Walk Dales Gorge! Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Last Updated on May 6, 2021 by Red Nomad OZ

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

The Evening Before …

I gripped the railing and looked through the deep shadows down the deep RED gash of Dales Gorge. WAAAAAY down. Late afternoon at the lookout meant the sun was long gone from the gorge floor.  Even though it had lit up the eastern wall quite spectacularly.

Circular Pool from Above, Karijini National Park
Circular Pool from Above, Karijini National Park

Ho Hum.

Another day in the Pilbara, another killer landscape …

A movement among the rocks far below caught my eye.

Two hikers, the size of ants negotiated massive rock slabs higher than they were.  They crossed vast tables of square-but rock, as they headed towards the imaginatively named Circular Pool.

Yes, that white speck at the waters edge in this photo really IS a person!

‘That’s where we’ll go tomorrow,’ Pilchard announced.

Say WHAT?? How in heck were we going to get down there when the map showed ‘cliff risk area’ symbols all along the gorge edge? Symbols whose warnings I was only too happy to heed?

That ‘killer’ landscape was taking on a whole new AND unwelcome meaning …

Rock Layers en route to Circular Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Rock Layers en route to Circular Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

Hiking down Dales Gorge

The next morning, we picked our way along the goat track rocky path winding down the sheer cliff under the Three Ways Lookout and past one of those ‘Cliff Risk Area’ signs. I realised I didn’t have anything to worry about.

Dales Gorge Rock
Dales Gorge Rock, Karijini National Park

A strategically placed ladder made negotiating the really steep bits almost easy.

And if I DID slip and fall??

Well … it’d be hard to find a more picturesque location in which to receive a serious – or even fatal – injury. Or two. Or even die.

No, Karijini National Park was no place for a coward.

Set amidst the impossibly RED Hamersley Range and out in the deep heart of mining country, Karijini’s warning signs are for real.

Rangers and volunteers risk – and sometimes lose – their lives rescuing tourists who don’t heed the dangers.

Circular Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Circular Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

I was watching my footing as we took the Circular Pool detour.  We crossed those same gigantic rock shelves we’d viewed from the lookout the evening before.

They weren’t as bad as they’d looked from above.

But I hoped the people at the lookout above didn’t throw anything down …

Blue Danger

After leaving the rock slabs, the river waters ran deep through groves of trees. Those red Red RED rocky walls towering high above, tinged every now and then with a dash of blue.

Blue?? In this location and in these rocks it took on a sinister meaning …

Rock Layers, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Rock Layers, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

Only about 50 km away as the crow flies is the closed-down town of Wittenoom.That’s where crocidolite– otherwise known as the potentially deadly Blue Asbestos – was mined extensively in what surely must be Australia’s greatest industrial disaster.  It’s since been immortalised by Aussie Band Midnight Oil in their song Blue Sky Mine.

The mine was closed in 1966 for economic rather than safety reasons.  However, it is estimated that in addition to the 2000+ deaths from asbestos related diseases, the death toll will peak in the 2020s.

Were these crocidolite layers in the rock?? Perhaps not, but I was leaving them well alone …

Like I said. No place for a coward.

After the de-gazettal of Wittenoom, the nearby town of Tom Price*** inherited the ‘Karijini Gateway’ tag and is the closest provider of goods and services.

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

Hiking back up the gorge

Although only a small stretch of the 40+ km length of Dales Gorge is accessible, it’s a diverse and spectacular few kilometres.

The 'View' from Fortescue Falls, Dales Gorge
The ‘View’ from Fortescue Falls

The rocks and ledges that had first given way to the river and trees. Now they gave way to a series of cascades as we headed towards Fortescue Falls.

We negotiated the treacherous and slippery stepping stones across the river.  Then we climbed the natural rock layer steps and stairs to the top of the falls.  And then it was time for lunch – and a show!

With no bars or nightclubs within cooee, the falls and pool below had become an alternative outback meat market.

This walk definitely wasn’t for the faint-hearted as scantily clad travellers cavorted, strutted and posed with all their wares out on display!

