• Cooling off in Circular Pool. Tourism WA.
    Cooling off in Circular Pool. Tourism WA.
  • Peering down into the gorges of Karijini NP. Tourism WA
    Peering down into the gorges of Karijini NP. Tourism WA
  • Hamersley Gorge. Tourism WA.
    Hamersley Gorge. Tourism WA.
  • A gorgeous panorama of Karijini NP. Tourism WA.
    A gorgeous panorama of Karijini NP. Tourism WA.
  • Joffre Gorge. Tourism WA.
    Joffre Gorge. Tourism WA.
  • The ladder down to Hancock Gorge. Ian Smith
    The ladder down to Hancock Gorge. Ian Smith
  • Spider Walk – though others dared the level 6. Ian Smith
    Spider Walk – though others dared the level 6. Ian Smith

Want to know what it's like to scramble through ancient canyons like Knox Gorge? You'll learn a thing or two at Karijini NP.

Karijini is one of the largest national parks and arguably one of the most spectacular in WA. However, one thing you learn about travelling in this state is that wherever you’re going, it’s bound to be a long way from anywhere else.

Karijini fits nicely into that scenario. It’s over 300km from either Coral Bay or Port Headland. Our main goal was reached when we parked at Oxer Lookout, near to where four gorges – Joffre, Weano, Red and Hancock – intersect. No individual photo can do justice to what you can see around Oxer. We took some shots anyway and camped the night, then descended into Hancock the next day.

School's in
To access Hancock Gorge you descend via a twisting trail and down a ladder. En route afterwards we had to dip into the creek up to knee level but it wasn’t as cold as I’d read about. Since I’m over 60 and my partner Bob is in his 70s, there’s no reason the average walker can’t get to the Amphitheatre. On the way back I found a route climbing over the layers of iron ore strata, thus avoiding the water entirely.

Places like the Amphitheatre and Spider Walk were known to us and we walked a level 5 trail but stopped at level 6 – do not proceed unless you are qualified – where the Spider Walk begins. It’s a canyon only 2m wide at the base where you have to straddle the causeway to move into Kermit’s Pool. We heard there used to be a large python at the Amphitheatre but a woman inadvertently sat down on it and it latched on to her. This didn’t endear it to her boyfriend who couldn’t prise the jaws apart, and so he took matters further, much to the detriment of the snake.

Late in the day we drove around and visited the top of Joffre Falls, where the soft light reflected pastel shades in the shallow pools. It contrasted with the brighter colours at the very top as the late afternoon sun highlighted the iron oxide in the soil and the white gums put on a brilliant display.

Play time
At dawn the next day we got ready for Knox Gorge. There was a magnificent tree we had noticed from the lookout the previous evening, hanging tauntingly above a pool and seeming like an exceptional photo opportunity. As we ate our breakfast a ranger and companion appeared. I listened in to their conversation and overheard one saying that “some people say that Knox is the most beautiful of all”.

If we weren’t already excited, that certainly stirred the blood. Water bottles and cameras at the ready, we set off in the direction of down. There is no formal trail but a worn one that you can’t miss and we were joined by a guided tour of backpackers as I paused to take a snap.

At the bottom, 99 percent of tourists turn left. To get to the tree we turned right. For hours we walked in wilderness few have seen and, yes, we found the tree and between us took over 50 shots, just of the tree. Here, as much as anywhere, the contrasting colours of the Pilbara were outstanding. There is no marked trail on this route and I would label it level 4, although I suspect the Department of Environment and Conservation would label it as a 5.

At times we had to scramble up some rock layers where the way seemed initially impassable but there was also an option to take to the water, something I didn’t want to risk with my camera. Cliffs untouched by humans shone bright ochre red in the sunlight while on the other side they were dark iron. The eucalypts splayed their brilliant white across the foreground.

Our cameras clicked incessantly as we filtered our way upstream, at one time passing by a tiny waterfall that trickled through a patch of vegetation made lush by the constant flow. Yet how tenuously did the roots cling to the almost barren rock. There were moments when the scene was duplicated in the still ponds that lined the stream bed. It’s something you hope you’ll see but, even when you’re there, you find it hard to believe. The overpowering nature of the colour is mesmerising; we continually shook our heads at just how stunning it was.

After a couple of hours we turned a corner and there were scree slopes either side, prior to a T-intersection 200m further on. We dallied here for about half an hour before making a conscious decision to have a crack at one of the slopes and thus shorten our return trip, although it would mean walking the lawn of the apocalypse, also known as spinifex.

The scramble, an appropriate name if ever there was one, began and we edged our way up the rough rock, being surprised halfway to see a patch of daisy-like flowers with butterflies. We paused from time to time for liquid replenishment and reflected that there were probably more people who had ascended Mount Everest than had been here.

We made the plateau and headed off in what we assumed was the direction of the motor home. It turned out we were right except we hadn’t added in the factor of a side crevice that we had to circumvent, a diversion that led us past the best combination of termite mound and gum tree I have seen.

School's out
It had been an immensely satisfying experience but, sadly, it was to be our last here as we had terrible luck with two flat tyres, couldn’t get replacements and had to leave. We headed for Port Hedland, although en route we stopped at rocky outcrops, just as we had on the way there. We took photos of places like Obstinate Creek and others without names, but they are few and far between. One unnamed range I climbed had a view from above that gave a wonderful idea of the vastness of the place. As my mate Bob is wont to say, “it’s the scale of the place”.

More info: parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

Words and photos_Ian Smith

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