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The Story of the Karijini Gorges
A sea that became a range. A range carved into gorges. Gorges became home to the first people of this country. A home invaded for settlement. A settlement built on indentured servitude. A land reclaimed for the people. The rust-red Karijini gorges tell an important Australian story.
One day the range here and the rust-red gorges that carry its story will all become sea again. Before they do discover the magic of one of Australia’s most beautiful and iconic landmarks, the Karijini Gorges in the Karijini National Park.
Our own Karijini story was almost a non-starter. After dealing with car problems in the port city of Karratha for two weeks, we didn’t really feel up to traveling hundreds of kilometers into the interior of Western Australia for a look at a national park we hadn’t heard too much about.
When we mentioned this to friends or other travelers that had witnessed Karijini before, they assured us we would be making a huge mistake.
So, a little reluctantly, we packed into the car, hopeful the ‘death wobbles’ had been sorted by the local mechanic, and set off on a trip through the mining lands of the Pilbara. We were off to find a desert oasis. Deep red gorges and cool waters of Karijini.
What we found was one of the most beautiful places we have ever experienced and one that should be included on everyone’s Western Australia bucket list.
Before you set off into the wild to discover your own Karijini story discover everything you need to know before you experience the Karijini Gorges.
Where is Karijini National Park Australia
Karijini National Park is located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The Pilbara might be most widely known in Australia as the ‘engine room’ of the Australian economy. It is home to iron ore deposits that fuel the country’s mining economy.
But before that, it has long been a place of deep cultural and historical significance to the first people of Australia. Karijini is the traditional home of the Banyjima, Kurrama, and Innawonga Aboriginal people. Evidence of human occupation here goes back 20,000 years.
It is also home to one of the most spectacular and oldest geological formations found anywhere in the country.
Reaching Karijini is no easy feat and takes several hours’ drive from the closest “cities”. The closest major centers are Karratha (500 km) and Port Hedland (335 km).
You can access Karijini along public roads or by applying online for a permit to travel over the Rio Tinto access roads. These roads service the Rio Tinto private railway which carries thousands of tonnes of iron ore, on trains three kilometers long, from the mines of the Pilbara to the seaport of Karratha. Applications are made online by completing an online safety course.
The closest airport is Paraburdoo with direct flights only from Perth.
Guide to the Karijini Gorges
Perhaps not as famous as some of its contemporaries like Kakadu or Uluru, Karijini is just as ancient and equally impressive. There is a range of incredible formations and waterways to explore throughout the park and a variety of experiences on offer.
The gorges of Karijini may be some of the most impressive gorges in all of Australia. Forged over millennia from some of the most ancient rock ever recorded in Australia are found within the mighty red gorges here.
Hamersley Gorge is located on the western side of Karijini National Park and is accessible only via an unsealed road.
One of the most popular gorges in Karijini Park, it is easily accessed via a 400-meter walk down some steps into the bottom of the gorge.
The cool water makes its way through a series of fissure-like portals and waterfalls before widening into a small creek that cuts between two great gorge walls.
First, scramble upstream to the top pools to find the iconic spa pool.
Once your return downstream, have a go swimming through the narrow gorge on your left. If you can bear the freezing temperatures, swimming through the narrow gorge walls is a particular highlight.
There are some flat rocks, to relax and sunbathe on. Take a picnic and enjoy a few hours in this special gorge.
Dales Gorge is located on the eastern side of the national park. The best way to experience Dale’s Gorge is with the 4-km loop taking in views of the gorge from the escarpment as well as from the gorge floor.
From the car park, walk along the escarpment first before descending to the gorge floor for the best views.
After taking in the gorge from the escarpment above, descend into the gorge to walk up the creek that meanders between Dales gorge. See the spectacular Fortescue Falls from below. And don’t forget to stop by the Karijini fern pool 300 meters upstream of Fortescue falls
Hancock Gorge Karajini and Kermits Pool
One of the most impressive gorges in the Karijini gorge network is Hancock Gorge, in particular, Kermit’s Pool.
