Ultimate Guide To Karijini National Park (Pilbara), Western Australia

Being the second largest national park in Western Australia, Karijini National Park offers visitors the opportunity to experience what Australia’s North West is all about.  With stunning gorges, beautiful swimming holes and amazing waterfalls, Karijini is definitely worth a visit.

Mulla Mulla wildflower at karijini national park
Mulla Mulla wildflower at Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Karijini means ‘hilly place’ in the local aboriginal language and is surrounded by wide open spaces, dotted with clumps of prickly spinifex grass, graceful white barked snappy gums and masses of colourful wildflowers after the summer rains.  

Carved out of some of the oldest rocks on the planet, a network of underground streams, spectacular gorges and cascading waterfalls, creates some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see.

If you’re keen to learn more about Karijini or you’re ready to start planning your trip, have read of this ultimate guide covering all aspects of Karijini and what you need to know before visiting.

Part 1 – Planning Your Trip

Where is Karijini National Park?

Karijini is located within the North West Region of WA and is about 1400 km north of Perth, WA; that’s about 15 hours of driving time. Most people break the trip up into a two or three-day drive, on either the Great Northern Hwy or the North West Coastal Hwy. You might like to head up one way and back the other.

When is the best time to visit?

Karijini National Park on a winters day
Karijini National Park on a winter day

The best time to visit Karijini is between April and September. The days are mild and sunny, but the nights can get very cold, so make sure you pack warm PJs and bedding. Unlike down south, most of the rain falls during summer in the wet/cyclone season, between November and March. You may get the odd cloudy day and light winter rain, during the cooler months, but the next day the sun will be shining again.

Do I need to pay to enter the park?

You will need to pay both park entry fees to enter the park and camping fees if you are staying overnight. A WA Parks Pass can be purchased online in advance. Discounts apply for pensioners and RAC members.

Are all the roads gravel?

Banjima Drive Corrugations within Karijini National Park
Example of the Corrugations on Banjima Drive

The camping and day-use areas at Dales Gorge and the Karijini Visitor Centre can be reached on sealed bitumen roads, but all of the other gorges will require some driving on gravel. The roads are only graded a few times a year and they can get pretty rugged in between. 

We recommend leaving your caravan or trailer at your accommodation before attempting to use the gravel roads if possible.

Banjima Drive runs east/west through the park, connecting all the gorges, but it is a terribly rough, corrugated road and most people find it safer, easier and even quicker to stick to the bitumen and go the long way around on Karijini Drive. 

Where can I camp at Karijini?

There are three campgrounds inside the park.  These are Dales Campground, an overflow camp and the Karijini Eco Retreat. 

1.Dales Campground

Pilbara Stars from within Karijini National Park
Star gazing from Dales Campground at Karijini National Park

Dales Campground is managed by DBCA and offers spacious gravel sites, pit toilets and a dump point. BBQs and picnic facilities are provided at the nearby Dales Gorge day-use area. Hot showers are available at the visitor centre for a small charge.

2. The Overflow Camp

Dales Overflow campground within Karijini National Park
Photo of the overflow camp

An overflow camp is open during the peak season and has pit toilets and dishwashing facilities. Both Dales and the overflow must be booked online through Park Stay.

3.Karijini Eco Retreat

Eco Retreat with Karijini National Park
Karijini Eco Retreat Campsites

The only other camping within the park is the Karijini Eco Retreat. It also offers spacious gravel campsites, camp kitchens, BBQs, picnic tables, hot showers and flushing toilets. Or you might prefer an air-conditioned glamping tent with stunning views out over the park. 

A licensed restaurant is located next to the reception and is open daily for breakfast lunch and dinner. Bookings are essential for both campsites and the restaurant.

If you’re staying outside of the park, then your next best option is Tom Price Tourist Park which is approximately  80 km away and offers a variety of accommodation options, including campsites and chalets. Check their website for more info and bookings 

Can I get fuel in the park?

There is no fuel available in the park, but depending on which direction you are coming from, if you fuel up at Tom Price, Auski or Newman and plan carefully, you should be able to see everything on one tank of fuel. 