The young man who climbed the amphitheatre’s rocky walls to take photos wasn’t necessarily showing off.

Not to me, anyway, although he seemed not to be plagued by the vertigo I would have suffered in his place.

Spot the Tourist!
Spot the Tourist!

But proving he was no one trick pony, I inadvertently captured him in a similar pose the next day at Joffre Falls.  Want to see him again?  Check out the link at the bottom of the post!

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

Time out for a swim

A little further up the river, we detoured to popular swimming spot the Fern Pool. En route to the clear, blue water and white bodies fresh from the cooler Northern Hemisphere climes, fig trees sprawl over the mossy rocks and ferns grow in the grottos. Fig leaves are optional …

Fig Trees near Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Fig Trees near Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

Then it’s a steep climb up the track out of the gorge to the Falls carpark.

It’s possible my red face, gasping for air and frequent ‘photo’ stops showed the descending tour group what they had to look forward to after seeing the falls up close!  There are spectacular views of the falls from the vantage point above the trailhead if anyone wants to chicken out!

Fortescue Falls from Above, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
Fortescue Falls from Above, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

To complete the loop, we followed the return path along the Gorge Rim track back to Three Ways Lookout.  The tremendous view over the falls and river SO far below showed us where we were actually walking not long before.

Dales Gorge from above on the Gorge Rim Walk, Karijini National Park
Dales Gorge from above on the Gorge Rim Walk, Karijini National Park

Back to Camp

The Karijini Visitors Centre, set amongst yet another awesome landscape does a roaring trade in $2 hot showers.  Incomprehensibly, it was under threat from a cash-strapped government looking for mining royalties when we visited. After a few hours on the trail the shower is a perfect interlude before returning to the Dales Campground.  There you’ll find yet another scenic landscape with a late afternoon glow.  The light turned the WAY beyond RED rocks into a shade I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

View from Three Ways Lookout, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park
View from Three Ways Lookout, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

The plague of fears (heights, injury, death) I’d had at the start of this excellent walk faded in the afterglow of achievement.  We settled back into our comfy chairs for a meal from the best little café in Australia (see link below).

Dales Campground, Karijini National Park, Western Australia
Dales Campground, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Maybe there WAS a place for this coward at Karijini after all.

We were done with Dales Gorge.

Gorge Rim Walk, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park, Western Australia
Gorge Rim Walk, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

For now.

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  1. Woo! Impressive narration. This looks scary as well as equally fascinating. Hiking these landscapes looks like an achievement in itself. Beautiful pictures. Would love to see them for sure.

  2. We did a coastal loop in Western Australia last year, but didn’t go to Karijini national park. In fact, we didn’t even know about it. What a pity, as from the photos I can see it has incredible views.

    1. It’s a bit of a detour off the coastal route, Rhonda – when we went to Karijini we missed half the coast! You can’t have both – unless you take twice the time!

  3. Trekked Mt Agung I’m Bali recently. Can totally relate to this experience but once you finish it , it does feel like a great achievement.

  4. I’ve always heard that Western Australia is beautiful, but this really seals it! Karijini National Park looks incredible!! Your photos are breathtaking. Hiking there definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, but looks well worth the efforts. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Enjoyed reading this – love your entertaining writing style 🙂
    I admire you for being so brave. It looks absolutely stunning and while I love hiking I also suffer a bit from vertigo. Hands down!

  6. All this sounds so exciting! I have never been to this part of the world yet and your descriptions make me feel I am missing out a lot. I am no brave person and would experience the fears of heights. The hot showers there sounds like worth experiencing.

    1. I’m afraid of heights too, Indrani – unlike my partner who can stand on the edge of a cliff with no fear!! But if I prepare myself mentally, I can overcome my fear – a bit, anyway!

  7. Absolutely beautiful! I think seeing this in person would be one of the most beautiful sights a person could see in a lifetime! I would most definitely have to check out the bottom of the gorge and take a dip in the pool! Great read.

