STILL WA­TERS RUN DEEP

The stag­ger­ing beauty of Kar­i­jini’s canyons.

Australian Traveller - - Con­tents - WORDS STEVE MADG­WICK

ONE SOLI­TARY ROCK IS all that it takes to un­leash it. Just a seem­ingly be­nign sou­venir, from a land­scape with bil­lions of such spec­i­mens, care­lessly plopped in your pocket and for­got­ten about. For­got­ten about, that is, un­til it comes knock­ing. What is it? Hard to say, ex­actly. Cyn­ics say it’s a steam­ing pile of ho­cus­pocus doo-doo. But then there are the be­liev­ers; re­luc­tant con­verts to the idea of the in­ex­pli­ca­ble, neb­u­lous curse known as ‘Kar­i­jini Karma’. What do we know about it? It’s OK sim­ply to pick up a rock in Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park, let its iron dust tint your palm; run your in­dex fin­ger along its sharp edges. A pa­per trail of re­gret and re­pen­tance tells us that this pri­mor­dial can of whoop-arse opens up only when said rock leaves this sa­cred na­tional park’s bo­som. “I re­ceive pack­ages in the post from all over Europe, Amer­ica and Asia, plus every state in Aus­tralia, con­tain­ing rocks from visi­tors who re­moved them dur­ing their stay,” says Kar­i­jini’s Kennedy-jawed se­nior ranger Dan Petersen, from under a sweat-stained hat that looks like it’s been snacked on by a dingo. “Usu­ally there’s no name or re­turn ad­dress but just a note say­ing: ‘Dear Ranger, I re­moved this rock from the park and have had noth­ing but bad luck ever since. Please put it back’. Some have mud maps of where the rock was taken from, so it can go back to ex­actly the same spot.” Af­ter an im­pul­sive ca­reer change five years ago flung him north into the West Australian out­back, Dan has come to know Kar­i­jini as well as any white man can. “There’s an en­ergy that runs through this place,” he says. “It got into me straight away.” Some say Dan wears a khaki cape with a big D on it under his ranger’s shirt. On his days off, just for kicks, he trawls Google Earth to dis­cover the “less dis­cov­ered” places in the gar­gan­tuan park’s re­mote south. He grabs his back­pack, a com­pass and strides out into the re­mote wilder­ness (solo) for five days at a stretch. Luck­ily, Dan’s the kind of out­back su­per­hu­man who can eat grass in the un­likely sce­nario that he can’t source wa­ter. “I some­times see ran­dom lights in the night sky out there, which move re­ally quickly,” Dan says. “In some places, it feels like you’re the first per­son who’s been there for thou­sands of years. The wildlife out there don’t have the fear. They come up and sniff you.” Luck­ily, you don’t need Dan’s su­per­pow­ers to ac­cess Kar­i­jini’s su­per­stars: a med­ley of be­witch­ing gorges that dra­mat­i­cally and

un­ex­pect­edly fall from the flat, baked earth into an an­te­dilu­vian wa­ter­hole-strewn realm, daubed with such un­likely con­trast­ing colours that it makes your brain hurt. De­spite the im­pos­si­bil­ity of hues in the gorges, most peo­ple in the out­side world only see one colour in the Hamer­s­ley Range; you see, Kar­i­jini sits in the guts of ironore coun­try, the back­bone of the Pil­bara, where rusty red blan­kets the land­scape like out­back snow. Am­a­teur ge­ol­o­gist (at the time) Lang Han­cock saw an in­land sea of dol­lar signs when he flew over the Pil­bara’s es­carp­ments for the first time in the mid­dle of last cen­tury. That flight, of course, led to mass min­ing in the area around Kar­i­jini and be­yond; the wind­fall still res­onates in his daugh­ter Gina Rine­hart’s bank ac­counts to­day. Right on Kar­i­jini’s bound­ary is Maran­doo mine. And 60 kilo­me­tres to the west is Rio Tinto mega-min­ing town Tom Price (WA’s high­est town), which has a tight longterm com­mu­nity of res­i­dent min­ers, and in­fras­truc­ture enough to host the area’s bat­tal­ion of FIFO work­ers, who are more likely to visit Kuta than nearby Kar­i­jini. The hills around town look like an an­gry sore, which un­der­lines just how im­por­tant na­tional parks like Kar­i­jini are for the next gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralians and, in­deed, this gen­er­a­tion of tra­di­tional own­ers: Banyjima, Yin­hawangka and Kur­rama peo­ples. Af­ter all, the quirks in Kar­i­jini’s land­scape were used as meet­ing places and shel­ter long be­fore hu­mans re­ally even knew what to do with iron. While its phys­i­cal splen­dour could eas­ily place the na­tional park on the Nat­u­ral Won­ders of the World list (yes, re­ally), what the ex­quis­ite im­ages on these pages can never con­vey is the in­tan­gi­ble en­ergy and per­son­al­i­ties of each and every Kar­i­jini gorge. As the bum­bling lawyer from The Cas­tle says, “it’s all about the vibe” out here. Kar­i­jini re­wards the lively, ad­ven­tur­ous trav­eller; this cer­tainly ain’t the place for a flop-and-drop long week­end. Sev­eral of the gorges are fairly eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Jof­fre, for ex­am­ple, acts like a back­yard swim­ming pool to the Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat (see page 73), al­though it still re­quires a steep walk-in. For the rest, jump in your jalopy and go forth to meet them. While there are a few out­stand­ing look­outs in the park, which of­fer grand views and per­spec­tives, you truly have to de­scend to revel in what the fuss is all about. At the low-key car parks, eu­ca­lypts and low mulga wood­lands cam­ou­flage the gorges with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. It’s not un­til you ba­si­cally stand on a 100-me­tre cliff edge that you re­alise this isn’t just nor­mal pan­cake-flat out­back. Up on the sur­face, you won’t see too many large an­i­mals hang­ing out in the mid­day heat, save for a sun-bak­ing goanna, who sud­denly de­cides to saunter away, with a Straight Outta Comp­ton gait, when she de­cides you’ve breached her per­sonal space. (Dusk and dawn are best for

