We were to meet our guide, Jeff Brenton, at the visitors centre at 8.45 am so it was an early start for us. Jeff (I shall call him our guide to prevent confusion) arrived just a few minutes after us and we were introduced to the two other tour members, Steven and Rosemary.
Karijini is set in the Hamersley Range in the heart of the Pilbara. It is the state's second biggest national park encompassing some 627, 455 hectares. This is an ancient part of the earth; the slow process of erosion has carved the shape of the land out of the rocks that are 2000 million years old. Much of the southern half of the park is inaccessible, visitors concentrate on the spectacular gorges in the north with the rock pools and waterfalls.
The traditional owners of the park are the Banyjima, Yinhawangta and Kurrama Aboriginal people, and today the management of the park is made up of members of the Aboriginal communities from the above groups and members of the Department for Conservation and Land Management (CALM). It is nice to see that once more the Aboriginal people are back looking after their traditional homelands.
The first gorge we were to visit was Dale's Gorge, close to where we had camped last night. This perhaps is the most accessible gorge as it has a sealed road to its car parks. Our first stop was at Circular Pool; here we looked down a long way to a small trickle of water near the bottom of the gorge face entering into a circular pool. This in turn flowed into a small stream that ran down the gorge floor. Our guide told us that normally the pools are a jade green colour but due to cyclone George a lot of sediment was now in the water making it look a little murky. After viewing this part of the gorge we moved on to Fortesque Falls which is one of the most popular attractions in the park To reach the falls we had to scramble down steps and a narrow trail eventually arriving at the falls. After a pause for some photographs we continued on the trail where we spotted fruit bats roosting in the trees, to Fern Pool. Here two 10 meter waterfalls cascade into a pool which is surrounded by ferns, fig and paper bark trees. The park has a summer rainfall of 250-350 millimetres which produces the waterfalls; it was surprising to see this in a country experiencing its worst drought in years. Some of the group went in for a swim, Jeff and I just sat and enjoyed the tranquillity of a place which holds special significance to the Aboriginal people.
Soon it was back onto the bus and around to the visitor's centre where we had a coffee and some of Bev's home made cakes (Jeff's wife). We were given a short while to look around the new centre which is constructed of weathered steel to allow it to blend in with its surroundings. The design is of a goanna moving through the country, the tail representing the past, the stomach the Aboriginal laws and cultures and the head the future direction of the traditional owners. Inside it provides information and interpretation on the natural and cultural history of the park. We did not have a lot of time to really take it all in so decided to return again in the morning before we left the area. Today was about viewing gorges so we were off once more, this time to Joffre Gorge where we walked to another lookout point and gazed into another magnificent gorge and waterfall. On the way back to the bus I noticed some buildings across the gorge and asked our guide what they were. He informed us it was the Savannah Campsite and the buildings were eco-tents which were the last word in luxury, sounds like my sort of camping; the cost to stay in one was £100 per night, so it is back to the van. They were due to open next month, April 2007, but a bush fire in the area had destroyed some of the tents so the opening had been delayed. You could slum it also on the site in your own tent, caravan or motor home.
After a delicious lunch, provided by Bev, we visited Oxer Lookout, one of the more spectacular lookouts as from here you can view four gorges, Red, Hancock, Joffre and Weano, where we would be walking in shortly. Close by the lookout point is a memorial to a young man who was killed in a flash flood whilst part of a rescue party for an injured tourist walking in the gorge below. This was a salutatory reminder that while these gorges are spectacular they can also be extremely dangerous and care must be taken. There were two gentlemen at the lookout and our guide introduced us to them, one was Ian who was the regional director of CALM.
Next it was time to descend into the gorge; the guide book describes it as 'a relatively easy walk down steps into the gorge to the basin, which is 1 metre wide and 30 metres deep'. My description is of a steep descent down some big steps to reach the bottom were you could look up at the towering rock walls above us. We set off walking along the gorge floor; at first on rocks then wading through the stream, for me being short legged I was at one point up to my waist in the cold water. Jeff having long legs was probably only in as far as his knees. Our guide had us balancing on a ledge and edging along holding onto the rock sides, he advised us not to look down but to keep our eyes on our hands and feel for a firm footing before transferring our weight. That was ok as long as there was a ledge but one bit there was quite a step down and once again I was up to my waist in the water. Although it was cold it was like a welcoming treat on a very hot day. Once this part was negotiated we scrambled over some slimy rocks till we reached the end of the gorge. Now we had reached the difficult bit, we were given the option to wait back if we felt we could not undertake the next part, but I had got this far so I was going on. We now had to pass through a narrow passage over slippery rocks and walking in very fast flowing water. As you walked along using the rock sides for support you could feel the smoothness of them were water rushing through had polished them up. At the end of this passage we had to cling onto a hand rail and lower ourselves down over more slippery rocks towards Handrail Pool, still with water rushing down under our feet. I am glad to say we did not go all the way down, the last part of the descent was done holding onto a rope. We stopped about halfway down, climbed over the hand rail and sat on a ledge admiring the view in front of us, a large pool totally surrounded by towering cliff sides. It made the journey down worthwhile. The trail continued on from the other side of the pool but required a high level of fitness to undertake it.
After a short break to admire the view and catch our breath back we commenced the return journey, this time you were required to use the hand rail to pull your self up over the rocks and back into the passage. It did not seem long before our guide had us all safely back at the foot of the big climb back out of the gorge, I managed it with only two stops to admire the view. I must say that at the end of it I had a sense of achievement of having done such a walk and a wet bum to prove it, by the time we were back at the campsite even that had dried out.
Once back in the bus we headed back to the visitors centre, our guide asked us to look out for emus' and bustards. Evidently before we had joined the group they had seen a dingo chasing two kangaroo's and a wedge tailed eagle. After we joined them we saw a kangaroo and a number of lizards. After we said good by we drove back to the campsite, on the way we had to cross a flood on the road and we encountered some very large puddles at the site, so we wondered if it had rained at this end of the park.
We camped in the same bay as last night. The campsite was quite a large one with a number of loop areas with the camping bays off them. One loop was reserved for people who wished to use generators during their stay; another was for tour parties the remaining loops were for anyone. The bays were nice and big and we fitted in with room to put our chairs and table up and sit outside. There were plenty of 'bush toilets' or as some call them 'long drop toilets' on each loop and showers were available at the visitors centre. The cost to camp in the park was £3.00 per person per night.
Once installed on our site, we decided to take the trail from the camp site to Fortescue Falls and then onwards to Circular Pool. What a surprise we got, there was the most spectacular waterfall gushing over what had been a dry cliff side only seven hours ago. It must have been from the rainfall that we thought had occurred earlier. We stood and watched in fascination as the water tumbled over the cliff and rushed along the gorge floor. What had been a nice tranquil scene earlier in the day was now a rushing torrent of water making a noise you could hear from a distance away. We felt very privileged to have seen this sight and found it difficult to leave, but managed to capture it on video.
Before leaving on Saturday morning we re-visited Circular Pool to find it back to a nice tranquil scene once more. We then headed back to the visitors centre where we spent some time looking around before retracing our steps back onto the Great Northern Highway (95) and on to Port Headland.