Saturday, 19 May 2018

Our Guide to Karijini National Park

Overview

One of the greatest and most spectacular natural wonders in Australia, Karijini National Park lies within the Pilbara region of Western Australia and protects a 6,274 km² section of the state's tallest and most impressive mountains in the Hamersley Range. While the Hamersleys are home to the twenty tallest peaks of the state, the park is becoming increasingly known and loved Australia-wide for the incredibly beautiful gorges that cut deep into the ancient iron-rich rocks. Being some of the best gorges and slot canyons anywhere in Australia, this is an Outback experience that is worth travelling to in spite of its remote location. 

Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge

Getting There

Located deep in the Pilbara, Karijini is a two day drive from Perth with the fastest route being the inland Great Northern Hwy. For our July 2017 trip, Alissa and I broke up the journey by driving to New Norcia on the Friday night and staying overnight in Meekatharra. Breaking up the journey in this way gave us a decent head start for our day to Meekatharra, and allowed us to check out the ghost town of Big Bell and Walga Rock near Cue. Both are recommended side trips, particularly since Walga Rock is said to be the second largest monolith in Australia after Uluru. 

Walga Rock - one of the worthwhile side trips on the way to Karijini via Great Northern Hwy

It is also possible to drive up along the coast road, however it should be noted that this route is longer. If we had gone in this direction we would have pushed through to Carnarvon on the first day - a solid 9 hours of driving from Perth! If driving is not your thing, Qantas operate flights to Parburdoo, which is located 2.5 hours south of the park. 

A narrow slot canyon in Weano Gorge

Where to Stay

While the major town of Tom Price is 90 minutes away from the park, Karijini is best experienced by staying in one of the park's two major campgrounds - The Karijini Eco Retreat in the western part of the park and Dales Gorge Campground in the east. Dales Gorge is a basic operation run by the Parks and Wildlife Service with sites available on a first come, first served basis. The usual facilities of toilets, water and camp kitchens are provided. 

Camping at Karijini Eco Retreat

The Karijini Eco Retreat offers accommodation ranging from tent sites to luxury glamping tents and cabins which must be booked ahead. While Alissa and I booked their cheapest option (a tent site), the facilities on offer are some of the most impressive Alissa and I have ever encountered at a campsite, including flushing toilets, hot showers, a bar and a restaurant offering casual takeway food as well as three course fine dining. Operated in collaboration with the Parks and Wildlife and the traditional owners, Karijini Eco Retreat is worth the extra cost for the easy access to superior facilities and being able to book in advance. If visiting during the peak period (July school holidays), I would thoroughly recommend the Karijini Eco Retreat rather than showing up at Dales and hoping for the best. The park can be extremely busy during this time of year and we witnessed families who didn't book having to set up in the overflow campsite, and when that was full having to set up on the airstrip in the park! It pays to be organised and book into Karijini Eco Retreat early to ensure you've got a good place to set up for the night. 


Adventurous rugged walking in Hancock Gorge

What to Do

While it is possible to do back country journeys through the remote sections of the park, Karijini is best experienced as a base camp and short day walks experience. The best gorge walk is the combined loop of Weano and Hancock Gorges. Rated as a Class 5 trail, these gorges require wading, walking through narrow slot canyons and numerous ladder climbs but amply rewards walkers with some of the best and most scenic features of the entire park. 


The view along the Dales Gorge Rim Walk

More family friendly, Dales Gorge is the second best gorge walks as it provides a superb circuit that traces the gorge rim before descending through the gorge itself. Two side trips on either side of the gorge lead to Fern and Circular Pools, which are perfect swimming holes on warmer days. The Rim Walk section is considered one of Western Australia's Top Trails by Trails WA, and while I would argue that the lower track through the gorge is more impressive, it is a walk that is more easily accessible to the vast majority of visitors to Karijini.



The famous Spa Pool in Hamersley Gorge
Knox, Kalamina and Joffre Gorges all offer different takes on the gorge walking experience and are worth checking out as well, however Hamersley Gorge is one of the park's greatest highlights. Less of a hike due to its very short nature, Hamersley Gorge is home to the famous Spa Pool and features the best swimming holes of the entire park. Swimming in Spa Pool was one of the highlights of the entire trip, and it is even more beautiful in person that the photographs suggest. In addition to these gorge walks, West Oz Active Adventure Tours offer guided tours beyond the tourist trails and into sections of the park only accessible with abseiling gear. 