Although it is only 1.5-kilometer this walk is a challenging adventure, requiring scrambling and wading through water to reach Kermits Pool.
The hike starts with descending steep stairs to the gorge floor. From here, the fun begins as you hike deeper and deeper into the gorge system. Choose to scramble along the gorge wall avoiding the freezing cold waters or plunge into the depths of the gorge waters to reach your final destination.
The further you explore into Hancock Gorge the narrower the gorge walls become and the more challenging the hike. The reward, however, is simply stunning. Beautiful blue waters flow through the red limestone gorge walls as they must have done for millennia, carving intricate patterns on the rock wall.
Recognizable by the stunning waterfall that is the focal point of Joffre Gorge, this gorge is yet another of Karijini’s impressive gorges. The hike takes you along the escarpment before descending into the belly of the gorge via a steel staircase.
Once at the gorge floor, you will be required to wade through a pool of water to reach the expansive amphitheater with a beautiful waterfall cascading down into the gorge.
Knox Gorge is one of the least visited, but in our opinion, one of the most underrated gorges in Karijini. The best views of Knox Gorge are not from the lookout but from the scramble down into the gorge itself. The challenging, two-kilometer hike begins with a descent down a steep staircase to the gorge floor. Take care when descending to avoid slipping on the loose rocks.
From here you can explore the chasm. Still, pools reflecting the deep blue sky, ancient red rock and strange trees that have found a home in the cool oasis make for an interesting environment.
Continue up the gorge for about 1 kilometer, before reaching a ‘do not continue’ sign, past which proper canyoning gear is required.
The walk should take around one and half hours and the climb back out of the gorge will get your heart rate up.
Weano Gorge, located in the Weano Recreation Area, is one of the most accessible gorges in Karijini. The national park breaks the walk up into two sections, Upper Weano Gorge and Lower Weano Gorge, both of which can be completed as a loop. The entire loop is approximately 2 kilometers and should take you under an hour.
When we visited access to Handrail Pool was closed. The 1.5 return trail to Handrail Pool is classified as Class 5 and requires boulder and rock scrambling to reach the end.
The least accessible of all of the Karijini National Park gorges is Kalamina Gorge. On a stretch of unsealed road, Kalamina Gorge requires a 4WD to reach but you will be rewarded with stunning beauty and fewer tourists making it all the more worth it.
Kalamina is the shallowest of all of the gorges so the descent to reach the gorge floor is not as difficult. The entire gorge walk is 3-km and should take between 1.5 – 2 hours to complete.
Map of Karijini Gorges and the Karijini National Park
Other Things to do in Karijini National Park
Learn about the Local History at the Karijini Visitor Center
The Karijini National Park Visitor Center is an attraction in its own right. The architecturally designed building takes its form from the goanna, a sacred animal to the local Banyjima Aboriginal people. It has also been built to withstand the bushfires that are a regular feature of this region.
Inside the striking building is a museum dedicated to the story of Karijini. Static and interactive displays reveal the geology, flora and fauna, and the aboriginal history of Karijini.
The visitor center is an amazing cultural and historical significance of the region and a nice way to spend an hour or two in the hotter part of the day.
Conquer Mount Bruce
Hikers, trekkers, and bushwalkers will enjoy the nine-kilometer out and back trail to the Mount Bruce summit. See Karijini from a totally new perspective from Western Australia’s second-highest mountain.
The walk can take between three and five hours and includes some steep sections. Because of the high daytime temperatures in Karijini and the beautiful scenes at daybreak. Setting off an hour or two before sunrise is highly recommended.
Take head torches, warm clothes, and plenty of water.
Camping at Karijini
Camping at Karijini National Park may prove difficult if you are like us and like to book at the last minute. Campsites in Karijini are often booked out weeks in advance.
There are only two campsites within the national park itself. The Karijini National Park camping is located in the eastern section of the park at Dales Recreation Area. The other Karijini camping is located in the western section of the park at the Karijini Eco-Resort.
Karijini offers basic camping at Dales campground located in the eastern section of Karijini National Park. With 140 campsites, this large Karijini camping area is accessible to all types of travelers with 2WD access and pit toilets.
