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Jo takes on the challenge of basket weaving and exploring Hancock Gorge (not at the same time!)

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Karijini National Park - Gorges Galore!

by Jo Durbridge | Jul 10, 2015

While I was primarily at Karijini National Park to attend events at the Karijini Experience, I was also keen to explore as many gorges as possible.  As the rain had made the gorges too risky to explore on the Saturday, I took this opportunity to chat to Ranger Dan about what gorge I could explore the following morning and he suggested Weano Gorge.

On Sunday I was up bright and early and met another ranger, Ranger Steve who was leading a nature walk close to Karijini Eco Retreat.  This free walk was fascinating.  Ranger Steve pointed out plant and insect life as we walked towards Joffre Falls. He explained the structure of a termite mound, pointed out birds and we even spotted a wallaby and a frog.

Ranger at Karijini National Park

Ranger Steve gave us an insight into Karijini National Park's flora and fauna.

Returning from the walk to the retreat, one of the Karijini Experience organisers asked if I could take the guest astronomer Alan and his partner Sarah along with me to the gorges.  Not a problem! I’m not an experienced bush walker and the map reading gene seemed to have skipped me completely, so I was happy to have Sarah and Alan along with me.

As time was limited for us (we had to be back for the Karijini Culinary Experience) we decided to take Ranger Dan’s advice and head to  Weano Gorge.

The unsealed road took us to car park and I was surprised at how close to the gorge it was – very accessible! As we walked towards the trail to the gorge, we saw a bunch of people dressed in wet suits.  Turns out they were with Pete from West Oz Active Adventure Tours and about to commence on a canyoning adventure.   I haven’t done the tour (yet!) but if you want to see Karijini from a different perspective (ie abseiling and floating on a tube) then this is the tour for you!

I’m not the most surefooted person clambering over rocks but it was an easier hike through Weano Gorge than what I anticipated.   You just have to take your time, not rush and remember to look up from your feet and pause to enjoy the beautiful surroundings with soaring red rocks and emerald green pools.

Sarah in Weano Gorge

Sarah walking through the loose rock.

We waded through the water. Sarah and I sensibly had Alan lead us given he is taller and so he could gauge the depth.  One bit caught us unaware and Alan was suddenly more than waist deep.  I am fairly short and so the bottom of my backpack got a bit of a drenching (mushy protein bars anyone?) I had been warned that the water could be icy, however it was early May and while the water was certainly refreshing it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.  I’m a Kimberley girl so I'm used to tropical water temperatures!

Prepare to get a little wet

Fellow gorge explorers traipse through the water - it became deeper!

Weano Gorge starts off as a Class 3 but as you walk towards Handrail Pool it becomes more challenging and turns into a Class 5.  I wouldn’t say I’m the fittest person in the world but I didn’t have a problem – slow and steady works for me!   For detailed information on what gorges are suitable for you to tackle, check out this great brochure by Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Red layered rock of Karijini

 Depending on how the light hits, the layers of rock took on vibrant red or muddy brown colour.  My images do not do the gorges justice!

As we reached Handrail Pool (so called I presume because of the handrail that accompanies the steep climb down) we ooohed and ahhed and couldn’t wait to swim in the emerald coloured water. The trick to descending is to climb down backwards holding onto the handrail as if climbing down a ladder one careful step at a time. The one person swimming when we arrived was just leaving and so we had this stunning waterhole all to ourselves. From Weano Gorge we then decided to check out the views from Oxer Lookout.  This lookout is easily accessible and the view didn’t disappoint. 

Handrail Pool 
The descent into Handrail Pool.

Handrail Pool Weano Gorge

We had Handrail Pool all to ourselves and had a well earned swim. The image doesn't capture how pretty it was!

 We  had time for one more gorge and decided on Hancock Gorge.  Sarah was keen to see Kermit’s Pool at the end of the Hancock Gorge trail (maybe she is a muppet fan?)  I have to say I wasn’t too sure initially about attempting this gorge.   It’s a Class 5 and deserving of this class.  This seemed to be a very popular gorge and there were plenty of people around.   I said to Alan and Sarah that if I felt at any point that it was getting too difficult for me then I would turn back and meet them in the car park.  Karijini can be a dangerous place and if you fall and injure yourself, being in such a remote place, rescue is not easy. It’s important not to take risks and to not take on more than you can safely manage. They can’t just drop someone from a helicopter to rescue you as that can bring on rock falls.  Not playing it safe puts you and your rescuers in danger and sadly there are memorial plaques in Karijini to prove it.  

Safety warning over, now back to the fun stuff!  Hancock Gorge was awesome! I made it all the way through the gorge to Kermit’s Pool.  The gorge is definitely a challenge with narrow footholds as you move across the cliff face. I also know why the spider walk is called that! You have to spread your arms and legs wide to each side of the rock faces  and creep yourself along by little over a certain part of the gorge . Long legs would definitely be an advantage! Not easy for someone like me who is not exactly tall!  Once I got a rhythm going  there was a bit of an adrenalin rush and I couldn’t quite believe I was doing it.

We don’t have any photos of this as (a) there was no way we were letting go of the rocks to photograph anything and (b) we thought we might struggle with our daypacks and cameras and left them behind which definitely was the right decision.   Due to the unseasonal rain the water level was high, and we ended up swimming fully clothed, sneakers and all, through part of the gorge and our daypacks would have been very soggy had we taken them.    We saw some people had left their daypacks by some rocks and followed suit. We were unsure if they would still be there upon our return back through the gorge.  They were!  A good tip is to ask people coming out of the gorge what they thought of it, how was the water level and what the trickiest bit was for them so you can arm yourself with as much information as possible.

Unfortunately for Sarah, Kermits Pool was roped off, although having swam at Handrail Pool she wasn’t too disappointed.  Hancock Gorge was amazing, the red rock face is stunning and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to experience it. 

With no more time to explore, we drove back to the Karijini Eco Retreat, ready for a shower, change of clothes and a big lunch!

If you are looking at heading to Karijini National Park I highly recommend jumping on to the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s website to do your research on the different gorges. It’s a great resource and they also have walking trail maps available to download.    

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