Descending from Mt Bruce - the second tallest mountain in Western Australia
While the gorges are the main attraction, the mountain walk to the summit of Mount Bruce is one of the state's best, and is more enjoyable and adventurous than the much celebrated walk to the summit of Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Range. The second tallest mountain the state, Mt Bruce is another adventurous Class 5 walk and offers incredible views of the surrounding range from its summit. For those with a four wheel drive, it is possible to drive close to the summit of Mt Meharry - Western Australia's tallest peak - and hike the last few kilometres to the summit. The lack of easy access to Meharry or any of the other mountains in the park is one area where Karijini could be improved - surely there are other mountains in the range that would be worth climbing beyond Mt Bruce. 


Deep Reach Pool in Millstream-Chichester National Park
For those with more time, a side trip to the (relatively) nearby Millstream-Chichester National Park is worth a visit. Considered one of the most underrated national parks in the country, Millstream-Chichester features incredible palm-lined pools fed by underground aquifers. The result is an incredible oasis in the desert. For hikers, the Camel Trail through the dryer Chichester Ranges part of the park takes walkers from the swimming hole at Python Pool to the nearby Mt Herbert and follows and old cameleers trail to several waterholes. While a good return walk, a fun way to experience the Camel Trail is to park a bike near Mt Herbert and cycle back down the Python Pool, as the winding road through the mountains is an outstanding downhill cycle.

The cavernous amphitheatre of Joffre Gorge and its waterfall

How Long?

I would allow 3-4 full days in Karijini to get the best out of the park. With most of the trails being fairly short, it is easy enough to do two hikes a day. To avoid the crowds, Alissa and I found it best to do one walk just after sunset, take a break during the warm middle of the day when most people are out and about and then return to the gorges later in the afternoon just before sunset. Even while being in the park at the peak of the peak season, we often had gorges to ourselves as we were either the first or last people there! If visiting Millstream-Chichester, it is best to drive straight there in the morning from Karijini and check out Deep Reach Pool in the afternoon, do the Camel Trail first thing in the morning the next day and drive back to Karijini for the evening. 

The sheer walls of Knox Gorge

Real Trail Talk Podcast




In Episode 18 of Real Trail Talk, Alissa, myself and Mark Pybus from the Life of Py discussed each of the walks in Karijini and Millstream-Chichester National Park. In addition, we provide some helpful tips for those planning a road trip into Outback WA. This serves as a great primer for those thinking of exploring the Pilbara region. Click on the link to have a listen or search for Real Trail Talk on iTunes or Podbean. 

The Walks

Below are all the walks we completed in Karijini and Millstream-Chichester National Parks, with full write ups of each of the trails. Click on the links to read the individual trip reports. 


Camel Trail (Millstream Chichester National Park)

One of Trails WA's Top Trails, the Camel Trail traverses a section of the Chichester Range in Millstream Chichester National Park. Linking the stunning Python Pool to the lookout at Mt Herbert, the historic trail follows part of an old cameleer's route to the waterhole at McKenzie Spring. Relatively gentle, this trail is a perfect introduction to walking in the Australian Outback. ...

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...

Hamersley Gorge (Karijini National Park)

The shortest gorge walk in Karijini National Park, Hamersley Gorge makes up for it by providing the park's best swimming holes - including the incredibly beautiful Spa Pool. Basically just a flight of steps leading to the water's edge, the current 400 metre trail provides stunning views of the wide, natural amphitheatre and incredible, banded rock formations but could be even better if restored to its original length...

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. ...

Kalamina Gorge (Karijini National Park)

Arguably the most underrated gorge walk in Karijini National Park, Kalamina Gorge is one of the park's lesser known attractions due to being located deep within the park. While not as deep as the other gorges, Kalamina makes up for it by offering a unique and picturesque experience of stunning reflections on still pools and glowing red walls. A relatively easy walk, this is a perfect walk for adventurous young familie...

Knox Gorge (Karijini National Park)

A challenging but enjoyable walk in Karijini National Park, this trail explores Knox Gorge. Starting with a short walk to a lookout, the trail descends to the bottom of the gorge via one of the steepest paths in the park - including an awkward scramble near the bottom. Continually criss-crossing its way along the gorge floor, the trail ends at an unusual slot canyon formation. ...

Mt Bruce Summit Trail (Karijini National Park)

One of the finest and most exciting mountain walks in Western Australia, the Summit Trail leads hikers to the top of Mt Bruce - the second highest mountain in Western Australia. Initially traversing a series of hills, hikers scramble up the adjacent Chinaman's Hat before walking across a spectacular rocky ridge to Mt Bruce itself. With superb views from its summit, this is a must-do for peak baggers....

Weano and Hancock Gorge (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. ...






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