Day 55: 23 July – Tom Price & Hamersley Gorge

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 83 km

Distance hiked: 2.2 km (Yes, mostly in the car!)

Flights climbed: 10 floors

After praising the Savannah Campground for its peace and quiet we were disappointed last night when a group of camper trailer toting friends turned up late and set up right opposite where we were camping. They then cracked open the beers and yelled across to each other until long after midnight, despite Mr A politely asking them to quiet down (he was told to ‘f-off’) and apparently the retreat manager told them on two occasions also. So this morning, we packed up and departed, forfeiting tonight’s booking (‘no refunds’).

We headed first for the nearby town of Tom Price, where we hoped to gain a permit to take the shorter mining road to Millstream-Chichester National Park. Unfortunately the information centre told us it was in terrible condition as there was a new mine opening along it, and that caravans were not allowed. We had no choice but to add 200 km to our journey and go via the ‘highway’ (a rough, corrugated gravel road!).  We stocked up on fruit and vegetables while in town and headed off.

As tends to be the case, our change in direction and plans was not bad. We passed the outer southern side of Karijini National Park and a final gorge which is visited by few. This made it our favourite location as we pulled in for lunch, and then hiked down into the gorge. What a fabulous spot. Absolutely stunning reflections and rippling sediments in the walls which any landscape designer would be jealous of. We sat for a while with our feet in the water, enjoying the serenity and watching the fish swimming beneath us, cautiously eyeing my blood-orange coloured toenails.

We decided against driving any further, and pulled into a bush camp nearby. It is by far one of the most stunning locations we have camped. Yes, of course there are other campers here (‘You’re never alone in WA’), but they are at least 200 metres away from us in any direction. We are surrounded by stunning hills of the Hamersley Range all around us and the chirps of Rainbow Bee-eaters, Firetails and Zebra Finches. I think we are going to be happy here tonight!

Day 54: 22 July – Exploring more gorges in Karijini 

Author: Mr A

Distance hiked: 5km

Floors climbed: 22

A pleasant day spent wandering around more gorges. A short drive took us to a lookout (Oxer) with a commanding view over several of the gorges we were planning to clamber down into. It looked a long way down, but the first hike in was a relatively easy scramble down the red rocky path. This was Weano Gorge, where briefly we were alone – around 10 treasured minutes I think. The silence was wonderful. Alas, soon we were with the hordes again. My only explanation is that the areas we have been visiting so far in WA contain very few roads, and limited places you can actually access and walk, so everyone is funnelled to the same places. Also, NSW, Victoria and the central and southern parts of WA are all relatively cold currently, so every tourist and grey nomad in Australia has only three choices during our winter if they want the sun (and who doesn’t!) – Queensland, northern WA, or the Northern Territory. Anyway I digress. 

We soon came to the end of where I was prepared to clamber. A very cold wade followed by a swim would have taken us to the end…wasn’t keen. 

The next gorge (Hancock) was graded as a class 5 walk all the way. The scale goes from 1 (easy) up to 5 (for mountain goats as far as clumsy me is concerned). Down we went, not too bad I thought, just before I stumbled and nearly ended up taking a far too fast route down head first. At the bottom (phew) we clambered along the side of the water that amazingly still flows in the dry season.  

The next stage was boots off time and wading through icy cold water across a pebbly creek bed. I was persuaded against my better judgement by my lovely (younger) wife. The final leg would have involved gripping onto a ledge and sliding along the side of the cliff. No thanks… Ah well..getting old I suppose. A stiff climb out and we were done walking for the day. Time for an iced mocha at the Karijini Eco Retreat. Quite civilised really. 

Day 53: 21 July – Karijini National Park – the southern part

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 75km

From: Karijini National Park – Dales Campground

To: Karijini National Park – Savannah Campground  (Karijini Eco Retreat)

Distance hiked: 5km

Floors climbed: 19

Once again we hitched up the mobile apartment and moved on after a light breakfast, this time heading to the southern part of Karijini and the Savannah Campground. This is a private campground within the national park, coupled with an ‘Eco Retreat’ (canvas cabins with king size beds, luxury hotel quality linen, private en-suites and decks, all set amongst the beauty of the national park – a bit like our mobile apartment but not quite as nice). We get hot solar showers and flushing toilets. The ‘Retreat’ is fully Aboriginal owned, and run by a hospitality company.

We arrived around 11am and after a bit of confusion with their site allocation for us (the first already being occupied by two tents, the second pretty much the smallest on the campsite!) we finally settled down on an attractive spot. This is much more picturesque than the Dales campground with a lot more birdlife – there has not been fire here, which helps.

We decided to tackle the walk nearest to us, to Joffre Gorge. While only 5km was hiked all together, it was a tough one with a lot of climbing. We arrive at the top of the gorge and look down to a emerald coloured pool, about 150 metres below us. We then have to clamber down the cliff to it. This is a class 5 (the most challenging) hike, with no handrails, no man made steps, and quite precarious drops. We get most of the way down, and Mr A is overcome with vertigo and cannot make it further. I have to admit my heart is also pounding after my hiking pole had slipped on a rock and plummeted down. I reach the bottom where the pool is, and find my hiking pole safely landed on a nearby rock.

