With its 6,200 square kilometres, Karijini National Park is nothing but gigantic. Western Australia’s second largest national park lies 500 km east of Tom Price and 1,400 km north of Perth in the northwest corner of the country. Karijini is the Australia you’ve seen in the movies. A place with an intense red desert sand, off-white eucalyptus bark and bouncing kangaroos beneath a merciless sun. The national park is enormous and has a unique nature. The rocky landscape is built up in several layers looking like enormous piles of pancakes that has been turned and shaped over the years. Rolling hills protrude from the flat landscape and conceal unexpected treasures. Deep and wide gaps in the mountains fill up during the rainy season and create powerful waterfalls that gush and form icy freshwater lakes that provide coolness during the hottest days. Karijini is isolated and difficult to reach, but it is far from monotonous. The national park is a delight to the eye, like a kaleidoscope of colours.
If you have ever dreamed of being Indiana Jones, here is your chance. Karijini is all about adventure. Wade through meandering streams, balance on rock ledges and push yourself through tight spaces. Finally, you reach the crystal-clear and cold lakes that makes the blood pump ferociously to withstand the extreme temperature differences in your body. The national park is undeniably dramatic with an untamed nature. Far from major cities and comforts, this is nothing for the light-hearted. The heat and drought require a great deal of tolerance from the visitors and it can soon have anyone feeling small and helpless. But respect the forces of nature and in return you will experience the Outback in all its glory. Spend the day exploring the chiselled mountains and finish the evening by gazing at the skies with thousands of stars sparkling all around you.
Karijini is rugged but spectacular. The national park itself is located far from everything else, but its attractions are easily accessible as many parking places are placed near vantage points across the mountain gorges. There are good opportunities to hike and climb among the sharp ravines that are available in different difficulty levels. Either you do it on your own or together with an experienced guide. Avoid coming here during the summer months when the temperature is approaching a baking 50 degrees Celsius. Instead, plan your visit for the fall when it’s more pleasant or come here during the spring when the plants are in full bloom creating a colourful patchwork in style á la mother nature. You will also find some of Western Australis’s highest mountains in Karijini National Park. In addition to dizzying heights and deep ravines, there is a rich wildlife in the park, and you have a great chance to see both echidna and lizards crawling over the rocks.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
The hiking trails in Karijini are divided into six different levels of difficulty. Class one to three can be handled by most people, but then it gets tougher. Class four to five works well for those who are accustomed to moving around. A hike in class six should only be attempted with the necessary equipment along with a guide who knows the area. Pete West and his nice guides at West Oz Active Adventure (westozactive.com.au) navigates groups of adventurers through Karijini’s mountains between April and November. Choose between different tours that last from one day up to five days. Some level of physical fitness is required. Guides with extensive experience in adventure tourism will show you around and help you along the way as you explore parts of Karijini that are hard to reach on your own. The company has been based in the national park since 2007 and they have won several awards in the WA Tourism Award. All equipment is included in the price.
At the eastly located vantage point of Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls looks like a small trickle deep down the mountains. At a close range, the impression becomes a different one. Large flat rocks shaped like wide steps leads you down to the lake which is replenished by the high waterfall of Fortescue. At the waterfall, follow the sign to Fern Pool. Walk in between the trees along the small path until you reach the beautiful waterhole called Fern Pool where it is said that large undersea creatures live. Swim over to the other side and crawl up under the waterfall.
Westwards more ravines await. The trek at Hancock Gorge is classified as a class five and offers a dose of adrenaline. It takes about two hours to walk back and forth. Put on your joggers before leaving the parking lot and walk the steep trail downwards along the gorge. Climb down the ladder and continue along the bottom of the gorge until you get to the Amphitheatre, a high wall of boulders you can climb up on to get a view of the gorge. Wade or swim through the chilly waters that reach up to your waist and continue climbing along the twisting road. When you arrive at the Spiders Walk, you must push yourself towards the cliff walls with legs and arms stretched out as a spider, then balance on slippery rocks until you reach the mirror-shiny, Kermit’s Pool. Not far from Hancock Gorge you will find Weano Gorge which is one of the park’s easiest to reach ravines. Follow the signs that show the road leading you steep downhill. The ravine then narrows off and the rating changes from three to five. When you get out to the water, there is a railing you can hold onto to get past the last bit of slippery walk down to the Handrail Pool. This is the perfect place for a refreshing bath. The Weano Gorge clearly shows how the gorge has been shaped by the water for thousands of years. Do not walk any farther without telling the park guard.
Nearby is Oxers Lookout where the four ravines of Joffre Gorge, Hancock Gorge, Red Gorge and Weano Gorge meet, looking like a deep open wound in the otherwise flat landscape. It is a place to go to for appreciating Karijini’s massive range. Stop by at Knox Gorge to get a view of Joffre Falls waters that follows a zigzag pattern when it flows up along the boulders. You can follow the trail of three kilometres downwards towards the water. The hike takes three hours back and forth.
The mountain Punurrunha, also known as Mount Bruce, rises in the southwestern part of the park. A nine-kilometre-long hiking trail goes up to the top of the 1,235-meter-high mountain, offering a fantastic view of the surroundings. Count on a five-hour hike back and forth. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen and start hiking in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
Good to know
There is a Visitor Information Centre in the national park. Karijini Visitor Centre (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/karijini-visitor-centre) is located on Banyjima Drive. There is also an information centre in Tom Price (tomprice.org.au/karijini-national-park) on Central Road in the town centre where you can get maps and brochures of Karijini.
