When I enquired at the Karijini Visitor Centre about Millstream, one of the rangers felt that the NP was one of the most underrated places in Australia and she wished more people would go there. Having assured us that there was little corrugation and most of the roads were sealed, now, we decided to go, but had to camp at Point Samson, to avoid taking the back road which was the dirt track we had been travelling on in Karijini and which we knew our caravan wouldn’t survive.
To travel the road to the National Park, I discovered we needed a pass from Rio Tinto. At that late hour, I went online and actually learnt some stuff but most of the road we would travel is now sealed, so a lot of it was unnecessary. I met people who didn’t bother with the pass, but it is free and if there’s a chance of being turned back, why not? The journey to the NP was picturesque, with many changes of scenery and foliage. The wildflowers were a colourful patchwork carpet over much of the land and we believe it’s due to the huge rainfall this year.
The road out was bitumen, with short dirt paths to some of the attractions and from PointSamson it took 2 hours each way. We attempted to do the wetlands walk once we arrived, but it was closed due to heavy rain and damage recently. Instead, we looked around the 1919 household and its very old desks for wireless, wood oven, wireless rocking chair and other artefacts. It’s a beautiful building, well made and maintained.
A few campsites surround the old homestead, nestled in the bush, and there were several vans and tents, which led us to think about staying here, another time. We drove to the lookout and marveled at the breadth of the River Fortescue and how healthy it is.
There’s a path along the cliff top, part of a longer walk to the homestead and back, that takes you along the river and to different landscapes. A bird of prey flew over us and came down pretty low at one point, possibly keeping us from their mate.
From here it was a short drive to Deep Reach, where the original inhabitants believe the Rainbow Serpent, creator of all life, lives. The carpark, where we met a goanna that needed the sun more than an escape from us, led to a short, paved path to the river and shade and tables.
We had lunch, then went and sat on the steps that lead to the water, cooling our feet and enjoying the fish and damselflies. It was enough for me, as I thought the deep river, whose reeds reached up out of the water, was a bit scary. I thought I could see a current and was not sure how strong it would be. This was a beautiful spot and we could see how it might be visited frequently if you camped in the park, also doing some of the walks. However, with some walks closed due to the wild weather earlier in the year, we weren’t sold on this park as a destination, yet.
We both thought we’d save our swim for the magical Python Pool, on our return journey, and the initial turnoff was dirt, as we were told, but shockingly corrugated. We attempted it for about 5 km and then could see no end to it so, wanting the unpleasantness of shaking and rattling to end, we turned around and went back. Later, we met a couple who took a different road (that we thought was off-limits to non-Tinto people) and entered Python Pool from the North, saying the road was really easy and the Pool was amazing.
Another location to put on the ‘next time’ list.
One of the sights on this road is the iron ore train, with carriages that go as far as you can see in each direction. You can’t go on until it’s finished, so why not get out and take photos?
Check road conditions before you head off. Rio Tinto provide daily updates if you do the online training.
Travel safe, with your permit, hat, water and sunscreen.
Nestled in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, recognizable by it’s red and orange hues, is Karijini National Park. You can get to the park from three directions, North, South and West and each is at least 2 hours from the next campsite or town. We came from the North and found the scenery stunning, as the tufts of spinifex and layers of red hills came and went. The wildflowers were so vivid and varied, that we both tried to find new ones and point them out, right up to the Ranger Station.
We had booked our campsite and, as it was absolutely chocker-block, only managed two nights in the overflow camp. This provided a toilet and access to bore water that had to be boiled before drinking. It’s worth mentioning that both this campsite and the main one, Dale’s campground, were showing as full in the online booking but some people don’t turn up, so if you see plenty of free spots, it’s worth asking at the visitor centre or the ranger who does the rounds each night, particularly if you want to stay longer. At the visitor Centre, we got some information about the state of the roads, and discussed what we wanted to achieve in two days, getting good advice and tips, before making our way to the campground and selecting our spot, near the water tank.