wildlife watch­ing.) Down be­low, how­ever, birds in­un­date the shel­tered wa­ter­courses like hoodie-wear­ing youths at a shop­ping mall. As you de­scend the steep mar­ble-strewn tracks and stairs, and leave the trop­i­cal semi-desert boiler room be­hind, the tem­per­a­ture reg­u­lates im­me­di­ately. Spinifex and tena­cious desert flow­ers, such as the ul­tra vi­o­let (when in sea­son) mulla mulla, share the hard ground with un­likely deep green grasses, ferns and, in some places, even fig trees. From be­low, San­torini-white snappy gum trunks, which grip doggedly onto canyon ledges, con­trast fab­u­lously with the ox­i­dised cliffs and undy­ing cu­mu­lus-splashed out­back blue sky: a ready-made Benet­ton ad cam­paign, if ever there was one. Each gorge has a dis­tin­guish­ing trade­mark (or two or three), from the Fern Pool and Fortes­cue Falls around Dales Gorge; to Ker­mit’s Pool (take a guess) and the Spi­der Walk (you have to use both hands and feet to nav­i­gate, like Spi­der-Man) of the mag­netic Han­cock Gorge. For any­one with a pass­ing in­ter­est in ge­ol­ogy, Kar­i­jini feels like 2500 mil­lion years’ worth of Christ­mases have all come at once; the ex­posed banded rock is some of the old­est in the world. Fas­ci­nat­ingly, no ac­tual an­i­mal fos­sils have been found in the older for­ma­tions here be­cause the lay­ers ap­par­ently pre­date com­plex an­i­mal life. If you know what to look for, how­ever, you may stum­ble upon the odd stro­ma­to­lite in the lower ech­e­lons of this former sea floor. The com­plex dome-shaped al­gae collection from another aeon is a snap­shot of the world’s first recorded life forms. Liv­ing ex­am­ples can still be found at Shark Bay, on WA’s coast. Once in the gorge nether­world, the co­nun­drum for the truly ad­ven­tur­ous is just how far to ex­plore; you al­ways want to stick your neck around just one more bend, and the one af­ter, even when signs tell you not to be so stupid. Three words: Don’t. Do. It. Res­cue times in Kar­i­jini are mea­sured in hours not min­utes. And there are prece­dents of thrill seek­ers hav­ing their last thrill here – the spec­tac­u­lar Re­gan’s Pool is named af­ter an SES vol­un­teer who drowned at­tempt­ing to res­cue some­one back in the noughties. Fret not, ad­ven­tur­ers; there is an au­tho­rised op­tion to take you deeper. Much deeper. Strap on a hel­met, stretch your­self into that wet­suit (lu­bri­cant op­tional), be­cause it’s time to har­rumph at the ‘do not en­ter’ signs with peo­ple who know well not only the per­ils but also the enig­mas of these gorges: the crack­er­jack cany­on­ers of Pete West’s West Oz Ac­tive Ad­ven­ture Tours. Past the signs, a tricky shuf­fle through Knox Gorge’s deep V un­der­lines why this place is a gi­ant mouse­trap for the un­pre­pared

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY J ONATHAN CAMÍ

Kar­i­jini sits in the heart of iron-ore coun­try, which lends the land­scape its rusty red hue.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Eu­ca­lypts and low mulga wood­lands cam­ou­flage the gorges at ground level; Ranger Dan Petersen is an out­back su­per­hu­man who spends his spare time ex­plor­ing the most re­mote parts of the gar­gan­tuan park ; Ter­mite mounds are gi­ant in this part of the world. OP­PO­SITE: Be sure to stop and ab­sorb the en­ergy of the gorges, es­pe­cially if you are priv­i­leged enough to have one all to your­self.

CLOCK­WISE FROM THIS IM­AGE: Cen­turies-old pa­per­barks sur­vive wild tor­rents every wet sea­son; Ropes are your life­line when ad­ven­tur­ing here; The rich, fe­cund veg­e­ta­tion in the gorges con­trasts with the trop­i­cal semi-desert land­scape above; Pete West of West Oz Ac­tive Ad­ven­ture Tours; Cany­on­ers make their way through the gorges, truck in­ner-tubes in tow.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Evenings above ground in Kar­i­jini; Don’t get lost – res­cue times are mea­sured in hours, not min­utes; Your home for the night at the Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat; Fern Pool, a spe­cial spot for swim­ming, just up from Fortes­cue Falls. OP­PO­SITE: Climb­ing up out of Red Gorge dur­ing a canyon­ing ad­ven­ture.

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