650 miles north of Perth, Karijini is one of the most beautiful regions of Western Australia. Set in the Pilbara outback it is a system of red rock gorges, most with streams or rivers running through them and responsible for cutting them out.
For the visitor, they can walk the gorges, swim in the pools and camp in the outback – often with quite basic facilities. Some of the gorges are more difficult to walk than others; some probably best done with a guide, but others are fine for the tourist to try.
Several of the gorges require you to swim to get to the interesting parts such as Weano and Hammersley. Best not to bring expensive camera gear unless it is waterproof and be prepared to swim fully clothed. It’s better to wear shoes with a sole that you don’t mind getting wet – trainers or approach shoes that aren’t too heavy to swim in. Flip flops won’t work too well on more slippery rocks.
Timing your walks to cooler times of the day will make them more pleasant, and this will depend on the time of year you visit. The pools will allow you to cool down even if the heat at the top of the gorges is intense. They are often set in lush surroundings such as Fern Pool where you can swim across the pool and go under the falls at the opposite side to wash off the dust.
The gorges we visited were Weano, Joffre, Hammersley and Dales. Hancock is one of the more spectacular gorges and you need to be in good shape to get down it. The gorges are graded and this is one of the more difficult ones. There are around eight gorges in total.
Weano starts with swimming through a couple of pools, then you go through a narrow canyon which drops down to ‘handrail pool’. You climb down some steps put into the pool wall into the pool with the aid of the handrail. This is how you get back out too, so be sure you can get back up before you go down. The gorge carries on getting more and more difficult until you reach your limits.
Hammersley starts with some pools in the open in front of you which you can then swim off to the left through an open canyon. You can’t see how far you need to swim so its quite exciting. The water is cold and you can swim a few hundred yards down the gorge before getting to the end where it is difficult to go further. You can get to the sides in some parts and have a rest if need be before returning.
Dales Gorge has one of the longest accessible sections. You can walk from Fern Pool upstream to the large gorgeous pool section in the middle by Fortescue Falls and then right down to Circular Pool where you can paddle.
There are a couple of campsites in the park where you can stay with tents, vans or swags. Amenities are generally basic, but there is all you need. Stock up with food and drink before you enter the park. Tom Price town has a supermarket and bottle shop for all the necessities.
There are a couple of things to be careful of in the park. There are seams of blue asbestos running through some of the rock. This is carcinogenic and should be avoided. The asbestos was mined from the 1930s at Wittenoom until the town was closed due to health concerns in the mid 1960s. Now it is a ghost town and still should be avoided for the same health reasons.
The other thing is due to the inaccessibility of the park, tourists who hurt themselves in the gorges can take hours to extricate by the emergency services. While we were there a guy had jumped off a cliff into a pool and broken his leg. It took many hours to get him out.
As well as the park there are several hills you can visit in the area. Mount Bruce is an impressive low hill on the edge of the park. Mount Sheila can be driven up, probably best with four wheel drive and it’s possible to swag it on the top of the hill with fantastic views of the land around – so different from Perth.
Another alternative overnight stop is at the Auski Roadhouse. Here you can stay in the green prefabs or camp if you prefer. There will be many travelers there to meet and you can get a cooked meal at the pub and a beer in the evening. The rigs coming through are something to behold, some are enormous – carrying huge loads across Australia.
Tom Price as well as being the best place to get provisions, also has a working mine which you can tour around by coach. The machinery is amazing and you can get out at designated spots for photos of the mine and its equipment. The mine is one of eight iron ore mines in the Pilbara, and the region as a whole produces a significant amount of the worlds iron ore being one of the richest deposit areas in Australia.
Photo (c) A. Davison