‘Are you sure it wouldn’t be easier to just climb around the outside?’
‘No I wouldn’t do that it looks too hard. I think we’re better wading through.’
Ignoring his advice I stepped up onto a ledge just above the water and easily traversed along the jutting rock. Reaching the other side of the pool first, I watched the rest of my group wading carefully through the water, bags and shoes held high above their heads.
‘Are you sure that wasn’t easier?’
Despite the six and a half hour drive inland from Exmouth, Karijini is worth the trek. Spanning 627,422 hectares of semi-tropical Western Australian desert, Karijini is a stunning collection of gorges and flat valleys carving through mountains and waterfalls all jutting out of 2,500 million year old rock formations. Before heading into the park itself we stopped at the small mining town of Tom Price to stock up food and water and extra petrol as this would be the last chance for the next few days. We took the shortcut down a 50km gravel road and although it wasn’t the most comfortable option, it knocked 100km off the trip and was perfectly manageable in our beaten up non 4x4s. It was a further 75-80km from Tom Price to the Dales Campground entrance of Karijini, a drive that took in the changing landscape from flat to increasingly hilly and mountainous which signalled the approaching park.
It was still early evening when we arrived so instead of setting up camp right away, we drove to the car park above Fortescue Falls and just a short walk down a series of metal staircases and platforms we found the falls themselves. A glassy open pool below a gentle cascade of water in which a number of people were enjoying the late afternoon sun. As there wasn’t much daylight left we opted for one of the shorter walks through the dales gorge, with the promise of the circular pool at the end. The walk itself was not strenuous and easily managed in flip flops. It took us through light patches of bushy undergrowth which lined one side of the adjoining river before opening up into flat ground. The sky was bearing down on us from above, framed by the two sides of the rocky gorge. We hopped across stepping stones and scrambled over boulders which scattered the lush and fertile valley until we reached the point where the two sides of the gorge came together and formed another natural pool. Eager to return to the water we approached the edge. Sadly, on closer inspection the waters’ surface was covered in leeches and so we filled our time instead skimming stones across it. Returning to the car park meant a short but steep climb up one of the sides of the gorge so we all emerged at the viewpoint red faced and out of breath yet still admiring of the surroundings. We spent the night in Dales Campsite, in one of the half moon shaped patches of sand cut into the surrounding bush. With the vivid red earth, occasional dingo and the ever present cloud of flies it was camping at its most Australian.
The next morning we drove to the other side of Karijini, to Hancock Gorge. This walk through to Kermit’s pool had promised to be a bit more active and involve a spider walk through the rocks. The start of the walk took us down a gently sloping hill and back into the landscape of the previous day; a valley covered in small pools and gently running streams, the occasional bush and rock. Encompassed all the while by the two looming faces of the cliffs either side. The path narrowed and it was at this point that we were met with the pool of water which blocked our way. Not deep enough to warrant swimming, but too deep for paddling. Everyone began to take off their shoes before stepping in and holding their belongings high above their heads. I looked instead to the rocky faces either side. One of which had a jutting edge stretching along the length of the pool. I stepped onto the ledge and with my hands resting on the wall face, edged my way across with ease. When everyone else emerged from the water we continued on until we reached a spot called the amphitheatre. It did indeed resemble an ancient theatre. A huge round hole cut into the gorge with tiers of rocky platforms surrounding it.
After this came the anticipated spider walk. A narrow path where the aim is to traverse through with your hands and feet pressed on either side. Even with my lack of height this was possible, but not essential. The whole exercise merely adding to the adventure feel of the whole walk. At this point we hit a dead end. A deep pool in the shadow of the gorge and beyond it a steep drop accompanied with signs of ‘danger- do not pass’. We swam in the pool and jumped off some of the smaller ledges above it, relaxing a bit before the journey home.
Whether you opt for a more adventurous walk or a gentle stroll Karijini offers the dramatic and jaw dropping landscapes Australia is renowned for and is well worth the inland detour on any West Coast tour.