Start - Weano Day Use Area
Length - 1.5km (Return)
Grade - Red to Black
Terrain - Single Path, Slippery Rocks
Vertical Climb - 44m
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 10th July 2018
Best Time - April to September
Traditional Custodians - Banjima People
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.
Enjoying this section for quite a while, we eventually moved on to probably the most famous section of walking in the gorge, the Spider Walk. So named because during times of higher water it requires you to manoeuvre like a spider by having your arms and legs either side of the narrow gorge and shuffling down. Given the small cascade of water when we were there we could simply walk down the stream, albeit with a little caution as the rocks are very slippery. Ben posed for the classic spider pose and we made our way down to the finishing point at Kermits Pool. The way down to Kermits Pool was just as stunning as the Spider Walk with the lighting being this fantastic mix of orange, red and gold. We arrived at Kermits Pool to find a family there, not surprising given how many people we had seen on the trail and they were enjoying peaceful surrounds.
Although not the stunning green that it is famous for (or named after) when we arrived, Kermits Pool was still a nice place to finish the hike. We politely shuffled our way past the family and explored the ledges around the pool as the dad and his daughter braved the cold water and swam to the other side. Further down from Kermits Pool is Regans Pool, named after Jim Regan who lost his life here in 2004 saving a tourist. This area is restricted and can only be accessed when booking one of the canyoning tours run by professionals using the proper safety equipment. Please don't be one of those ugly tourists that think the rules don't apply to them, you will end up ruining Karijini for everyone (they had shut down Spa Pool and Hamersley Falls for this exact reason).
With a bigger group arriving at Kermits Pool we decided to head back and I showed Ben the trick to get the silky effect when shooting waterfalls so he had a great amount of fun doing that. With no rush to get back we stopped off at a few locations to get some better crowd free shots and with the lower afternoon light, there wasn't as much glare from the lit up parts of the gorge so the conditions were a bit better. Normally the walk back to the start point on a there and back trail is much quicker but I think this time we took longer getting back just trying to soak in our first Karijini experience. Encountering a few more bottlenecks including several families that didn't look entirely comfortable on the ledges, we eventually made it back to the car with cameras full of memories and big smiles on our faces.
Final Thoughts - What an introduction to Karijini!!! Having read Donovan's post on the area and also having recorded the Karijini special for Real Trail Talk, nothing really prepares you for being in the moment and experiencing it for yourself.
There are so many different spots along this trail that have their own identity and character. It was no surprise looking back that we spent so much time down there just enjoying every little moment. It is difficult in sections but that only adds to the fun, knowing you had to work a little harder to reach a spot like Kermits Pool.
Being a Class 5 hike provides the risk of injury and there are certainly a lot of opportunities for you to do this but if you are careful but not overly cautious then this is a manageable hike. If narrow ledges and slippery surfaces are not your strong point then please think of other people on the trail during busy times and hang back.
I'll probably end up saying this a lot over the course of writing about the Pilbara but if you are only here for a few days then make sure Hancock Gorge is on your list of hikes.
First Karijini hike in the bag and it did not disappoint by a very long margin. Love Karijini!!!
Get out there and experience it!
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