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Australia’s Big K’s - Karijini

Dernière mise à jour : 29 avr. 2022

We’ve all been stuck with the letter “K” in Scrabble, whether in English or French, it is always a challenge to come up with satisfying results. Shame we can’t use names for places. Australia has a ridiculous amount of places whose names start with “K”, one that is only matched by their unique natural beauty.

Whilst Kimba (SA) offered us a lovely silo art mural and the Big Galah, the East-West middle point of Australia cannot compete with the likes of Kalbarri or Karijini National Parks. And we have not yet been to Kakadu not Katherine!

Kimba's Big Galah

Turning our back to the magnetizing “ugliness” of Tom Price, we head towards our next adventure, Karijini National Park, a mere 80 km away. We had already driven along the majestic Hamersley ranges on our way to Tom Price and had a peak into the horizon from the top of Mt Nameless, so we knew the landscape was going to be a tasty appetizer for what was to come.

Planning and travelling around Oz, we get to hear of many places: friends and family, blogs and brochures, fellow caravanners and visitor centres, so many stories about the places visited, the must-sees and –dos. Whilst the exotic names of far-away places might tickle one’s imagination, nothing can really compare to the actual experience.

Karijini. What’s in a name

Think about it for a second. You’ve never been there and have no idea what is awaiting you. What are your expectations like? The Park is the traditional home of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga Aboriginal people. The Banyjima call it Karijini. In the past it was known as the Hamersley range, after some early explorers from the 1860s, and the name still stands for the mountain range and one specific gorge.

Karijini is remote, even for many Australians. The closest city is Perth, 1600 km away. Sure you could choose to take a domestic flight to Broome: 1000 km to drive. Simply put, you have to earn it. Truth is, we almost missed it. We were to get there during the Easter weekend, and of course the two campgrounds were fully booked. They could fit us in 3 days later, so we modified our trip and slowed down up North in Dampier for a few days (great experience).

The two campgrounds are about 80 km apart. The thing is, Australia’s National Parks are big. Karijini is huge. The various places accessible to visitors are pretty spread out, so we had to choose where our base would be and drive around from there. Melissa’s cousins Ange and Rich in Perth were adamant. Go to Eco! Meaning Eco Retreat, and not Dale’s campground. Looked fine to us, so no questions asked. We pulled in, checked in, set up our camp and greeted the resident flies. We cannot remember all their names, there were so many, sorry guys.

Our site at Eco Retreat, Karijini

What are Gorges?

The question nobody really ever asks. You plan to go to these places, and you are told that the gorges are A-M-A-ZING. That’s it. But you are not really sure what you are going to see. We unhitched Yindi and drove to Weano gorge to get a clearer picture. Well, actually when you drive, you don’t see anything. That’s the thing with gorges, you gotta go DOWN INTO them. But the drive itself? Check this out for yourselves.

After 15 km on the (somtimes badly) corrugated dirt road, we park the Ranger and start walking towards the trail head. There, the real (park) ranger meets and warns us that some parts (Hancock gorge) are closed because of the incoming storm for the next day. However, he lets us go into Weano gorge all the way to “Handrail”. At that point, we really had no idea what that meant.

We are not travelling blindly through Australia. We do our work, collect information and make sure we know where we are going. We had the brochures and the maps for Karijini. But here is the genius of WA’s tourism offices: even armed with all these, we were absolutely not prepared for what we experienced. Whilst the various sites of Karijini NP sounded like funny names on paper, you could simply not picture what they looked like. Maybe we subconsciously ignored the glossy photos and just waited out for the real thing.

Weano gorge and Handrail pool

It was 4 pm and the ranger told us the area closed at 6 and that we had it to ourselves (and whatever fauna inhabited it). We made our way to the first lookout and continued down into the gorge.

We were walking along the mostly dry path for about 1 km, before the gorge narrowed seriously. We had to scramble on thin rock ledges and work our way around the water sitting in the middle of the “path”. We had no idea what awaited us a few minutes ahead, when the gorge opened onto the picture-perfect Handrail pool, sitting below us.

To access it, someone conveniently placed a solid metal….handrail. See that’s the thing with Aussies, when a name seems weirdly too common, there is nothing mysterious about it. It is what it is, so they name it like that.

Handrail pool is hands down the place with the highest awesomeness/creative name ratio on earth. I never dreamt of going to a handrail pool in my life, but trust me, you want to get there.

Just us. And the kids (gotta leave some room for improvement). To give you an idea of the mesmerizing effect of this place: the water is not particularly warm, but Melissa jumped in nonetheless. Thus sums it all up.

Dale’s Gorge, Fortescue falls and Fern pool

The next day, we drove to the other side of the park to visit Dale’s gorge. First stop was the visitor centre. First at the door before opening (yes, we are keen), the kids quickly jumped in, found the useless toys on the shelves and started fighting. So far, so good, everything running according to plan. The centre actually has a very interesting and well-designed section explaining aspects of geology and Aboriginal culture. We quickly absorbed all the complex geological facts, pretending it to be homeschooling for the day, and off chasing gorges we went.

Dale’s Gorge started with an easy walk to the lookout over Circular pool, which is not accessible from the ground due to unstable rocks falling. What a view from the top, though.

