Karijini National Park
Directions - Dales Gorge can be found by taking Banjima Drive north from Karijini Drive (the eastern access point) and driving north until you reach the signs for Dales Road. Follow Dales Road and there are a few access points for the gorge you can take.
The Hike - With a full day checking out Weano Gorge and Kalamina Gorge the previous day we were back at it to continue on with the Karijini exploration. Given our experiences in the last couple of days we made a point to be up early and out to Dales Gorge to avoid the crowds and also get some shots when the sun was a bit lower in the sky. Arriving at the car park closest to Fortescue Falls we mapped out a loop trail that would allow us to see everything within Dales Gorge and allow for a relaxing swim at the end. The Dales Gorge area is actually a network of trails and side trips so there is no one named trail for what we did but rather a combination of the Gorge Rim, Dales Gorge, Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool walks from the brochure.
As expected we were the only ones at the car park when we arrived just before 8am and the peacefulness was something of a welcome delight. The loop we had mapped out involved taking in the Gorge Rim walk first to take advantage of the lack of crowds and mainly because it wasn't terribly warm yet and having a swim at Fortescue Falls would have been an icy affair. The first of many viewpoints is a short walk from the car park and shows off the views down towards Fortescue Falls and along the main Dales Gorge walk trail. With Fortescue Falls being devoid of people it was a lovely sight and I couldn't wait to have a closer look a bit later on. Taking the path leading to the east I noticed a few wildflowers that we hadn't seen in the previous couple of days.
This was a nice surprise as I had been expecting some Desert Pea and Mulla Mulla but to find different varieties was fun and naturally I had to photograph them. The trail snakes its way along the edge of the gorge walls and you are treated to some spectacular views across the landscape to the distant hills. This is one aspect of Karijini I will never tire of, the vast horizons filled with Snappy Gums, Spinifex and rolling hills of red dirt. With the gorge starting to see its first rays of light streaming in over the cliff walls, the cluster of trees lining the stream running through Dales Gorge was an impressive sight. We would eventually get to walk amongst those trees but for now I was quite content to soak up the red dirt paths and photograph the distinct Snappy Gums with their bright white trunks rising from the earth in a mangled manner.
The second lookout we would come across was not an official one but with a slight deviation off the main trail you got to get quite close to the edge of the cliff. From here you can truly experience the depth of these gorges and just how sharp the drop-off is. With most of the gorge still in the shadows we moved on to the next lookout aptly named the Dales Gorge Lookout and this provided a much better look down into a well lit portion of the gorge as it turns north. Looking down into the widest part of the gorge and back up to the other side provides a great photo opportunity and I made sure to get a few panoramas so I could attempt to get the scale in one continuous shot (almost got it). This lookout is also the only access point in the area down into the gorge (as we found out later) but we wanted to check out the Circular Pool Lookout too so kept walking on the Rim Walk to the north.
The Circular Pool Lookout is also the first entry point for those accessing the trail from the Dales Gorge Day Use Area and Dales Campground. The lookout towers above the idyllic pool below and given the extreme angle, you are directly over the trees and it looks like a little railway miniature. It was at this point I should have remembered what the map looked like as I thought there was another access point into the gorge near the Circular Pool Lookout but after walking further north it became obvious there wasn't and I had to call Ben back so we could double back towards where we were actually meant to go. Another couple were kind of following us and we had to inform them we'd made a mistake and the gorge access was in the opposite direction. We finally arrived at the access point and began the steep descent into the juicy bit of the loop.