Karijini National Park is one of the largest jewels in Western Australia’s crown land. Its iron-rich red gorges, waterfalls, crystal clear water and bushland date back millions of years.
Karijini is the second largest national park in the state, set within the Hamersley Range, 1,400 km north of Perth. The rugged landscape varies from the massive Mount Bruce to vast plateaus. But it’s the incredible deep gorges that sees 10,000 people a year travel there to experience.
Our party of three families spent a few days at the majestic Mt Augustus (read about that trip here) before heading north to see the Karijini gorges. The Department of Parks and Wildlife classify each of the gorge trails to help decide which ones are right for you.
Class Two – well defined walks with some steps and gradients are gentle.
Class Three – defined trails that may include steps but surfaces may be loose or uneven. Some short-steep sections.
Class Four – trails are moderately difficult with variable surfaces that require a good level of fitness. Gradients may be steep and there may be natural obstacles including rocks and shallow pools.
Class Five – trails are difficult and require a high level of fitness. Minimal trail markings, steep sections and vertical drops are present. Expect large boulders, pools of water, slippery wet rocks and narrow high ledges.
5 Gorges to Visit in Karijini National Park
It’s hard to choose but here are five of the best gorge walks in Karijini.
Joffre Gorge was quite the introduction to Karijini National Park. After setting up the camper trailers, Joffre Gorge was a short walk past the termite mounds in Karijini Eco Retreat. The late afternoon sun hit the far wall and lit up the gorge as we peered over the cliff. Half our party scrambled down into the natural amphitheatre of Joffre with its island of crushed rock. Most of the walk is a Class Four but a section towards the bottom becomes a more challenging Class Five. There are slabs of rock and narrow ledges need negotiating along the pool. Follow the arrows to lead you the safest way down.
Later in the trip we drove to the other side of the gorge to the lookout. The metal platform suspended over the edge of the cliff is the best spot to appreciate the height of the falls, which don’t flow all year, and the curved walls that create the natural amphitheatre. Walk around the gorge rim to experience it from all angles.
Lookout – Class 2, 100 metres, 10 minutes
Gorge Walk – Class 4-5, 3 kilometres, 2 hours return
Hancock Gorge is one of the most photographed gorges in the park. The allure of Kermit’s pool, small falls and narrow passes make for a rewarding and spectacular hike but also one of the most difficult. It is best left to those walkers who have a high level of fitness and experience. From the edge of the gorge, you follow a series of metal ladders to the gorge floor. After wading through cold pools, you need to clamber along rock ledges and stony creek beds. The gorge then narrows to a point where the only way through is to spider walk with arms and legs straddling the gap to move along the walls. Check out Kermits Pool and prepare to head back.
The park doesn’t allow visitors past Kermit’s Pool without a registered guide or an accreditation to abseil on natural surfaces. They named Regan’s Pool below Kermit’s Pool in memory of an SES volunteer who died in a flash flood while rescuing an injured climber.
Gorge Walk – Class 5, 1.5 km, up to 3 hours
Dales Gorge is popular with three main attractions to enjoy including Circular Pool, Fern Pool and Fortescue Falls.
We started at Fortescue Falls taking the short but steep walk from the carpark. The spring-fed waterfall is the only permanent one in the national park and offers a big pool often in the sun for swimming. After walking down the falls and on to the other side away from the carpark, we took the trail to Circular Pool.
The 2 km walk had changing flora and plenty of fauna to check out. There were steps along rocks and over gaps that kept the walk interesting. They describe circular Pool as vertigo-inducing because its walls are so high. As hot as we were after the walk, the shaded pool water was cold and only half of the party ventured in for a dip. A series of steep stairs from Circular Pool takes you to the top of the gorge and a walk back to the car.
Later we returned to Fortescue Falls and after taking the handrail staircase down, we turned right for an easy 10 minute walk to Fern Pool. The spring-fed pool is picturesque and it’s easy to see why the wooden platform is one of the most popular swimming locations in the park. The circular ledge has a small waterfall where delicate Maidenhair ferns grow close to the water’s edge. The local Aboriginal people ask that visitors enter the water quietly at Fern Pool and Circular Pool.
Fortescue Falls car park to Falls – Class 2, 800 m, 1 hour to swim and explore
Fortescue Falls to Circular Pool – Class 4, 1 km, 2 hours
Fortescue Falls to Fern Pool – Class 4, 1 hour to swim
We were keen to check out Handrail Pool so we set off on a leisurely walk from the start of Weano Gorge. As the gorge narrows its Class 3 status changes to a Class 5. We walked along ledges and over rocks as far as we could before taking off our shoes to wade through the cold water to reach Handrail Pool. Some people change into booties to wade through but it’s possible to walk in bare feet over the pebbles and rocks. We didn’t go past the handrail before wading back through the water. Rather than hiking all the way back we took the steep stairs to the top of the gorge.