Next into the gorge, the path gradually became wetter as we moved. This time, other people had heard of Karijini, as we weren’t alone. The rock formations are truly fascinating, and now we have to delete so many photos. Seriously, who wants to keep 200 photos of uniquely similar rock formations? The colours, the reflections, the layers, the shapes…

We first stopped at a deep body of green water lying underneath an inviting tree. The kids were dead-set on jumping in from that tree. Here are the results.

A few hundred meters further we arrived at Fortescue falls, which we recognized from the magazines (and the 50 people already lying on the rocks or swimming in the pool: there was a direct access form the next car park). We magnanimously agreed to share the space and had our lunch and swim to the falls.

Last on the map was Fern pool, a special place for the local Aboriginal communities. This peaceful lush green body of water is topped by a small cascade flowing over a small cave. There were a few people with us, but we managed to a few iconic shots.

Hamersley Gorge and the majestic Finale with a K

Should we stay or should we go? In December, Al (a friend of Melissa’s brother Tim) told us they had regretfully not made it to Hamersley Gorge and now we know why. From Eco, it is 86 km (116 km from Dale’s), mostly on 4WD-only road (which turned out to be fine at 90 km/h). Worth every km.

We got there pretty early, only 2 cars in the car park. The information board shows a map with no real hike, merely a 200 m path to the bottom. Really? We drove all the way to here for this? Well, THIS is a place you don’t get to see anywhere else. First, your eyes meet the folded rock formations.

Then, you slide on the polished rocks at bottom of the gorge, where crystal-clear water flows.

Finally, we see the markings for the short class 5 trail leading to the top pools, an almost-hidden gem. As we enjoyed the place with a few young people and counted are blessings, the tourists started pouring in. Time to leave (as every tourist, we hate it when tourists invade our privacy).

The drive back was yet another opportunity to gaze at the harmonious hills of the Hamersley. How could something so definitely rocky and solid leave this smooth and velvety impression on the eye…

Back at Eco for lunch, we checked whether nearby Hancock Gorge had re-opened. Bingo, off we go again after some relaxing stressful time in the van (schooling for the boys…). This time again, being late in the afternoon, there aren’t many cars at the car park.

We found the trail head, or rather the ladders leading straight down into the deep gorge. The walk is about 1 km before we met the ranger we saw the first day. He was sitting on a rock ledge, waiting to catch a snake spotted earlier (we are talking brown or tiger snake, not the friendliest). We circumvented the dangerous zone as per his instructions and continued our journey, not entirely reassured.

The next sections are familiar to all of those who have watched American Ninja warrior on the telly: first, it requires to put on our water shoes (best 8$ spent at Kmart ever), then walk into knee-high (for Boris, the kids are neck-in) water, uncertain of what the next steps are going to be.

Second, we must walk on the side of the gorge cliff, treading lightly on the narrow strips of slippery rock.

We arrived at a wide opening, aptly called the Amphitheater. Magical feeling. I envisioned giving my future lectures in this space, definitely better suited than the zoom-lecturing-behind-my-screen of the last 2 years.

Third, we got to the infamous Spider Walk part, where the explorers are encouraged to straddle the gorge with hands and feet on both sides of the cliffs. We survived. And we were rewarded with yet another “K”.

Kermit’s pool. We gently let ourselves into the dark green water, not knowing what depth (and other inhabitants) may lie underneath. We had once again escaped alone, deep down into the gorges, to enjoy the fresh little ripples and the giggles of our two young boys.

Why is it called Kermit? It took me some time to get to the bottom of this one. You remember Superman and his eternal crystalline nemesis, Kryptonite? It was bright green. It is no coincidence that we encounter yet again another “K” in this story. Kermit is a particularly bright green krystal only found in the gorge systems of The Pilbara, some hundreds of years ago. It has since long disappeared, but inspired the other K-krystal of Superman fame.

Or maybe this is yet again a case of casual Aussie naming… Some random bloke got to give it a name, saw the bright green colour of the water due to the sun shining through the top of the gorge, and remembered the colour of….Kermit the frog. Choose your story. I like mine better.

Karijini rocks!

These three days were magical. I cannot recommend you enough to go and visit Karijini. Sure, we were lucky with the weather, the rangers, the snakes, the crowds, the water, etc. Maybe what made it so very special was the astonishing contrast with our experience down the road at Tom Price (read previous post). What we noticed all along the various parts of Karijini was the presence of the iron-ore plant (Astroticha hamptonii), unique to the Pilbara. It grows through the fissures in the rocks and indicates high-grade iron-ore deposits. The rocks themselves presented the typical layers of banded iron, showing as dark grey bands made of iron oxide and silica.

The origin of the rocks is volcanic and iron reacted with the sea’s cyanobacteria to form the oxides. The interspersed red and white layer are made of silica deposited in the absence of iron. These rocks have been formed 2500-3500 billion years ago and are some of the most ancient formations in the world. The enormous pressures generated by the sliding plaques have created the folds so obviously visible at Hamersley Gorge. Over the billions of years, other forces of nature have shaped the landscape, the gorges, the waterways and the waterholes.

The Aboriginal culture from many distinct peoples carry the same dreamtime legend: The Rainbow Serpent. The Serpent is the great spirit and force of Nature, the giver of life and the protector through its connection to water. He has shaped the valleys and gorges, filled the rivers and waterholes, where he still lives. The story of the land is best told in dreamtime stories, which we learn more about as we head towards the Kimberley and the Northern Territory.

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