You know sometimes someone tells you about this amazing place they went where they escaped the stresses of modern life and finally felt at one with the power of nature amidst the primeval scenery. And then you take the weekend off to get there and it’s a mozzie-filled, over-run crack in the earth with algae-water at the bottom, half the size of the adjoining car park and surrounded by otherwise completely unspectacular landscape. Sometimes you need to take a step back, think for a bit and rationally persuade yourself to appreciate the beauty of what lies before you. It looks like a boring stone but it’s a 1 billion year old stone, so give it some kudos. Sometimes people need to tell you their weekend was spectacular, so they don’t feel like they’ve wasted it. Sometimes people think everything’s amazing. Sometimes people are underwhelmed by ‘the thing to do’, but are too afraid to sound negative if they don’t rate what other people en masse have proclaimed their ‘best day ever’.
Different people have different tastes and it’s hard to know if you’re going to genuinely like something before you actually go and experience it for yourself, especially if you’ve never heard of it before. No reviews on Trip Advisor? Surely there’s a reason everyone prefers this famous spot over the unknown one… Well, dear reader, if you are still with us after 2 years and 77 blog posts, then we hope you’re tuned into what we like, and this reflects on some level the stuff that you like. So, we’re going to make a bold but confident assumption. If you don’t mind getting a little scruffy, sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold and definitely wet, if you enjoy the great outdoors and like climbing around on stuff, then, if you’re not positively blown away by Karijini National Park, by God, we’re going to eat our hats. Dangling corks and all.
You may be surprised to learn that roughly 110 million years ago, Australia was half covered by an ocean called the Eromanga Sea, that stretched right into the Red Centre and split the continent into 6 large islands. The presence of this sea explains the discovery of marine reptile fossils like the Plesiosaur or the Kronosaurus as far inland as Richmond, western Queensland. Crazy huh? This inland sea is also the creator of the layers upon layers of different coloured sediment that make Karijini’s steep cliff faces look like pieces of 100m high, oh-so-yummy, gloriously streaky bacon.
Karijini is about 1 long day’s drive from Broome (named after 1880’s Governor of WA, Sir Frederik Broome, not a brush on a stick), inland from the Australian North West Coast in the middle of mining country. 627,442 hectares are declared National Park, which is lucky as otherwise the still small mine right in the park’s centre could have swallowed it up by now. Karijini is also one of the very few places on our travels in health & safety conscious countries where you have a real chance of dying if you don’t pay attention. Where other law-suit-paranoid attractions will shepherd visitors inside a child proof safety pen route and spell out the thermal nature of hot beverages available next to the overpriced gift shop, Karijini declares you an adult who can respect instructions and take responsibility of your own physical well being.
We scaled down through four of its gorges – scrambling over huge rocks, wading though chest deep water, hanging off smooth rock faces and basking in little pockets of sunlight. Each trek was unique. Joffre Gorge has an incredible 360 degree 100m high bowl at one end that you enter though a narrow corridor after wading through a stream fed by a giant S shaped waterfall. Weano Gorge’s bowl half way down is filled with water, and you have to clamber down a narrow crack at the top of the waterfall with a handrail for safety. Dales Gorge is a beautiful 1 hour walk through a botanical garden like river bed, from a mystical perfect circle pool (aptly named ‘Circular Pool’) to a wide cascading waterfall at the other end that provide nature-made sunbeds alongside the aquamarine waterfall pool. And Hancock Gorge (which is pictured above), lets you climb through the heart of the red rock to magical Kermit pool, and like a giant nature-made game of Tomb Raider, the part beyond Kermit pool is only accessible via abseiling.
And this is the most stunning part of Karijini. The rock is smooth and perfectly human size, making the whole place look like it was constructed (like a computer game) to be just right to scramble around. The cliffs are super-high, the colours are breathtaking, this place looks like a postcard from every angle, and you’re right in the middle of it. Never mind that you have some of the clearest night skies on the continent to marvel at the milky way whilst you listen to dingoes howling in the distance. Never mind that you can spot red kangaroos, wallaroos, echidnas, geckos, goannas, bats, birds and snakes (including pythons!) in between the wild flowers, ghostly white snappy gums and metre high termite mounds. Scaling through one of these gorges would make your jaw drop any time, and Karijini has more than 10, all with well marked descent routes and safety instructions.
Make sure you take shoes and clothes that can get completely wet (as in: you go swimming in them), a dry bag for your camera (that you can swim through a lake with), sunscreen and bug spray. You can camp or stay at the eco retreat, but remember there is no electricity (except at the reception building) or phone signal. Make sure to not enter a gorge too late to come back out again well before sunset, check the weather report and if it starts raining get out as quickly as possible as flash floods have killed people. Only hold onto solid rock (not trees that can snap!) and be amazed as you remember clambering around the world that was an adventure playground when you were a kid. Here’s the thing: it still is, and Karijini is one of the best places on the planet to re-discover this.