If there’s just one good thing to come from the events of 2020, it’s the opportunity all of us have had to explore our home state/country and visit places we may not have visited for a long time, if ever.
For me, living in Western Australia, Karijini National Park was one of those places and although I’d always wanted to visit, it was on the travel list for later as I figured I’d make it there ‘some day’. How grateful that ‘some day’ turned out to be far sooner than I had anticipated because Karijini has now become one of my favourite spots ON. THE. PLANET!
If you’ve explored any of the Northern Territory or WA’s Kimberley Region and are thinking Karijini is ‘just like the rest’, think again, because this entirely croc free region is in a league of its own! Gorges, waterfalls, swimming holes, hiking trails, and lots of wildlife – Karijini has it all! Below is a guide detailing all you need to know about Karijini so you can start planning your adventure.
ABOUT KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK
Karijini National Park is located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and is the second largest National Park in the state. It is about a 15 hour drive north of Perth so it’s a good idea to split the drive over a few days for convenience, safety and ease.
Karijini’s climate is described as tropical semi-arid. It is not uncommon for temperatures to top 40 degrees celsius along with heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and the occasional cyclone. The best time of year to visit the National Park is between May – September when temperatures are more pleasant and there is little rainfall. Note: Even though the days are warm, the nights can get very chilly so be sure to take some extra warm clothes.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you are travelling from Perth, the most direct way to get to Karijini is via Great Northern Highway. There are plenty of spots to stop overnight if you decide to break up the drive – a good option is Karalundi Caravan Park in Meekatharra. Another popular town to stop in is Mt Magnet.
ENTRY INTO THE NATIONAL PARK
Entry into the Park is $15 per car, per day. For seniors and motorbikes it is $8 per day and you can pay these fees at entry points throughout the park. If you are camping within the National Park (as most people tend to do), the $15 fee is a once off at the time of booking. Annual, holiday and local passes can be purchased depending on your itinerary.
2WD vs 4WD
I HIGHLY recommend taking a reliable 4WD when visiting Karijini however it is not essential. The main road in from the eastern side is fully sealed and Dales Campground is accessible in a 2WD vehicle. Dales Gorge and surrounds are accessible in a 2WD vehicle however if you have plans to explore the Weano Recreation Area (Weano Gorge & Hancock Gorge) and/or Hamersley Gorge then a 4WD is essential due to sections of unsealed gravel road and in parts, heavy corrugation. We visited the Park in a 2 seater Troopy with a pop top tent thanks to Boomerang Campers.
WHERE TO STAY
Karijini National Park is an extremely remote destination and resources are limited. It is for this reason that you need to be open to saying farewell to some of your normal creature comforts and hello to camping, red dirt (pindan) and limited showers.
For me, I absolutely LOVE camping. I love the simplicity, the hours outdoors enjoying nature and the quality time spent with loved ones. I find it to be a wonderful opportunity to slow down and notice just how little we really need in our day to day lives.
Dales Campground is the main campground and is located on the eastern side of the Park. It is one of just two campgrounds in the entire National Park where you can stay overnight. There are 140 sites at Dales Campground, all of which are unpowered (the entire NP is unpowered) however certain sections known as ‘loops’ allow generators to be used at certain times of the day. This is the campground that we stayed at during our visit (Euro Loop) and the cost for a site is $11 p/p per night.
The only amenities at Dales Campground are drop toilets, however they are very well maintained. If you’re hot and sweaty after a big day hiking, or you just want to get some of the pindan off, there are showers located at the Visitor Centre which is 12km from camp. The hot showers are available between 9.00am and 3.30pm and cost $4.00.
Dingoes are common around the Dales campground and are regularly sighted. They are known to scavenge for food and may be aggressive. It is very important that you do not feed the dingoes and store food (especially overnight) inside your car.
Bookings are essential for the campgrounds, especially during high season (May – September). If Dales Campground is fully booked, there is an overflow area about 10km away near the Visitor Centre however it is very basic and spaces are limited. Bookings can be made here.
