Sunrise over Joffre Gorge
“We come to the end of the unsealed road and turn left onto the highway. Our long journey back to Perth has begun and by the time we reach Western Australia’s capital in two days time we will have driven nearly 5,000km. Our photography road trip has taken us through the Pinnacles Desert, Kalbarri, Ningaloo Reef and Coral Bay, all stunning locations in their own right.
But it was always about Karijini, Western Australia’s second largest national park and the holy grail of our journey.
As my two friends sit chatting in the front of our 4WD, I get comfortable in the back, enjoying the Aussie road trip anthems of Midnight Oil. My body is tired from the early rises, hot weather and long drives and hikes. But my mind is awake, energised from the sensory overload of Karijini.
The four days we just spent there felt longer, such is the paradox of time when travelling. I resist the urge to look at my watch and leave my phone switched off. I’ve thought of nothing but the moment I’m in during the past few days and it’s a feeling I want to hang onto as long as I can.
I often wonder if too much travel destroys the “wow factor”, but I continue to discover locations that prove me wrong. And Karijini National Park has done just that.”
About Karijini National Park
Karijini sits about 275km south of Port Headland and 100km east of Tom Price, in Western Australia’s North-West Pilbara region. Visitors who make the long drive there are rewarded with photography, hiking, climbing and swimming opportunities in a collection of gorges that have been spectacularly eroded into the landscape over two billion years.
Karijini possesses all the characteristics of the iconic Australian outback. Unsealed and dusty roads, gums trees reaching to the skies, spinifex carpeting the red soil, kangaroos hopping across the landscape, night skies filled with stars or lightning displays, sweltering heat, a crowded population of flies, wide open spaces and deafening silence.
But the real attraction of Karijini is the dramatic and intense landscape of the gorges.
Each gorge boasts its own unique characteristics, from waterfalls and swimming pools, large boulders to scramble over, narrow tunnels to navigate through and walking trails of varying difficulties.
These are the seven (and a bonus lookout) we explored.
Dales Gorge, Karijini
Dales Gorge boasts three of the park’s highlights: Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. We started our day on the Gorge Rim before taking on the steep descent towards Circular Pool. After photographing the trickling waterfall, we made our way across the bed of the gorge towards Fortescue Falls, stepping through water at every opportunity for some relief from the 40+ degree heat. We decided against a swim at Fortescue Falls, choosing instead to continue walking towards Fern Pool. We rewarded our efforts with a swim, trying to ignore the bats in the trees above us and the fish circling us in the water.
This photograph of our Fortescue Falls was taken at the end of our long hike, a few metres from the car park.
Hamersley Gorge, Karijini
As Hamersley Gorge sits on the outskirts of the Park, it is not visited as regularly as some of the others. And what shame this is, as even the drive itself is spectacular. It was the last Gorge we visited but one of the best. The every-changing light hitting the rock formations at Hamsersley created a spectacular kaleidoscope of colours and my only regret was that an approaching storm cut our visit short. But thankfully we had time to swim through the gorge to the breath taking Spa Pool before the clouds darkened and the first crash of thunder reached our ears. Flash floods are not uncommon during and after thunderstorms, so we didn’t waste any time returning to the car, as reluctant as we were.
Knox Gorge, Karijini
Limited time in the park meant we couldn’t climb into every gorge, so we decided to visit Knox for sunset. And it didn’t disappoint, providing a dramatic foreground to the setting sun.
Weano Gorge, Karijini
Weano Gorge was one of my favourites. A short walk from the car park and we found ourselves wading through water towards the narrow tunnels that twist and turn towards Handrail Pool. Handrail Pool is aptly named, as reaching it requires gripping a handrail to navigate around a steep bend, before gripping your feet into the rock wall to slowly descend to the pool. Unless you are an accredited abseiler, this is the end of the road, and the handrail is not for everyone. Each walk in the park is graded from 1 to 6 (with 6 requiring the accreditation) and it’s important to know your own limits. Not only do you risk your own safety by attempting a walk you are not capable of, you risk the safety of the volunteers who come in to rescue you.
The Handrail Pool is simply magical and my only regret is that we only had it to ourselves for a few minutes before a large group of students on a bus trip joined us!
Kalamina Gorge, Karijini
Visiting Kalamina Gorge was not part of our original plans, but we decided to head there for sunset one evening, on the advice of one of the Park’s employees. It was a decision we didn’t regret. Both the drive and the gorge itself differed from the rest of the park, symbolising its dramatic diversity.
Hancock Gorge, Karijini
Hancock Gorge was one of the most stunning and interesting gorges we visited. After following a path from the car park and descending down two steep ladders, we walked, waded and swam through the varying levels of water towards Spider Walk. Despite wanting to see Kermit’s Pool, I decided I had reached my limit for the day and enjoyed a rest in the sun before cooling off in the water on our walk back to the car.
Joffre Gorge, Karijini
Being a fifteen minute walk from the Eco Retreat we were staying in made Joffre an obvious choice for a sunrise shoot. And it didn’t disappoint with it’s iconic outback landscape being lit up by the morning sun. After shooting from the top of the gorge, we attempted the Grade 5 descent to the bottom of the gorge, with my friend Glen continuing through the water (pictured below). For me, this was the most difficult of all the walks, needing to climb down a steep wall of large boulders. Although I reached the bottom, I didn’t enjoy it and having bad knees made the climb back up a nervous one. In hindsight, I would have been happy to continuing shooting from the top!
Oxer Lookout provides panoramic views of the junction of four gorges and was a favourite location for us for both sunset and sunrise.
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