in the park, make it Weano and Hancock Gorges. 


  1. As always, a wonderful telling of your time in a place. Really enjoy reading about adventures. Thank you so much for sharing them with all of us.

    1. It's our pleasure! Glad you enjoyed reading :)

  2. The view from the top looks high, pretty amazing the walk goes into the gorge. Epic!

    1. It definitely was pretty epic. Although short, it is the most exciting gorge walk in the park.

  3. The experience changes completely if it's hot enough to swim. Circle Pool is a beautiful swim and if you walk on the cliff shelf it has warm water seeping through the rock. Also the other swimming pool with the awesome waterfall that you can sit behind or under is fantastic. I wish I could go there and spend a week rather than the 2 days that I had!

    1. I concur with you - we had a week and I wish we had more time and could go back more easily.

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