It is lovely, but there is more. I now need to carefully pick my way along the sediments in the rock along the smooth cliff edge, the pool beneath me, to reach another part of the gorge. Trying not to think about the non-waterpoof camera around my neck, and regretting having the hiking pole (now feeling more of a hindrance than help), I make my way around safely. Around the corner, through a two metre wide crack in the rock is a beach and Joffre Falls. I would say it was really picturesque, and it mostly was, apart from the man with the big beer belly sitting at the bottom of the falls and his wife with the loud sweary voice yelling across at him.

‘You’re never alone in WA’ – our new slogan for Western Australia.

I clambered up and rejoined Mr A, and we continued on the walk along the rim of the gorge. We crossed the top of the waterfall and saw a number of pretty lizards enjoying hunting around the water. Photographs really do not do the scenery justice – it is arid and dramatic, the colours startling in the afternoon sun. When you see the gorges they really do take your breath away.

We returned to camp for sunset beers before showering and retiring for the evening with a bottle of Fat Cat Shiraz, a madras curry and two episodes of Shetland. Another fine day in WA.

Day 52: 20 July – A walk into paradise

Author: Mr A

Distance hiked: 8.5km

Floors climbed: 19

Dales Gorge is one of the highlights of Karijini NP. We packed lunch and headed out to explore it on foot. The path disappeared down its vertical side – however, steps hewn into the iron stone rock made the climb down relatively straightforward. Soon we were clambering along the rocks beside the river bed, watching a heron shaking its spindly leg in the water to disturb some mid morning snacks which are soon snaffled down.

The reflections of the sheer gorge walls in the water were stunning.

We retraced our steps and headed along to the other end of the gorge, constantly gawking at this breathtaking scenery. 

Another pool with a waterfall and it was time for lunch. What a feast the master chef had prepared. 9 different types of fresh veg, mixed with rice noddles, add a hot sauce and we were in heaven. I brewed up a cuppa and we just sat next to the waterfall and again recounted how lucky we are to be living like this. Every day there’s something to admire, laugh at, or learn about. 

Back to camp and another chilled afternoon, reading and painting (madam not me of course) – I busied myself rigging some tarp for shade, which promptly blew up in the first breeze and knocked water over madam’s iPad. No laughing then…

Day 51: 19 July – Karijini National Park – Dales Gorge

Author: Mrs A

From: Two Camel Creek rest area

To: Dales Campground, Karijini National Park

Distance driven: 145 km

Distance hiked: 5.5 km

We were amazed to find we both actually had a relatively good night’s sleep in spite of the regular road train traffic on the nearby highway – I can’t say how deep it was, or vouch for the quality, but we didn’t feel dreadful when we woke up at 6am. We set off after breakfast, continuing up the highway and marvelling as the landscape changed from the flat spinnifex filled Little Sandy Desert to iron filled rolling hills and rock walls.

We arrived at our campground at around 11.30am and set up and unhitched. After a light lunch we headed off in the car out to the Visitor’s Centre, about 11km away. Our original plan was to stay here three nights, but we have decided that two will be enough. The campground is pretty sparse and dusty – nice big sites, but very little undergrowth returned since the fires here in May. We called our next campground, also in this national park, to move our booking back a day. 

The Visitor Centre was really interesting – very focused on the Aboriginal communities who lived here for tens of thousands of years, before becoming displaced by European settlers. It was uncomfortable to see how they were virtually enslaved to work on the cattle stations here, and how landmarks were renamed (eg one named as ‘Nameless Hill’) despite having an extremely long standing Aboriginal name. Cultural respect anyone?


And then there are the ecological impacts of Europeans. They/we introduced cattle to the Pilbara region. The Pilbara (Karijini sits within this region) is a semi-arid ecosystem, extremely delicate, balancing long months with no rain at all against the ‘wet’ where the whole region floods and rivers and waterfalls increase their depth by up to 20 metres. The cattle trampled the earth and ate the native grasses, which did not grow back without rain and the now solid trampled earth did not allow the seeds to germinate. So the pastoralists brought over some new grass from Africa which grew nicely here. In fact this grass sent out poison from its roots and killed most of the other plants, so it grew really well…the story goes on and on. It makes you shudder to think of the damage done here! There was no research done prior to the introduction of feral species so it is hard to know how the flora and fauna was impacted by this.

In spite of Europeans, this is a really interesting area. We took a stroll from our campground this afternoon to the Dales Gorge rim track, a number of lookouts over the gorge. It is extremely beautiful and very spiritual – you feel very connected to nature. We sat at one place for a while, enjoying the view and the birds that were soaring over the pools and trees below us.

I am writing at beer/vodka-soda-with-fresh-lime o’clock as we watch the sun dip down behind the hills. The temperature is already dropping and it is likely to be another 10 degree C night. Makes for very good sleeping! Tonight is not an AFD and we are even allowed wine tonight with our Thai green curry with Spanish Mackeral and vegetables. Lucky us!

No light pollution here, making for an incredible night sky…many photos taken 🙂