Calling upon all West Aussies! Western Australia is back open for tourism in 2020! Celebrate WA’s success in tackling the COVID19 virus with a road trip up to Karijini National Park. Read on for our comprehensive guide.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted most countries across the globe. Luckily for us West Aussies things here are in pretty good shape, and hopefully, they stay that way!
Thanks to our natural isolation, effective leadership, and a hard-closed border, WA has seen most restrictions lift with a sense of normality returning. Now, the State Government is encouraging city-dwelling west Aussies to venture out and explore our own backyard; to help support local businesses, revive our tourism, and kick-start the state economy.
Life has a funny way of working out. When we created a Facebook Event for “Karijini 2020” in January 2020, little did we anticipate a deadly virus pandemic would rapidly spread across the globe and so rudely disrupt travel itineraries, forcibly re-schedule weddings, spur on break-ups and pregnancies (not consecutively, we hope); and see toilet paper and DIY vegetable gardens become hot commodities. For us, regional border closures seemingly interrupted our Karijini plans for May 31 to 6 June 2020.
Given Karijini was one of the few major Australian parks we had yet to see, we were itching to get up there and explore but travel restrictions still stood in the way. With all hope seemingly lost, WA Premier Mark McGowan lifted the regional border just in the nick of time leading up to our departure date. Success! Karijini was back on!
With a sense of patriotic duty and collective bashfulness about our out of shape (round is a shape?) “iso” bodies, we headed up to Karijini to do our bit for WA and well, to regain our sanity. As a result of departing only a few days after Mark McGowan’s surprise announcement, we practically had Karijini National Park all to ourselves.
What better way to ‘turn off’ a pandemic than by escaping into an ancient, spiritual landscape where you can truly keep calm and carry on. If you are planning a trip to Karijini National Park soon, read on for our experiences and photos of some of our favourite attractions.
As this is a rather long post, you can click on the Table of Contents below to fast-track to the section you are after. And to make images appear bigger, simply click on the photo to enlarge. Happy reading.
Karijini National Park is set in the heart of Western Australia’s Pilbara region, located 1400km north of Perth, and 80km north-east of Tom Price.
Formerly known as Hamersley Range, Karijini is the second largest national park in Western Australia, covering 627,422 hectares just north of the Tropic of Capricorn and consistently ranked on top tourism hotlists.
But what makes a nature-based destination such as Karijini, so special? Its dramatic creeks, cavernous gorges, towering chasms, crystal-clear waterways, and cascading waterfalls are the results of two billion years in the making! That’s right back to the start of Earth’s natural history!
In addition to scaling some of the oldest rocks on the planet, Karijini also hosts a network of walking trails that range from easy to challenging. If you’re up to the challenge, may I suggest Mount Bruce! More on that later.
Karijini’s ancient landscape underneath the Milky Way Galaxy is so mesmerising and powerfully thought-inducing; that you would be forgiven for contemplating the meaning of life, looking to the stars for answers; and thinking about our nomadic ancestors, back to a simpler time. For Adam and I, Karijini was a spiritual retreat – it really reset and recharged us.
Prepare Ahead & Book your Site
If you are spontaneous by nature, then restrain some of that enthusiasm, because Karijini is one rugged place where you can’t just rock up (pun intended) without having booked and paid prior.
Accommodation choices in Karijini are limited. You have Dales Campground (which is most popular and affordable), the Overflow (near Dales), and Karijini Eco Resort for luxury glampers. With campsites in high demand from June to September, check availability and book ahead.
In addition to paying a camping fee per person, per night (pay in full to complete your booking), you will need to pay a park entry fee, per vehicle, or purchase a park pass separately. Don’t skip on this – with volunteer campground hosts and a nearby ranger station, they all check.
A 4WD is recommended but not required, just bear in mind that most Karijini roads are unsealed gravel, graded twice a year. A standard 2WD will be fine, just drive to conditions and don’t take a supercar up there if you care about it’s condition. Caravans and camper trailers are welcome, both in Dales camp and at the Eco Resort.
The best time to visit Karijini is between May and September where the weather is cooler and drier. Average maximum day temperatures remain below 30 ° C. The nights are cool, varying between 15 ° C and 10 ° C.