The only other location in the park where camping is permitted is on the western side at the privately owned Savannah Campground at Karijini Eco Retreat. It is about 35km from the Visitor Centre. All of the 64 sites here are also unpowered however generators may be used between 4.00pm and 8.00pm each day. The retreat campgrounds have flushing toilets and hot water showers however they are solar powered so there are no guarantees of it actually being hot. There is a bush kitchen that has seating, a sink and a gas BBQ. Campers are also welcome to make the most of the on site restaurant and bar. If you are relatively new to camping or just prefer some more creature comforts, then the Eco Retreat is the spot for you.
If you’re looking for something a little more lux then glamping in an Eco Tent at Karijini Eco Retreat is the way to go. The Deluxe Eco Tents have a bed, fans, a private ensuite bathroom and an outdoor deck. These tents are very pricey when compared to camping, starting at around $200+ per night.
Another option to consider, depending on your itinerary and funds is to stay in Tom Price and venture into the National Park each day. This isn’t an overly popular option as Tom Price is a 90 minute drive each way however depending on your circumstances, this may be a good option.
HOW LONG TO STAY
I would say that 3 – 4 days is the minimum amount of time to spend in Karijini. There is so much to see and do within the Park and many of the main sights are quite a distance apart from each other. It would be reasonable to allocate one gorge per day to give yourself time to really enjoy the spots you visit, have some lunch, a swim and take some pics. You don’t want to cram your days full and find yourself arriving back at camp after dark, or feeling rushed and like you weren’t able to make the most of the spots you visited due to time.
We stayed for 4 nights and left having not seen everything. In my opinion, the perfect amount of time to spend in Karijini would be 5 – 7 days.
RESOURCES – FOOD, WATER, PETROL & PHONE RECEPTION
There are very limited resources within the National Park including water, food and petrol. There is NO water at Dales Campground so you must come prepared. If you need water, there is a water tower just near the Visitor Centre that contains bore water which must be boiled before drinking. We took about 60 litres of water into the park with us and needed to get about 60 additional litres from the water tower. Between preparing fruits and vegetables, hand washing, washing dishes and drinking water in a warm climate, the amount of water required quickly adds up so take more than you think you will need.
Karijini Eco Retreat has a limited potable water supply so again, it is encouraged to come prepared.
There is no where to source adequate food from within the National Park. There is a restaurant at the Eco Retreat and the Visitor Centre sells snacks however the nearest town for produce is Tom Price which is about a 90 minute drive each way.
There is no where to get petrol within the Park. The nearest fuel station is approximately 80km from Dales Campground at a place called Munjina Roadhouse. The other alternative is Tom Price. We entered the park with two full petrol tanks so didn’t need to get fuel during our visit however this will depend on 1) how long you are staying in the Park 2) what you plan to see and do 3) how you structure your itinerary.
There is full 4G mobile phone reception with Optus ONLY is some parts of Karijini including Dales Campground, the Eco Retreat and the Visitor Centre.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
There is no shortage of spots to explore and they all offer something different. We managed to visit 4 gorges in our 4 days in Karijini and they were all spectacular.
Time frame: 2hrs return (not including swimming)
Distance: 2km return
Class of Trail: Class 3, in some parts Class 4
Dales Gorge is accessible from Dales Campground on foot. The trail literally starts within the campground and continues along the gorge rim. There are several spots to visit within the gorge including Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. Circular Pool was closed when we visited due to rockfalls so we didn’t get to see it. There are two options for the Dales Gorge hike – you can walk along the rim which is an easier walk, or you can head down into the gorge and walk through the middle which is more challenging. Both trails will lead you to Fortescue Falls.
Fortescue Falls is the only spring fed waterfall in the National Park. It’s also one of the most accessible spots to visit as there is a set of stairs that leads directly from the viewing platform straight down to the falls. There’s a beautiful swimming hole at the bottom of the falls that is perfect to cool off in after your hike or for a sunset swim like I did.
Once you are done at Fortescue Falls, the trail continues on just a few hundreds metres to a spot called Fern Pool. It is a place of deep significance in Indigenous culture so it’s very important to be respectful when visiting. Fern Pool is a large swimming hole with a waterfall across the back that you can swim out to. This spot is one of the warmer swimming holes as it is open and exposed to sunlight. This was one of my favourite spots in all of Karijini, it had such a lovely secluded, tranquil feel to it and the water was amazing.
Time frame: 2hrs return (not including swimming)
Distance: 2km return
Class of Trail: Class 4 / Class 5 – as the gorge narrows, the trail changes from Class 4 to Class 5.
