Overnight stays: Blakeys Spot, Marble Bar; Dales Campground, Karijini National Park; Karijini Eco Retreat / Savannah Campground, Karijini National Park
There’s one place that it seems every Aussie traveller talks about that simply cannot be missed. About 1,000km south-east of Broome, nestled amongst enough Iron Ore to build China a thousand times over, Karijini National Park is one place with so much expectation it’s dangerous.
Passing endless amounts of road-trains and trains sprawling longer than a Menzies prime-ministership, it took us a couple of days to arrive, doing nothing but driving and speculating over the outcome of true crime podcasts.
We eventually arrived on the north-western entrance to the National Park, keen to explore and see what the hype was all about.
The air temperature had dropped dramatically from our beautiful 30’C+ days in Broome, with overnight temps in the single digits. The days were nice, somewhere in the mid-twenties.
Karijini is effectively a series of gorges across a massive amount of land. Several of the gorges offer views, hikes and swimming holes of varying degrees. Dales Gorge was no exception, with the added benefit of a campground of which we stayed for a night.
The first falls you come across in the gorge are Fortescue Falls which look very pretty from the top of 300 or so stairs. It was the beginning of school holidays so there were stacks of people around, and we all watched in shock as one dude jumped in for a swim at the base of the falls. As we neared the water we realised the water temp wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it seemed – only one fall above the water was heated by a natural spring.
While watching this appearing hero we ran into the Clohesy’s whom we hadn’t seen since they left Broome a week or so prior. I suspected we might run into them at Karijini, but had we been 15 mins later they would’ve been gone, so it was quite a chance we did cross paths. They had a massive 600km+ drive to Exmouth to do that day, and it was already lunchtime, so needed to get their skates on.
Slightly further up the gorge we wandered to Fern Pool, apparently much warmer and more popular, as it was heated by a spring. We opted out of a dip, sensing the oncoming chaffe, knowing we had a decent walk ahead of us.
Dales Gorge Walk
Now heading in the other direction, back past Fortescue Falls, we continued through the gorge towards Circular Pool, located at the opposite end of the incredibly beautiful rock formations, richer in Iron than Twiggy Forest himself. The walk was nice and adventurous, but relatively simple, crossing creeks, jumping between and clambering across rocks, and eventually climbing the steep steps to the top once we were finished with the pool.
Circular Pool was the prettiest of the gorge’s swimming holes, and by far and wide the coldest. With steep cliffs surrounding high above, it gets about as much shade as someone nicknamed ‘Milky’, leaving the water as bitter as a Crowe’s supporter when an after the siren shot suspiciously misses the post.
For whatever reason, it was here I decided I would go for a swim; perhaps because no one was in there?
It was actually quite a nice swim, and once I was able to scramble on top of the rocks I discovered that the trickles into the pool were actually warm, like a wonderful natural shower.
Pushing our luck
The following morning we scurried out of the National Park and re-entered further south-west, towards the series of gorges that make Karijini famous. We were lucky enough to snag the last available site at the nearby Eco Retreat, which was the only accommodation available without a big backtrack. One couple in a 4WD who entered the caravan park in front of us and seemingly got lost en-route to reception then lined up behind Loz when they found it, only to be rejected – the last site was ours, suckers 😛.
The next 13km of gravel driving was some of the roughest we’ve experienced. The Clohesy’s warned us that the day before they had actually become stuck on a hill on that road, wheels spinning with their caravan in-tow. They had no option but to turn around.
So we drove with hastily caution, and when we did reach the roughest corrugation on a windy hill we knew we had reached that part of the road, making it through with all drinking glasses still in-tact 👍🏻. Had the Clohesy’s not shared their story with us I suspect we may have found the same fate.
Relieved and excited we had made it to the entrance for Hancock and Weano Gorges, we agreed we weren’t going to repeat that road, so had to squeeze all we could into the rest of the day there.