To help you plan:

  • The Karijini Visitor Centre is 12 km from the Dales campground on a sealed road. 
  • Dales Campground in the east of the park to the Eco Retreat at the west end of the park is 86 km along the sealed Karijini Drive. It is only half the distance on Banjima Drive, but the road is gravel and usually so corrugated it actually takes longer. 
  • Joffre, Knox, Weano and Hancock Gorges are all about 10-12 km from the Eco Retreat
  • Hamersley Gorge is 86 km from the Eco Retreat or 70 from Tom Price, so check the road conditions before deciding which road to use.
  • Karijini is 80km from the closest town, Tom Price.

Are there any shops in the park?

Karijini Eco Retreat Reception and Restaurant
Karijini Eco Retreat Reception and Resturant

There are no shops in the park, so you will need to stock up on everything before you get there. The nearest supermarkets are in Tom Price and Newman. The only things available are bagged ice and ice creams at the Eco Retreat and souvenirs at the visitor centre. 

Can I bring the dog?

Sorry, but dogs are not allowed anywhere within Karijini National Park. Tom Price Tourist Park allows dogs and there are dog sitters available in the town. Contact the Tom Price Visitor Centre for more information.

Will I have phone reception?

Telstra and Optus phones will work at Dales Campground, the Visitor Centre and Karijini Eco Retreat. Reception between these sites is limited due to the long distances involved. 

How long do I need?

If you explored two gorges a day, 4 days would give you plenty of time to enjoy the unique features of each gorge. If you arrive in the park from the Great Northern Hwy, a suggested itinerary would be as follows. This can be reversed if you arrive from the other direction.

  • Day 1 Dales Gorge, Karijini Visitor Centre and Kalamina Gorge 
  • Day 2 Weano and Hancock Gorges
  • Day 3 Knox and Joffre Gorges
  • Day 4 Mt Bruce and Hamersley Gorge

You may like to allow an additional day to hike or 4WD to the top of Mt Nameless/Jarndunmunha and spend some time around Tom Price townsite.

Karijini Visitor Centre

Before exploring Karijini National Park we’d recommend that you drop by the Karijini Visitor Centre to help get the information or advice you may need to ensure you have a great time experiencing Karijini.

Within the visitor centre, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of the cultural and natural history of Kariji whilst getting the opportunity to ask the visitor centre staff any questions you may have.

Also, they have a number of maps and other brochures you can pick up and take with you.  Oh and if need be, there is also a small shop where you can purchase the likes of souvenirs, drinks and ice-creams.

Be Dingo Aware!

dingo at karijini national park
A dingo spotted at Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Dingos are a vital part of the ecosystem and it is really special when you get to see them. You may hear them howling during the night from your campsite.

To discourage them from entering the campgrounds, never entice them to come closer or leave food and rubbish bags out overnight. Be alert, especially in the evening and never leave children unsupervised. 

You will find more information on what to do if you are approached by a dingo in the Explore Parks WA, Be Dingo Aware brochure.

Part 2 – Exploring the Karijini Gorges

Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park Western Australia
Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park, Western Australia

There are 7 gorges and one mountain climb for you to explore in the park. Most of the gorges are located at the western end of the park, including Hamersley Gorge, Joffre and Knox Gorges, Weano and Hancock Gorges and Mt Bruce

Dales Gorge is the only one at the eastern end of the park, but should not be missed as it features both Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool; two of the most photographed and iconic places in the park. Kalamina Gorge is right in the middle, but best accessed from the western end, due to the terrible condition of the gravel access road.

Dales Gorge is within walking distance from the campground, but the other gorges are between 10 and 15km from the Karijini Eco Retreat and involve navigating some rough gravel roads to get there. 

How difficult are the gorge walks?

Class 4 trail marker at Karijini National Park
Example of a class 4 marker on one of the Karijini walking trails

The walks are rated from Class 1 (easy) to Class 5 (difficult). Each walk has different features, offering a variety of challenges. Trails are rated according to the most difficult part of the trail and may only have one or two short more difficult sections. Most of the Karijini walks are not very long but include lots of big steps, rocky climbs/descents or ladders and will take you much longer than you would expect. 

People with a reasonable level of fitness and agility and no underlying health conditions will manage up to Class 4 walks. You may find yourself puffing a bit and your legs will likely know it the next day, but take regular rest stops and you should be fine.

Class 5 walks are much more challenging and should only be attempted by fit and experienced hikers.

If a trail becomes too difficult, don’t be embarrassed to turn back. It is even more embarrassing to be rescued and may involve an uncomfortable wait for help to arrive.

