Achieving Goals in Karijini National Park

Western Australia wildflowers

National parks were never my thing. I feel like a jerk saying that, but it’s true.

I thought of them as mostly the same, large patches of trees and streams, where people went to camp and hike but most of all, where they went to wander aimlessly. There was no goal associated with national parks, unless it was to see a specific sight like the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains or the Grand Canyon.

Otherwise it was just you, getting in touch with nature. Nice, but not something I regularly went out of my way to do.

You idiot, you’re probably thinking. You’re missing the whole point.

I know. I totally was. This trip around Australia swiftly changed my mind about national parks. They are goal-oriented, if you want them to be. There are tons of trails that you can follow, with a defined beginning and end point, plus little markers to follow along the way. It’s like a treasure hunt, with views. How did my type-A, Virgo mind not realize this before?

Despite my newfound love and respect for national parks, by the time we got to Karijini I wondered how good it could actually be. We’d just visited Litchfield, Kakadu, and El Questro, all of which had been incredible.

Beautiful gorges? Tick. Dramatic waterfalls? Seen ’em. What did Karijini have that those parks didn’t have that would justify a six-hour drive off the coast?

Well, this:

karijini national park
Going into the center of the earth through Knox Gorge.

Also this:

Swimming hole Karijini
Kermit’s Pool in Hancock Gorge: icy cold, but too pretty to pass up.

Much of Karijini’s ancient beauty is carved into the earth. You have to go below ground level to fully experience the gorges, and they really are noticeably different from each other.

There are two main accommodation options in Karijini, and we spent one night in each. You could *definitely* stay longer, but that was enough time for us. Looking through my photos now, I’m not sure how we managed to see this much in two days without feeling rushed, but we did.

Dales Gorge Campground

The national park campground is a bush camp (i.e. no showers) within an easy kilometer’s walk from Dales Gorge itself. You can look down into Circular Pool and be jealous of the people swimming in the cool waters, or walk into the gorge and get wet yourself.

Dales gorge
Circular Pool: I confess that I did not swim here. It looked mosquito-y.

What I’d really recommend is following the trails for a swim in Fortescue Falls, then going 300 meters further to Fern Pool for another dip. Since we didn’t have showers, we drove back to the Fortescue end of the gorge just before dark for one last float in the crisp water.

Karijini waterfalls
I did swim here though, because HOW COULD YOU NOT.
Peaceful natural pool
Fern Pool, for those behind-a-waterfall shots.
snake in Australia
One more thing – there be snakes.

Karijini Eco Retreat

The next morning we packed up and took the (mostly) paved road to the Karijini Eco Retreat. It was more expensive, but there were showers and easier access to most of the other gorges in the park. Right in the middle of setting up the tent, a huge Willy Willy (dust tornado) whipped through camp, heading straight for us. At the last second it changed direction and swiftly devastated a nearby campsite, tearing down their awning and coating their belongings with dust. An older couple nearby saw the whole thing. “We thought you were done for,” they said. It was crazy.

After successfully erecting the tent, we drove 13 gravelly kilometers to the Weano Day Use Area. Our starting point was Oxer Lookout, where you can see four gorges converge in one spot.

Oxer lookout Karijini
Oxer lookout…I *think* this one is Weano Gorge but don’t quote me.

Our first hike was the one I was most looking forward to, Hancock Gorge. The hike was only 400 meters long, but it’s marked as a Class 5 and hikers are advised to allow 80 minutes return.

Karijini hike
Jared totes the trusty green backpack.

I loved it. You have to wade through water and cling to the jagged rock edges before finally arriving at the natural amphitheater and spiderwalk, my favorite part. It’s a narrow, twisted path created by a small waterfall that can be carefully navigated spider-style, by shuffling along with your hands and feet pressed against the walls. We left our clothes and bag (do so at your own risk, of course) in the dry amphitheater and made our way down in swimmers, me clutching my camera and questioning the wisdom of carrying it.

Hancock gorge
Those walls! So smooth.
Hancock spiderwalk
View of the spiderwalk from the bottom.

Kermit’s Pool sits at the bottom of the spiderwalk, a clean blue-green swimming hole perfect for plunging into and washing away the sweat. It felt like a reward for all of our scrambling around, but getting there really was half the fun.

Kermits Pool
Party time at Kermit’s pad.
woman in swimsuit waterfall
Making my way back up, fully decked out in my safety gear.

Across the car park from Hancock Gorge is Weano Gorge, where you can hike down to Handrail Pool for another swim. We were the only ones there for about half an hour, so I was free to amuse myself by shouting ‘ECHO’ into the void and taking a million terrible pictures while Jared waded into the crevice at the back of the pool.

Pool Weano Gorge
Handrail Pool, very sensibly named.
Gorge Karijini reflected
Optical illusions on the opposite side of Handrail Pool.

After lunch we drove 9km to Knox Gorge. We’d earmarked this one for the afternoon ‘if we felt up to it,’ mainly because it didn’t have a specific standout feature. The whole gorge was really its own attraction, finishing in a dramatic flourish of crevices and flowing water.

Hiking Karijini
Not allowed to go past this point without a guide.
beautiful gorge Karijini
More pristine swimming holes.

We packed in one last gorge the morning we left Karijini, because it was walking distance from the campsite. It was the right decision, because we were the only people in Joffre Gorge. The waterfall was a thin trickle, but I thought the craggy rock wall was the best part anyway.

Karijini National Park
Joffre Gorge, which obviously makes me think of Game of Thrones.

Karijini schooled me on national parks, delivering a solid reminder that no two are the same. No matter how many parks—or gorges, or waterfalls—you visit, they each have the capacity to render you speechless.

Going to Karijini National Park?

  • You’ll need a national park pass. We bought an annual pass for Western Australia (A$92), which more than paid for itself over the three months we were there.
  • Dales Campground (sites $11 per adult per night, no power or water) is run by the national park. Bring enough food and water for the duration of your stay.
  • Karijini Eco Retreat (sites $40 per night, unpowered) has a variety of accommodation options as well as a restaurant and small shop.
  • For information on hikes in Karijini, download a brochure here.
  • The closest town to Karijini is Tom Price, 60km away from the western side of the park. You can get food and fuel there.
  • Karijini is almost 1500km north of Perth. Its nearest airport is 150km away in Parabadoo. Plan on driving; this isn’t a quick or convenient destination, but it is worthwhile.
  • Consider tacking on 50km to see Hamersley Gorge – it’s supposed to be stunning but the thought of another dirt road put us off.

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