Having driven the full circle around Australia, I often get asked what my favorite place to visit in Australia is. This is a tough question! The amazing beaches, the outback and its magnificent gorges and animals (crocodiles, hello!), the warmness and laid-back attitude of rural Australians, or the long scenic rides that keep changing every 100 km! In my heart, I know the answer is Karijini National Park in Western Australia. With Exmouth and its Ningaloo Reef, Kakadu National Park, Uluru National Park, and the Great Barrier Reef as runners- up. In this article I dig into everything you need to know about Karijini National Park, what the best Karijini Gorges are, where you can camp in Karijini, and give your a full 4-day Karijini-itinerary!
Karijini National Park can only be described as the world’s best playground for adults and kids alike. Every gorge seems to be more beautiful than the previous and you can spend days and days exploring the amazing national park without getting bored! I still savor every day and night spent in this breathtaking Western Australian National Park. The East of Australia might be the most visited side of the country, but the West will leave you dreaming for years to come.
Karijini National Park: My Nr 1 National Park In Australia
Nestled land inwards between Port Hedland and Exmouth, close to the small and surprisingly green town of Tom Price you will find this Australian hidden treasure, Karijini National Park. Ask most Australians themselves and they will never have heard of Karijini National Park. So you’re hearing it here first!
Over the years, I hear more and more about this breathtaking location, but still only from people that have actually visited the National Park. Honestly, I have no idea why this amazing park isn’t more popular! 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 those driving times are only possible if you skip all the amazing spots on the way, which you are definitely not allowed to do!
Whether you’re traveling up or down the west coast of Australia, make sure to put Karijini National Park on your bucket list!
So what makes Karijini National park so special? No beaches, sorry! What Karijini does have to offer is breathtaking gorges, walking trails, adventure paths, waterfalls, silver trees as far as the eye can see and so much more.
A Short History of Karijini National Park
Karijini National Park is located in Australia’s North West, just above the Tropic of Capricorn in the Hamersley Range which is located in a larger area called the Pilbara Region. A region that on its own is already twice the size of the United Kingdom. Western Australia is a big place!
Karijini National Park is home to some of Austalia’s oldest rock formations which started to form over 2500 million years ago! The name Karijini is the Banyjima name for Hamersley Range, which means ‘hilly place’. The traditional landowners of Karijini National Park, the Banyjima, Kurrama, and Innawonga people, are still present in the area today. Evidence of their existence there dates back to more than 30,000 years ago. I have always enjoyed listening to the stories told by the communities that know this land better than anyone. I encourage you to learn about Australia’s First Nations people when exploring their beautiful country.
Do You Need a 4WD for Karijini?
Karijini National Park is divided into two sections, one that is accessible with a two-wheel-drive car and another section that is best accessible by four-wheel drive. That being said, most people that are traveling by two-wheel-drive cars are able to visit the majority of the park. As most of the road are unsealed, you will have to drive slowly across the corrugated roads.
If you want to use the time you have in the area optimally, I recommend traveling down the Western part of the park by 4WD. We chose to see more in the time we had and rented a 4WD at Budget Australia to tackle the dirt roads in the park (we traveled around in our 2WD for the other two days). We ended up being super happy with our beast for the weekend (that also happened to be my birthday weekend) and the person who helped us was absolutely wonderful. Avis Australia also offers car rentals out of Tom Price and the local airport, Paraburdoo Airport.
Does Karijini National Park have Crocodiles?
If you have been traveling through Australia, you may have heard of these creature that try to ruin all of the swimming fun in many Northern Australian locations: Crocodiles. If you had a chat to a local in those areas, you may have even heard that they swim with one kind of crocodile, but not the other. What? That’s right, it tends to be fine to swim with freshwater crocodiles, but NEVER with saltwater crocodiles.
That being said, there are no crocodiles in Karijini National park to worry about. The park is located too far land-inwards to worry about saltwater crocodiles and there are no freshwater crocodiles found in the freshwater rivers either. So carefree swimming all around!
Karijini Gorges & Walking Trails
2WD or 4WD accessibility of Karijini Gorges
The main reason to head out to Karijini National Park is the Karijini Gorges! After having traveled the majority of Australia, I can guarantee you that there is nothing quite like the Karijini gorges!
