To get from Kalamina Gorge to Dales Gorge, we needed to drive back out to Banjima Drive North which heads firstly towards the Karajini Visitors Centre (and the airstrip) before continuing on to Dales Gorge. We stopped at the Visitors Centre on the way from Newman the previous day to pay our Park Fee and have a quick look at the displays in this curious building built from what looks like iron sheeting direct from the surrounding iron ore mines. The building represents a goanna moving through the country and is symbolic to the local Banyjima people. It is designed to withstand fires that are a regular feature of the area.
Visitors in motorhomes that are driving on to the Eco Retreat need to be aware that using the Banjima Drive dirt road is not a good idea due to corrugations. From the Visitors centre, Motorhomes, Carvans etc should head out to Karajini Drive and use this sealed road to get to the Eco Retreat, despite it being double the distance.
From the Visitors Centre it is another 10Km drive to the Dales Camp Ground or, our destination, the Dales Day Use Area where there was both plenty of parking as well as picnic tables for a quick restorative feed before heading for the gorge. For those wanting to skip the walk along the top of the gorge, you can stop earlier at the Fortescue Falls Car Park as it is a much easier return walk from the delights of Fern Pool and Fortescue Falls.
The image below illustrates one of the many fabulous flowering shrubs of the area. It is sometimes difficult to get your head around the sight of the beautiful flora of this area and realise that they are blooming in what is basically a red desert.
The sign to the right is an example of one of the regular ‘Advice Posters’ that are a feature of the walking/climbing trails of Karijini. We were heading towards the Gorge Rim to follow the trail towards Fortescue Falls but our first stop was a lookout down into the gorge to Circular Pool. Further along there is a track down into the gorge to Circular Pool, without having to do the 2 hour return walk from Fortescue falls. The only issue for visitors on this day was that the local rangers had put up clear signs indicating that the Circular Pool area was closed due to the conditions caused by the heavy rain over the previous few days.
As an aside, it had been commented frequently over the last 12 months in Australia that one of the reasons the country had done so well combating the Covid pandemic was because of the nature of communal attitudes towards directions from civic authorities setting boundaries for social behaviour. As a people we seem to be happy in following directions if we can see the sense, the science and the safety demanded by our governments. As an example of this attribute, our little family group spotted the Rangers sign and immediately realised we wouldn’t be climbing down the short cut route to Circular Pool. It was interesting to note that there were visitors who didn’t believe such signs were relevant to their day’s outing. The information pamphlet for the ‘over the edge of the gorge walk’ explains…
A steep, rough track descends into the gorge from near Three Ways lookout. This trail is for experienced bushwalkers. There is limited signage and many obstacles. Walkers need to use a small ladder to make their way to the gorge bottom. From here, turn left and follow the gorge into Circular Pool. (from Department of Park and Wildlife Pamphlet) Add slippery rocks to this advice and I was curious as to why people were blithely risking life and limb heading down this track.
The walk along the edge of Dales Gorge takes a right-hand turn at an early point of the trail where the views down into the gorge are wonderful. This spot is called the Three Ways Lookout. I can only presume the three ways are…
- Back to the Car
- Or Over the Edge!
Of course our trek along the gorge was not just a showcase of dramatic geology but the plants along the way were pretty impressive as can be seen in the images below. The white barked Snappy Gums were the most prevalent tree species around the gorges and also back at our camping ground. Apart from being beautiful trees contorting into all forms of limbs reaching for the sky, these trees regularly seemed to have burnt branches that appeared to be remnants of recent bushfires. Rather than kill the gum, the surviving parts of the tree simply grew around and over these blackened sections and continued their road to survival.
Our walk along the gorge felt like a couple of kilometres before we arrived at the path that would take us down to Fortescue Falls. It was a great relief for me when I discovered that the park administration had decided to ease the burden on old hikers’ knees and build a superb stairway down to heaven that was the waterfalls and the waterhole below. It is much easier to appreciate the scenery when you free from the fear of falling down the side of a gorge.
The first sight of Fortescue Falls and its pool from the staircase is very dramatic. It seems unbelievable that a rock pool in the middle of the Pilbara could have its own Greek Theatre surrounding it so visitors could pick a seat on the slope, sun-bake between trips down to the pool and generally daydream of paradise. Something as good as this place also meant its reputation had spread so there were a lot of people taking advantage of the gorge pool on this sunny afternoon. The waterfall is not dependent on variable rainfall like all the other pools in Karijini, it is fed by its own spring. The photo to the right showing the flow of water down the rocks does not quite do justice to the many tracks the water uses to eventually find its way into this pool. Swimming here is a memory that will be hard to beat.
We spent a good while at this place, chatting to a ranger about future plans for the park. He was very informative and friendly guy. There was a couple of university researchers here with scoops prowling the edge of the pool looking for an invasive shrimp that has been introduced through Darwin and is getting into the river systems of WA and causing concerns for indigenous species. These guys were also happy to discuss their work in the gorges of Karijini.
Our walk wasn’t finished however as there was one more forest pool further along the trail that was compulsory to visit. Dales Gorge is amazing in that it has at least three fantastic waterholes worth visiting. The difference with Fern pool is that it had a waterfall perfectly positioned over a rock ledge so the chances for a great photograph were very high. Given that we had already been for a swim, only one of our party was keen to check out this waterfall and the resulting photo op!
I’m not sure if many of the groups we met at the pool at this end of Dales Gorge were interested in doing the long 2 Km trek down to the other end where Circular Pool was located. The pamphlet for Dales Gorge had this to say about this idea.
Walking The length of Dales Gorge…This track links one end of the gorge to the other. Experienced bushwalkers can observe gorge environments up close as they negotiate the bottom of the gorge. The track is rough with obstacles and steep in sections. There is limited signage. Walkers will be required to cross from one side of the gorge to the other. Return the same way, or take the Circular Pool track and return to Fortescue Falls along the Gorge Rim track. (from Department of Park and Wildlife Pamphlet)
However we had already had a long day and it was time to head back to our car. It was a two kilometre walk and a forty kilometre car drive so it was well and truly time to head back to some civilized comforts. We of course were nourished along the way by the memories of what we saw on our wonderful day of gorge walking.
Need more information and photographs of Dales Gorge?