Erin and I have just spent a relaxing four-day Easter weekend at home, preparing for the fabulous upcoming weddings that we are photographing this month! This year it made sense to stay at home, having just returned from an amazing trip to Japan (photos to come eventually). But normally, staying at home for long weekends really isn’t our style. In 2010 it was Thailand that tempted us, but for 2011 we headed to the opposite end of Australia! We had wanted to visit Western Australia for a long time, and once we discovered that April was smack-dab in the middle of whale shark season at the Ningaloo Reef, we were sold. If you don’t know what a whale shark is, be prepared to be blown away in Part 2. But before we get to the west coast of Australia, fringed by the 260-km stretch of world-heritage listed coral reefs known as Ningaloo Reef, we had to travel over a vast desert emptiness.
It turns out that flying out to the Ningaloo Reef or anywhere on the north-west coast (Exmouth, Karratha, or Carnavon) during school holidays is rather expensive, so we took a cheaper flight into the small mining town of Newman, about 900 kilometers inland.
We thought we had seen red dirt during our 2009 trip to the Northern Territory, but it rather paled in comparison (pun somewhat intended) to the deep, dark, extremely rusty color of the dirt of this corner of the country. You can tell why they mine iron out here! In fact, Newman is home to Mt Whaleback mine, the largest open cut iron ore mine in the world!
Flying into Newman meant we could check out a national park famous for its beautiful gorges—Karijini National Park. Sparkling rock pools, waterfalls, and heaps of adventure awaited us in this red outback oasis. The landscape in Karijini was quite different to other desert national parks we’ve seen, such as the ones in southern Utah in the USA. To put it simply, we were expecting to see something resembling mountains. But driving along the roads in Karijini all you can see is flat ground topped with a surprising amount of greenery. It’s not until you get quite close to a gorge that you realise what lies below. Below you can see the view of Joffre Gorge from Oxer Lookout. See that waterfall at the end? That’s where we were headed!
The cool shade and subterranean swimming holes that dot the gorges of Karijini provide much appreciated relief from the intense desert sun. But as we soon discovered, we weren’t the only creatures who found solace here. Although we never had the fortune of encountering the pythons and other snakes that supposedly live here, we did find insects of respectable size… heaps of colourful dragonflies and a massive centipede!
It was quite an adventure hiking through the gorges and there were photo opportunities around every corner. The colour of the rocks was so striking and the endless cascade of streams and waterfalls were mesmerising. Here we are trekking through Kalamina Gorge:
One of our favourites was the hike through Weano Gorge. The gorge got narrower and narrower the further we went, eventually shrinking to a narrow crack in an otherwise impenetrable red wall before opening up to a massive swimming hole known as Handrail Pool, so-called because you better hang onto that handrail if you want to make it into that pool alive! I imagine the original explorers called it “Slip, Slide and Die Pool” before the convenient handrail was installed. Handrail notwithstanding, I had a close call with our trusty camera bag! But as evident from the photos below, the camera gear survived the harrowing experience!
I was amazed to find so much greenery in Karijini, amidst the red rock and soil that dominated the surrounding desert landscape. Here, the plant-life seemed to thrive in abundance and contributed to the rich colour palette of the area. What also thrived were termites—littered all across the landscape were gigantic termite mounds like those you can see here, some reaching two metres in height! This part of Australia felt so different and is quite certainly the most untouched part of the earth we’ve yet experienced. It felt so wild, so empty, so rugged, so incredibly quiet and peaceful.
We must have been lucky to visit during a particularly wet year. Although our camping experience may have been easier without all the thunderstorms we experienced, all that rain served to fill up all the gorges. Below, you can see some of the magnificent waterfalls and pools in Dales Gorge:
Some of my favourite photos come from Hancock Gorge (below). It was quite tricky hiking through sometimes waist-deep water over slippery rocks with all of our camera gear, but it is all worth it in the end when you get to magical places like these and have them all to yourself!
Thunderstorms usually also mean dramatic clouds… and dramatic clouds means awesome sunrises and sunsets!
We did, however, luck out with a couple of clear nights. And being hundreds of kilometers from civilization means we were rewarded with some spectacular stargazing! Erin always gets excited when we’re remote enough to see the Magellanic Clouds (the fuzzy blob just above our tent is the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy).
Karijini was a remarkable place and served as a great first half to our Western Australia adventure. Part 2 is coming to the blog soon, where we’ll share one of our most memorable experiences ever. I’ll give you a hint… freaking whale sharks! But for now, tell us what you think of Karijini National Park… have we tempted you to visit?