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Three Must-Do Hikes in Karijini National Park For When You’re Short on Time

February 19, 2017
Hancock Gorge, reached via the famous Spider Walk at Karijini National Park

Western Australia constantly blew me away.

I was in awe all the damn time. Everywhere I went felt like nowhere I’d ever been. I was astounded by the colors, by the bold reds and the unexpectedly lush greens. Everywhere, the oldness of the earth was palpable.

But more than anything else, I couldn’t get over how few people there were wherever we went.

In fact, it almost felt like the more amazing I heard a place was, the fewer people we ran into — and maybe that’s exactly it. Destinations like the Gibb River Road and the Bungle Bungles hold a certain kind of enchantment, a magnetism that stems at least in part from their incredible lack of people. These days, most of us are used to crowds in one form or another, from the physical lines we stand in everyday to the opinion overload we face scrolling through our numerous feeds. Finding ourselves alone — or even nearly alone! — in wide-open spaces feels rare. It feels extraordinary.

That’s why in Western Australia, remoteness isn’t an obstacle; it’s a reward — and Karijini National Park is no exception.

A view from the road driving into Australia's Karijini National Park

A view from the car driving into Karijini National Park

I visited Karijini National Park with my friend Raine. We had just over a week to drive from the homes we were leaving in Broome to Perth, a full 24-hour drive away without stopping. It wasn’t a ton of time considering how many crazy beautiful places lie in between, but we were determined to make the most of it — and Karijini was our first stop!

Karijini has a lot to offer, but it’s definitely possible to have a solid experience in the park even if you’re short on time. After a long day of driving, a few roadhouse stops and an overnight stay in our rental car in Port Hedland (not the best example of our trip planning, maybe!), we arrived at the park in the afternoon. With one night of camping, we had two half-days to explore. These three hikes are both incredible and relatively short — perfect for making the most of a short stay in Karijini! You won’t even feel rushed. Promise.

View from Oxer Lookout, from which visitors can see the junction of Weano, Red, Joffre and Hancock Gorges

The view from Oxer Lookout, from which visitors to Karijini can see the junction of Weano, Red, Joffre and Hancock Gorges.

HANCOCK GORGE

If you only have time for one hike in Karijini National Park, this is the one. The trek is as fun as the views are astounding, requiring rock-scrambling, knee-deep wading and neck-deep swimming. Near the end, Hancock’s famous Spider Walk leads to Kermit’s Pool, which has to be one of Western Australia’s most beautiful swimming holes. It’s shady and glowing, all lit up by the brilliant red of the surrounding rock walls. For the hike itself and the otherwordly swimming hole, Hancock Gorge was easily my favorite experience in Karijini.

The beginning of the hike into Karijini's Hancock Gorge

Gorge Risk Area sign warning hikers at Karijini's Hancock Gorge

Descending the ladder into Hancock Gorge at Karijini National Park

Trail market at Hancock Gorge in Karijini National Park

You can access Hancock Gorge via the park’s western entrance, where you’ll also find the Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts and hiking trails in Weano Gorge. We did the Hancock Gorge hike in the peak of the afternoon, when the light was harsh and the temperatures over 100 degrees (Farenheit, of course — that’s over 38 degrees for most of you!). While the heat didn’t bother us too much, I would have preferred to do the hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the sake of taking photos.

Needless to say, you’ll definitely want to make sure you have a lot of water with you for this one. It’d be wise to bring dry bags for your gear, too, although I managed easily enough with my camera by carrying my pack over my head in the shallower water. In the deeper areas, I opted for scrambling around the steep rock walls instead of swimming.

Reflections of the steep rock walls on the water hiking into Hancock Gorge

Wading at the beginning of the Hancock Gorge hike at Karijini National Park

Swimming through deeper water while hiking into Hancock Gorge at Karijini National Park

The famous Spider Walk leading to Kermit's Pool hiking into Hancock Gorge

Backpackers hanging out in Kermit's Pool in Hancock Gorge

Clear water flowing in Kermit's Pool at Hancock Gorge

We passed only two hikers on their way out during our hike along the bottom of the gorge, and shared Kermit’s Pool with only a trio of other backpackers who were hanging out. They’d managed to bring a guitar in, which was kind of impressive considering the scrambling and swimming! After hearing more travelers than I could count list Karijini as their favorite national park in all of Australia, I was happily surprised there were so few people around.

For all of the adventure it packs in, Hancock Gorge is actually a pretty short hike. It’s only 1.5 kilometers return and takes about an hour. You’ll probably want to plan on taking longer, though, because Kermit’s Pool is absolutely worth lingering around. Because of the scrambling around narrow rock ledges, water and Spider Walk — which requires you to navigate along the rock walls using your hands and feet — Hancock Gorge is rated a grade-five hike requiring some fitness and experience.

