After leaving Port Hedland, we headed due south, about four hours’ drive inland, to explore the much anticipated Karijini National Park.
Karijini is Western Australia’s second largest national park, situated just above the Tropic of Capricorn, and is noted for its spectacularly rugged gorges punctuated with watercourses and swimming holes.
We walked the 4kms Dales Gorge loop walk, which included the full length of the gorge rim in one direction, before clambering down to the bottom of the gorge and walking another 300 metres in to see the stunning Circular Pool. We then returned along the base of the gorge to the equally beautiful Fortescue Falls and nearby Fern Pool swimming spots, before climbing the steps back up to the top of the gorge.
The Class 4 walk took us three hours, including many stops for snapping photos and taking in the scenery.
Our newly honed rock climbing skills were put to the test at numerous points.
And Jen was thrilled with her recent birthday gift – a trekking pole (aka walking stick!) – which definitely eased the impact of clambering up and down rocks on arthritic joints!
But the reward for the effort of a vigorous bushwalk was breathtaking scenery – rugged red gorges, tranquil pools, waterfalls, white-trunked eucalyptus trees and rocky cliffs that looked like they’d been constructed like layers of slate.
Circular Pool was simply beautiful, surrounded by ferns and greenery at the base of the massive red gorge.
The Dales Gorge base walk took us through rock formations and along – and through – water courses.
How lovely are the Fortescue Falls? A very welcome respite after a long walk.
Several hundred metres further along the gorge floor was the very inviting Fern Pool, another popular swimming spot.
Of course, visitors to this beautiful part of the world are reminded that the area has a darker history, in that it was mined for blue asbestos – including in Dales Gorge. Although all blue asbestos mining in the area ceased more than 50 years ago, seams are still visible through the gorge.
The main blue asbestos mine site and processing plant was nearby at Wittenoom, just outside the mid-northern edge of Karijini National Park. Unlike Google Maps, official maps and even road signs no longer indicate the presence of Wittenoom, once the largest town in the Pilbara – a consequence of the Western Australian government’s degazetting of the town in 2007.
The danger of asbestos remains so high in and around Wittenoom, that no government workers (including emergency services) are permitted to enter, and government services or utilities are no longer provided (including electricity and water). Currently, three steadfast citizens refuse to leave, and their stories are fascinating. However, it now appears that the WA government is close to evicting them, and the remains of the town will be off limits to all.
The legacy of Wittenoom looms large in Australia’s annals of public health and workplace safety. May the lessons live long.