Children and Karijini

Karijini is not ideally suited to families with babies and very small children. 

Once they can walk independently, they will manage most Class 2 and 3 walks depending on the length but will require lots of hand-holding and constant supervision.

Older children who walk, run and climb confidently are often fitter than their parents and will manage up to Class 4 walks with ease. 

Be Prepared when visiting Karijini

To get the most out of your experience, be prepared with suitable closed-in footwear, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water, especially on the longer trails such as the 9km Mt Bruce climb, where you will need 3-4 litres of water and a snack or light meal.

1. Nirribungunha (Dales Gorge)

Located off Karijini Drive, at the eastern end of the park and walking distance from the Dales Campground, Dales Gorge is home to the iconic Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. The road is sealed all the way and there is ample parking for long vehicles. Picnic tables, BBQs and toilets are provided.

Gorge Rim Walk and Dales Gorge

Class 3/4, moderate – 4 km loop 

Dales Gorge Walk at Karijini National Park
Dales Gorge Walk at Karijini National Park

This trail can be tackled in either direction, but we recommend completing the Gorge Rim Walk first, so you can finish your hike with a refreshing swim.

Starting at the Dales Gorge Recreation Area car park, the Gorge Rim Walk takes you past the Fortescue Falls lookout, where you can see the falls and the pool below, before following the rim of the gorge all the way to Three Ways and the Circular Pool lookout. 

The gravel trail is easy to follow as it meanders up and down along the top of the gorge, past graceful white barked snappy gums and clumps of prickly spinifex. It can be a little rough in places, but most people manage it with ease. There are spectacular views down into the gorge at several points along this trail.

From Circular Pool lookout you will need to backtrack to Three Ways and descend into the gorge. This section of the trail is Class 4 and more difficult. The climb down into the gorge is steep and rocky. A ladder is provided at the steepest point to assist you to the bottom. 

Ladder at Dales Gorge Karijini National Park
Ladder at Dales Gorge – Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Look for the trail markers and follow the gorge floor all the way back to Fortescue Falls. The trail is easier to follow from here, but there are some quite high rocky ledges to clamber up and loose rocks to navigate. 

A permanent stream runs along the gorge floor, supporting eucalypts, snappy gums and figs. Bird life is prolific and you may even find a colony of sleepy bats if you listen carefully.

You will need to cross the creek at several points and stepping stones are provided so you don’t get your feet wet. 

Suddenly, you come around the corner and there in front of you is the stunningly beautiful Jubula/Fortescue Falls. At this point, you can stop for a swim or continue on for another 600m to the iconic Jubura/Fern Pool and swim there. 

When you have finished swimming and taking in the stunning surroundings, backtrack to Fortescue Falls and climb the 288 metal stairs back to the car park.

Jubula (Fortescue Falls)

Class 3, moderate – 800m return

Fortescue Falls at Karijini National Park
Fortescue Falls at Karijini National Park

If you don’t have time or the energy to do the full loop, you can head straight down to Jubula/Fortescue Falls.

From the Dales Recreation Area car park, follow the trail to the lookout and descend the 288 metal steps down to the waterfall. The rocks around the falls are naturally stepped, providing plenty of seating areas where you can relax and take in the sheer majesty of this place. Swimming is permitted in the large pool at the base of the falls and many people like to sit with the icy water cascading over them. 

Fortescue Falls is fed by an underground spring and flows all year round.

The climb back up can be challenging, but there are plenty of landings and bench seats provided where you can stop to catch your breath and enjoy the views.

Jubura (Fern Pool)

Class 4, difficult – additional 600m return from Fortescue Falls

Fern Pool at Karijini National Park Western Australia

After visiting Fortescue Falls, you can continue on for another 300m to Fern Pool; one of the most photographed and iconic locations within the park. A new deck area provides easy access to the deep wide pool. Most people like to swim out to the waterfall and sit on the rocky ledges with the cold water cascading over them. 

2. Kalamina Gorge 

Kalamina Gorge is a delightful walk, but probably the most difficult to get to. It is located halfway along Banjima Drive; the worst road in the entire park. We recommend accessing it from the western end of Banjima Drive so you spend less time on that awful road. A picnic table and toilet is provided.

