Over the years we have heard lots of good things about Karijini National Park (formerly Hamersley Range), with its amazing gorges and swimming holes. It had always been one of those places that we were ‘gunna’ do but being 1400km from Perth it was ‘gunna’ have to wait!
The park was not part of our initial plan. Being in our home state we figured that it was a place we could visit later and this time round we would give it a miss, instead trying to get round to some of the other states while the going was good (translation – while we are all still friends & have money in the bank!). However, once again, we changed our plans and unfortunately for us it didn’t quite pay off this time. For this we must take full responsibility, after having spent so many hours reading about and planning for other places, this time we just winged it and as a result we were totally disorganised and ill prepared. I am sorry fellow campers but we bring shame to our people and FAILED in a big way!
Seeing we were in one spot for a while and there was a long weekend we thought we would duck down and have a look for a couple of days, leaving Stan the Van behind and tenting it for a change. We planned on calling into Millstream Chichester National Park for a look on the way through so the first step was to head into the Karratha Tourist Centre to get a permit to travel on the privately owned Hamersley Iron Access Road. This involved watching a DVD on the road and its conditions and agreeing to follow some pretty common sense rules. There was no charge for this.
Next we haphazardly threw things into and onto Patricia. So basically, we had no real plan and who knows what was, or wasn’t, going into the car!
Saturday morning we took off and headed to Millstream. After the first 90 km of driving on bitumen the road became unsealed and got a bit bumpy. At the entrance to the park was a car which had flipped onto its roof – a stark reminder of how easily things can go wrong. We stopped at the Millstream Homestead which had a few displays about its history as a pastoral station and a history of the local Yindjibarndi people. We then took a quick walk to Jirndawurrunha Pool which is what you see in the tourist pics, full of all the lilies. There were lots of Date Palms around which was a little strange. No one is really sure of who planted them. It was quite noisy as they were full of bats. On the way out of the park we had a quick look at Crossing Pool, where you can swim and camp. There are a few other camping spots and a number of walking trails throughout the park but to be honest we were a little underwhelmed.
Having made some sandwiches before we left we decided to head into Karijini, stopping at Hamersley Gorge to eat and have a look around. The road was still bumpy and boring, with the highlight of the trip so far being driving side by side with a massive Rio Tinto Iron Ore train heading towards Tom Price. It was pretty amazing, some of these trains pull up to 234 ore cars and can reach over 2km in length!
Getting hungry and restless, it was now nearing 2pm, we finally reached the turn off for Hamersley gorge and………. the road was closed! Not to worry we ate on the side of the road and admired the scenery. Later, we found out the gorge is closed until further notice for maintenance work.
Paul and I had been ‘discussing’ where we would camp for the two nights while we were there, with my preference being Dales Camping Area (which was the only one I had heard of) and Paul leaning towards the Savannah Camping Area (which was closer). We had another ‘discussion’ 80km later after arriving at Savannahs to find that it is now a privately owned campground adjacent to the Eco Retreat there and furthermore NO they didn’t have a site for us. The girl at reception may have even scoffed when we confessed that no we hadn’t made a reservation.
So, after once again piling into the car we then had to drive the 50km to Dales (did I mention that was my first choice? I did? ok.. continue). By the time we arrived it was getting cold and rain was threatening. To our relief the harassed looking camp hosts were able to designate us one of the last 8 available sites out of the 140 in the campground. We drove to our site and after quickly throwing the tent together Paul started looking for the bbqs that didn’t actually exist. Apparently we were in a new area of the campground and barbies hadn’t been put in yet. So Paul had to drive a km away to the day use area to cook by the cars headlights while I stayed at the tent and made a salad by torchlight, which was made worse by the fact that all the cold beer was in fridge in the back of the car with Paul!
Oh yeah, we also hadn’t thought about exactly how we were going to do the dishes, which ended up sitting in the back of the car until the next morning when we drove to an available sink near the rangers station. This time we actually used our brains and filled up a bucket we had so we could do the next lot of dishes where we were actually camping.
Are we having fun yet?
The following morning we threw on our bathers and headed to Fortescue Falls. After a scary walk down a track more suited for mountain goats we were met by a beautiful waterfall cascading down the rocks. Everyone else had a swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls but I’m afraid it was a little too cold for me. We had a walk further into the gorge checking out all the colours in the rocks before taking a short walk to Fern Pool. This was really lovely, with 2 smaller water falls that the boys swam under. Apparently the water was a little warmer here but still not quite warm enough for me. Even Emma put me to shame.
Paul was getting a bit twitchy by now because shortly after getting up in the morning we discovered that SOMEONE had forgotten to throw the coffee in the car. I know, hard to believe when you think how methodical we were in our preparations! We headed off to the visitors centre where much to our relief if we were to spend eleventy hundred dollars on one of their thermal coffee mugs they would fill it up for FREE! I know, what a deal!
Actually, the lady there was lovely and suggested that we might enjoy a walk through Weano Gorge. This sounded good to us because Hancock Gorge, which is supposed to be pretty amazing. Was Closed. For a month. Of course.
Weano Gorge was a little easier to access and we walked all the way to the other end and then back again to have a quick dip in the pool (them, not me). After clambering back up to the car we ALL went round to the day use area to have a barbie – there was no way I was letting the beer out of my sight again! It didn’t take long to get dark but we were able to have a quick look down into Circular Pool. It looked great and we decided we would have a quick look in the morning before heading back to Dampier.
But that was before the rain!
Just as we got nice and cosy the tent it started and it didn’t stop ALL night. Oh how I missed Stanley. The following morning we got up and packed all our soggy, orange things in record time – we had a little chuckle when we jumped in the car to leave and saw that it was only just 8am!
As we needed to get fuel we decided to drive to the Auski roadhouse some 80 odd km away to fill up and have some breakfast. It was nice to be driving on bitumen again and it was also nice to pay $60 for toasted sandwiches for everyone.
Not far from Auski we came across the ghost town of Wittenoom. Here, blue asbestos was mined for many, many years until the health hazards of doing so were slowly recognised. In the late 1960’s mining was stopped and the government began phasing down the town. People were moved out, in 2006 all government services were withdrawn and by 2007 the presence of Wittenoom was removed from all road signs and maps. Even the warning signs about asbestos being in the area have been removed. It was quite eerie and very sad when having a drive around. I was surprised to learn that mining had also taken place around the Dales Camp Area.
We still had 292 km to drive and were keen to get going. Unfortunately the roads that were dusty and bumpy on the way in now consisted of thick, slippery, orange mud. At times we were reduced to driving at 30 km an hour, in 4WD , sideways! With a quick stop to have a look at Python Pool in Millstream on the way through the drive ended up taking us 5 hours!
To be fair, Karijini NP does offer some wonderful sights and is very well-managed by the DEC. There are a number of well maintained and signed walks, lots of information available with adequate camping facilities. We however, were terribly unprepared, time limited, and unaware of the distances between gorges/pools. Also the majority of roads within the park are unsealed and not a lot of fun to drive on. We still had fun, the kids enjoyed the adventure and we got to see Karijini, but somehow I find myself wishing we had just left it alone for now, going back at a later date when we had more time, more of a clue, oh, and coffee!