Published: August 19th 2006July 7th 2006
Unfortunately our drive down to Karijini passed nowhere selling alcohol of any description, so the prospect of a camping trip with only 2 bottles of beer between us loomed large. It took just under 4 hours to complete the ~320km journey, and we took pitch number 69 in Dingo's Loop in Dales Campground. The facilities are decidedly basic, with a couple of public barbecues and a long drop toilet. The latter is only 20 yards away from our tent, and the smell from it tickled my nostrils on a regular basis. There are no rubbish bins, so we had to keep all our rubbish with us until we left the park.
There are lots of flies here, annoying little buggers that have clearly been longing for the chance to sit on English skin. After a while, it requires too much energy to constantly bat them away so you end up enduring little feet plodding all over your head. (I shouldn't complain - Daniel showed us some photos of when he was on the Great Ocean Road in the summer, and there was one shot of his friend's arm completely coated in flies.)
Having not assisted in putting up a
tent since I was about 6 years old, I was in the position of simply obeying orders as we built our temporary home. It's supposedly a 4 person tent, but was quite snug enough with 2 guys and a small woman.
The cooking of dinner was essentially done in the dark, with there being no illumination in the barbecue area. Elena's caving-style headlamp was the most useful light we had - a torch isn't much help if, say, you're trying to turn over onion rings on a barbecue. The resulting meal was superb - chicken fillets, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, 2 slices of old pizza (ahem), and a couple of thimblefuls each of Carlton Mid. With mosquitos chowing down on my ankles, and the Milky Way's pin-pricks of light creating an absorbing pattern in the sky, it set an imposing standard for our first camping meal.
Bedtime was at about 10PM, after the usual camping discussions on a succession of increasingly ludicrous topics had ceased.
I noticed during the night that my sleeping bag, acquired for the princely sum of $20 from K-mart, functioned in a very similar fashion to a plastic bag, leaving me clammy but
warm. Everyone had had a fairly decent sleep, so the day looked potent with boundless promise. Our first objective was to walk Dales Gorge. We bumped into an Easyrider group, including Beth, before descending some "stairs" near Fortescue Falls, then scrambled along the bottom of the gorge to Circular Pool. There Daniel provided one of the lasting images of the trip by gingerly inching along some narrow slippery ledges, clad only in his pornstar Speedos, to reach a trickling waterfall which he employed as a shower. I then joined him in the pool itself for a swim, with the water not being as cold as I would have expected given that it was well in the shade.
350 steps later and we were back at the top of the gorge. We drove to Savannah Campsite, where the ground was so stony that we were unable to put up the tent's verandah because we simply couldn't find anywhere to drive in the pegs.
With the tent up, we headed for Weano Gorge where can be found Oxers Lookout - probably the most famous point in Karijini. Here, and at nearby Junction Lookout, you can see the confluence of Weano,
Daniel modelling his sawn-off Speedos
Hancock, Red, and Joffre gorges (aka the Four Gorges). In theory it's impressive, but in practice there was so much shadow being cast that it was a little difficult for your eyes to take it all in.
We next walked through Weano Gorge, which started out as a gentle amble then required progressively more and more canyoning (i.e. walking on broken rock, with occasional bits of climbing on ledges and, in my case, the odd foot in the water). The water in the gorge was shallow and not moving that quickly, so there was no danger of being washed away. We reached a point where it didn't seem possible to progress further without wading waist-deep in the water, which didn't appeal to either Elena or me so we waited while Daniel blazed the trail then headed off further into the gorge. It became apparent later that there was actually a ledge-hopping route around this obstacle.
Our final visit for the day was to Joffre Falls, which was a little dim in the waning light but just edged Fortescue for the best falls seen so far.
Dinner was not a similar extravaganza to yesterday's, but simply a pasta
and sauce combo that Elena clearly wasn't pleased was supposed to pass for Italian cooking. After dinner, we burned a couple of CDs from the music collection on Daniel's laptop, to give our drive time some different tunes. Until now, we'd only had 2 CDs that I'd originally bought for the Great Ocean Road trip - Queen's Greatest Hits Vol 1 and Duran Duran's Greatest Hits. Queen had immediately been consigned to the scrap heap by Elena and Daniel, so we'd had about 7 cycles through everything from "Girls On Film" to "Ordinary Day". Daniel's selection was bizarrely eclectic, with (too much) Destiny's Child mixed in with German hip hop, the Corrs, and Nelly Furtado, plus some garbage by Homer Simpson that I, claiming driver's veto, subjected to the fast forward button every time it came up.
Our final morning in Karijini dawned bright and clear, and I decided to avail myself of one of the primitive showers that were on the campsite. There was a hot and a cold tap at just below waist-level, and a pulley system allowed you to lower a cloth bag from above, at the bottom of which was a shower head. You were
supposed to fill the bag with water of an appropriate temperature, raise it again, and there was your shower. I didn't quite understand why they couldn't simply have extended the tap plumbing to a normal showerhead.
First stop of the day was Hancock Gorge, which involved a simple rock trail ending in a ladder (yes) down into the gorge. There then followed a few fairly complex (at least for Mr Balanceless) rock ledge manoeuvres before ending up at the Amphitheatre, a natural (cold) pool where the gorge took a left turn into the Spider Walk. This is a narrow cleft above a rushing torrent that is usually navigated by bracing your arms and legs against opposite sides. This looked significantly more strenuous than I was feeling, so Elena and I stayed by the pool while Daniel ploughed on. He returned soon after, saying that at the end of the Spider Walk was Kermit's Pool, and beyond that required specialist equipment (e.g. rope ladders).
Our schedule next took us on a long unsealed road to Hamersley Gorge, which is inconveniently situated right on the other side of the park. It was a grim journey, with some bits of the
road several inches deep in loose rubble. I was fearful of one (or more) blow-outs, but the worst we got were a few large stones clanging against the underside.
Hamersley had a different look to the other gorges, with folded rock strata in various colours and some funky waterfalls cutting through green stone. Again, Daniel was in a significantly more adventurous mood than either of us, so he disappeared off up the gorge while we took it easy.
From Hamersley, we started the long slog back to Port Hedland, firstly involving about 60km on possibly the worst road I've seen yet. The corrugations weren't too bad but there was loose stone everywhere. It was a minor miracle we got through unscathed. We passed by Wittenoom, a town that was famous for blue asbestos mining until the health implications of the material were realised, and it's now infamous for its blue asbestos mining history. In fact the WA government is trying to wipe it off all maps.
It was an exceedingly pleasant moment when we finally hit sealed road again, though almost immediately a kangaroo bounded across in front of us. We had no further incidents and, with
cruise control being set to 110 kmh, we were back in Port Hedland by early evening. Unfortunately I did run over the head of a previously struck (and presumably dead) kangaroo that had been left on the road - as we reached it, a road train was coming in the other direction so I couldn't swerve round.
I'll state here that the last couple of days were one of the favourite parts of my entire Australia trip. Karijini's landscape is breathtaking, and having the opportunity to camp there under the stars was amazing. I was also lucky enough to have the companionship (and expertise) of Signora Barbieri and Herr Mattner, without whom it would not have been as special an event.
There are more photos below