Weano Gorge | Handrail Pool
Start - Weano Day Use Area
Length - 3.3km (Loop)
Grade - Orange to Black
Terrain - Single Path, Slippery Rock Platforms
Vertical Climb - 69m
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Time - 1-3 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 11th July 2018
Best Time - April to September
Directions - Located in the western side of the gorge system within Karijini National Park, take Banjima Drive from Karijini Drive 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 - With a week in Karijini to explore the park, the next hike on the agenda was the Weano Gorge/Handrail Pool loop with a side visit to the Junction Pool and Oxer Lookouts thrown in for good measure. With an excellent time spent at Hancock Gorge the previous day, we were out here early to beat the crowds and mission accomplished as there was almost no one at the car park when we arrived. Taking the opportunity we gathered up our gear and headed out to the trail head to begin another fun experience within the gorges. For no reason whatsoever we decided to do the trail in a clockwise direction and headed off along the red dirt paths leading away from the day use area.
I like the idea of walking along the gorge rim where possible as you get an appreciation for the size and depth of these formations plus the scenery along the rim is just as spectacular. Both Ben and I remarked on the beauty of the Spinifex plains on more than one occasion so to have a section of the trail pass through the golden grasses and among the Snappy Gums was a real delight. It's like having our own African Savannah but without the elephants, giraffes, zebras etc and the Eco Retreat certainly adds to that vibe too. Back to the rim walk, you also get the opportunity to pass by several impressive termite mounds, a feature of the north west thanks to the 40 odd varieties of termites that call this area home. I had fun taking plenty of photos along this 600m section before the trail takes a dip down into Weano Gorge for the loop back to the meeting point of various side trails for this loop. Initially it feels very open with a large collection of trees found lining the stream that passes through the gorge and the temperature drop was noticeable again.
Due to the morning sun just rising over the landscape, one side of the gorge was well lit and the other in shadow, a problem for the photos as the sensors don't really like those conditions. In the moment though I was happy to be casually walking along the stream and criss crossing where the round white trail markers suggested I should. While pleasant enough, I found this area in retrospect to be one of the "lesser" gorge walking parts of the park. I say lesser in relative terms because this is still an amazing place but the gorge walls weren't as high and the vegetation was a little overgrown and felt more like weeds than anything else we encountered in the park. I'm sure this isn't the case but it just felt that way to me. After a few hundred metres things pick up as you reach the main pool of Weano Gorge and a spectacular scene of rapids, green water, reeds and rocky ledges. We spent quite a bit of time here admiring the beauty and taking photos before moving on to the entrance for Handrail Pool. There is an intersection of trails here with the side trail for Handrail Pool leading you deeper into the gorge, the climb out of the gorge up the rocky path and the way we had just come.
We checked out the path down to Handrail Pool, passing by the Angkor Wat style tree that has stubbornly stuck to the rock face with exposed roots and on to the pool that you must cross in order to reach Handrail Pool. With some water sensitive equipment on the hike with us we decided to delay that part of the walk until later so headed back up the rocky path and out of the gorge. These steep ascents really get the blood pumping again but the views at the top are worth it. Looking back into the gorge showed us the green oasis we had just explored and the length of the gorge snaking its way into the distance. Given the two named lookouts are connected via the same path that forms the Weano Gorge loop we decided to keep going and check them out. Once again walking through golden Spinifex and past white trunked Snappy Gums, you don't initially get a great perspective of the gorge system but once you reach the lookouts then the wow moments take you in. Junction Pool is the first of the lookouts and gives you the full view down towards Kermits Pool, the end point of the Hancock Gorge trail.
Standing over and looking down into the gorges is impressive from this perspective and everything looks so much more rugged compared with the rim walk along Weano Gorge. The Oxer Lookout is a little further down the track and is right on the edge where three gorges merge into one and the result is very impressive. It's hard to really capture it in the photos so you'll just have to go visit yourself. With the lookouts covered off we doubled back to the start so we could drop off the equipment we were carrying and just take our cameras to Handrail Pool. With the crowds now starting to roll in we were confronted with a large crowd at the entrance to the Handrail Pool side trail. Ben took the opportunity while they were still faffing about trying to get their stuff ready to jump straight into the water and begin the wading through the first section.
