Karijini National Park
Set in the Hamersley Range in the heart of the Pilbara, the vast Karijini National Park is an ancient landscape of massive mountains and steep escarpments cut by spectacular gorges more than 100 metres deep. Within these sheer-sided chasms hide crystal-clear rock pools, cascading waterfalls and lush vegetation.
Gazetted as a national park in 1969, Karijini is the second largest national park in Western Australia. Summer is best avoided as it can be unbearably hot.
From Tom Price via Tom Price North Rd, Marandoo Rd and Karijini Dr; from Roebourne via North West Coastal Hwy then Roebourne–Wittenoom Rd; from Port Hedland via North West Coastal Hwy then Great Northern Hwy and Karijini Dr; from Karratha via Pilbara Iron Access Rd (permit required) then Roebourne–Wittenoom Rd; from south-east (Newman) via Great Northern Hwy then Karijini Dr
May to October
1400 km north of Perth; 310 km south-east of Roebourne; 285 km south of Port Hedland; 50 km east of Tom Price; 196 km north-west of Newman
- DEC Pilbara (08) 9182 2000
- Park ranger (08) 9189 8147
Permit required to travel Pilbara Iron Access Rd; ﬁshing licence required for Fortescue River
627 445 ha
Karijini (08) 9189 8121
Tom Price (08) 9188 1112
Featured Activities in the National Park
Learn about the ﬂora, fauna and geology of the area at the visitor centre
Enjoy the breathtaking views over Junction Pool from Oxer Lookout
Take a swim in the aptly named Fern Pool
Look for rock piles made by the rare western pebble-mound mouse amid the spinifex
A look at the past
In 1861 surveyor and naturalist Francis Thomas Gregory was the ﬁrst European to visit this area, naming the Hamersley Range after the sponsor of his expedition, Edward Hamersley. For nearly 50 years the region remained largely untouched, then in 1908 blue asbestos was discovered in the Hamersley Range. By the late 1930s, serious attempts to extract the mineral were being made and by 1943 blue asbestos mining began in Wittenoom Gorge. Mining also took place in Yampire Gorge, with the asbestos being primarily used to manufacture fencing and rooﬁng materials.
By 1966, the mines had closed. A number of miners and their families, who were exposed to the asbestos ﬁbres, have subsequently died from asbestosis, an inﬂammation of the lungs caused by the inhalation of asbestos particles. Today, visitors are warned about the presence of asbestos ﬁbres and dust in and around Wittenoom and Yampire Gorge and are asked to keep clear of these areas.
In 1962 iron ore was discovered in the area, prompting huge mining works by Hamersley Iron at Mount Tom Price, once an important source of ochre for the Aboriginal people. The subsequent mining boom spawned towns such as Karratha on the coast to the north-west of the national park. Tom Price, some 50 kilometres west of the park, is a large mining town with all facilities; mine tours of the open-cut iron-ore mines are available.
The traditional owners of the Hamersley Range are the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga people. Aboriginal sites more than 18 000 years old have been found, some signiﬁcant to today’s local Aboriginal community. The park was ﬁrst known as Hamersley Range National Park, but this name was changed in 1991 in favour of the Banyjima word for the range, Karijini.
The Karijini Visitor Centre, located on Banyjima Drive, offers displays on the ﬂora, fauna and geology of the area, and on the local Aboriginal people and their culture. The design of the building represents a goanna moving through the country; the animal is highly symbolic to the local Aboriginal people. The tail represents their history, the centre or stomach their law, and the head the future direction of the traditional owners. The high, weathered steel walls of the centre mimic the sheer-sided gorges that are a feature of the park. The building is designed to withstand the ﬁres that are a regular occurrence in the region. This centre is a good place to start any visit to this national park.
While much of the southern part of the park is inaccessible, it is the famous gorges in its northern section that attract visitors. Chasms as deep as 100 metres scour a steep escarpment, exposing dominant layering and sediments dating back almost 2500 million years. Sheer terraced cliffs of loose red rock are characterised by rust-red colours, in stark contrast to the lush green of ground-clinging ferns.
Each gorge has its own particular features. Nestled between the walls of Dales Gorge and shaded by lush vegetation are Fern Pool and Circular Pool, separated by the park’s only permanent waterfall, Fortescue Falls. Circular Pool is surrounded by beautiful sunken gardens. Kalamina Gorge and Pool is the most accessible gorge. At Hamersley Gorge a wave of tectonic rock acts as a backdrop to a swimming hole and natural spa. Joffre Gorge boasts a natural amphitheatre created by an unusual curved wall and, after rain, a 100-metre waterfall. Oxer Lookout is above the pool where the Joffre, Hancock, Weano and Red gorges join. Many of these gorges are relatively easy and safe to enter, but some are best undertaken with a guide.
