Karijini National Park is one of Western Australia’s top tourist destinations. After seeing pictures of the narrow trails to hidden pools and scrambles through gorges I added it to our bucket list.
Getting to Karijini
Swimming with whale sharks along the Ningaloo reef was amazing, but it was time to move on. We pointed Lil’ Beaut inland and drove east. The next town we would see was Paraburdoo six hours away.
Due to the large number of kangaroo and cattle that roam free we always make camp before the sun sets. It reduces the risk of hitting an animal as many of them move around more at night, plus I want to see all the land that we are driving through. So we parked midway between towns in the middle of the outback. It was a solitary and peaceful place, with no light pollution nor moisture in the air. The milky way shone brightly in all her majesty.
The population of Paraburdoo is 1,380* which includes FIFO (fly in fly out) residents. The town was established in 1970 to support the Rio Tinto iron ore mining operation. Paraburdoo has a massive mining truck on display. It has gargantuan tires whose tops I could not reach even when I stood on tiptoe. They also have a small walking trail and art display.
A half-hour down the road we reached the town of Tom Price, population 2,956*. Tom Price is the council seat for the Shire of Ashburton. This shire is about the size of the state of Kentucky, but the population for the entire shire is only 13K people. The population of Kentucky is 4.5 million.
Tom Price had all the supplies we needed before driving into Karijini National Park.
*Population numbers based on the 2016 census
Karijini National Park
Our first glimpse of Karijini National Park was a small mountain ridge that rose from the flat desert plane. The range gradually ascends from the valley floor ending at Mount Bruce with a cliffside. Mount Bruce is the second tallest mountain in Western Australia.
We parked Lil’ Beaut at the far end of the range where the trail starts and then follows along the ridgeline to the top of Mount Bruce. The trail begins at a gradual slope but continues to increase elevation and steepness with each saddle we cross between mountains.
This ridgeline trail has no shade. The red rocky mountains have a low covering of spinifex that look like small shrubs with messy hair. They are spaced apart allowing the red of the soil to be visible. The green covering of spinifex against the red rocks adds a stunning effect to the landscape.
At the top of Mount Bruce, we sat down to enjoy the views of the large valley floor below us while we ate lunch. Thankfully the day was slightly overcast which kept us cool enough to walk the ridgeline trail that otherwise would have been baking in the sun.
Weano Gorge and the Handrail hike
We read all the reviews but still could not figure out what we would need to take with us for our next hike. Should I wear my hiking boots or water shoes and wetsuit? Some reviews said they remained dry for the entire hike, others said they had to swim down portions of the gorge. There was a hypothermia warning about the cold water.
Finally, I decided to carry my water shoes and leave the wetsuit behind, we could always hike out and back in again if we thought we needed to wet suits.
Weano Gorge is somewhat dry and is an easy hike through. The steep sides provide shade for much of the day. At the end of the Weano Loop the trail ascends steeply to the top of the gorge or hikers can continue downstream where the gorge becomes much more narrow.
We continued downstream. In a few places water did stretch from one canyon wall to the next but there were narrow ledges on at least one side where we could scoot along and still stay dry.
At the end of the narrow passage, the floor drops down cascading the water beneath us into a secluded pool. A handrail had been installed to allow hikers to safely climb down to the water for an ice-cold dip.
Hancock Gorge and Kermit Pool
The Hancock Gorge begins with a very steep descent down into the canyon. From there the trail follows the water downstream. The walls of the gorge drew in ever closer as we progressed. Then we reached the point where there was no choice but to wade through thigh-high water if we wanted to go further.
I took off my hiking boots and put on my water shoes leaving the boots behind along the ledge of the rocks where others had also left theirs.
The next section required both hands to navigate along the cliff edge clinging to the rocks and scooting along the ledge. We both took a swig of water and then left our water bottle behind on another ledge to free up our hands.
Near the end of the trail, Trin knew he would be getting totally wet so he took off his shirt and left it on yet another ledge. We made a mental list of all the things we needed to collect on our way back through. This is a popular trail, but this is Australia, we knew our various discarded items would be there when we returned.
The trail ends at a swimming hole deep enough to jump into, off the surrounding ledges. It was there just before Trin jumped in that he realized we never put the SD card back in the GoPro.
We clambered back through the gorge feeling elated at the views and the fun hike. We collected all of our belongings along the way and climbed back up out of the gorge ready to take on the next one.
Joffre Gorge is a quick hike straight down into the ravine and back up. A viewpoint at the top gave us an entire view of the trail. The cliffside that we would need to scramble down on the opposite side looked a bit intimidating. Once we were on the trail though neither the descent nor the ascent was too bad.
Fern Pool and Fortescue Falls
On our final day in the park, Lil’ Beaut stayed put in the Dale campground and we walked all the trails accessible from there.
After descending 286 stairs we hiked a small trail to Fern Pool. On the path there a disturbance caused us to look up. There appeared to be large bats hanging from the tree branches above us. They were squawking and moving about. A couple passing by told us that they were flying foxes.
After watching them for some time we moved down the trail to a pool surrounded by ferns, appropriately named Fern Pool. A waterfall cascaded into the pool at the far end and a small dock made it easier for hikers to gain access in and out of the cold deep pool of water.
Turning back we followed the base of the gorge towards Circular Pool. The final portion of the trail was closed off due to a rock slide that posed a further threat and exposed natural asbestos in the rocks.
We climbed the narrow trail straight up the cliff side to the Three Gorge Lookout and gazed down into a circular pool.
More to see
Karijini has, even more, to offer if we had a 4WD. It is one of the things we considered when first purchasing what wheels we would use to explore Australia. I would love to have hiked more gorges here, but we are also very happy with our decision to buy Lil’ Beaut. There may be a few things we miss, but there are so many things to see even with 2WD, more than we will ever get to. It was a trade-off that we decided on and we are still happy with that choice.
There is always more to see. I love that about travel. Slow travel allows us to experience each country, but still, it is only a taste. We will never run out of places to go and see. Like learning, no one dies having learned everything. Even experts in a field still learn about their own field all the time. I love that there is no end to exploration, that’s actually quite amazing.
Karijini is a fun park, but after walking every trail we could access we drove north towards Port Hedland on the coast, 3.5 hours away.
Opportunity often comes from learning. What new things have you learned this week? Discover opportunity, find your blue door.
Retired from Corporate America at the age of 43 along with her husband Trinity. In 2016 they sold their home to begin a nomadic life of slow travel. Bonnie writes of their experience on the road in each country. Subscribe to follow her stories here.
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