Kalamina Gorge Walk Trail

Class 4, difficult – 3km

Kalamina at Karijini National Park
Kalamina Gorge Walk Trail

After a short moderately difficult descent into the gorge, there is a beautiful cascading waterfall off to your right. It can be a bit tricky to get to, balancing on a narrow ledge, but well worth the effort. When the falls are flowing strongly, you can have a dip in the pool below.

From here, follow the gorge floor in the other direction for just over 1km. 

At the end of the trail, you will come to the Rock Arch Pool with a stunning natural rock arch.

The trail markers help you find the best way along the gorge, but you will still have to clamber up a number of rock ledges and cross the stream a few times.

3. Punurrunha (Mt Bruce)

Mt Bruce Punurrunha at Karijini National Park
Punurrunha (Mt Bruce)

Mt Bruce can be accessed from a small parking area just off Karijini Drive. There is no access for long vehicles. Toilets and an information shelter are provided. 

Marandoo View

Class 2, easy – 500m return

Starting at the Mt Bruce car park, this short trail takes you to a small lookout where you can see down into the Marandoo iron ore workings. 

Honey Hakea Track

Class 3, moderate – 4.6km return

Starting in the Mt Bruce car park, the Honey Hakea Track takes you past the Marandoo lookout and further up the slopes of Mt Bruce to another vantage point with stunning views down into the nearby iron ore mine and across the surrounding ranges. The trail is clearly marked and a perfect option for those not wanting or able to make the climb all the way to the summit.

Mt Bruce Summit 

Class 5, very difficult – 9km return

This challenging 9 km hike takes you all the way to the summit of Mt Bruce and will take you 6 hours to complete. Starting in the Mt Bruce car park, the trail follows the same path as Marandoo View and the Honey Hakea Track but then continues on a steep rocky path with almost vertical climbs and narrow ledges to navigate. It is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced hiker. 

The Summit Trail should only be attempted in the cooler weather and it is recommended that you start early in the day to avoid the midday heat. June to August are the best months, as April, May and September can reach into the mid-30s. Hike with a buddy and let someone know where you are going and when you will return or better still, carry a PLB. (Personal Locator Beacon)

Remember your hat and sunscreen and carry 3-4 litres of water, because you will need it. This is basically a full-day hike, so pack a snack or small meal as well.

4. Jijingunha (Joffre Gorge)

Joffre and Knox Gorges can both be accessed along Joffre Road, off Banjima Drive at the western end of the park. Parts of the road are gravel and can get fairly rough after heavy use. There are no toilets or other facilities at either of these locations, so please be responsible and take all rubbish with you, including toilet paper.

Joffre Lookout 

Class 3, moderate – 240m return

Joffre Gorge Lookout at Karijini National Park
Joffre Gorge Lookout at Karijini National Park

A short rocky path from the parking area takes you down to a lookout, jutting out over the gorge and providing a perfect view of Joffre Falls. The falls only flow during the early part of the year after the summer rains, but are a stunning sight to see.

Joffre Waterfall Walk

Class 5, very difficult – 1.3 return

Joffre Falls at Karijini National Park
Joffre Falls at Karijini National Park

The first part of the trail is only moderately difficult. Starting at Joffre Falls Lookout car park, follow the trail around the top of the falls before heading down into the gully and across the creek. Continue following the trail markers until you get to the first of about 8 ladders. 

This is where the fun starts, especially if you are afraid of heights. Descend each ladder slowly and wait on the landings to allow faster people to move past you if necessary. 

Joffre Gorge ladders at Karijini National Park
Joffre Gorge Ladders at Karijini National Park

At the bottom of the ladders, the waterfall is just around the bend to your right. To get there you will need to wade through the water or crouch down and shuffle along a narrow ledge beneath a rock overhang. Take extreme care on the slippery wet rocks. 

The best time to see the falls flowing is autumn, especially if they have had a good wet season. The water in the pool is icy cold like most of the pools at Karijini, but so refreshing after the climb down.

5. Knox Gorge

Knox Gorge at Karijini National Park
Knox Gorge at Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Like Joffre Gorge, Knox Gorges can be accessed along Joffre Road, off Banjima Drive at the western end of the park. Similar to Joffre, parts of the road leading toward Knox Gorge are gravel and can get fairly rough after heavy use. 

Please also be mindful that there are no toilets or other facilities at either Knox or Joffre, hence please be responsible and take all rubbish with you, including toilet paper.

Knox Lookout

Class 3, moderate – 200m

Knox Lookout provides stunning views deep down into the gorge system where Knox and Wittenoom Gorges meet. Follow the signs from the car park at the end of Joffre Road.