Swimming in Kermit's Pool

KNOX GORGE

Knox Gorge has an entirely different vibe than Hancock. If Hancock’s magic is in the water, then Knox’s is in the rocks. For me, this hike was a sort of easy bliss. We did it in the late afternoon, as the heat started to fade and the light grew soft. Unbelievably, there wasn’t a single other person in the gorge. This hike was tranquil to a tee.

To reach Knox Gorge, you’ll have to drive toward the park’s eastern entrance about an hour and a half away from Hancock Gorge. It’s located on your way to the visitors center and Dales Gorge Campground.

View at the start of the hike into Knox Gorge at Karijini National Park

Knox Gorge lookout track sign

View of the gorge from Knox lookout

Hiking in red-walled Knox Gorge in Karijini National Park

Like Hancock, Knox Gorge is rated a grade-five hike. This is mostly because of the steep descent to the trail, which runs along the bottom of the canyon. It’s only two kilometers and can be done in a couple of hours. There’s also a very short, very easy trail to the lookout, which I recommend doing after hiking in the gorge — it’s always fun to look down and recognize where you were just walking!

Months after visiting Karijini, I was surprised to learn that Knox Gorge is actually one of the park’s less popular hikes. I can’t remember what motivated us to explore this trail in particular, but I’m so glad we did! The atmosphere here is unique, and the banded rocks are stunning in their various reds and purples and blues.

Reflection of the rock walls on the water in Knox Gorge

Hiking along the narrow rock ledges in Knox Gorge

View of a tree descending into Knox Gorge

Blue-tinged rocks in Knox Gorge

Red rock walls and pool in Knox Gorge

Incredible rocks in Karijini National Park's Knox Gorge

DALES GORGE, THE CIRCULAR POOL & FORTESCUE FALLS

Okay, so technically this comprises a few different hiking trails — but since they’re all located in the Dales Gorge area of the park and easily connect as a loop, I’m going to group them together here.

We hit these trails early in the morning after spending the night at the Dales Gorge Campground. The light and weather were both perfect; morning, I think, is definitely Karijini’s strongest suit. We descended into the canyon by making our way first to the Circular Pool and then following the Dales Gorge trail toward Fortescue Falls and the Fern Pool. From the end of the trail, we used the Fortescue Falls path to climb up to the Gorge Rim Trail and loop back to our starting point. In all, you should budget three to five hours if you take this route, depending on how much time you plan to chill and swim.

Signage for hiking at Dales Gorge in Karijini National Park

Circular Pool Lookout from the Dales Gorge Rim Trail

The view of Fortescue Falls from the Dales Gorge Rim Trail

If there’s one thing I learned while I was based in Broome, it’s this: there are few things more glorious in this world than the swimming holes in Western Australia.

I discovered this during our road trip through the Kimberley the month before. Where I expected nothing more than dry and dusty red, we found fern-fringed swimming cold so icy cold that my breath caught in my chest whenever I dove in. Here in Karijini, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, the swimming holes were equally surprising.

In fact, the Circular Pool even reminded me of my very favorite stop during that road trip, El Questro’s Emma Gorge. There was something in the high, jungly rock walls and trickling little falls that took me right back to the Kimberley.

Moon and sky over Dales Gorge in Karijini National Park

View of the Circular Pool at Dales Gorge

The Circular Pool at Dales Gorge

The trail along the bottom of Dales Gorge

Our walk along the floor of Dales Gorge was easy and peaceful. We also saw far more wildlife than we’d seen elsewhere in the park, including a couple of goanna lizards and — at the end of the trail just past Fortescue Falls — dozens of bats sleeping in the trees.

Of all the places we visited in Karijini, Fortescue Falls was the most crowded.

And by crowded, I mean that there were about a dozen people there.

Crazy, right? Plus, the swimming hole here is bigger than others in the park, so there’s plenty of room to spread out and sun and soak up the solitude.

Dales Gorge is one of Karijini’s biggest draws, and it’s easy to understand why. The hike is neither hard nor long, but it is diverse — and with two beautiful pools for swimming and camping nearby, it’s the perfect place to spend a day.

Goanna lizards in Daves Gorge at Karijini National Park

Red rocks in Dales Gorge Karijini National Park

Dragonfly at Karijini National Park

Fortescue Falls swimming hole in Dales Gorge

Bats at the Fern Pool near Fortescue Falls Dales Gorge

Fern Pool at Fortescue Falls in Dales Gorge

Notes for Visiting:

Like a lot of amazing places in Western Australia, Karijini National Park is remote. It’s best accessed via Tom Price or Port Hedland, and while you could try to squeeze in a day trip, it’s definitely best to camp for at least a night. Make sure to fill up your gas tank in whichever town you opt to pass through; there aren’t any stations around the park. Entry to the park cost $12 AUD per vehicle, and our unpowered campground cost us $10 each. Finally, it’s worth noting that if you have more time to explore Karijini, you should consider the drive to Hamersley Gorge. It’s isolated in its own section of the park and a bit of a long drive down an unsealed road, but I’ve heard that for many, it’s the park’s best feature.

PIN IT!

Hikes in Western Australia's Karijini National Park for when you're short on time

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