Western Australia: The Karijini Experience

10 October 2016

Karijini National Park is a little like Western Australia's own Grand Canyon, except without the crowds. A national park in the heart of the Pilbara in the state's north, Karijini is an ancient landscape of gorges, waterfalls, cultural heritage and beauty within an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape.

The sky turns pink in Karijini National Park, Western Australia. An ancient landscape puts on a display of colour. Picture: Dan Avila

The annual Karijini Experience showcases this beauty and biodiversity and brings together the traditional owners and all manner of guests for an intimate and life-changing experience. The event runs for a week coinciding with the April school holidays.

The 2016 Karijini Experience was my first and it was an utterly memorable escape from hectic, modern life to the world’s oldest landscape, where I was warmly hosted by the wonderful traditional owners of this region and the passionate and dedicated event organisers.

A traditional owner share his knowledge at The Karijini Experience. Picture: Dan Avila Traditional owners share their knowledge at The Karijini Experience. Picture: Dan Avila

Stunning Images

As part of the 2016 Karijini Experience program, I hosted two photography workshops in Dales Gorge and Fortescue Falls. Karijini is a photographer’s nirvana.

The enormous landscape includes some of the highest peaks in WA, which dominate the skyline and change in colour and contrast so dramatically throughout the day. Within the gorges, the waterfalls feed a terrarium-like environment providing intimate opportunities for stunning images.

A waterfall in Karijini National Park, Western Australia. Waterfalls provide catharsis in the Pilbara. Picture: Dan Avila

During the Dales Gorge workshops, we enjoyed a very close encounter with a docile and well behaved king brown snake (one of the world’s deadliest) that meandered through our group while we took photos in the area around its home, before moving on to Fern Pool with an enormous olive python perched below a colony of flying foxes.

This is the Pilbara, so in an otherwise stark, hot and arid land, the contrast of the lush, cool waterfall-fed gorges is glorious. There is nothing quite as cathartic as lying on a warm rock as a cool waterfall cascades over you in this magnificent, wild environment.

A python eyeballs a colony of bats in the Pilbara, Western Australia. A local hangs around for a feed. Picture: Dan Avila

I think it is this untamed nature of Karijini that is the source of its undeniable appeal. If this place were anywhere else, it would likely have a turnstile and souvenir shop at every gorge. By contrast, I spent hours at many gorges without seeing another living soul, enjoying this amazing area in peace and solitude.


More WA inspiration:

Surprising town: Beer & Baubles In Broome

Hit the road: 5 Must-Do Stops On WA's Indian Ocean Drive


Food & Culture

The Karijini Experience program has so many highlights, catering to all ages and interests. One of the stand-outs was a long-table degustation meal under candlelight in the bush. This is fine-dining under the stars, with the chefs serving amazing dishes using locally foraged and sourced ingredients and other traditional offerings, including puffed crispy barramundi swim bladder, emu tartare, kangaroo fillet and crocodile feet.

Fine dining under the stars during The Karijini Experience. Picture: Dan Avila Fine dining under the stars during The Karijini Experience. Picture: Dan Avila

Kalamina Gorge proved a unique and acoustically resplendent amphitheatre for an evening of Opera in the Gorge by internationally acclaimed indigenous performers. There were also multiple opportunities to spend time engaging with local elders, who delighted in sharing their knowledge of the area with guests from around the world.

 Opera performed in Kalamina Gorge, Western Australia. Opera in Kalamina Gorge is a productoin like no other. Picture: Dan Avila

Karijini National Park is a must-do WA experience. There are plenty of camping and caravanning options, with the most up-market glamping being the Karijini Eco Retreat. A short walk from Joffre’s Gorge, the tent-style accommodation has timber floors, hot water ensuites and queen beds with hotel linen.

When To Go

The best time to visit Karijini is in winter, when the days are still warm and perfect for exploring the swimming holes. Take note, however, that the nights can be bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping to freezing.

Tents line up beneath fairy lights in Karijini National Park, Western Australia. Feel the calm descend on a stay in Karijini National Park. Picture: Dan Avila

A good four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly advisable, as many roads are unsealed. Hire one from Paraburdoo airport, which is the closest to the park.

The 2016 Karijini Experience was a fabulous introduction to this pristine and inspiring part of WA. After a few days at Karijini, you will notice a calm come upon you as the Pilbara seduces you, ensuring that you will be sorry to leave and forever yearning to return.


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Dan Avila

Dan Avila is a travel writer and photographer who lives to shoot unique and special locations and always looks to tell a story in both word and image. He is based in Western Australia.