Knox Gorge

Class 5, very difficult – 2km return

Starting from the car park at the end of Joffre Road, this is one of the most challenging walks in the park and should only be attempted by experienced and well-prepared individuals. Expect lots of climbing and scrambling over loose rocks, but you will be rewarded with a swim in one of the pools at the bottom.

6. Weano Recreation Area

Both Weano and Hancock Gorges can be accessed from this area, located on Weano Road, at the western end of the park. The road is gravel and gets very rough at times. Ample parking is available and picnic tables, BBQs and toilets are provided.

Oxer and Junction Pool Lookouts

Class 3, moderate – 800m return

Oxers Lookout at Karijini National Park
Oxer Lookout at Karijini National Park

Just a short walk from the Weano Recreation area, these two lookouts provide stunning views down into the junction of Weano, Joffre, Red and Hancock Gorges. The gorges are up to 100m deep at this point and highlight the amazing forces of nature that created them.

Upper Weano Gorge

Class 4, difficult – 1km loop

Weano Gorge at Karijini National Park
Weano Gorge at Karijini National Park

Follow the signs from the car park to the path leading down into the gorge. Take the left-hand fork in the trail and follow the creek past towering red rock cliffs and tranquil reedy pools. The track leading up out of the gorge has sections of loose gravely stones and can be slippery. 

Walk back to the car park along the top of the gorge and look out for giant termite mounds along the way.

Lower Weano and Handrail Pool 

Class 5, very difficult – 1.2km return

Handrail Pool at Karijini National Park
Handrail Pool at Karijini National Park, Western Australia

This is one of the iconic walks at Karijini, taking you deep into the gorge system, through narrow chasms and past towering red cliffs. 

Follow the trail down into the gorge and turn right at the fork. Before long you will come to a wide deep pool that you need to wade through. 

The water can be anywhere from ankle-deep to thigh-high. At the far side of the pool, the trail enters a narrow chasm, between the towering cliffs and leads you down to Handrail Pool; so named because you have to lower yourself down via a handrail. 

This is where many people become unstuck, as the rocks have been worn smooth and shiny from the water that continually flows over them. Use both hands and take extreme care as you negotiate this part of the trail.

After a swim in the icy cold waters, you can return the way you came.

7. Hancock Gorge and Kermits Pool 

Class 5, very difficult – 1.5km return

Hancock Gorge at Karijini National Park
Hancock Gorge at Karijini National Park

Accessed from the Weano Recreation Area, Hancock Gorge is another one of the iconic class 5 walks in the park.

Follow the signs and descend into the gorge with the aid of a ladder attached to the rocks. This challenging trail will have you wading and swimming through the water and teetering along narrow rock ledges but is stunningly beautiful. 

It is the home of the legendary ‘spider walk’ where you navigate your way along a narrow chasm, with one hand and one foot on each side of the gorge, while the water rushes beneath you. The trail ends at Kermits Pool, where you will want to sit and ponder the incredible forces of nature that create such amazingly beautiful places.

Return the way you came. Do not continue past this point without the aid of a professional guide and specialised equipment, as it is extremely dangerous.

8. Hamersley Gorge

Hamersley Gorge is not as deep as some of the other gorges, but no less stunning.  Toilets are the only facilities provided.

Hamersley Waterfall 

Class 4 -200m return

Hamersley Gorge Waterfall at Karijini National Park
Hamersley Waterfall at Karijini National Park

Follow the trail from the car park to the bottom of the gorge. Expect some high uneven steps on the way down. At the bottom of the trail, there is a large pool with course sandy banks, making it ideal to enjoy a picnic and swim. Hamersley Waterfall is off to your right where the water flows over a large sloping rock.

Spa Pool 

Class 5 – 400m return

Spa Pool at Karijini National Park WA
Spa Pool at Karijini National Park

Upstream from Hamersley Falls is the iconic spa pool. A narrow waterfall plunges from several metres high into a small, almost circular pool, creating an amazing spa effect. You will need to navigate some steep sloping rocks and swim through another pool to get to the spa pool. Take care as the rocks are very slippery.

Conclusion

We hope that you’ve found the above article of value and that you’ve been able to access the information you need to plan your Karijini adventure.  

If there is any information that we haven’t covered please let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to include this:)

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