Karijini National Park also contains the two tallest mountains in Western Australia: Mount Meharry at 1250 metres high; and Mount Bruce, known as Bunurrunha by the Aboriginal people, at 1235 metres high. A climb to the summit of Mount Bruce gives a panoramic view of the Hamersley Range.
The dusty red earth of the hills, ridges and plateaus of Karijini is covered with spinifex and porcupine grass, punctuated by eucalypts such as the drought-resistant snappy gum (Eucalyptus brevifolia), with its twisted white trunk. Low mulga woodlands are found on the lower slopes and valley plains.
The wildﬂowers that bloom here vary with the seasons, but July to October is the best time to see ﬂoral displays. Countless everlastings carpet the landscape, along with the ubiquitous purple–pink mulla mulla.
Within the gorges are luxuriant ferns thriving on moist rock ledges and reed-lined pools of water, surrounded by river red gums, white-barked gums and cadjeputs. The latter, also known as weeping paperbark (Melaleuca leucadendra), are covered with creamy white fragrant ﬂower spikes in spring – laden with nectar, they are a great attraction for birds and bees.
Native rock ﬁgs (Ficus platypoda) grow in seemingly impossible positions on the rock faces of the gorges; birds that eat the fruit leave undigested seeds on the rock ledges, where they germinate in small pockets of soil and leaf debris. The roots of the ﬁg then stretch downwards to reach water, sometimes as far as 10 metres below.
Two of the smallest creatures in the park build homes that are a highly visible feature of Karijini – look out for the huge termite mounds and, on stony slopes among the spinifex, the rock piles of the rare western pebble-mound mouse. This tiny marsupial uses stones to build a small volcano-like crater for its nesting chamber. These laboriously constructed stone piles serve as entrances to a system of burrows underground. Within, the nesting chambers are lined with leaves and other plant debris. Mounds can cover areas of up to 9 square metres. This tiny creature is just one of the many species of native rodent to reside in the national park.
Other mammals in Karijini include red kangaroos, euros, rock-wallabies, dingoes, echidnas and bats. The park also boasts a variety of birds, which are drawn to the waterholes. Spinifex pigeons, distinctive for their sandy-coloured crests, dodge through the rocks and grasses, and wedge-tailed eagles are a common sight soaring high up on the thermals created by the warm air rising from the surrounding plains. Reptiles abound, with geckos, goannas, dragons and legless lizards scurrying about or lazing on rocks, and pythons and other snakes are common but not necessarily sighted.
This is a park for wilderness adventurers, nature photographers and keen bushwalkers. Roads in the park are generally in good condition but heavy rains can result in track closures; to check road conditions in the park contact the visitor centre. Visitors can swim in the permanent pools in the gorges but water temperatures can be very cold and wetsuits are recommended. When swimming in gorges or rivers, watch out for submerged hazards. Most of the gorges have picnic areas.
Karijini offers plenty of marked walking trails ranging from easy to difﬁcult. These include the Gorge Rim Trail (2 km, 2 hours return), which winds from Circular Pool Lookout along the edge of Dales Gorge. A steep trail (800 metres return, 2 hours) descends from Dales Gorge carpark to Fortescue Falls, which provides the perfect spot for a dip. A steep descent, followed by a walk along the gorge ﬂoor will take you to Circular Pool (800 metres return, 2 hours, difﬁcult), which is picturesquely framed by lush green ferns.
At Kalamina Gorge an easy 30-minute return walk that leads to the gorge’s lush, shaded pool can be extended into a 3-hour return walk through the gorge. The trailhead carpark for the walk to Kalamina Gorge has an information board, tables and toilets. Hancock Gorge walk is through a steep narrow gorge, which takes you down to Kermit’s Pool (1.5 km return, 3 hours, medium difﬁculty).
Mount Bruce summit walk (9 km return, 5 hours, difﬁcult) is recommended for ﬁt and experienced walkers only. The summit offers good views of the national park and along the way there are interpretive signs on Aboriginal heritage, ﬂora and fauna. There are also giant termite mounds in this area. If you are contemplating any of the longer hikes, you must notify a ranger before starting out. Regardless of the length of the walk, remember that the gorges can be extremely hazardous.
There are lookouts over most of the gorges, which then lead on to walking trails. A good place to get your bearings is Oxer Lookout, which is a 30-minute return walk from the Weano carpark. The lookout has breathtaking views down a 100-metre drop to Junction Pool, the confluence of four gorges – Weano, Red, Knox and Joffre. At Joffre Gorge, rock steps take you down to a lookout overlooking a spectacular curved waterfall, which forms a natural amphitheatre. The 300-metre walk down into Knox Gorge to the lookout is best undertaken in the early morning or late afternoon, to witness the full play of light on the view.
The pools of water in the gorges provide delightful places for a refreshing swim. However, as noted above, some of the deep pools that remain shaded can be extremely cold, especially between April and September. Take care, as hypothermia can occur.
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