While it was still that time of the year where the water was quite low, this bit requires you to wade through waist deep water (that is literally breathtaking) to where you can safely access the ledges on the other side. Not being able to see the bottom makes it a slow process and if I wasn't carrying my DSLR then I probably would have just swum down the length of the pool. In order to get the shots though I had one hand connected to the camera holding it out of the water and the other to keep my balance. I kept my shoes on for this trip (sans socks) and even with them on it was a slippery affair stepping on the rocks. Ben found out that the best way to cross (almost losing his camera) is to stick to the left wall and then cross over just before the halfway point as it gets unexpectedly deep in parts. Once on the right hand wall you can pick a spot to climb up onto the ledge or continue in the water (the ledge is easier).
Once you are safely on dry land there is a small area of pebbles to shake yourself off on before some more ledge walking to get to a nice open area next to another green pool. This had the feel of the Hancock Gorge amphitheatre but with more trees and a less defined path through to the next section. You come to a wall at the end of the open space with some signage warning about the dangers than lay ahead. The final stretch to Handrail Pool requires you to walk along the stream and this means slippery rock so be careful. Your reward is a circular cavern filled with a shallow pool. This provided a nice photo opportunity and was a lovely place to chill in. Ben was kind enough to take some photos of me so this will be a rare post where you will actually get to see what I look like in my natural setting. Excuse the posing, I felt it was the best thing to do in the situation.
From this cavern there is one more walk along slippery rocks to the descent down into Handrail Pool. It gets the name thanks to the handrails that have been installed to help you along the slippery entrance and subsequent climb down. Even with the handrail there is the opportunity to slip and fall down the waterfall so make sure of your footing and don't panic when you do feel yourself slide, it will only make it worse. There are foot holds either side of the rail leading down so you can treat it like a ladder and into the super impressive surrounds of Handrail Pool. A wide and circular pool hidden in another expansive cavern, this is a very special place. It was shame then that we encountered a lot of tourists when we arrived including some that decided that they would venture further than is allowed. Again, there are signs there saying you can't but some people can't resist and risk the potential of ruining things for everyone else. The minimum rescue time for Handrail Pool is 8 hours and they know that because they have done quite a few so don't be that person and just stick to the appropriate areas.
Despite the noise and bottleneck of bodies on the edge of the water it was still an awe inspiring place to be. I can imagine if you had it to yourself the impact would be significantly greater but for us it was just a simple case of admiring what we could. I had a very brief moment of capturing the waterfall with no one near it and thankfully got at least one rushed shot before another family showed up and spent a while climbing down. We eventually found a gap in the flow of people to escape back up the ladder and returned to the start, passing one family that had smartly brought inflatable tubes so they had it easy crossing the first pool. Both Ben and I agreed that this was another special hike that added to the already glowing reputation that Karijini enjoys. We were back at the now very full car park ready to move on to the next adventure.
Final Thoughts - Weano Gorge was another fantastic hike within Karijini that offers up a bit of everything to cater for all tastes. There is a gentle rim walk and lookouts for the more casual tourist, a descent into the gorge for those looking for a more involved walk and then the full Class 5 adventure into Handrail Pool.
While I didn't really enjoy the stretch between the end of the rim walk and the start of Handrail Pool through the gorge, this was all relative compared to the rest of the hike and Handrail Pool more than makes up for it.
The effort and wetness it takes to get to that amazing location makes it feel well earned and is one of the more stunning places in the park. It also helps that it is very photogenic and a great place for a swim, if not a little cold.
As I've said in this post and the one for Hancock Gorge (and will probably keep saying), just be aware of your ability and if you are holding people up, especially during the peak times. Also remember to adhere to the warning signs, they apply to everyone and are there for a good reason.
On the whole, the Weano Day Use Area is one of the more enjoyable areas of the park and provides a wealth of opportunity when it comes to exploring amazing places. Arrive early if you want to beat the crowds.
Get out there and experience it!
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