Pets and campfires are not permitted inside the park and the closest town is Tom Price, 107 km away from Dales campground. Fuel is available in Tom Price to the South West, Newman to the South East and Auski Roadhouse to the North East. The Karijini Visitor Centre is located inside the park and provides educational & cultural information, souvenirs, ice, cool drinks, hot showers, toilets, and a public telephone.
Stay safe, be aware of the risks in Karijini. Always carry adequate drinking water on you and read the signs. Sadly, there have been many accidental and preventative deaths at Karijini. Use common sense and stay away from cliff edges, test water temperatures, and know your limits.
Perth to Karijini – A 14.5 Hrs Drive
Karijini is located a mere 14.5 hours north of Perth. Translated in Aussie terms, that’s “just up the road and then some“, haha.
If you are departing from Perth, you have two route choices – inland via The Great Northern Highway or along the coast on North West Coastal Highway. Due to time constraints, we chose Great Northern Highway both ways, which we found to be a surprisingly busy highway with FIFO workers, cargo trucks, and nightly road trains. Sadly, there are no buzzing bakeries out here, with food options generally limited to roadhouses and petrol stations. Though, Queen of the Murchison Cafe in Cue is lunch-stop worthy!
If you are heading inland, also expect to see plentiful Birds of Prey like the Wedge-tailed eagle feasting on roadkill (try not to hit them!), oversized trucks carrying mining equipment (try not to get stuck behind them!) and quirky gold rush towns that are rich in history, along the way.
Given how dangerous it is to travel on outback roads late at night with wildlife, road trains, and risk of sleep deprivation, it is strongly recommended for travellers to get their rest. With the help of the “Wikicamps” app, we chose a free camp spot along the Gascoyne River.
Dales Campground is located near Dales gorge in Karijini National Park. The campground is in close walking proximity to some of the parks’ more ‘family-friendly’ attractions in Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls, and Fern Pool.
We stayed on Dingo Loop (view the campground map here). Made up of three couples, we chose sites 56, 57, 58 so to be next to each other and away from generators (which are allowed in certain parts between 4 pm – 8 pm). Optus signal can be received at Dales, with Telstra received at Mount Bruce.
Dales is a large, flat, and very tidy, with sites spaced-out appropriately and picnic tables and gas barbecues seen at the nearby picnic area.
A special mention has to go out to the outback toilets at Dales (aka. drop dunnies). They were regularly serviced and maintained exceptionally well with zero smell! Dare I say that Dales’ drop dunnies are some of the best I’ve ever been in. Now that’s luxury, without the price tag.
But the greatest highlight at camp? Dingoes. Yes, little did we anticipate that staying on Dingo Loop would literally mean receiving evening visits from a timid dingo (scavenging for food scraps); as well waking up to sounds of dingoes howling. In addition to a feisty Wag-tail and various bulgy-eyed geckos – these animal encounters truly enhanced our camping experience.
Dales Gorge (Fortescue Falls)
The first gorge we saw once arriving into Karijini National Park was Dales Gorge, as it’s a short walking distance (or 3-minute short drive) from Dales Campground. This is an ideal first attraction to see for those rolling into Dales or the overflow camp later in the day but still want to ‘do something’.
Dales Gorge boasts a 2km Gorge Rim track, Circular Pool as well as the photogenic Fortescue Falls and slightly further up, the Instagram-worthy Fern Pool. Unfortunately, Circular Pool was closed when we were there, but the other two attractions certainly made up for it!
Fortescue Falls is a 20m year-round waterfall that is famous for its natural amphitheater and being the only natural spring-fed waterfall in Karijini National Park. The sparkling waters here are a welcome delight for weary and dusty travellers – and Adam & I made sure to make the most of it while we stayed at Dales Campground nearby.
Dales Gorge (Fern Pool)
Located within Dales Gorge, Fern Pool is just a quick walk up from Fortescue Falls. Famed for its picturesque ferns, its a photoshoot dream!
On the days we worked up a sweat hiking and boulder-hopping, Fern Pool awaited us in the evenings to wash away our dirt and woes; helping us feel human once more. We dived off the jetty and basked under the waterfall, inspecting the mossy cave behind it. And to top it all off, there was the random surprise of free beauty exfoliation services from the local fish.