Warnings and preparations
Since Karijini is a national park, you need to pay an entrance fee. You can buy a Park Pass in advance or choose to pay 12 dollars per car and day at the information centre at Karijini Eco Retreat or put the money in an envelope at the small stop at the park’s eastern entrance. In the park are signs showing the road and handrails at some cliff edges. In addition to this, be vigilant. During persistent rainfall, gorges can be bombarded by water making it difficult to make it out. Read the warning signs about floods and take them seriously. Should you end up in an emergency, it is difficult to get help.
The lakes that are formed can literally be ice cold, so test the water before you take a dip. The biggest danger of visiting the park is not having enough water. There are only a few places to fill up your bottles on once within the park, so bring plenty of drinking water. You will use at least two litres of water per day because of the heat. Also bring thin, protective light-coloured clothes that you can cover yourself with during the day when the sun is at its highest. Also bring fuel for your gas burner and keep in mind that you must bring all your rubbish out of the park because there are no bins.
Chartered buses do not drive to Karijini. To get here, it must be with your own means of transport. A four-wheel drive is recommended since the roads are not paved and can be very bumpy. Respect the distances between sites. They may look small on the map, but in reality, it may take hours to drive. Keep low speeds. Do not take a risk and do not drive after the sun has gone down.
The closest place to rent a car is in Paraburdoo, which is located 80 km from Tom Price. You can also rent a car in Newman (wotif.com/Car-Hire). Check the rental agreement carefully and make sure you can drive on gravel roads. If you instead drive all the way from Perth, you should expect a trip of two to three days. There are domestic flights daily between Paraburdoo and Perth, alternatively you can fly to Newman (wotif.com/Flights).
There are two places to sleep within the Karijini National Park.
Karijini Eco Retrat (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Karijini_Eco_Retreat.htm) is owned by Gumula Aboriginal Corporation, which consists of three Aboriginal communities. Together they offer an environmentally friendly accommodation with varying degrees of comfort. There are simpler campsites for larger eco-tents and private cottages. The campsite at Karijini Eco Retreat is a few dozen kilometres closer to the mountains at Joffre Gorge than the campsites at Dale’s Gorge Campground. Karijini Eco Retreat’s showers which are heated by solar energy may be cold during the mornings. There are also toilets, barbecue grills and an in-house restaurant with a bar serving delicious food with Australian flavours. Booking in advance is essential to get room at this popular restaurant (karijiniecoretreat.com.au/). The staff is very friendly and helpful. It costs as much as up to four times the price to stay here compared with staying in a tent at Dale’s Gorge Campground. But if you don’t want to stay on a dry piece of soil, this is your only option.
Dales Gorge Campground (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/dales-gorge-campground) is owned and managed by the state. It is located near Fortescue Falls, and several shorter hiking trails start from here. This offers cheaper camping than at Eco Retreat in a nice location on the other side of the park in the east, including simpler toilets, picnic tables and barbecue grills. One night’s camping costs about eleven dollars per person and there are around 140 sites. The campsite lacks showers, but if you drive to the information centre you get a hot shower in exchange for a couple of dollars. Bring warm clothes if you are here during the winter when the nights are long and cold. Pre-booking a spot is essential (parkstay.dpaw.wa.gov.au/camp-finder/viewproperty/dales/77/en).
A Saturday in Karijini National Park with a four-wheel drive
08:00 – Deep ravines
Drive slowly along the bumpy road all the way to Oxer’s Lookout. Stop here to enjoy the view of the four mighty gorges that meet over a hundred feet below your feet. See how the water cuts through the red rocks at the bottom. Cool waterfalls and some greenery are also visible from here. Oxer’s Lookout gives you a sense of how isolated Karijini really is.
11:00 – Adventurous climbing
Kick-start the day by exploring ravines á la Indiana Jones. Head to the Hancock Gorge. Park your car in the shade and pull on a pair of comfortable joggers. Bring a small backpack with water bottles. Put the camera in a plastic bag and start the downwards climb along the gorge. Crawl, wade and push your way forward through the Spiders Walk until you reach the cave at Kermit’s Pool where you take a cooling dip into the water before you head back the same path.
13:00 – Rest before gentle hike
Eat your packed lunch at one of the picnic tables under the trees. After the heart has been working hard in Hancock Gorge, you will try the slightly gentler hike at Weano Gorge. Follow the trail as far as you have energy, or at the very longest until you reach the metal railing leading towards the Handrail Pool. The last bit of the trek is classed as difficult so you can choose to stop if you want. But if you continue, just take it gently. If you manage to hike all the way, you will be rewarded with a chilly dip in an unreal beautiful lake.
16:00 – Nature’s sanctuary
The last gorge of the day is the beautiful Dales Gorge. At the wide mountain gorge, you can peek down to see Fortescue Falls way down there, one of Karijini’s most beautiful waterfalls. Follow the steep downhill trail and stop occasionally to admire the view. Bathe below the waterfall of Fortescue, then follow the barely visible path that is full of vines and boulders leading you to the magical Fern Pool.
18:00 – Dinner under the starry skies
Get back to the camping site in time before the evening. Once there, it’s time for dinner. Grab your gas burner to cook something on your own or if you have booked in advance, go to the Eco Retreat Restaurant and order some tasty grilled kangaroo or barramundi and a glass of wine. When the sun has set for the day, look up at the skies and try counting the stars that one by one pops up, filling the ether like sparkly diamonds.