Nearby is Oxer Lookout, the place where four stunning gorges converge – Weano, Hancock, Red and Joffre. The views of the enormous red walls, green foliage and pool below are stunning. Early mornings and evenings are even more spectacular when the sun deepens the ochre rock faces. The walk between Oxer Lookout and Junction Pool Lookout is an easy 800 metres.
Upper Weano, Class 4, 1 km, 45 minutes return
Lower Weano, Class 4, 1 km, 1 hour return
Handrail Pool, Class 5, 1.5 km, 1-3 hours
Oxer Lookout to Junction Pool Lookout from Weano Recreation Car park, Class 2, 800 metres, 30 minutes
One of the more challenging trails in Karijini, Knox Gorge requires some fitness to scramble over rocks and walk along ledges. After leaving the car park, head to the lookout then down into the gorge. To the right is a swimming hole surrounded by paperbark trees and to the left is the start of your adventure. The basin starts out wide and then narrows to ledges on either side of the wall. Look out for the fig trees that grow from the gorge walls. At one point the trail does a 90 degree turn to the right and the trail becomes a narrow ledge that needs negotiating with your feet and hands.
To keep your shoes dry, follow the trail as it passes over stepping stones to the left and right sides of the gorge walls. The gorge appears to come to a dead end but there is a narrow slot to squeeze into. Some people find it easier to climb the wall of the gorge a little and then drop then use hand holds in the rock to scramble out. Not much further on and the narrow trail becomes a restricted access area. During the warmer months a tour company takes intrepid visitors down the four metre long natural waterslide. The almost vertical ascent back up the gorge looks daunting but slow, steady climbing gets you back to the top.
If, like us, you think the walk sounds too hard, visit the Knox Gorge Lookout. From the lookout you can see a gorge wall that curves around a bend in the river.
Knox Gorge, Class 5, 2 kilometres, 3 hours
Knox Gorge Lookout, Class 1, 300 metres return
Handy Information About Karijini National Park
Looking for information about what’s available in Karijini and how to stay safe?
Accommodation at Karijini
There are two campsites within Karijini – Dales Gorge Campground and Karijini Eco Retreat. Dales Gorge Campground has a quiet camping area and one that allows limited use of your generator. There are bush toilets and barbeques but no showers.
Karijini Eco Retreat has deluxe eco tents, cabins and unpowered sites at Savannah Campground. Flushing toilets, barbeques and solar powered showers are available. They allow generators between 4pm-8pm. The closest town is Tom Price, which is 60 kilometres away from Karijini.
Karijini Road Conditions
There is a western and eastern entrance to Karijini National Park. From Tom Price, the western Bajima Drive is closest to Karijini Eco Retreat, the Hancock and Weano Gorges. From Newman the eastern entrance is closest to Dales Gorge and campground.
While 2WD cars can visit Karijini, a 4WD makes for an easier drive. Caravans and camper trailers are also welcome. Most of the gravel roads are in fairly good condition but can be corrugated at times. There is no petrol or diesel available in the park and very limited food supplies. You should shop at Tom Price or Newman before heading into the park.
Staying Safe in Karijini
Karijini has a tragic past. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred from falls, ledge collapses, flash flooding, snake bites and heat exhaustion. Karijini is remote and rescues take hours to mobilise. If you are walking anywhere remote in the park or on your own, tell someone what time you expect to return. Mobile phone coverage is not available.
Even the water in the gorges poses a risk. Some pools are so far down they don’t see the sun. If you are there in winter, the water can cause hypothermia so don’t jump or dive straight in. If it rains, leave the gorge.
Carry plenty of drinking water at all times of year. Take a small backpack big enough for your camera, water and a snack. Some gorges require you to have both hands free to climb. The nights and mornings are cold in winter so wear light layers of clothes you can easily remove as you heat up on a walk.
Karijini with Kids
There were some reservations about taking our 3-year-old son. While we knew he wouldn’t run off and would hold our hand, there is the risk of the adult slipping. I did some research and emailed a Karijini ranger who responded with handy information about the gorges and their classes.
Sometimes the gap was too wide for a 3-year-old to jump across and the dads had to pass him along. Fortunately, there were no injuries to anyone in our party of 14… if you don’t count the adult who tripped on the tent opening one night.
Before you head off, pick up a copy of the Karijini National Park Topographic Map which has a satellite image of the map area on the reverse. The image shows roads, buildings, mining infrastructure, dams and points of interest – everything a tourist would want to know about the area.