Deciding which of the Karijini gorges to visit might be the hardest part of planning out your Karijini Itinerary. The park is divided sites that are accessible in either a 2WD or a 4WD track:
- 2WD accessible gorges: Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool & Mount Bruce are all easily accessible with a 2WD car
- 4WD accessible gorges: Hamersley Gorge, Weano Gorge Day Use Area, Joffre Falls, and Knox Gorge are best accessible by 4WD, but might be doable with a 2WD if you drive slow. You can also rent a vehicle from Tom Price at Budget or Avis.
Once you decide which gorges you can visit with your vehicle, I recommend considering your fitness level next. All Karijini gorges are divided in trail grades from 2 being the easiest to 5 being the toughest. The park also has a 6 zone that is only accessible with a ranger. This makes the magic of Karijini National Park accessible to almost everyone with a sense of adventure! For detailed information, make sure to read the Karijini National Park brochure and check with the latest information provided by the visitor centre.
Karijini Walking Trails
Class 2 Trails
These walks are very easy with marked pathways and only a few steps. They are perfect if you are traveling with small children, people with disabilities or anyone who considers themselves less fit. The walks included in this class are
- Mount Bruce Marandoo View (500m from the parking area)
- Gorge Rim between Circular Pool Lookout and the beginning of the Fortescue Falls Track
- Joffre and Knox Lookout
- Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts
Class 3 Trails
On the class 3 walks in the Karijini gorges, you are expected to have a basic level of fitness. Expect some steps, unpaved trails, etc. The following hikes are classified as class 3:
- Honey Hakea Track at the base of Mount Bruce
- Fortescue Falls
- Oxer Lookout
- Upper Weano Gorge
- Hamersley Waterfall
Class 4 Trails
This is where it gets fun in my opinion. The class 4 trails are mostly located in natural environments with limited paved trails. For these trails, I recommend that you are comfortable with heights, that you consider yourself quite fit (you will be going in and out of the gorges) and that you have a good appetite for adventure! Karijini hikes that are included in the Class 4 trails are:
- Circular Pool
- Dales Gorge
- Lower Weano Gorge
- Hancock Gorge
- Kalamina Gorge
- Hamersley Gorge
Class 5 Trails
Almost all of my favorite parts of Karijini National Park were located on Class 5 trails. These trails sometimes require a good deal of rock climbing, uphill hiking, going through water, etc. The park describes them as “Mostly indistinct trails through undisturbed natural environments. Terrain is rough. A high level of fitness is required. Users must be prepared and self-reliant, with advanced outdoor knowledge. Weather can affect safety“. I recommend that you use your common sense on these hikes and take plenty of water and snacks along with you! The hikes included in class 5 are:
- Mount Bruce Summit
- Knox Gorge
- Joffre Falls
- Hancock Gorge
- Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge
4-Day Karijini Itinerary
Karijini National Park is the second biggest National Park in Western Australia. That means that there is A LOT of ground to cover. I highly recommend spending at least 2 days in the park. And possibly 4-5 days if you have spare time! I have written down our own carefully planned 4-day Karijini itinerary for your easy use!
This itinerary is set up based on the two different entryways into Karijini National Park: the east entrance close to the visitor centre and the western entrance that leads to Hamersley Gorge. As the park is so big, I would recommend clustering together closeby gorges so you save time and fuel. Also, consider where you are sleeping each day as the driving distances can be large between the gorge you visit that day and your Karijini campground.
Day 1: Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool
I always start trips to a new National Park in the visitor centre. They will be able to provide you with the latest map and information on the park, inform you of any road closures, and give you all the necessary basic information. This was crucial for us as we didn’t really do our research before heading in and had to drive straight back out to fuel up first in true traveler-style.
Because you’re already close to the visitor centre, you can start by visiting a few of the easy peasy gorges first and take in your first sights of the park. This also works perfectly as the park only gets more beautiful as the gorges get more and more spectacular.
Dales Gorge is an easy path all the way through leading to a nice pool to jump into. Karijini National Park is basically a desert area so regular swims will be needed all throughout your visit! 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.
Bats line the edges of Fern Pool and signify that you are truly in a wild part of the world. Explore the edges of Fortescue falls and enjoy the shaded walk to Circular Pool. If you’re as lucky as we were, you might even get to see two lizards in mortal combat and some cockatoos up in the trees.