Wanting to make the most of the time, we set off on the dirt track for Kalamina Falls that afternoon, where the road was far worse than we had anticipated, with deep corrugations and sand, upon which we slid, until we reduced the tyres to 28.
The carpark went down to the falls on one side and a walk on the other. We met a couple a bit older than us and they had done both, saying the walk was demanding and took them about 2 hours or more of hard work. It was getting late in the day and Alan isn’t keen on long walks, so we did the waterfall. We were surprised that after a one minute downward climb, we were at a stream, with bracken water that looked like lumps of soft manure floating in it, so we went to the fall, where the water was running and it nested in a small grove, where Alan climbed up and under it to have a soak.
From here the return journey to where we began was quicker and then on to Dale’s Gorge, that we remembered very fondly from 7 years ago. The path has been formalized with concrete and there is a huge metal stairway taking you from the lookout to the falls. There weren’t many people swimming at Fortescue Falls, but plenty around and we decided to go the extra 600m to Fern Pool. It was quite different, with the platform gone and signs that it might have burnt down. We liked it better now, as it was more open, but the tree canopy was gone and so less birds were there. The pool looked so much bigger and you really notice the rock formations now and ferns hanging in the crevices. We had a very soothing soak and it is still one of the best places we know, with great memories and good feelings.
We’d planned an early start the next day and so we did, taking off on that grueling road again, only twice as far, first to Weano Gorge and two lookouts, and then to Joffre Falls.
At the carpark we saw a dingo, skulking around and clearly looking for scraps, as it came quite close and approached most of the people there.
The gorge was easy to enter and had tall, stratified red walls that lined the river. It wasn’t very deep but was clear so could have been suitable for swimming. The path was pretty easy with only a few wet patches that weren’t slippery, and some loose stones. At the end there was a lot of rubble that was ok to climb up but I thought it would have been slippery as a downtrack.
Weano Gorge had an easy trail that took less then an hour, and we began it at the beautiful end, within the gorge, finishing on a dry path to the carpark, but one which was lined with wildflowers, so it wasn’t unpleasant. The sun was warming up by that time, so I’m glad we went early.
The layers in the wall were explained in a sign at one of the lookouts. Millions of years ago it was an ocean floor and as layers of sediment built up, mainly consisting of silica, and iron oxide and silica, it pushed the water out. The natural tectonic plates created the twists and turns in the walls. We thought the colours looked like chocolate and caramel icecream and the layering meant that, as large blocks cracked and fell away, what you have are piles of squares. It’s absolutely geometric.
The lookouts were not far from our starting point and although one was closed following recent heavy rain, the other allowed us a glimpse into Oxley Gorge. Such a deep gorge, carved in the same way, and seeming to go on forever.
Thinking that perhaps all of the grading was easier than implied, we made it to the start of the Hancock Gorge and began the descent, hoping to see enough of the gorge to take a cheap pic and call it a day. It was not to be, and I could see one of those deeply descending stairways and people coming up, looking well and truly tuckered out. We both pulled out of going further and enjoyed the wildlife as we returned to the car.
A 20 minute bumpy ride back the way we had come took us to Joffre Falls. The lookout is about 100 m of slightly downhill loose stones, and when you get to the suspended platform you can’t help but exclaim. The waterfall and pool of turquoise water is completely invisible from such a short way above and the water courses down a long, deep gorge. We could see people on the other side of the gorge, taking what appeared to be 500 steps directly down, into the water. Some made it through a sandy gap to the base of the falls, which looked a little fresher in my opinion.
It didn’t look very far or difficult to the top of the falls, so we took the path and, sure enough, after a steep but short scramble down the red rubble path, we were able to walk 30m on flat, rounded rocks to the top of the falls and the gorge. What a great view of the rock layers, gorge and water source.
Surviving the return corrugations, that afternoon we were off to our favourite place in Karijini – Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool and we swam in both, taking our time and sitting in the shade or sun, on the rocks, and enjoying the moment, as it might be another 7 years before we are back.
