Sunday, 30 September 2018

Badjirrajirra Trail (Cape Range National Park)

A stunning Outback hike, the Badjirrajirra Trail explores the rugged landscape of Cape Range National Park. Starting high in the range, the Badjirrajirra Trail skirts the edge (and drops down into) a series of small gorges before leading to spectacular views down into the epic Shothole Canyon. A fantastically scenic walk that shows off a different side to the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area

Distance: 6.8 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: A mix of a steady continuous ascents with some steep ascents and descents 
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and stairs
Quality of Signage: Clear trailhead at the start of the walk, with waypoint poles and signs at trail junctions.
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Required - particularly in arid climates
Time: 2-4 Hours
Steps: Many steps in places
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring on cooler days, and preferably early in the morning. This is an area prone to extremely hot temperatures with little to no shade. People have literally died doing this walk due to heat exhaustion. Do not even think of doing this walk in Summer or on very hot days
Entry Fee: No 
Getting There: The trail starts at the Charles Knife Lookout. From Minilya-Exmouth Rd, head west along Charles Knife Rd and follow signs to the Thomas Carter Lookout. Trailhead is located at the car park

Having driven into Carnarvon after our long drive from Perth via Coalseam Conservation Park, Alissa and I spent the next day driving to Exmouth to begin our adventures in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area. While Ningaloo is of course most well known for it spectacular fringing reef and for being the best place in the world to spot Whale Sharks, the World Heritage Area also incorporates the rugged Outback landscape of North West Cape itself, much of which is protected by the stunning Cape Range National Park.

While most of the walks in Cape Range are quite short, the 6.8 kilometre Badjirrajirra Trail has been on my radar as it is the most substantial walk in the park. For a number of years the walk was something of an obscurity as it had the dubious distinction of being a trail that a boy died on due to heat exhaustion, and Parks and Wildlife seemed to have deliberately made getting info about the walk something of a challenge. The decision to walk Cape Range in the middle of the baking hot heat of Summer was the underlying cause of death rather than the walk being dangerous per se, and I was glad to see it listed in the impressive brochure for the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area.

Accessed from Charles Knife Rd, the drive to the trailhead of the Badjirrajirra Trail is an adventure in its own right. Driving up into the range, the views of the deep canyons on either side of the narrow road make this a truly breathtaking part of the state, and reminded me of the remarkable road that links Mt Herbert to Python Pool in Millstream-Chichester National Park. Although I had seen photos online, Alissa and I were blown away by the sheer scale of the canyons as they are rarely spoken about in spite of being extremely deep.

Initially a sealed road, the vehicle track becomes unsealed as it reaches the trailhead and car park. The trailhead is well signed with one of the modern and informative trailheads being rolled out to all national park trails throughout Western Australia.

Rising up a small hill, the views of the red earth and fields of spinifex served to remind Alissa that we were back in the glorious Outback landscapes that so typify the beauty of Western Australia's north.

Near the start of the walk, the trail passes by a number of rocky lookout points with views to the small gorges of this part of the range. The views are lovely but are a mere taster for the grandeur that is come.

The first part of the Badjirrajirra Trail is a return leg that leads to a loop, and passes through pleasant by geologically less interesting plains of spinifex. This reminded me a lot of the excellent Outback walking of the Camel Trail in Millstream-Chichester, with was almost entirely through a landscape of spinifex.

Around a kilometre into the walk, the trail reaches the start of the loop section. Even at this early stage of the day, the temperatures were really hot out in the range, and for less experienced visitors, those with children or those starting later in the day, I would recommend just going straight to the lookout and heading back to the car from there without doing the loop given that people have died out here. However, for those with hot climate walking experience, the right gear and the willingness to wake up early, I thoroughly recommend taking the right path to complete the full loop.

Almost immediately, it became apparent to Alissa and I that we were on a plateau encircled by small gorges. While we would be wowed by even deeper canyons further along the walk, these were nevertheless impressive, and made for excitingly rugged walking.