A visit Dales Gorge is a must on your Karijini itinerary due to its special meaning to the original landowners. You are more than welcome in these areas, it is asked to swim in the areas in a respectful manner, reducing excess noise and not climbing up on the walls of Fern Pool. Fern Pool (originally known as Jubara), in particular, is a very special location as it used to be a birthing pool. Australian Geographic mentioned that “the Dreamtime Creation Serpent lived here after writhing from the coast through the Pilbara landscape to create the region’s waterways”.
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.
Day 2: Mount Bruce Summit
Mount Bruce (originally known as Punurrunha) is the second-highest mountain in Western Australia at 1,234 meters. In contrast to Fern Pool, the indigenous people of the area consider Mount Bruce as a men’s place. At the time of hiking this mountain, I was NOT a fan of exercise, but I was able to hike it and it was the first of many many hikes after that.
After two and a half hours and about three attempts to quit, we reached the summit of Mount Bruce. While this is not an extremely difficult hike, there is a lot of up and down as the trail to the summit consists out of hiking across 4 smaller hills leading to the summit. One time I was actually convinced that we had made it, only to see the track continuing.
Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with great views and, if time your visit right, a whole heap of beautiful purple wildflowers (they bloom from June to October). A small note here is that the other side of Mount Bruce is a mining site. Not the most beautiful view on that side, but it does remind you that Karijini National Park is located right in the middle of Western Australia’s mining area.
If you plan to hike Mount Bruce, here are a few tips to make your hike go smoothly:
- Try to leave as early as possible. We left at 7 am to avoid the midday heat.
- Take plenty of water up the hike.
- Plan for lunch at the summit and at least two snacks for the way up. 2,5h doesn’t seem like a long hike, but it is mostly uphill and the temperatures rise fast in this area.
- Expect to climb a 1,234 m mountain and a total hiking time of 4-6 hours depending on your level of fitness (we took four hours to up and down including a nap and photo-op on the peak).
Day 3: 4WD tracks & Hamersley Gorge
Day three and the day of my birthday! It was time to pick up our rented 4WD and explore Karijini’s dirt roads! Our destination of today? Hamersley Gorge in the north of the park. The small waterfall, known as Spa Pool, at the top of Hamersley Gorge is one of the most iconic images of the national park. Spoiler: it is much smaller in real life than most of the photos make out. But it is gorgeous regardless.
You can find the Spa Pool by climbing halfway up the waterfall or hiking back up the trail and cutting across. It is not the easiest waterfall to find and requires some climbing over rocks. Finding it was the highlight of my day, especially because we decided to have a sneaky jump in the cold water with the rest waiting for us at the top. Birthday privileges right? And this was just too beautiful an opportunity to pass up on, pure happiness!
The actual gorge and Hamersley Waterfall are a popular destination for most visitors due to its famous little waterfall. Despite the great distance it takes to drive here, it is an easy waterfall to visit with only class 3 and 4 hiking trails. The escarpment (the walls of the gorge) that lines Hamersley gorge is beyond spectacular and worth every second of your time.
If you are keen for a bit of extra adventure, two locals told us about a secret secluded gorge right up from the popular gorge on the indicated path. Thanks again for the hot tip guys!
To get to the secluded gorge, we were given the following instructions and successfully found it.
- Walk down the nonexistent path next to the toilets
- Follow it all the way to the end.
- At some point, you will see a hole in the rock wall
- Crawl through the wall and you’ll see a bit of a drop to get through to the other side of the escarpment
- You will now find yourself in totally secluded in the midst of one of the most remote regions in the world!
The path will require crawling through a little bush and climbing down some rocks, but it is well worth the effort as there is a possibility of having the gorge all to yourself. Be very careful as this is not an official track and getting hurt here could pose a great risk (keep your eyes open for snakes as well). I’m still happy that we decided to explore this hidden pearl. It was the best gift I could have given myself for my birthday.
Day 4: Weano Gorge, Hancock Gorge, Joffre Falls, and Knox Gorge
Save the best for last is always my favorite plan! On our final day of adventuring is a busy one! First, we head to Weano Gorge and Hancock Gorge. These gorges are home to epic hikes such as Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge) and the Spider Walk or Kermit Pools in Hancock Gorge. I didn’t get any photos of the Handrail Pool as most of the walk was too deep in the water for my camera and I didn’t have a GoPro at the time. But I hope the many photos I took of the Spider walk will be plenty for you to get keen!
Most of these walks are grade 5 walks, meaning that they can be challenging at times. If you do not consider yourself physically fit or willing to climb over rocks and walk/swim through water, this might not be the place for you.