Spots here, however, fill up fast so booking ahead of time is imperative. The national park does open up an overflow approximately 10 km away from the Dales Recreational Area. When we visited, the overflow was open and was really just a dirt parking lot, so it’s best to book Dales Campground early!
Dales Camp Ground Karijini Camping Fees
Camping at Dales Campground costs $11 per person per night.
Camping at Karijini Eco-Resort includes solar-powered showers and a bush cooking facility available for use. Karijinin Eco-Resort is a great base for exploring the Weano Recreational Area in Karijini National Park.
In addition to unpowered campsites, the Karijini Eco-Resort also offers cabin and safari tent accommodation. Each cabin and safari tent includes an ensuite for extreme comfort and luxury in this natural wonder.
This eco-resort also has an on-site restaurant as well as bush cooking facilities.
Karijini Eco-Resort Camping Fees
Camping here costs $22 per person per night.
Camping Near Karijini National Park
If you are looking for Karijini camping accommodation that is free (or if the Karijini camping areas are full) you will be glad to hear that there are a few camping areas on the outside of Karijini where you can base yourself for exploring the stunning Karijini gorges. There are plenty of wild camping opportunities around the perimeter of the park. Some of the best spots are the Albert Tognolini lookout and the area outside the park’s western entrance.
Albert Tognolini Rest Area
On the north-eastern edge of the park, you can find one of the most scenic rest areas in the country. The sweeping views from the Albert Tognolini lookout make for a beautiful campsite.
Address: Albert Tognolini Lookout, Juna Downs WA 6751, Australia
Wild Camping Near the Western Gate
It is also possible to camp for free just outside the park’s western gate. Heading toward Karijini from Tom Price along Karijini Drive, there is ample space for wild camping on the left-hand side before you reach the park entrance. This campsite is close to Mount Bruce if you are planning to get an early morning hike in there.
Other FAQs for Exploring Karijini National Park
Do I need a national park pass to visit Karijini National Park?
Like many of the national parks in Western Australia, a national parks pass is required to visit. These can be purchased in advance online as a holiday pass ranging from five days to four weeks or an annual pass. Alternatively, you can pay the entry fee to Karijini National Park at either of the two entrances to the national park in cash.
How Much are Karijini National Park Fees?
Day Pass: $15 per car, $8 for seniors, and $8 for motorbikes. Day entry passes are available at park entry points.
Annual Pass: $120 per vehicle (includes most parks in WA, some exclusions apply).
Is the Karijini Drive Sealed?
The main roads in Karijini National Park are sealed, however, depending on where you want to go you could find yourself on an unsealed road. Joffre Gorge, Knox Gorge, and Hammersly Gorge are all located on an unsealed road.
Is Water Available in Karijini National Park?
There is a water tower at the national park near the visitor’s center, however, this water should be treated before consumption.
Water is also available for those staying at the Karijini Eco-Resort.
Do I need a 4wd to visit Karijini National Park?
With the exception of Kalamina Gorge, all of the Karijini gorges are accessible with a 2WD. While some of the Karijini attractions are only accessible via unsealed roads, you can easily make it there with a 2WD however, the trip may be a bit more enjoyable in a 4WD.
Where is the Closest Fuel Station to Karijini National Park?
The closest fuel station to Karijini National Park is in the town of Tom Price if you are on the southern end of the national park or at Auski Roadhouse if you are headed north along the Great Northern Highway.
Are There Crocodiles in Karijini National Park?
Karijini is too far inland to find crocodiles. You won’t find either the aggressive saltwater crocodiles or the more timid freshwater varieties. There are other reptiles like goannas, skinks, and pythons throughout the park.
How Long Should you Spend in Karijini National Park?
A full (active) weekend will allow you to see most of the major sites in the park. However, you would need 3 or 4 days to properly see and experience everything on offer here. Furthermore, you could easily spend a week or more getting to know this incredible place.
Hopefully, you have found some helpful information for your own adventure amongst the Karijini gorges. But, if you have any questions or comments be sure to leave them below.
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