First on the list was the trek to Kermit Pool, which first came onto our radar many months prior at Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland when Dan Nimmo, whom we met nearby there rated it as his benchmark for all hikes. He described ‘spider-walking’ on rocks and wading through water holding his child above his head. Sounded pretty extreme and we were keen to give it a go.
This would be the first Grade 5 hike we’d ever done (the highest and most difficult grading), and with Liv on my back we were pretty confident we’d knock it over without too much drama. As we descended into the deep red Gorge we were blown away by the beauty and depth of the red rocks.
Once deep in the gorge, beyond the point of no return things started to get hairy pretty quickly. First major milestone was getting past a creek of unknown depth with seemingly nothing but rock walls either side of it.
We slowly managed our way around it without incident, thinking that we had passed the most difficult part. Until we turned the corner and things escalated more than the decision to stay at a pub for a third beer.
This was the beginning of the famed ‘spider-walk’, looking exactly as Dan described it all those months ago. The creek walls were steeper and seemingly slipperier than those already conquered. Thankfully the creek had narrowed dramatically and you could manage to reach a foot and hand on each side of the wall, thus ‘spidering’ your way through. This was extreme hiking for us, and a hell of a lot of fun. That was until, with Liv on my back, I slipped in my to-be-expected skate shoes with as much grip as Malcom Turnbull’s Liberal Party leadership.
Liv scratched her arm on the rocks as we dropped into the shallow creek; a battle wound to give any grandparent grief 😮. Despite the hiccup we re-spidered and continued our journey until we reached Kermit Pool, a name given because of its colour, I assume.
Loz and I agreed that we weren’t coming back here for a long long time, so stripped off to our copies and jumped into some of the coldest water we’ve ever entered.
Given my slip-up on the way in we agreed Liv was safest on Loz’s back for the return route, of which she nailed; what a woman 💪🏼.
Safely in the comfort of the WomBatmobile for lunch we were relieved, excited, tired and dubious of what the next hike was going to throw us. We knew nothing about Weano Gorge but had vaguely heard of the Handrail Pool inside.
We made our way into the depths of the gorge and agreed against the gorge Walk, instead opting for the shorter walk to the Handrail Pool.
On arrival to the Grade 5 part of the walk we decided we had already probably over-egged it with Liv who came out with just a scratch. So Loz and Liv stayed while I continued in my budgies, GoPro tucked inside, barefoot, towards the Handrail Pool.
While numerous other punters attempted to stay dry and crawl around the initial pool, I decided to wade straight through the middle, colder than Peter Dutton. All was going well at waist-height in the murky water until I took another step and dropped into the depths unknown. I’ll be honest, it scared the hell out of me! Swimming the rest of the way to dry land I wondered what the next obstacle would be.
And so the gorge wound one way and the other, over rocks and grottos until a handrail appeared on he left hand side of the narrow tunnel creek, ahead of me Handrail Pool. At first I wondered why the handrail was needed – yes the rocks were slippery and water fast-flowing, but that wasn’t particularly unusual given what we had seen thus far at Karijini. That was until I noticed at the actual pool was several metres below the tunnel I was climbing through. And as I neared the edge of a steep drop-off, my hand grabbing the handrail tighter than Shorten’s grip on Prime Ministership, and carefully trod the ladder down to the pool’s edge. This place is f#%king extreme, and there’s no other way to describe it!
Turns out the track continues quite a way past the pool, and again rarer than trying to navigate around I smashed through the middle, keen to continue this incredible adventure. I finally reached a point where I could no longer scale the steep rocks and couldn’t be bothered swimming through the deep, dark creek anymore.
Absolutely impressed with all that Karijini had delivered, we dropped in to check out Joffre Gorge on our way out. The entry is pretty unimpressive and it doesn’t even look like a gorge, until you park and wander down to the lookout where the bleeding red rocks impress all over again. By this stage we were hiked out and just enjoyed the view, before continuing the Wombatical back towards the coast.