One of the best parts of my trip so far has no doubt been the 4-day Aussie Wanderer tour from Exmouth to Broome. Or to be more specific: the stunning gorges of Karijini National Park. Even though it’s over 600 kilometres inland from the coast of Exmouth, I can promise you the full-day drive is totally worth it. That is, if you don’t mind conquering the hot plains above to descend into a much cooler place, surrounded by steep rock walls, climbing and swimming to get from one side to the other, to suddenly be rewarded with a beautifully clear pool.
The 4 musketeers: Hancock, Weano, Joffre and Dales
You can admire a number of gorges at Karijini, but our first day at the national park started with a hike down Hancock Gorge, to be followed by the equally impressive Weano Gorge. A picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately I couldn’t bring my camera since we had to swim our way through the gorge. Luckily some of us had waterproof equipment, so I’m gratefully sharing some of their shots.
So what made me feel so alive while being down at these gorges? Was it the thrill of climbing along slippery rocks, having to be careful where to place our feet and hands, not grabbing any snakes or spiders along the way? Or was it the refreshing water which cooled down our very overheated bodies? Whatever it was, the brochure’s description of a class 5 trail (which we survived 3 of) wasn’t very encouraging: “Expect to encounter natural hazards including large boulders; pools of water; slippery, wet rocks; and narrow, high ledges.”
Our third track, Joffre Gorge, definitely met its class 5 expectations of “steep sections with vertical drops”. Luckily, we had our very own knight in shining armour (or self-appointed “boyfriend material”), our guide Damien aka Damo, who kindly told us where we could safely place our feet. This was especially useful at spots where we couldn’t really see where we were going since the descend was too steep.
At our second day at Karijini, we got rewarded for our first day’s dangerous efforts by the friendly Dales Gorge. The steps of this welcoming class 4 trail brought us all the way down to Fern Pool, where we enjoyed our last refreshing dip before spending the rest of the day in our van heading to Port Hedland.
Spider Walk and Handrail Pool
One thing I know, is that the Spider Walk in Hancock Gorge and the Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge made me appreciate the peaceful pools at the end of the climbs even more. Don’t worry, the Spider Walk didn’t mean we had to fight our way through a nest of Harry Potter Aragogs. The name only suggested how to climb down the gorge, with your arms and legs pushing against the rock walls (- see top left picture of the first collage).
Handrail Pool, however, did mean we had to overcome our fear of turning a steep corner while holding on to a handrail. Slipping and letting go of the rail would result into falling quite a few metres down a steep wall and crashing onto the rocks. If you’d survive this fall at all, you’d definitely have a couple of broken bones. On top of that, you’d have to wait several hours for a helicopter to come and rescue you. Fortunately, we all had our happy ending by making it back alive.
Glamping versus swagging
Being a backpacker, you try not to get your hopes up as far as accommodation is concerned. Squeaky beds, dark and smelly rooms; hostels are not the right fit for everyone. That said, sleeping at Karijini Eco Retreat was a whole different level of backpacking. Our dorm tents did have the usual bunkbeds, but the warm northern temperatures made it possible to create see-through walls. In other words: I could see the sunrise from my bunkbed!
I wouldn’t call it glamping in the traditional sense though, since it normally doesn’t include frogs in the toilet and shower, and snakes and spiders at night. As soon as the sun set, we had to wear proper shoes and carry around a torch, in case those little critters decided to cross the road at the same time as us. My tour mate Ali and I actually ran into 2 snakes and a reasonably sized spider on our very short walk from reception to the camp site.
You might wonder why we would risk our lives by taking a nightly stroll. The answer is, we signed up for a yoga class which would take place at 6.20 the next morning. For me, this was the first time I ever joined an official yoga session (- not taking into account my fruitless efforts on the Wii Fit Plus balance board), but I have to say I couldn’t have picked a better spot. Looking at the beautiful fields of Karijini made it a peaceful experience despite our bodies being bend into impossible ways. Even though the scenery won’t be as nice, I might look for a beginner’s yoga class when I’m back in Haarlem. 🙂
Having spent 2 nights in the luxurious Eco Retreat, switching to sleeping-bag-type-swags was a bit of an adjustment. On top of that, we had to wake up at 5, which made it a very short night, but somehow falling asleep looking at the stars always eases the pain.
Broome: sunsets and camels
After 4 unforgettable days and a lot of driving, we finally arrived in Broome. Hot and humid are the best words to describe this town up north. The aircon in my dorm at Beaches of Broome was a bless, even though it meant having to get used to the extreme temperatures every time I left the room.
Still, we conquered the heat to watch some crocs eating chicken at Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, and I even rented a bike one day. To be honest, cycling felt way better than walking, and it was much cheaper than using Broome’s pricy taxis. An upside to the warm temperature was that the weather was perfect to go to the world’s oldest operating picture gardens. In the Netherlands, you have to be lucky it is not raining, but in Broome, Ali and I could safely watch Bridget Jones’s Baby outdoors.
The best thing about this town were the sunsets. I went to Cable Beach almost every night to see the sun drop into the ocean. The colour of the sky before and after, it was simply magnificent. What made it even more special, were the camels passing by, their shadows reflecting on the wet sand…
So, next time you’re looking for a holiday destination, I hope you’ll consider Western Australia. I know for sure I won’t be forgetting Karijini National Park, Hellfire Bay, Rottnest Island, or any of the other places I visited anytime soon.