That’s right – fish exfoliation exists here. I’m giving you the heads up because it freaked me out at first – but if you hang your legs off the jetty and wait, you will start to see hundreds of fish nibbling at your dead skin cells. Apparently people pay for this kind of exotic pampering, so appreciate it?
But the best bit! We had Fern Pool all to ourselves. Was their nudity? Partially. Don’t tell on us. Check out our photos below of Fern Pool below.
Hamersley Gorge (Lower)
Hamersley Gorge is located in the northwest corner of Karijini National Park. Considered the most remote of the gorges, it is an 1 hour and 30-minute drive from Dales Campground.
Don’t forget your camera. Hamersley Gorge is a photographer’s dream with its dramatic displays of colours and textures. The wavy rock folds seen in the Gorge indicate ancient origins where over millions of years, and under immense pressure, rocks were pushed, pulled, compressed, and folded to be the unique shapes seen today.
Hamersley Gorge (Spa Pool)
The wonderful (and elusive) Spa Pool, which you may have seen in plentiful Instagram photos, can be found nestled inside Hamersley Gorge.
Being a hidden gem, to access Spa Pool you need to take the track up into the gorge where the rocks are slanting and very slippery. You will either need to wear grip trainers that you don’t mind getting wet – or go barefoot. We enjoyed discovering this ‘upper’ spa pool and going in for a quick dip.
Though the Spa Pool itself is very small, it is very beautiful. The Dirty Drifters finally got clean here!
Wittenoom (WA’s Chernobyl)
Disclaimer: Wittenoom is a declared contaminated site with asbestos. It is recommended to avoid the area unless necessary. We were passing by en-route to Auski roadhouse for fuel and elected to make a small detour to inspect the area. Remain in your vehicle while driving through this area and keep dust out of the car. We put the air-con on re-circulation and kept the windows shut
After spending the morning at Hamersley Gorge, we drove onward to the infamous abandoned asbestos mine site (and town) of Wittenoom.
Why would you drive to an abandoned, contaminated site filled with blue asbestos, you may ask? Well, Wittenoom has become something of a cult phenomenon since its mine shut down in 1966. Think of it like Western Australia’s version of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster, but much smaller.
The mining of blue asbestos in the area started in the 1930s, which led to a company town being built-in 1947. By the 1950s, Wittenoom was Pilbara’s largest town and into the 1960s; was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The mine shut down in 1966 due to unprofitability and the growing, controversial health concerns of asbestos and dust in the area.
Asbestos tailings, a by-product of the mining process, can still be seen today on the hills surrounding Wittenoom gorge. The blue asbestos was used throughout the town in roads, pavements, car parks, the town racecourse, school playgrounds, and children’s’ backyard sandpits. As for the town itself, it’s mostly abandoned – except for the last remaining resident, that is. A quirky Austrian bloke that you can read about here.
What makes Wittenoom such a compelling tragedy to me are the human faces behind the asbestos-riddled illnesses and fatalities which followed decades later. The hard-working miners, their families, and even children were all misinformed and lied to about the true danger of asbestos for the gain of corporate greed and profit. When you see old pictures of children playing in asbestos sandpits and miners in an asbestos shoveling contest, you cannot help but feel sadness for the people of Wittenoom, the Indigenous, and the landscape itself – ripped apart and just left there, rendering the area unusable.
Our trip to Wittenoom was done in a mature manner; we remained in our vehicles while respecting the area and appreciating its tragic history.
Mount Bruce Summit Hike
The Mount Bruce Summit is a challenging 6-hour return and Class 5 walk to the second highest peak in Western Australia. At 10 kilometers return, you will climb 1235m above sea level (with a 450m change in altitude) to be rewarded with impressive views of a stunningly molded ancient landscape.
We arrived at Mount Bruce car park around 9:30 am. In hindsight, we recommend even earlier. The trail starts off deceptively easy with a comfortable balance between moderate bushwalking but becomes increasingly more difficult once you pass the Marandoo Mine Site, where the trail gets rockier and there is intermittent incline work. It is advised that you use the early morning hours to climb the western face of the mountain.
