Winter runoff has come to Karijini National Park
Winter has come to Karijini National Park. A chilling wind whips across my face as I check into Dales Campground, my home for the next week. The once lovely campsite is a shadow of its former self after a recent bush fire removed all but the hardiest of trees. Such is the way of things here in the Pilbara, a remote section of red rock land in the northwest of Australia. Another blast of unexpectedly icy air cuts through my coat and I wrap my arms tighter around myself.
We make it to our allotted campsite late in the day, the setting sun silhouetting the resilient trees dotting the iron ore filled hillside. I’m still freezing. My partner, Kane, attempts to stake the tent in ground that seems to be pure rock, while I vainly attempt to keep our little mesh home Earth-bound. The gale force wind whips the tenacious red dirt into a frenzy, coating everything in sight, from our trusty 1999 series Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier named Terrance to the sad, only in emergency canned vegetables at the bottom of our food boxes. Once the tent is secured I retreat inside to my small piece of dirt free sanity. As I’m falling asleep to the rustles, screeches, and slithers of the outback at night I realize the pillowcase has turned red.
Into the Outback of to Karijini National Park
I awaken to a blessedly still morning. The soft, golden light of dawn illuminates the tree line, casting a halo of early morning mist around the campsite. No longer am I glowering at the world and shaking my fist at the tumultuous sky. No, now I’m off to see the gorges, oases in this harsh land that were carved 2500 million years ago by the impressive force of prehistoric rivers rushing towards the sea after a sudden sea level drop lifted this ancient sea floor onto dry land. We pile into Terrance and head out, deep into the spinifex.
By the time we park Terrance at the dusty trail head the sun has climbed high in the sky. It may be winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Pilbara doesn’t bother playing by normal seasonal rules and the days can climb into the high 90s. Right now, though, I’m thankful for the intense Australian sun beating down on my neck, at least it’s not that blasted freezing wind.
Spinifex scratches my bare legs as I pass, leaving their microscopic thorns embedded in my dirt and sweat covered calves. The land is covered in rolling plains of spinifex, red dirt, and those same hardy trees from camp, but there is no gorge in sight. Then, as I round a bend, the ground falls away.
The Heart of the Pilbara
Tree roots cling to the steep sides of red cliffs, water gurgles in the distance, and the path quickly devolves into rock climbing territory. I scramble down into the heart of the Pilbara, hopping from rock to rock, often using my hands and feet. Then, just as suddenly as the gorge appeared, a babbling brook greets me. The water is almost still, scarcely flowing this late into the dry season, but I can tell by the smoothness of the rocks how vast this river grows with the torrential rains of the wet. The path markers disappear and I look around, confused, until Kane points to the tranquil looking river.
“It’s water time,” he laughs knowingly as he slips off his shoes, setting them in the corner along with about twenty other pairs. Kane has been here before and warned me about the chill of this deep water, water that rarely sees the sun. I follow suit, ditch my shoes, and dip one toe into the crystalline stream.
“Holy crap, mother of God, this river is freezing!” I yell while hopping around like an idiot.
“Told ya,” Kane laughs and takes a few pictures of my ridiculousness.
After my body acclimatizes, or goes numb, I wade deeper into the gorge. The icy water caresses my sore muscles and I can’t help but be awed by the beauty of this primeval landscape. The slick rocks swirl with striations of iron and silica-rich sediments, giving one the impression that you’re hiking inside a painting, scrambling from brush stroke to brush stroke. I shimmy through a narrow section of gorge, spider walking between the narrow cliff faces.
I emerge, sodden and shivering into a place of unimaginable beauty. Those stunning swirls of striated rock now encompass a deep, clear pool of the most stunning baby blue. I sit on the edge of the pool and revel in the silence.
Melding with the Dirt of Karijini National Park
That night, I crawl back into my little mesh home, exhausted, smiling, and not even seeing the dirt.
Written by: Monica Puccetti
Monica is a directionally challenged traveler searching the world for good beer, cute animals, and new stories to tell. She has been traveling for the past two years as a budget backpacker and adventure seeker, looking for all the best this wild world has to offer. You can follow her adventure at www.whichwayswest.com