The Pilbara region of Western Australia is known for its deep gorges and vibrant red earth, rich in natural resources. Petroleum, natural gas and iron ore deposits found underground in Pilbara make mining big business in the area and the ochre earth carries the heavy scars of the industry. We spent time in the area camping and hiking in Karijini national park.
Driving inland to the magnificent sweeping gorges of the park you pass towns and airports built to support the mining economy. The roads swarm with convoys of workers being transported to the mines and oversized wagons laden with giant machinery. We were forced to pull off the road on several occasions to make way for oversized loads carrying giant drills. They were escorted by cars and motorbikes and the whole scene would have made a very impressive Lego set.
Many of the national parks in Australia have camp sites. They are usually inexpensive with basic facilities and located in areas of outstanding natural beauty, making them an ideal base for hiking. We knew there was a camp site in Karijini national park and arrived just before sunset hoping to get a pitch. We drove into the park, down several deserted lanes with the sun at that awkward point in the sky where it blinds you from every angle. Dusk is the worst time to drive in Australia as the native wildlife are at their most active, coming down to the road side to play chicken with the tourists. We slowly rolled our way into the park squinting at the sun and hoping we could avoid the courting kangaroos out for a sunset stroll. We reached the turn off for the camp site and saw a large ‘roo who appeared to be reading a sign that said “Camp Site Full.” Not wanting to anger the kanga, we continued past the turn off into the park. Hoping we could find a place to camp for the night.
Eventually we came across a friendly looking park ranger who told us that because of the school holidays, the camp site was indeed full. However the resourceful folk in the national park had organised a temporary overflow camp in nearby scrub land. What he failed to mention was that the whole of Western Australia and their mates where camping there. When we got there we quickly found out that “scrub land” translates as a dusty field full of carnivorous vegetation waiting to attack unsuspecting campers. A maze of vehicles and old stock fences covered the field and we struggled to find a space to park up before darkness surrounded the camp. There were two toilets servicing around 200 people in the emergency encampment. Finding them in the dark through the maze of vehicles, fences, tents and people whilst being attacked by the razor sharp undergrowth below was nothing short of our very own hunger games. Painfully spikey thorns stuck fast to our clothes and razor sharp grasses sliced our skin with papercut precision. Some campers called out directions to us, kindly helping us to clear each of the obstacles and reach our destination. Others clearly had their own agenda and were happy to see people fall to the ground clutching their slashed bodies, cut to ribbons from the vegetation.
The following morning we woke early and decided to get a head start on the masses at one of the gorges. Whilst most of our fellow campers where still navigating their way from the cornucopia we began a peaceful walk around the rim of Dales Gorge. The deep red cliffs jostled with the bright morning sky for our attention and soon the memory of the camp ground was far from our minds. We followed a path down into the depths of the gorge, climbing over large slabs of weathered rock and up small waterfalls. We came to a deep pool surrounded by green ferns and filled with icy cold water untouched by the sun’s rays. We continued through the gorge, using stepping stones to avoid the water, climbing through fallen trees and crossing the valley several times. Our head start paid off and we only saw a few other people down there until the end of our hike. As we reached a huge natural rock staircase which would lead us out of the gorge, we saw many of our fellow campers beginning their hike in the opposite direction. We climbed up through the waterfall and headed back to our van for a well-deserved rest, feeling rather smug about our early start.