  8. I missed on Karijini on my WA travels unfortunately and I have regretted it ever since. The park looks spectacular and this hike would be on the bucket list for us. It looks amazing even though a tad scary for me maybe…. Your photos are great too and really show how beautiful the place is. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It’s SO worth doing just for the killer scenery, Cindy – and if I can do it, almost anyone can. Karijini is one of my all time favourite Aussie places to go 😀

  9. Karijini is such an amazing place. We only spent a couple of days here, but will be back to explore more. Despite how accessible and popular Fern Pool was, I fell in love with it; we’d visit every afternoon for a quick dip!

    1. The only reason we didn’t stay there for a longer time is because our gas ran out 🙁 LOVED every bit of it – even staying in nearby Tom Price was pretty good too! Hope we get a longer stay next time!

  10. This is the place we missed on our WA travels and I am so disappointed! We did some deliberation and even looked into getting our dog looked after while we travelled out there. We finally decided is was too far and too much bother. Wrong decision!! Afterwards we saw amazing photos and heard incredible stories about the beauty of this place. Absolutely stunning place and deserves a lot more publicity that it gets.

    1. You can’t do everything in one trip, Kathy! We didn’t go to Purnululu because it was the tail end of the school holidays & the campsites were booked out. We were going to stay O/N at the nearest roadhouse & check it out for next time, but decided to keep going to Fitzroy Crossing. We’ve ALSO seen amazing photos and read super stories about it – but it’s firmly on the list for next time!! As is the stretch of coast we missed by taking the Karijini detour – we didn’t see anything between Port Hedland and Exmouth!

  11. @Sallie – The whole asbestos thing has a way to go yet … but the country is AMAZING!
    @Vicki – Thank you, my friend!
    @MastHoliday – It’s a pleasure!
    @Pauline – And thank you to you too!
    @Rocky – Haha, me too!!!
    @Liz – You should – it’s AWESOME!

  12. @TFG – Haha! Thanx for making my phobias seem normal!!!
    @TMWH – Well … lets just say it’s lucky my camera has an anti-shake mechanism!
    @Indrani – Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!
    @Saucy – HAha, you’re right! Just because I’d never climb up there in a million years doesn’t make them fools!
    @SFlaGuy – You’re WAY too kind! No, REALLY!!! But thanx anyway … always nice to get your perspective!
    @EG Camera Girl – Thank you! It’s a pleasure to show it to you!
    @Filip – And I’d like to go back again!

  13. @Jo-Anne – Haha! I just provide the information … what you do with it is up to you!!! But I’m glad it’s inspiring!
    @Andrew – HAhaha, I never thought of the similarities between this place and yours! But now that you point it out, I’m not sure which is the more dangerous!
    @River – As I stare at them now, wanting to be back there!
    @diane b – Once I was down the goat track, it wasn’t so bad … of course I can say that NOW with the benefit of hindsight!
    @whiteangel – It was ALL fascinating!! And unique in Australia!!
    @MJWC – Like many things, the thought of getting down there was worse than actually doing it!
    @Beach Bum – Not sure … will have to look into that for next time!! It certainly wasn’t obvious in any of the marketing material.
    @FruitCake – It’s amazing what one can do when one is faced with the challenge. But I DID have to really psych myself up for it!
    @Sharon – I think there are many similarities from what I’ve seen. Would be interesting to compare this spot to the GC in size and depth.

  14. @Eileeninmd – Thank you!! It’s magnificent – but the best think is that we’ve left plenty more to see!
    @Chris – Aha! I just KNEW my cowardly persona fitted it somehow!!! I think the fear engenders respect – even if my motivation is to save my own skin!!
    @Genie – Haha, love your pun!! Thank you for your kind words – I guess this is a little different to Paris!!!
    @FigMince – Thanx for the tip!! Our gorges are not as well known as the GC – but there sure are similarities!
    @Jill – Our campsite was in a new campground ‘loop’ – no shade, but it wasn’t too hot in early August 2012 when we were there! We were advised to do the trip the way we did & I don’t regret it – I think the steep climb up from Circular Pool might have been a bit much after the rest of the walk!!! Yes, I’m a woose!!!