If you are more adventurous, these gorges are the most fun you’ve ever had! You will be going full Spiderman to scale some of the walls and wade through water to get to the other side. This is a day filled with epic adventure! These walks get the adrenaline pumping like no other and every single one of them is so well worth the effort.
You can easily spend a whole day only exploring Weano and Hancock Gorge. But if you are limited on time, I would recommend the Handrail Pool and the Spider Walk. That will give you enough time to get to the lookouts of Joffre Falls and the Knox Gorge. Make sure to not skip the Knox Gorge lookout as I consider it one of the most spectacular views in the whole park.
If you have extra time, I would recommend adding an extra day on top of your Karijini itinerary and discover Joffre Falls and Knox Gorge more thoroughly. Each hike is Class 5 and will take around 3 hours each.
So it’s up to you, spend four days as we did, or submerge yourself even more in this magical land and spend a full week! You won’t regret it for a second.
Karijini National Park Accommodation
The only way of visiting Karijini National Park is by staying overnight. It is simply too far from anything else to do a day trip there and back (unless you go by helicopter or something crazy like that). Staying in and around Karijini National Park, you have a few options: camping in or around Karijini National Park, staying in the Glamping tens of Karijin Eco Retreat, or staying in one of the ‘nearby’ Tom Price accommodations. Keep in mind that if you stay in Tom Price, you would need to drive the full 60km to the park every day and head to your destination. Therefore I would only recommend Tom Price Accommodation for your first and last night.
Karijini National Park allows you to camp in the national park on two different accommodation sites: Dales Campground and the Karijini Eco Retreat. There are no free campsites in Karijini National Park.
Your third Karijini camping option is staying outside of the national park on one of the rest areas. When looking for legal, but free, places to stay overnight, no app beats Wikicamps (get it on iPhone). As you can see on the below Wikipedia print screen of the Karijini map for free and paid campsites, there are quite a few campsites in the area. This means that you will have to drive in and out of the park on a daily basis, which is what we did (I think that we overnighted at Albert Tognolini Rest Area but can’t recall for sure). Remember that there are generally no facilities on free campsites and that taking your rubbish with you is best practice.
Dales Campground is located on the Eastern side of the park, not too far from the visitor centre. It is located in the Dales Gorge area so it provides very easy to get access to the hikes in Dales Gorge, Fern Pool, Fortescue Falls and Circular Pool.
There are 140 campsites available, some of which close to a generator for power and others farther away in the peace and quiet. The facilities on the campsite itself are quite basic with only a drop toilet on offer. If you want to have a shower, you have to head to the visitor centre and pay for it there. Last I checked the price for an adult was only $11 per person.
Karijini Eco Retreat
The privately-owned Karijini Eco Retreat offers both camping and glamping tents. It is an ecologically friendly and environmentally aware retreat located at Joffre Gorge on Weano Road closer to the center of the park. That means that staying here will save you time when visiting Weano Gorge, Hancock Gorge, Knox Gorge, and Joffre Falls.
The retreat uses solar power to power their campsites and facilities. They have campsites, luxury eco-tents, and dorm-style cabins alongside group accommodation. Karijini Eco-Retreat offers quality showers and flush-toilets so this is definitely the most up-market camping spot you can find in the area.
Even if you are not staying here, pass by and have a look at the restaurant and campground. It is truly unique how they were able to set up such accommodation in such a remote part of the world. You can see the bloggers of Flying The Nest explore Karijini from the tents in the Karijini Eco Retreat below!
Karijini National Park Tours
I visited the park with a friend’s car, but there are tours that offer trips to Karijini National Park. Australia’s North West website mentioned quite a few tours here and Tripadvisor can also be used as a guide to choosing a good tour.
How to Get to Karijini National Park
Karijini National Park is not one of those places that you pop out to visit. It usually tends to be visited as a part of a larger Western Australia road trip, either driving South or North alongside the Western Australian coastline.
Perth to Karijini via Exmouth
Driving North from Perth, there are many great stops that deserve your time: Kalbarri National Park, Coral Bay, and Exmouth to name a few. You’d be crazy to not take your time in each of these fantastic locations.
To get to Karijini, you go land inwards from Exmouth, and turn off the highway shortly after Nanutarra onto road 136 which will lead you to Karijini National Park.