Weano Gorge is located within the Weano Recreation Area in the centre of the park. The Weano Gorge trail starts off from the main carpark as the ‘Upper Weano Gorge Trail’ which is a class 4 trail. The trail is a lovely walk and leads you north towards the top of Weano Gorge and then down the steps to the bottom.
As you continue along the trail you will arrive a sign that says ‘Handrail Pool Trail’ which is a class 5 trail. The walk is challenging with large boulders to climb over, small pools of water to either wade through or climb around, and a narrowing of the gorge trail towards the end.
At the end of the trail, you will come to Handrail Pool where you will need to use the handrail to climb down. Use extreme care when climbing down as the rocks are very slippery. Footwear with good grip is an absolute must.
The hike and climb is well worth the (freezing) pool that is waiting for you at the bottom!
Time frame: 1.5hrs return (not including swimming)
Distance: 1.5km return
Class of Trail: Class 5
Hancock Gorge is also located within the Weano Recreation Area and has been referred to as a ‘journey to the centre of the earth’ and it really does feel like it with the steep gorge walls made up of interesting textures and colours. The hike is a short but challenging Class 5 hike that begins with some vertical metal ladders to climb down. As you continue along the trail, you will come to a stony little pool that you will need to wade through. At this point many choose to take off their hiking shoes before continuing which is what we did.
Soon after you will come to a narrow opening through the gorge filled with water that you will need to swim through to get across. You can climb across the rocks on the side however swimming is the easier and safer option. Most people leave their bags on the rocks before swimming through but don’t forget your GoPro!
After swimming through the opening you will come to the famous ‘spider walk’ which is the very last section before arriving at the greeny-blue swimming hole at the end known as Kermits Pool. The spider walk means you use you arms and legs above the water stream below to scale the rocks. When we visited there was only a little bit of water flowing so we walked/climbed our way through. Kermits Pool is AMAZING and so beautiful! The pool receives very little sunlight so it is a chilly swim but well worth it!
Note: reef shoes were an absolute lifesaver on this hike, especially when wading through the stony pools and doing the ‘spider walk’ at the end. The reef shoes provide better grip than hiking shoes on slippery surfaces. A lady doing the spider walk barefoot, slipped and hit her head while we were swimming in Kermit’s Pool. Thankfully she was ok but reef shoes really are a good idea.
Time frame: 40 mins return (not including swimming)
Distance: 400m return
Class of Trail: Class 4 and in some parts, Class 5
Hamersley Gorge is located on the western side of the park and is about 100km each way from Dales Campground. Hamersley Gorge houses the very popular Spa Pool which is by far the most photographed spot in all of Karijini. The gorge is a short 400m Class 4 hike that leads down a series of steep steps into the gorge and the most beautiful swimming hole. As the gorge is very wide and open, more sunlight is able to get in meaning that the water is a little warmer than some of the other swimming spots. Tip: take an inflatable down with you to relax and float through the middle of the gorge down to another small swimming hole.
To the right of the main gorge area, the trail continues up towards the famous Spa Pool. I believe this section of the trail is Class 5 however it was more than do-able, there are just some large boulders to climb over.
You will arrive at another large swimming hole which we found was a lot less busy than the main swimming hole. At the end of this swimming hole you will see Spa Pool. It is a lot smaller in real life than the photos make out but so, so beautiful. It can be a little slippery to get into due to moss and algae on the rocks but most people managed fine. I imagine the Spa Pool can get quite crowded however we were super lucky and had it all to ourselves for almost an hour! Someone had told us the Spa Pool was heated but I can assure it is not, haha, but it is an absolute must see.
That’s all we had time to do during our time in Karijini so we definitely have some spots we’ll need to visit next time. Other spots to visit are:
– Circular Pool – it was closed due to rockfalls.
– Kalamina Gorge – apparently this is a really lovely hike.
– Joffre Gorge – looks amazing in the photo’s I’ve seen.
– Mt Bruce – you can climb to the summit which is best done in the early morning to beat the heat.
That’s a wrap for my guide to Karijini. I hope I’ve covered everything you need to know for your visit. If you have any questions, please let me know & I’ll be more than happy to answer.
Happy holiday planning!