Happy New Year to you all! Before it gets colder back in Europe, here I am to deport you back to summer and the magical land of Karijini National Park. After traveling through Australia for more than half a year, many Australians ask me what my favorite place in the country is. Always a difficult question to answer because so many spots have stolen my heart, Exmouth and its amazing beaches, the north of the country and its magnificent gorges and animals (crocodiles, hello!), the warmness and laid-back attitude of the Australians or the long scenic rides that keep changing every 100 km. Getting past the beauty of Karijini national park, however, has not happened yet. Let’s say it might even have become my new Flores. The east of Australia might be the most visited side of the country, but the side that will leave you dreaming for years to come is the west.
Nestled land inwards between Port Hedland and Exmouth, close to the small and surprisingly green town of Tom Price you will find one of Australia’s hidden pearls. Ask most Australians themselves and they will never have heard of it, so you’re getting it firsthand (with a couple of thousands of yearly tourists) here! The closest I’ve gotten with most of the Aussies that I’ve met is, “Oh yeah I think I flew over it”. So yeah, so not that close. Honestly I have no idea why this amazing park does not appear on most people’s radar. The fact that you will be driving about four to five days from Darwin and at least three from Perth might have something to do with it (and that’s only if you skip all the amazing spots on the way, which you’re not allowed to do). But even when you’re starting in Perth or Darwin, it is well worth the trek. No beaches, sorry, but there are rivers, walking trails, adventure paths into those gorgeous gorges, waterfalls, silver trees as far as the eye can see and so much more, but no crocodiles, no not even a freshy (aka a freshwater crocodile, also known as the near harmless ones).
Before I bombard you with photos to prove my point, here are some more practical tips. You don’t necessarily need a four-wheel drive to access this park (like I would recommend for parks such as Kakadu and the Kimberlys) but you will need a lot of patience driving over long corrugation roads to get to the top gorges. If you don’t want to risk anything on your station wagon or van, rent a four wheel drive for two days in nearby town Tom Price. That being said, I would recommend spending at least four days in this park (of which the first or last two can easily be done with a normal car). Don’t make the same mistake as us, Australia newbies at the time, and get fuel up before you get into the park. The closest fuel stations from the park are the roadhouse 60km from the visitor centre and the nearby town Tom Price that is about 100 km from the visitor centre. Here is what we did!
Arriving in Karijini, travelers that we are, we didn’t do our research. Therefore, we started off at the visitor centre, picked up a useful map and tips about what we could and could not do with our station wagon. As we were planning to rent a four wheel drive on my birthday and the day after we wanted to take visit the spots easily reached by sealed roads. In this way we could build our itinerary in ascending order, breathtaking in the beginning and “fall over, is this even possible?” at the end. Dales Gorge it was, an easy path to start off and some necessary water to dive into as it was still quite hot. Not expecting too much for this popular destination for families we were truly surprised by the blue water in both Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. Perfect to ease into the park, the bats that line the edges of Fern Pool, the playground that are the edges of Fortescue falls and the shaded walk to Circular Pool are attractions you will not want to miss. If you’re just as lucky as we were, you might even get to see two lizards in mortal combat and some cockatoos that are relaxing in the trees.
The last day of my 27th year on this planet and the day we were climbing Mount Bruce, the second highest mountain in Western Australia. To say that I was ready to stop after only the first hill would not be a lie. I would love to be an exercise lover, but I simply am not. Physical exhilaration? No thanks, I’ll pass. But passing up on climbing my first mountain in Australia was also not an option. If my Estonian, Spanish and Finish girlfriends could do it, so could I. Two and a half hours and about three attempts to quit later, we passed patches of the brightest purple flowers, all of the four smaller hills that you have to walk over (I know, 4!) and one time that I was actually convinced that we had made it, only to see the track continuing, we reached the top. I got the impression that not too many people make it to the top which is strange because it is definitely worth it. If you go, which you should, try and take off on the hike at 7am to avoid most of the heat and take plenty of water and snacks. This is after all a 1.234 m mountain that we are talking about and you will be walking for four to six hours depending on your level of fitness (we took four hours to up and down including a nap on the peak).
My birthday and the day we were renting a four wheel drive from Tom Price. If you wish to do the same thing, call around, possibly in advance. Prices tend to differ greatly between the companies and be sure to check out Budget, they tend to have the cheapest prices (about 160 dollars a day and have wonderful service). Collecting our 4WD with awesome orange mine light included (you’d be surprised how much fun you can have with a light on top of your car) and we were off to Hamersley Gorge in the north of the park. Even if you haven’t heard of Karijini, you’ve probably seen this image of below waterfall come by on Pinterest. It is the waterfall at the top of Hamersley Gorge that is way smaller in real life than on photo, but nonetheless stunning.
Fortunate as we were upon arrival, we got approached by two locals (thanks again guys!) who showed us a path to a secluded gorge right up from the popular gorge on the indicated path. It requires crawling through a little bush and climbing down some rocks which is well worth the effort as there is a possibility of having the gorge all to yourself. Just walk down the nonexistent path next to the toilets and follow it all the way to the end. At some point, you will see a drop and find yourself totally secluded in the midst of one of the most remote regions in the world. Maarja, my Estonian friend, and I decided to go explore this hidden pearl. I’m still happy that we did because being here was the best gift I couldn’t have given myself for my birthday.
Ending our solitary adventure we joined the rest at the popular gorge down the beaten path (although you can’t really call anything in this park the beaten track). Make sure to have a swim in between the escarpment (the walls of the gorge) and last but not least, climb over on the waterfall or start from about halfway the pathway, where you’ll find this famous little waterfall. Well hidden as this stream of water is, you will have to find your way to it by climbing over rocks and down small hills. Finding it was the highlight of my day, especially because we decided to have a sneaky jump in the water with the rest waiting for us at the top. Hey, birthday privileges right? And this was just too beautiful an opportunity to pass up on, pure happiness!
Saving the best for last is always my favorite plan of attack. The Weano Gorge Day Use Area contains several walks that have epic names such as the Handrail Pool and the Spider Walk. Most of these walks are grade 5 walks, meaning that they can be challenging at times. Think scaling the walls, pretending you’ve gone full on Spiderman (heights included) or wading through water. Walks that will get the adrenaline pumping but will not give you a heart attack -promise- and every single one of them well worth it. Completing all the walks in the Weano Day Use Area and adding on Joffre Falls and the Knox Gorge as we did can take up to two days. We did it in one and I have to admit I wouldn’t have minded spending a whole day in the Weano area and then taking my time to do Knox (aka best view in the whole park) and Joffre the next day.
So it’s up to you, spend the absolute minimum of four days like we did or submerge yourself even more in this magical land and spend a full week! You won’t regret it for a second.