THE FROGS-IN-THEDUNNY ECO RETREAT
Your best two accommodation options in Karijini National Park are camping and glamping. Luckily, the locally owned glamping option, Karijini Eco Retreat, is a very good one. The generously sized ‘semi-permanent’ deluxe tents are a good mix of ‘with the elements’ and homely touches, including a king bed that is the best for hundreds of kilometres around. The retreat has genuine eco-cred, including low voltage mood lights and no noisy air con (so you can acclimatise properly). Of course, there are compromises, but that’s the price you pay for staying in a no-BS eco stay.The roofless but sheltered en suite is perhaps the best example. Inevitably, you will happen upon one (or more) little green frogs in and on your toilet. It’s part of the environmentally friendly wastewater treatment system; “A sign of a healthy ecosystem,” I’m told. “They [the frogs] just like your bathroom water. Just flush them down the toilet [preferably before you go].” The eco resort’s restaurant does a fine job of giving guests a wide choice; but it is strange eating tiger prawns in the outback and the salad, as you can imagine, isn’t exactly picked from a kitchen garden. Food prices are a shade over par – mains start in the high 20s – but that’s the cost of remote-area logistics for you. The young, enthusiastic staff bring an energy to this place which makes the Eco Retreat a great base, worth a couple of nights’ splash-out.
and ill-cautious. While not strictly subterranean, with (usually) a thin sky-blue line above lighting the way, sometimes it feels like you’re heading straight down Mother Earth’s oesophagus. A mouthful of the neutral water quenches like 25 isotonic drinks never could. A chilli-red dragonfly slurps some, too, before it flutters away to wherever chilli-red dragonflies spend their shady afternoons. Along the streams, more wet seasons than anyone can know for sure have sandpapered the rock surface so much that at one point a narrow section transforms into a slide, and a dog-leg means you’re propelled off a four-metre drop completely blind, into the waiting cool (temperature and ambiance) deep-green pool below. The canyon walls here look like they reach up all the way into the ionosphere. The novice canyoner has to trust their guide like they would a doctor or pilot. Case in point, the next (seven-metre, again blind) abseil down a waterfall that’s bashed its own exit hole through solid rock. From above, it looks like you’re headed straight for the mystical Orient, via the Centre of the Earth. Water raps on your helmet like that annoyingly consistent year seven bully. The big outback sky reintroduces itself again at (the no-s***-Sherlocknamed) Red Gorge; a logical place to stop, take a few breaths, and hoover up the last of your pre-packed carbs and energy bar thingies. Upstream, a few-hundred-year-old paperbark is rooted into the flanks of the channel, which obviously hosts ferocious torrents, come wet season. There’s spectral cotton-wool-like foliage in the tree’s upper reaches; its branches like eager hands desperate to scale the gorge walls. Turns out that it’s not foliage at all, but spider webs, satellite suburbs of arachnids that somehow know exactly how high to reside to avoid being swept away into a Rescuers Down Under sequel. The organic flotsam hanging from this grand old dame’s shoulders is as good a future depth indicator as anything modern science offers. We plant bums in inner-tubes for a delightfully dawdling paddle up the wide, sunny gorge; then refocus for a scramble through, and (roped) rock climb up and out of, the gorges. Somewhere, in the canyon depths, we pass by (but not through) an old Indigenous birthing pool, a reminder that this is not just a gigantic outdoor adrenaline junkie theme park, here purely for our pleasure. For the Banyjima people in particular, these gorges are their still-unfolding, living and breathing story. “We respect each pool,” says West Oz Active’s energetic assistant guide Lauren Pember. “We don’t jump and splash where we can help it, and walk in where possible.” ‘Prone to wander,’ states a tattoo on Lauren’s arm. It’s the unspoken mantra of those who actually live in this isolated park. Super Dan probably has a similar one inked directly onto his soul. As a temporary home, Karijini National Park has its shortcomings: stuff-all phone reception and supermarket visits that are more quest than outing top the list. “It’s quiet and we go to bed at 9:30pm many nights, but we get to watch the sunset every single day,” says Lauren, who has also called Albania and the Swedish Arctic Circle home. “It’s the most amazing feeling sitting around in awe with absolutely nothing, especially pubs, to distract you. And now that the red dust is in my blood, I couldn’t live in a city. Peak-hour traffic here is like one cow on the road.”
There is nothing to fear, if you respect Karijini. In fact, the park’s energy can be a clarity-giving, revitalising force.
And herein lies the principal challenge for the shortterm Karijini visitor. How do you de-tune from your fourwalled existence, embrace the elongated sense of time and space, and then re-tune into the park’s wavelength in just a handful of days? Even tucked into your comfy bed inside the Eco Retreat, your first night might be a little unsettling; especially without the unremitting and reassuring dopamine fixes of phone reception. The desert winds that hit your tent’s walls seem threatening at first; the 3am dingo howls in the distance even more so. Sleep assured though, this is simply Karijini introducing herself. Rise with the sun (as you inevitably do when glamping anyway) and follow your instincts. Seek out the gorge that most resonates with you; listen to it. Stop and stare, spend time there, especially if you are privileged enough to have it all to yourself. On the surface Kalamina is just another gorge; replete with colourful algae, blushing walls, stepped waterfalls. But for some reason it spoke to Super Dan (and this writer) the loudest. Ironically, it’s one of the park’s most accessible gorges. “When I used to travel near Kalamina, I would feel really uneasy,” says Dan. “So I asked a [Banyjima] elder why the energy down there felt so different. He told me that back in the day there was a huge fight down there. A lot of people died. That tallied with the way I felt.” But there is nothing to fear, if you respect Karijini. In fact, the park’s energy can be a clarity-giving, revitalising force. “You see it with families,” say Dan. “The first day you can see the anxiety in them, trying futilely for phone reception. Three days later, the kids are covered in red dust, with a stick in one hand and a rock in the other. The kids have become kids again.” And that’s how you get to know Karijini: breathe it in, accept its challenges, go with its energetic flow. Just make sure to check your pockets on the way back to the harsh, real world. As they say, Karma’s a bitch. That’s if you believe in stuff like that.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hang on to your spare tyres, roads out here come red and bumpy; Pancake-flat expanses of Karijini have you unprepared for the plunging gorges below; Ultra-violet mulla mulla that springs to life after rain; Karijini rewards the adventurous traveller; Roping up from the depths of a gorge; A goanna on the prowl; Crossing the tracks from mining country to the sacred country of Karijini.