I will forever remember my visit to Karijini National Park. What stands out most in my mind is the vivid colors, the remote desolate wilderness and the beautiful waterfalls and canyon pools. The stunning colors stand out in stark contrast. The white bark of the gum trees is so white against the red earth and the green leaves in front of the blue sky. As we hiked into the canyons we did run into other tourists but driving between the different park venues, seeing other people was more of a rarity than a common event. When we hiked into the canyons I was pleasantly surprised to find that we could climb and hike wherever we wanted – something completely foreign to my travel experiences in the United States. You can hike into the Grand Canyon, but you have to stay on the trails. In Karijini, you can hike and/or swim pretty much anywhere you want.
We began our tour at the junction of the Red Gorge, Weano Gorge, the Hancock Gorge and the Joffre Gorge. Where these gorges converge there are multiple hiking trails and lookout points. We drove up Banjima Drive and parked above the Kermits Pool. The walls of the Red Gorge looked much like the mountains that we had passed on our way into the park. But when we got up to the metal platform that hung out over the sheer ledge we let out an audible “ohhhh” as we looked into the deep chasm below. I was really pleasantly surprised at the sheer beauty and ruggedness of the vertical orange walls. The canyons formed a four way intersection and the vantage point allowed for viewing of the river that was almost directly under us. We lingered, enjoying the view and posed for a few photos. Even though the sun was low getting low on the horizon we didn’t rush. This was by design; Andrea planned that if we arrived in the late afternoon, most of the other tourists would leave well before sunset so that they wouldn’t be stuck inside the canyon after dark. We brought flashlights so that we could stay late and miss the crowds.
The descent wasn’t too difficult and we made a good pace. The layers of rock seemed to make natural stairs and we dropped from step to step working our way deeper into the canyon. We came to a short cliff of about 6 meters (18’) that had a metal ladder secured to the rock. We climbed down the ladder and soon found our way at the river bed. The orange rocks reflected off of the water and the trunks of the gum trees cast vivid vertical bands of whit and small waterfalls trickled here and there.
Along the sides of the river, small markers were cemented to the rock walls in different colors. Each color represented a trail that corresponded with our travel map. We walked towards the Handrail Pools. I wasn’t sure if Andrea’s idea about swimming in this river was realistic so I put my hand in and found that it was like ice water. No, I don’t think I’ll be swimming today!
I wasn’t quite sure why they were called handrail pools but as we ventured further and further into the canyon, the reason became quite apparent. The sand and sediment on either side of the river slowly disappeared until there was nothing left but a narrow ledge. To continue further into the canyon we had to walk along a rock catwalk just above the water line. Itt wasn’t too challenging as the ledge was wide enough to face forward and we trekked further into the canyon. I captured the video below as we walked along the river’s edge clinging to the narrow rock path that seemed to be designed by nature for the benefit of the tourists.
After a time, the ledge was only wide enough for your toes and the only way to remain out of the water was to hold onto the rock “handrails” above the path. The name immediately made sense. In this photo, I prepared to venture out on a rock “cliff.”
I tried a few different approaches to this cliff obstacle and decided that it couldn’t be done. As I was explaining to Andrea that we could go no further, I looked ahead and saw an elderly German couple who seemed to be making progress with little effort.
We decided to ditch the SLR camera, our shoes, wallets and passports; failure on this path meant a cold bath. We put our things into Andrea’s bag and secured it on a large rock and began to follow the elderly German couple. Walking along the cliffs was challenging in bare feet. So long as the rocks were dry it wasn’t too difficult but in wet spots it became quite slippery and we had to be very careful so that we didn’t fall in.
Finally, we came to the end of the handrail path, it continued ahead but for a 10 meter distance, it was knee-high water. We saw that the Germans had removed their shoes, rolled up their pants and had continued walking along in the cold water. It was then that Andrea suddenly announced that she was going to swim the rest of the way. I thought, “No way, it’s just too cold.” But sure enough, she stripped down to her bikini and jumped right in. I could tell that the cold water took her breath away but she didn’t flinch at all and tried – as convincingly as she could – to tell me how refreshing the water was.
Perhaps it is because I am now writing this blog that I decided that I wouldn’t be shown up by a woman. I pulled my shirt off and jumped in as well and we swam ahead to the next trailhead. It was cold. It was refreshing. And yes, it hurt a little bit!
The Olympus (waterproof) camera paid for itself today as I was able to swim along without fear of loss.
After another 50 meters along alternating narrow path and ankle-deep water, we came to a 90 degree bend in the river that had – what looked like a beach. We took a break, chatted with the Germans and then used the spare hands to take pictures of each other. Looking up revealed an almost vertical drop from the plateau above. Further down into the gorge was all but impassible and the river dropped off into a waterfall. The map prohibited any further travel into the canyon explaining that the area ahead was for mountain climbers (with rappelling and vertical climbing gear) only. I used the video mode on my camera to shoot a wide angle view of this river junction. The river flows from the left side of the screen and makes an abrupt turn right in front of my position where it flows down the canyon after a sharp left turn (directly ahead of my vantage point).
Sure to Andrea’s prediction, the Germans scurried away so as to escape the quick approaching darkness. They wanted to be out of the canyon before it was dark. We lingered, enjoying the quiet tranquility and the sound of the babbling river. The deep blue sky was visible above the rip in the red rock that was this canyon and I was thankful not only that I had vision, but that I could see all of these beautiful colors.
We went for another swim and as cold as it was, it didn’t seem as cold as before. This was probably because getting into the water after being wet in the air was actually warmer or maybe I was just getting used to it. I had the feeling that we would be doing a lot more swimming on this trip.
The one thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind was how cool it was that we could swim here. I can’t imagine being in a national treasure like this in the United States and swimming being allowed. It seems that most of the National Parks in the US have “stay on the trail” signs everywhere. Perhaps we just have too many people and as infrequently as this park is visited, they can afford to let the tourists swim. Whatever the reason, I was glad to have access to such a beautiful and unique space. I was glad to have my health to experience an ice-bath swim and I was grateful to have such good company.
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