Expect to drive around 2,000 km between Perth and Karijini National Park. How long this will take you will completely depends on how long your stops are in between. If you are driving straight, maybe consider traveling through the outback. From Perth, you can drive in the direction of Mount Magnet and your drive will be reduced to 1,362 km and a 2-3 day drive.
Broome to Karijini via Port Headland
The other way most people will come in is from the North. Along this drive, the most noteworthy stop is 80-Mile Beach about halfway through the drive. The drive is only 919 km, but then you have to make it to Broome first! I remember completing the whole drive in three days, but you can do it in two if you choose not to stop in Port Headland. We camped once on 80-Mile Beach and once alongside the road close to Karijini NP.
Fly into Karijini National Park
As Karijini National Park is located right in the middle of Australia’s mining country, there is an airport to get all the workers in and out. Flying from Perth into Paraburdoo airport and hiring a car at Budget or Avis is the fastest way to get to Karijini National Park. It’s actually also pretty affordable if you consider how much you would be spending on fuel just getting to Karijini.
Tips for Driving & Exploring Karijini National Park
There are a few things in mind when visiting the national park regardless of the vehicle that you are traveling in:
- Fuel up before going into Karijini National Park. THERE ARE NO FUEL STATIONS in Karijini National Park. The closest fuel station is located in Tom Price and is about 60km away. Bringing a jerry can of extra fuel is therefore a good idea!
- Buy plenty of food before heading into Karijini National Park: There are no supermarkets locating in the National Park. Make sure that you buy enough supplies to last you for a few days. Don’t forget to bring extra food in case you get stranded with your vehicle and need to survive until help comes.
- Have plenty of drinkable water available at all times: Getting enough drinkable water also needs to be organised in Tom Price. I like to calculate around 10l per day per person + extra for the car. This is plenty in case you need to use water for the dishes and for cooking. Karijini is a place with plenty of adventure, so you will be thirsty! I mentioned extra water for the car. This is extremely important to have onboard if your car overheats. I would personally choose drinkable water for this purpose as well in case you get stranded and need to stay put until help comes along.
- Do not attempt Karijini without Car Insurance and Road Side Assistance: Karijini National Park is a remote location! These roads are desolate and could potentially not have phone reception. Make sure that you are fully prepared for any worst care scenarios with the car, especially things such as flat tires, overheated cars and getting stuck on the side of the road for an undetermined amount of time.
- Get Travel Insurance: I’m repeating myself here, but Karijini is a remote location full of grown-up adventures. The reason why is it is so fun is also the reason why you could get hurt. There is swimming, cliff jumping, hiking, rock climbing, etc. Always check your travel insurance before you head out. Trust me, you do not want to pay for a repatriation to the nearest hospital out of your own pocket!
- Do not drive at night: Karijini National Park is a wild part of the world and we need to keep it wild. There is a lot of wildlife that calls Karijini National Park home so please make sure you don’t injure any wildlife. If you do hit an animal, pull over when it is safe and assess whether the animal can be saved or not. If the animal is too hurt to survive, it is your job to make sure the animal does not suffer. If you hit a kangaroo, make sure to ALWAYS check the pouch. Joeys can survive for days in a pouch when their mum has passed and basically suffocate to death. If you’ve found injured wildlife, call the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055. Read more about what to do here.
- There are no rubbish bins in Karijini National Park: What you bring in, you must bring out, even when staying in Karijini Eco Retreat.
- There is a year-long fire ban in Karijini National Park: The land is particularly dry and fires can spread very quickly.
- Dingoes are common around Dales Campground: Pay close attention to food at all times, lock up food at night, and do not leave children alone in the area.
- There is next to no mobile coverage in Karijini National Park. Therefore I always download the needed maps on Maps.Me first.
Need more inspiration for a Western Australia road trip?
- Put the Best Beaches of Western Australia on your bucket list
- Read how I felt arriving in Perth right after driving from Darwin to Perth
- Traveling to the Kimberley’s or the Gibb River Road? Put Geiki Gorge on your to-do list!
- Watch my Australian road trip video recapping my first work-holiday in Australia
Planning a trip to Karijini National Park? Don’t forget to pin!
Disclaimer: This post was first written on January 4th, 2016, and was updated in July 2020 to contain more helpful information. The old title to this article was “The Magical Land Of Karijini National Park (+ A Four Day Itinerary)”. This post contains affiliate links which means that I will earn a small commission if you buy something or book a hotel. This comes at zero extra cost for you and is a way to support me and the blog. Thank you!