Walk Dales Gorge! Karijini National Park, Western Australia
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 although it lit up the eastern wall quite spectacularly.
Another day in the Pilbara, another killer landscape …
A movement among the rocks far below caught my eye.
Negotiating massive rock slabs higher than they were, and crossing vast tables of square-but rock, two hikers the size of ants 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 …
But as 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 the next morning, I realised I didn’t have anything to worry about.
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.
So I was watching my footing as we took the Circular Pool detour over 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 …
After leaving the rock slabs, the river waters ran deep through groves of trees with 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 …
Only about 50 km away as the crow flies is Wittenoom, where crocidolite– otherwise known as the potentially deadly Blue Asbestos – was mined extensively in what surely must be Australia’s greatest industrial disaster, and immortalised by Aussie Band Midnight Oil in their song Blue Sky Mine.
Sadly, although the mine was closed in 1966 (for economic rather than safety reasons), it is estimated that in addition to the 2000+ deaths from asbestos related diseases, the death toll will not peak until 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, nearby Tom Price*** inherited the ‘Karijini Gateway’ tag and is the closest provider of goods and services.
But now, although only a small stretch of the 40+ km length of Dales Gorge is accessible, it’s a diverse and spectacular couple of kilometres.
The rocks and ledges that had given way to the river and trees now gave way to a series of cascades as we headed towards Fortescue Falls.
Negotiating the treacherous and slippery stepping stones across the river, then up the natural rock layer steps and stairs to the top of the falls, we settled back for lunch – and a show!
In the absence of bars and nightclubs, why not use the falls and pool below as 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.
But proving he was no one trick pony, I inadvertently captured him in a similar pose the next day at Joffre Falls (check out the link at the bottom of the post if you want to see him in action AGAIN!) …
… but I digress!
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 …
Then it’s a steep climb up the track out of the gorge to the Falls carpark.
While it’s possible my red face, gasping for air and frequent ‘photo’ stops showed some of the descending tour group what they had to look forward to after seeing the falls up close, I was unrepentant! If could do the hard yards, so could they although there are spectacular views of the falls from the vantage point above the trailhead if anyone wanted to chicken out!
To complete the loop, we followed the return path along the Gorge Rim track back to Three Ways Lookout and a tremendous view over the falls and river SO far below where we were actually walking not long before.
The Karijini Visitors Centre, set amongst yet another awesome landscape – incomprehensibly under threat from a cash-strapped government looking for mining royalties during our August 2012 visit – does a roaring trade in $2 HOT Showers. After a few hours on the trail the shower is a perfect interlude before returning to the Dales Campground for – yes, you guessed it – ANOTHER scenic landscape with a late afternoon glow that turned the WAY beyond RED rocks into a shade I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
And as the plague of fears (the usual suspects – 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).
Maybe there WAS a place for this coward at Karijini after all.
We were done with Dales Gorge.