karijini national park
WEano day use area
Directions - Located in the western side of the gorge system within Karijini National Park, take Banjima Dr from Karijini Dr and drive north for 25km until you reach the turnoff for Weano Road. Take Weano Road north for another 12km, passing the turnoff for the Karijini Eco Retreat until you reach the Weano Day Use Area.
The Hike - Day Two of my Pilbara trip and we only had a travel day scheduled to get from Karratha to Karijini. With no project work scheduled we just had to meet with the rangers to say we were there and check into our accommodation. Ben, the Project Officer from the DBCA had done the training course so we could use the Rio Tinto private road to cut some time off the journey but as luck would have it, we missed the turnoff and continued along Roebourne-Wittenoom Rd instead. This wasn't a big deal given we had a whole day to cover a few hundred kilometres and we got to see the northern side of Karijini that we wouldn't have driven past if everything went to plan.
Driving past Wittenoom on our way to the ranger station, we were reminded of the dark history that Karijini hides. Previously an asbestos mining town, it is now abandoned along with Wittenoom Gorge (which is meant to be one of the most spectacular gorges in the park). The drive around the northern part of the park was a great introduction to the beauty of the area and we couldn't wait to get exploring. First on the agenda was checking in at the ranger station to let them know we had arrived and where we would be in the park over the next week. Given the July school holidays were on they were super busy and only the Ranger Robyn was at hand to greet us. We passed Ranger Dan on our way out to Hancock Gorge and he was busy directing traffic from the full campgrounds at Dales to the overflow sites they had chosen (it gets really busy this time of year). We eventually made it to the Weano Day Use Area, home to the Weano Gorge and Hancock Gorge trails along with a million tourists enjoying the natural beauty in Karijini. We only had time for one hike that afternoon so settled on Hancock Gorge as it was one of the shorter ones and Class 5, so full of fun and adventure.
For some reason the official length of this trail is only listed at 200m return but I mapped it out properly and the whole thing is 1.5km return if you stop at the official end at Kermits Pool. Given we were only expecting a short trail, the additional length was a welcome bonus. We started at the edge of the day use area and unfortunately all the information signage was in the process of being redone so the only information available was a piece of paper stuck to the new rust coloured sign. It's very hard to get lost in a gorge so we started the steep descent on the loose rocks and immediately started photographing everything in sight. Ben and I really enjoyed the Snappy Gums whilst in the Pilbara and they certainly contrast well against the red rock and golden Spinifex. After passing the wide arching tree that provides a cool feature to the descent, you reach the ladder section for the final descent into the gorge. Reminding me a bit of the final climb up to the Granite Skywalk in the Porongurups, the ladder is on a slight angle so even if you aren't great with heights you can manage this one. At the bottom of the gorge you are struck with how much of a temperature change there is as that cool, wet smell fills the air.
Walking along the water you come across your first bit of "gorge hugging" as you make your way past a narrow section of the trail. It is a good indicator of what is to come, albeit brief and less precarious. The stream opens up a bit more with stunning reflections in the water as you continue along towards a series of small rapids that you must cross via the stepping stones. Now on the other side of the stream you are up on the narrow ledge above the water until you reach a dry patch of pebbles. From here the ledge is too narrow to continue on safely but luckily at this time of the year it was shallow enough to wade through at knee to waist height for me (I'm 6ft1). I decided to take my shoes off at this point because I thought it would be easier but you can certainly leave them on (sans socks) and be fine. Not being able to see the bottom in some parts was fun as I was carrying my camera in one hand and some of the rocks are quite slippery. I made it through with only a minor slip that didn't result in ruining my camera completely and onto the next dry bit of pebbles.
While we could have waded through this next section too, it looked a lot deeper and the ledge was a much easier option to take. This is probably the trickiest point of the hike when it comes to ledge walking and it led to a lot of bottlenecks for us as unsure people took their sweet time making sure they didn't fall. It was just one of those things being school holidays and people not fully aware of their abilities but continuing on anyway. When we had a clear run both Ben and I really enjoyed this bit as it was a bit of a challenge and added an element of excitement to the hike. At the end of the ledge you come across a wider section of the gorge known as the Amphitheatre as there is a concave section stacked up to resemble an amphitheatre (hence the name). This is one of the most magical parts of the gorge as there are a few tall trees next to the stream that give off a nice oasis feel and there is a series of small rapids at the bottom of the amphitheatre that are fantastic to photograph.