Oxers Lookout – Sunset
About Karijini National Park
Karijini is Western Australia’s second largest national park, sitting 1,400km north of Perth, 275km south of Port Headland and 100km north east of Tom Price, in Western Australia’s North-West Pilbara region.
It’s one of Western Australia’s most popular attractions and for good reason. Visitors 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.
It’s the Australian outback at its best with a unique and dramatic landscape staging an overload of the senses, where time feels like it’s standing still and there is nothing more important than the moment you are in.
It’s remote but accessible, unspoiled yet comfortable and is perfect for a long weekend, a stopover on a road trip or a lengthier stay.
Planning Your Trip to Karijini
When to go to Karijini:
To avoid the sweltering heat of the Australian summer and the potential rains of the cyclone season, the best time to visit is between May and August.
Days average a comfortable 30° Celsius whilst the nights can be quite cool. Visiting in off-peak months is still possible, can be cheaper and has less travellers to share the park with, but keep in mind some of the facilities may be closed or running basic services.
My experience: I was there in March and it was hot!! It was also relatively quiet and we enjoyed having some trails completely to ourselves. We did notice Dales campground was closed however, and the Eco Retreat restaurant was offering a basic ‘off-season’ menu.
Sunrise near Joffre Gorge
Getting to Karijini:
Karijini’s remoteness is its charm, but it does mean it takes some logistical effort to get there. If you are short of time, fly into Paraburdoo, Newman, Karratha or Port Hedland and hire a car to complete the journey into the park. If you have time on your hands though, Karijini makes a great inclusion on a longer road trip.
My experience: I visited Karijini as part of an eleven-day road trip from Perth.
Getting around Karijini:
It is possible to visit Karijini as part of an organised tour, but if you want to explore the park at your own pace you will need your own transport. Visiting the park involves driving on unsealed roads and although they regularly graded, a 4WD is recommended, especially in the summer months when rain is more likely. However, 2WD vehicles and those towing caravans or camper vans are possible – just remember to drive slower, be safe and don’t enter roads closed to 2WD vehicles. Note: If you are hiring a 2WD check the fine print – most car hire companies don’t allow driving on unsealed roads.
My experience: We had a 4WD that made for a more comfortable journey – but the conditions were such that we would have been ok with a 2WD.
Where to stay in Karijini:
Within the Park:
There are only two places to stay within the national park:
- Dales Gorge Campsite (self catering)
- Karijini Eco Retreat
The Eco Retreat is conveniently located within walking distance of Joffre Gorge. It offers a range of accommodation options from furnished eco tens with en-suite or shared facilities or campsites for those wishing to park their camper vans or pitch a tent.
It also includes a great restaurant and bar in addition to outdoor BBQ and cooking spots for those who prefer to self-cater.
Karijini Eco Retreat
Outside of the Park
For those who prefer a hotel or motel, the only option is to stay at one of the nearby towns and make the daily drive in. This shortens the time you have available in the park however, as the nearest towns Tom Price and Port Headland are 100km and 275km away.
My experience: I shared a Deluxe Eco Tent with my two travel companions. It included three single beds with linen included, bedside tables and our own shower and toilet with natural ventilation allowing us to enjoy the stars as we soaped up! It also included a veranda with a table and chairs – the perfect spot to end the day with a cold beer or gaze up at the milky way with a glass of wine.
Karijini Eco Retreat
What to do in Karijini:
The highlight of Karijini is its gorges, each with their own personality and unique characteristics, from waterfalls and swimming pools, large boulders to scramble over, narrow tunnels to navigate through and beautiful colours that change with the light.
This makes the park a photographer’s playground and a hikers heaven.
They are best explored on foot, choosing between the many walking trails that cater to different levels of fitness and capabilities.
But if you are feeling lazy or need a break from the flies and the heat, you can also enjoy the beautiful outback scenery from the comfort of your car or at a number of easily accessed lookout points.
The visitor’s centre is also worth a visit, especially to learn more about it being the traditional home of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga Aboriginal people, the connection they have with the land and the part they play in its conservation today.
And if you aren’t staying at the Karijini Eco Treat, stop by for lunch or dinner, an ice cream, information about the park or simply for a chat with the friendly staff who have a contagious passion for the environment they have chosen to live in.
Karijini Travel Tips
Don’t under-estimate the importance of safety in the Australian outback. In the four days I was in the park, we drove past the sobering aftermath of a recent accident apparently made worse by passengers not wearing seat belts, my friend had a lucky escape after stepping on the path of a snake, two young lads found themselves at the mercy of other travellers after arriving without a jack or a spare tyre and one tourist found herself lucky to be alive after becoming wrong-footed on a climb into one of the gorges.
Don’t let the reality of the outback put you off, but do your research before you go, know your own limitations and listen to the advice of locals who know the area better than you. In particular:
- Carry a spare tyre, a jack and make sure your tyres are in good shape before you leave
- Carry plenty of water in your car and on you when hiking
- Check the grades of the walking trails before you start and if in doubt, ask the locals (at the visitor centre or the Eco Retreat) more about them. A Grade 5 on one trail may be more challenging for your particular fitness and skill level than a Grade 5 on another trail
- Don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s not just your own safety you jeopardise but the safety of the volunteers who will be called out to help you.
- Register for walks or let someone know your plans
- Dress sensibly for the heat and the outback
- Know what to do if you encounter a snake or are unfortunately bitten
Karijini Packing Tips
Useful things to pack include:
- sunscreen and a hat – the Australian sun is strong, even on cooler days
- layers to protect you from the sun and from changeable weather
- a fly net to wear over your hat (I found this invaluable – the flies are a nightmare in the summer months!)
- insect spray
- swimming attire and clothes that dry quickly (at times we needed to walk through water to reach our destination in a gorge and at other times we chose a path that requiring swimming or wading just to cool off from the heat)
- head torch for evenings in the campground
- closed shoes for hiking through the bush and waterproof shoes for hiking through the water in the gorge (I found Teva sandals ideal)
- ear plugs if your travel companions snore – mine did!!
Note: I’ll be providing photography equipment and shooting tips in a separate post – stay tuned!
Spa Pool, Hammersley Gorge
Have you been to Karijini? What tips would you add to help someone plan their adventure?
If you have an interest in photography, you may want to join this tour to Karijini in June with award-winning professional landscape photographer Glen Campbell.
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