Back at the campsite, we sat in the shade, a warm breeze blowing, and people came to the water tank that we parked beside, to fill their tanks. The bees, which constantly hover there, keep them company, until the moths come at sunset. The wildflowers and birds are fabulous. It’s been a good visit and we will be back.
Head west, all people, and see the world. But take your hat, plenty of water and apply sunscreen.
I think most people around the world have heard of Broome, the pearl region of north-western Australia that guarantees a stunning sunset. But as we headed here, so many travelers told us about Barn Hill, that we changed our plans. Our memories of Broome, that it was almost dead in late October but had some fabulous beaches, had been tarnished by the reports this year, of overcrowding and price rises due to Covid-19. As it was the beach we most sought, we decided on a shopping stop in Broome and then to travel the 110km to Barn Hill Station, a cattle station that offered a campsite on a cliff over the beach.
Broome was actually lively, with varied shops open and people moving about purposefully. We decided to do our grocery shopping first and then sit for a coffee, where we could get internet and search a few of the locations we were hoping to visit in the future, but hadn’t quite decided on, or booked for that matter.
I rang our sons to let them know where we were (why were they not the least bit concerned?) and when Alan returned from his obligatory secondhand book hunt, we went to Barn Hill, the last stretch of which involved a 10km dirt road that was a little corrugated but softened by the red dirt.
It is a great campsite, a little ramshackle and with basic amenities, but we had power and water for half the price of Broome, and a short walk down to the beach, with its red cliffs and layered rock formations.
We were expecting the water to be warm, but it was cool and had a strong pull into the ocean. Earlier, the neighbours said that there had been a small shark sighted that morning and everyone had to get out of the water. It made me a bit nervous, and I kept looking around for a fin, while resisting the undertow. I saw a brown jellyfish, the size of a large bowl and that had me exit for the day. A late afternoon walk brought us to some great rock formations, some scuttling crabs that hurriedly dug holes (and some are way too big to think about), and a beautiful sunset.
On our return, we saw people sitting in readiness for a show of some kind. Apparently, the entertainment was a no-show, so they contacted two guys who played the previous night, and they stopped their fishing and put on a show. It was quite good, really, with mostly 70s soft rock/LA sound stuff. Lucky for us, we got a good seat.
The next morning I went for a walk to the beach and thought that this coastline was a lot like Aldinga, in South Australia, with the sandstone cliffs. In fact, I’m beginning to think most of Australia’s coastline e is sandstone. But this place has had a lot of erosion, creating pillars of rock and sand, along with familiar rock pools and exposed reef.
We had our morning café then strolled to the market, where clientele were selling their wares in stalls erected in the community gathering area. There are always pens for goats and horses and children who aren’t kept busy with this or the ocean are on the few items of play equipment.
This is a very relaxing campsite, with entertainment, a bar/café that can provide occasional internet and all the environmental features you’d get in Broome. The facilities are basic but very clean and the hot water in the shower is reliable. There are washing machines that work and the sites are shaded and large. There is the choice of powered or unpowered, but the unpowered seemed to have little shade.
Have a little adventure and come to Barn Hill, with your hat, sunscreen and fishing rod.
About 4 hours from Kununurra, just over the NT/WA border, is Purnululu National Park, in which sits the famous Bungle Bungle Range, or Bungle Bungles. The highway through the Kimberley Region is very good and picturesque, so the time passes easily. We stopped at Turkey Creek Roadhouse for a stretch and that had food and accommodation for those needing it.
The 1km road into Bungle Bungle Caravan Park was pretty corrugated and we set up on the large, unshaded block before quickly asking about the condition of the road into the National Park. We were pretty inexperienced 4×4 drivers and wanted to decide if we should be doing the $380pp tour instead. Encouragement and approval of our vehicle was not lacking and we made nervous plans for the following day, while the desert sunset brought an unexpected chill.
