Karijini National Park, in the Pilbara region in the north of Western Australia, is a spectacular place to explore, and should be on the bucket list for anyone who loves nature’s beauty. There are many absolutely stunning gorges and water holes to explore, which are hidden oases in stark contrast to the seemingly unending dry red dirt landscape.
The 14hr drive north from Perth, takes at least two days of driving. You can take the more interesting coastal route or the shorter inland Great Northern Highway. The coastal route allows you to include Exmouth / Coral Bay on the way and you can do the inland loop to return to Perth more quickly. These coastal towns are about seven hours away, which is very close considering how far you are from Perth.
There are a few options for where to stay within the National Park, though we recommend camping at Dales Campground for the best outback experience. The campsites are basic and well spread out, so you can sit back and enjoy the vastness of the landscape and the clear night sky. The amazing gorges are only a short walk away, for cooling off or for a refreshing afternoon shower. There is also camping at the Eco-Retreat on the other side of the park, which also offers other accommodation options.
There is a caretaker on site for checking in and providing maps and information. The day we dropped in they were not particularly helpful about road conditions, however they are just volunteers so we can’t criticise too much. I have heard that they can be a good source of information, and they provided us with a great kids activity pack which provided great entertainment. The staff at the visitors centre about 10km away were very professional and super helpful about the gorges and surrounding areas. As well as providing reliable information at the visitor centre, you can have a proper hot shower if a swim in the gorges is not good enough to get the red dust off you.
Dales campground is ideal for families. There are easy walking trails and great swimming holes close by, though some still involve a few rocky steps and ladders.
A short walk from the campground, down a steep steel stairway, is Fortescue Falls. This hidden gem has rocky steps down to a great pool with cool turquoise water. You can swim here, or better still walk a few hundred metres to Fern Pool for a quieter swimming hole with a small waterfall.
From Fortescue Falls, you can walk the other way along the base of the gorge. It’s like walking through an oasis, it provides a cooler environment as you make your way along the rambling river through groves of large trees, lots of stepping stones, and colourful cliffs. At the end of the walk is the magnificent Circular Pool, which was unfortunately closed when we visited due to a dangerous rockfall.
The other main place to visit within the park is the Weano Recreation Area, close to the Eco-Retreat. The quickest way to get there is along an unsealed road, though conditions can be bad so definitely check first. The alternative is to follow the main Karijini road, which takes quite a bit longer but is much gentler on the car. The final 10km to the gorge area is a dirt road which is unavoidable, and at some times in the year can be in a bad condition too.
From the Weano carpark there is an easy 800-metre walk trail (or an even easier short drive) to the spectacular Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts. Have a look before you journey down into the gorges.
There are very steep steps down and a lovely walk along Weano Gorge, which culminates at handrail pool. It is a challenging hike but worth the effort.
To get to Hancock Gorge, there are steep natural rock steps down, with a steep ladder at the end. That is just the start of the challenging sections of this trail, which involve the spider walk and wading through very cold waist-high water. We thought it might be a challenge, but the kids did it with gusto, and loved the adventure. Some good ‘wet proof’ shoes are handy!
Another part of the national park which we did not get to was Hamersley Gorge which would have required another full day and lots of driving on unsealed roads. There is also Kalamina Falls which is apparently a family-friendly gorge but also along a, sometimes rough, dirt road. Whatever gorges you decide to visit, they are all great and a little bit different.
There is quite a bit of wildlife to be seen. There are plenty of birds. There are signs to look out for dingoes, and we spotted one, one evening around our van. We were surprised and a little disappointed there were no kangaroos around. The trees are unique, the landscape is epic, and the wildflowers were gorgeous.
Good to Know
There is an entrance fee for the National Park, which you can buy before you arrive. The campgrounds can also be booked online before arriving, this is advisable especially during school holidays. There is overflow camping if Dales campground is full.
You need to bring your own drinking water to the park, and if it is hot you will need plenty. If you need water for washing (removing all that red dirt!) there is bore water available near the info centre.
You will only get good phone reception around the park if you are on the Optus network. There are reports of occasional Telsta signals if you are lucky. Otherwise, just enjoy the break from technology and make the most of the serenity.
If you need to restock on fuel, food or water, you can head to the nearby town of Tom Price, about an hour away.
We visited in June, and the water in the water holes was very cold. We were able to go swimming, but it is not super enjoyable for long periods, and you need to time it when the sun is overhead. Later in the year the water will be more pleasant, but the days can get stifling hot. It is still a great place to visit anytime, as long as you are prepared.
We have lived in WA for a long time, and have only just visited this amazing place. If you have not been, you should definitely make the effort because it is totally spectacular.