Annnnnd…… just when you thought it was safe to check your emails again, the blog is back and you’re scrambling for the “unsubscribe” button!
When we set off on our trip around Australia last year, we found it a bit of a wrench to drive past Karijini National Park, in the central north of WA. We’d heard so many good things about it that we were keen to see it for ourselves. But as it was “on our doorstep” (what’s 1400kms between friends?!) we passed the turnoff and promised ourselves we’d come back this April.
Our first stopover on our way north was a place called Paynes Find. Paynes Find is not even a roadhouse; it’s two bowsers in front of a ramshackle collection of buildings, but it has character and fantastic showers. Under normal circumstances, I’d describe it as a dust bowl, but a constant flow of rain that afternoon had magically transformed all that red dust into…. you guessed it…. red mud. Which subsequently transformed our 3 tired children into 3 delighted children. After a recommendation from a truckie, we ate dinner in the “roadhouse” “tavern” (both terms are a stretch). It may not surprise you to find that this particular truckie favoured quantity over quality, but the meal filled a gap (permanently, I suspect) and meant that we could escape the swarms of flies that plagued the outside air. We had a quick chat to a German backpacker who, after working there for 1 ½ months, still looked a bit bewildered at finding himself in such a location. When I asked him what he did on his days off, he shrugged his shoulders and said “I drive to Mt Magnet”, as if a 280km round trip was the obvious answer.
We spent our second night in Newman. If we were feeling rugged because of our intrepid trip into the state’s centre, Newman quickly knocked that out of us. Our car was too clean, appeared to be the only one in town without orange lights on the top and we were some of the few people not wearing high-vis clothing. Even the cockatoos look rugged here, their remaining feathers coloured red with the local dust and strutting around the shopping centre car park looking threatening. Home to the giant open cut Mt Whaleback iron ore mine, Newman is a mining town and that’s pretty much all it is. If you’re in any kind of doubt, the fact that they use Haul Pack trucks as street art should convince you. Most of the accommodation caters to the mine workers – the caravan park has more mining accommodation than space for camping; and the main street sports a row of two-story dongas. Although a combination of the economy and one of the mines being on temporary shut down meant that the town was pretty quiet when we were there.
200kms from Newman and tucked in between Mt Bruce and Mt Sheila, Karijini is Western Australia’s second largest national park and definitely one of the jewels. Covering more than 620 000 hectares, the park’s scenery is harsh but stunning – spinifex, blunt mountain ranges and deep, rusty red rocks. Originally called the Hamersley Range National Park, its traditional, Aboriginal name of Karijini has been restored in recent years. The same honour, however, cannot be said for Mt Bruce and Mt Sheila.
Dales Gorge campground would be our base in Karijini and it was lovely – big sites and very, very quiet. But also very, very HOT!!! So, as quickly as we could, we set up and headed to nearby Fortescue Falls for a very welcome swim in the deep, cool water. The closest swimming hole to our campground, Fortescue Falls is bordered by cliffs and a natural amphitheatre of rocks. Nearby Fern Pool, although only 300m or so from the falls, is much more tropical in appearance, with water, considerably warmer and surrounded by lots of greenery. And in the greenery are lots of bats. Huge great big noisy fruit bats, hanging from the trees.
Entrance to the water is by way of a small boardwalk and jetty and when we arrived there was a young blind girl on the ladder in the water, while her mum took photos nearby. Our kids looked over the edge, excited to see fish swimming around the ladder. The young girl was excited that she could feel the fish around her legs. Until Ben called out “That’s not a fish…. That’s not a fish!!! THAT’S NOT A FISH!!!!” Sure enough, a large snake was weaving its way in & out of the girl’s legs. We helped the girl out of the water as calmly as we could and then all leaned over the watch the snake swimming around, presumably looking for the tastiest fish. After much discussion, it was decided that the snake was “just” an Olive Python and therefore safe to swim with and people started jumping back in. I wasn’t convinced.
Amid discussions of who was happy to swim with a python and who wasn’t, Zach felt something land on his head. Bat wee. Much squealing and running around ensued. But just as he calmed down, a bat poo’d on his shoulder. More squealing and running around. Clearly, and understandably, torn between the horror of being a bat toilet and the horror of swimming with a python, Zach decided instead to grab his towel – the same towel he’d be using for the following fortnight, and tried to wipe it off, managing only to smudge it all over his back. By now the screaming and running was reaching epic proportions and he had no choice but to jump in and wash it off.
Fortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, all this activity had caused the python to retreat way back under the jetty and perch on a log so I was convinced to go in for a swim with Emily. I leapt as far out from the jetty as I possibly could and thought I was doing ok until a leaf brushed against my leg. A sign near Fern Pool informs you that this place that holds special meaning for the traditional owners of the land and out of respect to these owners, asks for people to enter the water quietly and avoid loud noises. My apologies to the traditional owners because at this point I showed a complete lack of respect and screamed my head off. My scream also, in turn, set Emily off crying and she made a quick exit from the water. Ben & I then swam over to the waterfall, Ben’s sense of humour stretching to brush my leg with his hand every now & then and pretend it wasn’t him! Funny guy.
Feeling cool, refreshed and full of bravado from swimming in snake-infested waters, we headed back to camp, thinking the heat had now gone out of the day. But the heat beat us back there. We spent a hot night, cursing ourselves for actually reheating the frozen dinner and counting the vast variety of grasshoppers that flew around camp, often rebounding off our faces. When the rain started after dark, it was an exciting moment. We all danced around camp in our bathers, delighting in feeling cool again!
The next day we hiked along the rim of Dales Gorge, down a steep climb to Circular Pool and enjoyed an icy dip in the pool, along with some leaches (what’s a few leaches when you’ve swum with a python – no rude jokes will be entered into!). Then we hiked along the gorge floor, back to Fortescue Falls. I was surprised to see veins of blue asbestos in the rocks. Some of the gorges in the northern part of the park are closed due to the presence of asbestos, but apparently that’s because a lot of asbestos dust remains from when it was being mined. Veins of asbestos in rock are harmless as long as you don’t touch them. A bit like the baby Western Brown snake that Ben & I spotted further along the hike. Whilst it slithered away very quickly, I suspect Ben sported a hand mark on his arm where I grabbed him. Partly, I like to think, due to my protective motherly instinct, but mostly, I suspect, due to downright terror.
After suffering through a hot lunch hour back at camp and the kids suffering with the subsequent decrease in our tolerance levels, we headed to Kalamina gorge. If nothing else, it meant half an hour of air conditioned comfort on the drive there. Apparently this gorge is known as “Grannies’ Gorge” as it’s the easiest one to get to. But if we went expecting a handrail and ramp, we were wrong – it was still a steep climb down and a clamber along a cliff face. Having the swimming hole to ourselves was lovely though and cooled off the end of the day nicely.
The following day we stopped in for a look at Joffre & Knox gorges. The former being so high and so deep it was dizzying to look down into it. The amusingly-named Weano gorge was closed for swimming as the water levels were too low so we headed straight for Hancock gorge, our main destination for the day. There is much anticipation around Hancock gorge as it is a bit of an adventurous hike. There is a lot of hiking / swimming through water. The water mostly only gets to neck height, but if you lose your footing on the slippery rocks whilst carrying a rucksack on your head you will, as we found, go under water. So will your rucksack.
There is also a section called the “Spider Walk”, which is narrow but slippery on the bottom so you have to walk through carefully, hands and feet both gripping the ledges along the walls of the gorge as best you can. This narrow chasm leads down to a little rock slide and the beautiful Kermit’s Pool. The kids spent ages climbing the ledges on the side, higher and higher each time, and jumping into the seemingly bottomless pool. Hancock gorge’s other claim to fame is that it appears to be the Bermuda Triangle of sunglasses. I lost mine somewhere in there – not even sure where – and I later heard about a kid who had taken his snorkel and mask into the gorge and came back with a massive collection of sunnies!! Where was he when I needed him?!
Whilst the water holes at Karijini were beatufiul and cool to swim in, whoever designed this national park got it all wrong, putting them at the bottom of the gorges instead of the top, thus always requiring a hot, steep hike out. And back at camp there was nowhere to escape the heat. The day time temperatures were consistently 38 or 39 degrees and even the overnight temps were in the high 20’s. So after three nights we decided we’d had enough and headed for the nearest town, Tom Price.
I liked Tom Price. Like Newman, it was also predominantly a mining town, but because of its proximity to Karijini, there were lot of travellers passing through and so it had an air of adventure and anticipation to it. An evening trip to Woollies found it full of both people in mining clothing, stocking up on frozen dinners and people in tie-dye clothing stocking up on pot noodles and bottled water.
From Tom Price, we went out to Hammersley Gorge, on the far western edge of Karijini National Park and it was well worth the long, dusty, un-sign-posted drive out there. Like the rest of Karijini’s gorges, the swimming was welcome, the scenery was spectacular but I found the geology at Hamersley Gorge to be simply astounding. You can see where the layers of rock have been forced upwards over the years to form the surrounding hills. We spent a very happy couple of hours there, jumping off rock ledges and exploring the connecting water holes before preparing for the next leg of our trip.