What an adventure! If you’re an avid off-roader you’d have given it an 8, I think, as those who’d just come off the Gibb River Road said it compared to that journey’s detour tracks. What are we talking about? 1.5 hours (53km) of heavily corrugated road on entry and exit, for which we lowered the psi to 25, and five river crossings not requiring a snorkel, but we weren’t stopping. Other corrugated sections of varying degree, making it a rattling good trip.
We followed the tour plan and, after calling in at the visitor centre to record our names and our pass, went south first, to Piccaninny Creek carpark to see the Domes and Cathedral Gorge. The former is what has made the Bungles famous in the late 1980s, when a film crew flew over it and ‘discovered’ the beehive-shaped sandstone hills. Capturing the expanse of the range is very difficult with a standard lens, as you can see in the header photo.
The average height of the domes is 250m and the distinctive orange and black towers are fragile. As the sign on the walk says, “… each encased in a thin, protective skin of orange bands of iron oxide and grey to black bands of cyanobacteria. A skin is deposited on the surface by water seeping through the sandstone. If the banded skin is damaged the sandstone is rapidly eroded away.” Another sign informs us that the foundations were laid down 360 million years ago and flood waters have brought deposits and formed deep gorges.
From the carpark, both walks are very easy, on flat paths, well-signed. You’ll be unprotected from the sun in many places, so remember hat, sunscreen and water. After you reach the pool in the Domes, the path to Cathedral Rock, back and to the left, is along some sections of dry river bed, so use good walking footwear for sandy and uneven surfaces.
There are ladders to help negotiate difficult terrain.
Cathedral Gorge is unexpectedly stunning, but you have to get in and under the Ridge to fully appreciate it. Many people just sit for a time, absorbing the extraordinary peace and beauty. You first encounter the amphitheatre and the still pool in the centre.
We ate our lunch in the shade, here, then headed for the northern end of the National Park and Echidna Chasm.
From the carpark, you follow the dry creek bed, over mostly rocky terrain, through palms bordered by the orange sandstone cliffs, showing signs of erosion.
The river bed and walls are made up of conglomerate, formed by pebbles and boulders that have been embedded over millions of years.
It isn’t too long before the path narrows and you read about large, falling boulders, causing a little increase in your pace.
The light and the decreasing width of the path is beautiful and highlights this impressive weakness in the Bungle Bungle Ranges.
When you get to the end, it’s quite obvious there is no going forward, so back you go, still able to admire the glowing cliffs.
Near the start of the riverbed is a sign directing you to the Northern Escarpment Walk which is a very short (5min) trip to look over the landscape. In the distance are ranges that are billions of years old and information boards explain the changes in the environment and the practices of the Aboriginal people of the area. There is a move back to involving the original inhabitants in the preservation of the area, as their knowledge of watercourses, in particular, is crucial to the health of the region.
It isn’t a trip for the feint hearted and is one to put on your bucket list, but only if you can be rattled around a bit. You need to time it, as the park is closed between November and April, roughly, but we were here in October one year and the high temperatures meant it was closed. So, do a little research.
Travel safe. Take your hat, water and sunscreen, and maybe a spare tyre.
We had no idea that we’d be in the capital of the Northern Territory during their Festival and it was a wonderful surprise.
Parking was easy in Port Darwin and we walked past the impressive Parliament House, following the crowds and the lights to one of the entrances.
The art displays, entitled Wish Upon A Jellyfish, by Aly deGroot, were illuminated and free,
along with general entry which also gave you live entertainment in a huge Amphitheatre.
Having not scoured the program to see what we might be interested in, we just took a turn about the park, admiring the sculptures and the music and marveling at the number of people at long trestles, eating from the variety of takeaway on offer.
From here we took the road to the Waterfront precinct and from the skywalk, admired the illuminations of the Ferris Wheel.
There were many venues and exhibitions.
If you are going to be in Darwin in August, do some research beforehand and book in for your taste of culture, art and entertainment. We certainly will, next time.