Murujuga National Park
Directions - Located 30 minutes west of Karratha, Deep Gorge is located within Murujuga National Park. From the centre of town, take the Dampier Hwy west until you reach Burrup Rd. Follow Burrup Rd for 6km then follow the signs at the Hearson Cove Rd turnoff for Deep Gorge and Hearson Cove.
The Hike - With an invitation to participate in a special Parks and Wildlife project in the Pilbara, I was afforded an opportunity to explore this amazing part of the world that I couldn't say no to. Teaming up with Project Officer Ben for the week and a half long trip, we would be travelling to the national parks of the Pilbara on our duties and I had been given permission to sneak in some blog posts. Meeting at the airport for a very early 6am flight up to Karratha, we both cut it a little fine with the timing but that didn't end up mattering as our flight was delayed when they couldn't close the airplane door (kind of critical).
We eventually arrived in the sunny and warm locale of Karratha, picked up our hire car and headed to the district DBCA office for briefing, equipment pickup and to organise our trip out to Murujuga National Park. One of the newest national parks in Western Australia, Murujuga was created in 2013 and was the first jointly managed national park in WA with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) working with DBCA to look after the land. The MAC was formed by bringing together five groups, the Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Yaburara, Mardudhunera and the Woon-goo-tt-oo and a Council of Elders was formed to make decisions relating to the land. The system seems to be working very well and I hope it is the start of something bigger. The Burrup Peninsula that the park is located on is home to the largest collection of ancient rock art in the world dating back tens of thousands of years and is culturally significant to the traditional owners as it depicts all their rituals, zone off areas for special uses, history and warns of dangers. Before we were allowed out to visit the site we had chosen for the day, Deep Gorge, we were required to be put through a cultural awareness session run by the MAC. Matt, the Murujuga Joint Management Officer came out with us to the MAC office in the park and we met some of the rangers that would run the training session and join us on our trip to Deep Gorge. Conrad and Brandon would be running us through the training through a slideshow presentation and provided a fantastic insight into the land, the history and how this project came to be.
I learned things in this session that had a big impact for the rest of the trip and was one of the most interesting information sessions I'd been to (including any university lecture I’d ever attended). For a guy who admittedly was very shy when he first started as a ranger, Conrad is a natural at it now. With our cultural awareness training over, we headed on over to the Deep Gorge car park with everyone at the MAC Centre commenting on how my new white shoes would not last that colour in the red dirt of the Pilbara (I had a pair of hiking boots I quickly changed in to). One of the things that strikes you as you drive through the park are what look like piles of rocks just dumped there by a heavy loader. Given the unsightly industrial areas found on the Burrup Peninsula it's a fair observation but these rock piles are a naturally occurring formation and are home to a lot of the ancient rock art. Deep Gorge explores one of these areas and has been opened to the wider population so they can experience the rock art from a safe distance (please stick to the formal track and do not go climbing into these culturally sensitive areas). We arrived at the Deep Gorge car park and Conrad gave us a welcome to country that explained to the spirits who we were and what we were doing in the area. With Conrad's voice echoing off the rocks it was a powerful moment. We took some photos of everyone in front of the Deep Gorge sign to mark the occasion and started on the trail.
One of the slides we were shown during the presentation was how the peninsula is divided up into general use area, men's areas and women's areas based on what activities they are used for. For example the areas where the women go to have children are strictly off limits to men and there are men's areas where rituals and ceremonies were performed that women are not allowed to go to. This is very important information when it comes to photographing the rock art as any depiction of a human figure is not to be photographed as only men are allowed to gaze upon these figures. Please be respectful of the culture, there are signs around to inform you but that doesn't stop people publishing photos without realising. The walk itself takes you right up to one of the rock piles and you can see several pieces of rock art depicting animals and human figures from a very close perspective. Heading back along the same trail you reunite with the main path leading in and out of the gorge.
Deep Gorge is a bit of a deceptive name as the gorge is more like a valley and it is not very deep. The walk is still very enjoyable with a great contrast between the red rock, the golden Spinifex and the white barked Snappy Gums making for some lovely photos. Ben had previously visited and pointed out a piece of rock art depicting a short tailed kangaroo, a species that has been extinct for thousands of years, showing just how old the art is. We finished the walk where the high point of the obvious trail was and were greeted with some nice scenes to photograph. Heading back to the car we moved on to another site to complete our day where Conrad pointed out an albino kangaroo on the ridge he said often presents itself when they are introducing new people to the area. It was a great finish to an unexpectedly enjoyable day.
Hearsons Cove - Whilst strictly not in the national park, Hearsons Cove is a great place at high tide to enjoy a swim and to walk along the shell beach (no sand here). One of the prettiest beaches I've ever seen with the turquoise blue of the water contrasting nicely with the white beach and the red headland jutting out. Visiting after our trip had concluded, I would have loved to have brought my snorkelling gear and explored the waters. One thing you get used to at Perth beaches or living in Perth in general is the wind and during winter up in Karratha, you don't usually get a lot of wind. It makes the sunny and 29C days seem so much more enjoyable when you aren't fighting the sea breeze on everything you do.