For me, the hardest part where I felt absolutely exhausted was nearer the end – the final climb to the summit – where you are faced with an incredible slanty incline that feels like it goes on forever. Your glutes will shake, at least mine did. If you don’t arrive to the summit out of breath, collapsing on the ground and in desperate need of a banana, then I tip my hat to you!
We arrived at the summit appropriately 12:30pm and proudly joined other winners by placing a rock on top of this communal rock pyramid as a symbolism of success. The summit views took our breath away, and we enjoyed having 360-degree views of the Hamersley Range and Marandoo Mining Operations.
Departing the summit was thankfully much easier than going up it, and somehow we all had a buzz of more energy to race back to the carpark in record time. We got to our cars at about 4pm.
This was a challenging hike and we are all mighty proud we did it. Thankfully the weather was cool with a nice breeze edging us on. Watch out for sunbaking lizards and snakes; and make sure to have adequate water and snack supplies on you! This really is near a 6-hour return trail, so don’t walk it unprepared!
Telstra reception is available on Mount Bruce, so either check yourself in at Mount Bruce on Facebook or surprise your mum with a phone call at the summit!
No part of the summit trail should be attempted at dark. Fatalities have occurred here.
Weano Gorge (Handrail Pool)
Weano Gorge is one of the more accessible gorges in Karijini National Park and is a 50-minute drive (54.1km) from Dales Campground. It boasts panoramic lookout views, bushwalking trails near a picnic area, and for the adventurists; a boulder-hopping descent into its famous Handrail Pool.
Handrail Pool is the draw card for Weano Gorge because it entails you having to literally hold onto a rail as you climb down a steep cliff; so to get to the hidden watering hole and its chilly water.
With Weano Gorge conveniently located near Hancock Gorge (which rivals Handrail Pool with its very own stunning cavern watering hole called Kermits Pool) – these two gorges can be done together easily in one full day.
Hancock Gorge (Kermits Pool)
After Weano Gorge, we quickly refreshed ourselves back up at Weano Recreation carpark before starting the nearby Hancock Gorge. For the fit and explorative, Hancock Gorge is a challenging treat.
After descending a series of solid metal ladders to the gorge floor, you are required to wade through cold pools, clamber through stony creek beds, and carefully side-step on rock ledges while hanging onto gorge walls!
To continue further into its hidden cavernous abyss, you need confidence and flexibility to do what is called “the spider walk” through a narrow steep bit, before you are rewarded with the photogenic Kermits Pool.
Joffre Gorge (Joffre Falls)
Joffre Gorge is a 34-minute drive (40.1km) from Dales Campground, located within walking distance from Karijini Eco Resort. Showcasing a stunning natural amphitheater with a spectacularly curved seasonal waterfall, its step-like cliff face makes it enjoyable to boulder-climb and scamble as you descend down towards its dark pools.
Drive Home – Big Bell Ghost Town
After departing Karijini National Park and a brunch stop in Newman, we embarked on the drive home with a unique camp spot in mind for the night: Big Bell Ghost Town, a near 6-hour drive (567.5km) from Newman.
Located not far from the town of Cue, Big Bell Ghost Town was once a hive of activity back in the early 1900s, back when the Big Bell Gold Mine was in production. Established in 1936, the town and mine thrived for 20 years before closing its doors and ‘abandoning ship’ in 1955.
Unlike Wittenoom, there is thankfully no asbestos found in Big Bell Ghost Town, so you can safely explore ruins on foot. Its flagship icon is the Big Bell Hotel, where its exterior beckons you to peek inside at the remains of its bar – said to have been the longest bar in Australia back in its day.
We camped near Big Bell Ghost Town for the night. As campfires are not permitted in Karijini National Park, we thoroughly enjoyed creating a campfire here; and admiring its red flames underneath the stars.
Boringly enough, nothing spooky happened, though a wild horse (brumby?) did wake us up in the early hours with its wheezing before galloping off.
Have you Been to Karijini?
Have you been to Karijini? If so, what were your favourite experiences? Don’t be a stranger – leave us a comment below and we will reply!
Thanks for reading this exceptionally long article – yep – I really outdid myself this time. Take care, wash your hands, and happy camping!
xx Tahnee xx
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See our Insta pictures below of our trip – press right to scroll through them!