Rain, rain go away, come again another day . . . or another, or another, or another. We have been plagued by rain every day at Karijini. The sign in the toilet says ‘this is a semi-arid region please conserve water’ – not this week. Apparently it is uncommon for this region at this time of year but that’s how it goes sometimes.
Every cloud has a silver lining…
The scenery is beautiful and green but we all feel a little disappointed to have seen this magnificent place under a thick blanket of clouds and not clear blue skies even once! It is not the best place to stay in the rain as there is no power or showers and trying to keep the boys out of the mud was impossible. We did give them a few chances to live up the statement that ‘a boy is just a noise covered in dirt’. One afternoon was spent with delightful whoops from both boys as with permission, they tore through every mud puddle in our ‘Euro Loop’ campsite. It took an hour to wash them down in a bucket! The next day, James couldn’t resist the pull, and out came the monster trucks for some more mud puddle mania. We couldn’t face another hour of bucket bath cleaning so we decided to throw them in the local waterhole instead.
James was asked to keep clean – this was his version of clean!
Fern pool – a relatively warm 22 degC
This lead to our only proper swim at Fern Pool, which was more out of necessity than for pleasure in an attempt to relieve the boys of as much mud as possible. The boys attracted many wry smiles by passers by on our way down to the pool. Swimming under the waterfall here was lovely, and Kris enjoyed the free foot exfoliation courtesy of the school of little fish.
Kris having a free exfoliation
We arrived at Karijini on Tuesday, 19th May, intending on a seven night stay. Dales campsite was nearly empty, so we picked a spot near the walking trails, the loos and the camp BBQ – a good choice. After setting up (which is now a leisurely fifteen minutes or less), we walked along Dales Gorge to Circular pool. The boys easily managed this ‘Class 4′ walk. This Class system grades each trail, and the boys were immediately intent on the hardest – Class 5 (before you have to abseil or rock climb, which is Class 6). Over the next three days we walked to Fern Pool, Knox Gorge, and Joffre Gorge and waterfall. On each occasion, it rained at least once during our walks (which added just a tad to Kris’s anxiety levels – slippery rocks and flash flooding). Of these, Knox Gorge was easily the most spectacular, narrow walls rising gradually above as you move deeper and deeper into the chasm. The rock banding is extraordinary, with browns, greys, blacks, blues and purples deeper in the gorges, all flanked by the deep ochre reds so characteristic of the Pilbara. The colours of the rocks also change when they’re wet, shaded or in sun, the effect is beautiful.
A quick snap before rain made our exit from Joffre falls rather treacherous.
You don’t need to go to Wittenoom for this pretty blue ‘rock’
At the end of stunning Knox Gorge
The way into Hancock Gorge (with an almost blue sky)
One element that is drummed into each visitor is safety – ‘watch for cliff edges, flash floods, rain, slippery rocks, snakes’ etc. You get the clear impression these warnings are not the usual litigious tainted safety signage. In fact they’re very much the real deal. Tom Price SES is the busiest in the state, and even a simple extraction for a broken ankle took 9 hours. They have at least one serious air lift out per year (three so far in 2015), and tragically, a father died in 2011 trying to save his son from a 20m fall (the son became a paraplegic). Only last year, two SES workers died rescuing a German tourist from a flash flood. Our exit from Joffre Gorge was in heavy rain, and the climb out was steep, slippery and treacherous. Even our risk champion, James, admitted to being scared! Sam summed it up whilst riding along the edge of a gorge “it’s just like riding at Glenrock, but with the added possibility of death”.
Fortesque Falls, Dales Gorge
On Saturday morning, after four nights, Kris and I looked at the weather forecast, and decided to relocate to Karijini Eco Retreat to be closer to the other end of the park. This would improve logistics if we had shorter clear weather windows to see the other gorges. This turned out to be a wise move as the dirt road was closed after we drove through, and we were able to see Hancock and Weano gorges, which were incredible. I must say, cynic that I am, that the word ‘Eco’ seems to have been distorted from the original intent of diligent and conscientious environmental management and responsibility to now be an excuse for substandard facilities and higher prices. This was the case with the Eco Retreat, which I might add is not run by National Parks.
At least we were able to set up here in the dry, although the Cruiser is looking pretty ‘outback’ with plenty of mud splashed up over the gunwales from the many water pools on the road. Once set up, we went down into Hancock Gorge, famed for the ‘spider walk’ and Kermit’s Pool at the end. There was no way to stay dry, so we donned water shoes (I wore my scuba diving booties, which were simply brilliant) and waded in. About fifty meters from the end, it started to rain heavily, and Kris made the call not to take the boys down the last most dangerous section. Camera and lenses in sealed bags, I donned my backpack and tripod and made it down to Kermit’s Pool. After a few quick pics, I returned through the water to find Kris and the boys waiting in the gorge – the boys were happily playing in the mud and skimming stones!
Kermit’s Pool, at the end of Hancock Gorge
Sunday started off cloudy but dry, so we got away early to Weano Gorge. This is another ‘get wet’ gorge, which ends at handrail pool – it’s amazing to be able to touch either side of the polished gorge walls, and look up to see cracks of light twenty meters above. After clambering out (me in speedos and hiking boots – a common look around here), we had one last vertigo inducing visit to the jaw-dropping vista from Oxers Lookout. The platform is at the intersection of four gorges a hundred meters below, and is simply breath taking.
Weano Gorge, notice Sam in the distance for a sense of scale.
Narrow entrance to Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge
When I last visited Karijini sixteen years ago, it was a baking 46 degrees and very dry. These were my enduring memories of the Pilbara, not twenty one and raining! At least it is looking lush and green.
Dingo spotted near our camp at Dales Gorge.
The termite was ‘this big’
We bailed after our 6th night in the rain. The campground was awash with mud and most of the dirt roads were closed including our planned departure route via Hammersley Gorge. According to the ranger another 100mm was forecast for the next week so there was no point trying to wait it out. One muddy, wet pack up later and we were off on the sealed road to Port Hedland.