At a smaller level, there were plenty of other small wonders along the walk. With this being one of the best wildflower seasons in over a decade, Alissa and I were greeted by quite a number of wildflowers along the walk we were not familiar with.

The route for the trail is well thought out, as it not only follows along the edge of a series of small gorges but actually descends and crosses through them too.

After descending into the first gorge, the walk again follows along the edge of the plateau as it provides lovely views of the arid landscape.

An interesting fact about Cape Range is that it is the last major limestone-based landscape in the Western Australia as you head north. Limestone is a big part of the scenery near Perth and through the Margaret River area, however the limestone in Cape Range has a red tinge that would be highly unusual in the South West.

In spite of Cape Range being a particularly dry area with very low annual rainfall, it was amazing to see how the geography of the gullies allow water to pool just enough to create greener and more vegetated pockets along the walk.

As beautiful as the walking was so far, all we had seen up to this point was merely a warm up for the Badjirrajirra Trail's highlight - the views down to Shothole Canyon.

While the gorges of Karijini are justly celebrated for being amongst the country's best, Alissa and I were so amazed by the sheer scale of Shothole Canyon that it is almost unbelievable that it is rarely spoken about as a must see destination in Western Australia. In a year filled with outstanding views - the caves of Phong-Nha National Park, the beauty of South East Queensland's tropical rainforests on the Warrie and Coomera Circuits and the mountain vistas in the Walls of Jerusalem - this would have to rank right up there as one of 2018's most stunning views.

After spending quite a while taking in the incredible views, Alissa and I continued along the edge of the plateau as we continued looking down into the canyon below.

What we had not expected was that this was but the first of three lookout points. Just a little further along, Alissa and I reached a ledge looking out into the gorge that provided another spectacular view of Shothole Canyon, with a better view of the road that leads into the canyon.

As we continued along the trail, Alissa and I reached the official Shothole Canyon lookout point. Due to worries about unstable cliff edges, the track ends abruptly before reaching the very end of the rocky shelf with a sign indicating that the track is closed. This is a bit of a disappointment as the view from the sign does not provide the most exciting view of Shothole Canyon, and the area did not look particularly more unsafe than the other two lookout points.

Heading just a little beyond the sign, the views down to Shothole Canyon were excellent and provided us with one final, spectacular view into what should be celebrated as one of Western Australia's more rugged highlights.

After enjoying the canyon views, Alissa and I rejoined the main track as it head away from the deep canyons and back into the more mildly undulating landscape encountered earlier.

While leaving behind such stunning canyons did mean a reduction in the wow factor, the wildflowers along the track provided further interest. The one pictured above was one of the track's prettiest, having an appearance that made it look like it was a wild rose or hibiscus.

After about a kilometre and a half of walking, Alissa and I returned to the track junction we had reached earlier, and thus had completed the loop section of the Badjirrajirra Trail. From here we would only have about a kilometre to go to get back to our car and the end of a truly stunning walk.

In spite of its somewhat deadly reputation, the Badjirrajirra Trail was a really outstanding walk and would definitely be our pick for the best walk trail in Cape Range National Park. The Outback landscape and incredible canyon views made this a highlight in a year filled with great walks, with the views down into Shothole Canyon being one I will cherish for a long time. While I understand Trails WA and Parks and Wildlife's hesitation to promote this walk given that someone actually died doing it, I feel like it was more circumstantial given that they walked in the middle of Summer when temperatures in the gorge can be over 50 degrees than this walk being necessarily dangerous. If we're talking pure visuals, the Shothole Canyon views are stunning enough that this should well and truly be one of Trails WA's Top Trails, and I hope that this walk gets the attention it deserves in the near future.


  1. Thanks for posting this report. It has us eager to try the trail this Easter weekend. We'll go prepared for the heat. Carry on!

  2. Hi, can you drive to Charles Knife with a 2WD? thanks!