Wet & wild in Karijini: Gorge Out on this Red Rock Playground

Lost in a labyrinth of soaring red rock, Karijini adventurers quickly lose their shoes to shimmy along twisting waterways and plunge through sculpted chasms into tantalising, ‘dare-me’ waterholes. 

In Western Australia’s vast spinifex-covered interior, this wet and wild destination turns hiking on its head. Here, trails quickly disappear and hikers become barefooted rock-hoppers, shuffling through streams and leaping into the abyss of secret spa pools, hidden from view. 

Exploring Karijini’s seven rugged gorges is no walk in the park, and that’s why thrill seekers love it! Far from the ocean, 1600km out of Perth and surrounded by a sea of endless red dirt, Karijini demands a serious road trip. But every single kilometre of blacktop and razor-sharp ironstone is well worth the ride, and here’s 6 reasons why…..

Spider Walk Hancock Gorge

The fun begins at Weano Recreation Area, down-climbing a long steel ladder that drops you into the gorge. Follow the swiftly flowing ‘trail’ to the Amphitheatre‘s pretty waterfall and lose those shoes. 

Next up (my favourite bit) is the Spider Walk. This narrow, water-filled chasm is where you brace your bare feet against the highly polished rock in a crazy-scary stance, and shimmy along above the stream. 

Splash through the next watery chasm or climb high above it to reach Kermit’s Pool’s lurid green, unfathomable waterhole, then take the trail’s ultimate, daring plunge into the deep.

Hancock Gorge (Class 5) is recommended for agile walkers, so be your own judge and allow three hours for complete the 1.5km return trip. If this adventure sets a new benchmark for fun, head next door to Weano Gorge for an equally challenging wet walk to hidden Handrail Pool.

Get Wet in Weano 

Don’t be fooled by the gentle trail that lures walkers into Weano Gorge. Within minutes you’ll be splashing through pools and searching for footholds as you shuffle along skinny rock ledges. 

All too soon, soaring rock walls open up to reveal a stunning amphitheatre that cradles the uber chilly Handrail Pool. At this precarious point there’s nothing left to do but leap. Plunge over the waterfall’s edge and swim to the end of the pool for more rock jumping fun. In between dips, warm up on sunny rock slabs, gazing up at the tiny wedge of blue sky above.

Do Dales

Standing on the edge of Dales Gorge, a gaping abyss drops suddenly and swiftly away to fill fern-fringed Circular Pool, far, far below. To close the gap, a steep, rocky staircase leads you down into the gorge to rockhop upstream and slip into this clear, jade-coloured oasis.  

Maidenhair ferns and fig trees feed on the mist and in the early hours when Circular Pool is all yours, you can float about, fling yourself off slippery boulders and chill beneath the paperbarks before following the flow slowly downstream. 

A kilometre away beneath fractured red cliffs at the other end of Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls cascades over two tiers of weathered rock terraces that whip the water into a flurrying cascade. Flying foxes roost above nearby Fern Pool, and every pool is rejuvenating – all day long. 

Get Lonely 

Another unbeatable adventure awaits at Kalamina Gorge where you can bathe in shallow pools beneath towering rock walls, then follow a trail of sorts downstream. Crisscross the gorge around shallow pools and fallen boulders to Rock Arch pool with its remarkable window in the rock that very few travellers see. With a Class 3 rating, this is a moderate endeavour but the seclusion will have you dragging your heels (3km/3hrs return). 

Adjust your Altitude

In a state not known for its great mountain peaks, Mount Bruce (Punurrunha) offers rare altitude, elevating walkers to 1235 metres over five hours. Tackle the hike over winter when rain triggers the bloom of vibrant purple mulla mullas and tiny Pilbara pebble mound mice built their miniature homes trackside. Close to the top, chains bridge some rather airy climbs to put you on the summit (9km return).

Chase a Sunset

If what you crave from the Karijini experience is a lonely, stellar sunset, save an afternoon for Hamersley Gorge in the park’s far northwest. The swimming hole alone is worth the trip, but it’s the end-of-day play of light on Hamersley’s beautifully buckled walls of vibrant, striped rock that will have you rapidly filling your memory cards. 

If what you crave from the Karijini experience is a lonely, stellar sunset, save an afternoon for Hamersley Gorge in the park’s far northwest. The swimming hole alone is worth the trip, but it’s the end-of-day play of light on Hamersley’s beautifully buckled walls of vibrant, striped rock that will have you rapidly filling your memory cards.

If the rugged down-climb over sloping rock slabs into Hamersley Gorge doesn’t put you off, pick a path upstream to Spa Pool and The Grotto, a magical, fern-fringed chasm tucked into the left-hand side of the gorge that few visitors dare to reach. 

Close to Karijini Eco Retreat, lookouts at Junction Pool and Oxer showcase one of the park’s best views. Here, Weano, Hancock, Red and Joffre Gorges all join forces, 100m below stunning red terraced cliffs. Junction Pools’ flaring red rock walls are particularly vibrant at sunrise and set, and you can tackle the paved access track in under 15 minutes. 

Essentials: 

Karijini National Parkis located 400km off the North West Coastal Highway via Tom Price. Park entry costs $13/vehicle. 

National park campsitesat Dales Gorge cost $13/adult/night ($3/child). Karijini Eco Retreat (www.karijiniecoretreat.com.au) adds hot showers to the mix for $20/adult (plus plush safari tents too). Camping is free at the more distant Hamersley Gorge (toilet, picnic shelter and free, solar-powered Wi-Fi all provided). 

Visit during winterfrom May to October, and arrive in early June to walk with blooming wildflowers (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au).

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