  15. I can’t think of a good enough adjective!! Beautiful doesn’t seem enough! But it’s the word I was breathing as I looked at your photos. So beautiful!

  16. The landscapes of the Karijini national park looking spectacular. I got nice information when i found your blog and its pictures such you have great captures your magical eyes.
    thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  17. Red, you really are the best tour guide for this (at the present time) armchair tourist 🙂
    You risk life and limb, endure impromptu peep shows and thumb your nose at asbestos – from a safe distance, hopefully, to bring us some TRULY breath-taking images!!

    Mention asbestos to ANY west Aussie and we’d shiver at the knowledge of what it does, having lived with it in the media (and some of our lives) for so many years.


  18. This is some of your most beautiful landscape photography yet. I think I’ve said that before in the many years I’ve followed this blog. The rock layers en route to the circular pool photo is just begging for a large format print. Not sure where you would hang it in your trailer home. Might be time to find yourself a nice gallery somewhere and get famous finally.

  19. Its a combination of the most wonderful and exotic colours, landscape and foolhardy climbers (I’m sure they know what to do) that brings this post upfront and still lingering on my mind. I have enjoyed this post immensely Red.

  20. Red, greatly enjoyed your photos and story of your trip to Dales Gorge. Love the colors in those rocks. Including walkers in the pictures provides a sense of perspective so we can see how vast this place it. Acrophobia is just the minds way to telling you to be careful and hang on. Thank you for a fun post.

  21. You have a way of telling a story that has me sitting on the edge of my seat. This place reminds me quite a bit of a place in Arizona, Sedona. The color of the rock is much the same and canyons abound in the area however, nothing quite as deep as this one. (We saved that knee-quaking experience for the Grand Canyon.) This was quite an adventure and you’ve described it and photographed it beautifully.

  22. Sometimes the range of colours in a particular place exceed the usually high standard. Well captured. Well done to conquer your fears – I couldn’t do it in a million years.

  23. I was wondering, is there any dinosaur remains in the Karijini area? It looks like a great place to hunt for fossils.

  24. Oh my gosh… that circular pool is a long, long way down there. Good thing you were holding on tight.

  25. I’m with River. It is a stunning place. How brave you were to attempt that walk but it was certainly worth it so that we could enjoy the beautiful photos.

  26. Karijini is such a beautiful place – but it certainly isn’t without it’s risks – people have died there. I was interested to read that you walked down the track at Circular Pool. We usually opt for starting at the other end – taking the easier path downwards, then walking through to Circular Pool and then climbing up the steep track. I find climbing up a steep slippery track is easier than coming down one. At least there are 2 options at Dales George.
    We have friends who are going to Karijini very soon, and your post has certainly wetted my appetite for another visit. It really is beautiful.
    But I must ask – are you camped at the generator camp? From my memory the main Dales camp was much shadier.
    Happy camping and touring Red – and thanks for another fabulous post.

  27. That has to be one of the most magnificent areas you’ve ever photographed. I stared so long at each stunning photo, wanting to be there.

  28. I am captivated by your narrative and the beautiful photos. So many of the colors appear from an artist’s palette! Thank you for the vicarious adventure in such an exotic locale. I will be back for more. You “rock” (pun intended – hah!)


  29. Much of this reminds me of Tucson. What a beautiful landscape that is as dangerous sometimes. That young man in your pic represents many of our college students that come from out of state to study and also explore our beautiful state. Unfortunately, about 2 weeks ago, one of the young men feel into a waterfall and wasn’t seen again. It’s a magnificent scene, but one that requires respect:)

  30. ‘But I hoped the people at the lookout above didn’t throw anything down.’ Welcome to my world.

    What a truly spectacular place and you captured it very well.

  31. What a beautiful park! The views of the pool and lovely colored rocks and cliffs are gorgeous! My hubby would love to hike to the Circular Pool. Awesome photos and post.

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