A Photographers Guide to Karijini National Park.

Pilbara, WA, Australia

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Abstract

A photographer’s guide to shooting Karijini National Park located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Approximately 1,400 km north of Perth, the Karijini National Park provides a diverse range landscapes including mountain ranges (the tallest in WA), savannah plains and its famous gorges, some of which are over 100mtrs deep. This guide is made available from the knowledge of landscape photographer Tony Budge (www.tonybudge.com.au).

Open Source Photographic Guide Project

These guides are created as part of a project I am working on…. To see more guides in WA, please go to the Main Site for WA . To find out more about this project, please go to http://freephotoguides.blogspot.com.
 
 

Introduction

Karijini National Park is a photographer’s paradise.  With a diverse range of naturally beautiful, but photographically challenging locations, Karijini provides something for every photographer, amateur or professional.
 
What makes Karijini unique as a photography location is you can shoot raging waterfalls, tranquil flowing rivers, 100mtr tall sheer sided cliff faces of the gorge walls, panoramic landscape vistas and towering mountain ranges all on the same day!  And we haven’t even started talking about the range of insect, wildlife, flora and geological photography options yet…
 
 

Special Photographic Features or Notes

Karijini National Park is WA’s second largest national park so the basic map below doesn’t do it justice however for more information it is recommended that you review the park information on the WA Department of Environment and Conservation Park Information website.  Additionally you can speak to the camp hosts (in season) at the Dales Gorge camping ground, the staff at the visitors centre and staff at the Karijini Eco Retreat as they are always happy to help.
 

 

 
Karijini landscape shot at sunset

 
 

Gorge by gorge breakdown of photography options

The following list is by no means exhaustive, there are heaps more options however I hope these give you a overview to the gorges and some pointers to some great photograph locations.
 
Dales Gorge
  • Fern Pool
    • How to get there: Follow the track from Fortescue Falls upstream to Fern Pool
    • What to photograph:  Fern Pool and it’s waterfalls.  Also watch for fruit bats in the trees just before and around Fern Pool and there are often Corella’s in the trees at Fern Pool.  If you’ve got a water proof camera maybe try photographing the resident fish in Fern Pool.
    • Best time: I’ve found early morning to be good as the sunlight doesn’t reach into the gorge and cause contrasty shadow and bright areas.  Also the morning sun causes colourful reflections of the gorge walls into the water.
  • Circular Pool
    • How to get there: Either hike down from Fortescue Falls or take the shorter track down the gorge wall nearer Circular Pool.
    • What to photograph: Circular Pool and the many rivulets of water running into it. 
    • Best time: I’ve found early morning to be good as the sunlight doesn’t reach into the gorge and cause contrasty shadow and bright areas. Also the morning sun causes colourful reflections of the gorge walls into the water.
  • Below Fortescue Falls
    • How to get there: From Fortescue Falls hike downstream approximately 100mtrs where you find a series of small waterfalls flowing over flat and wide rock sections.
    • What to photograph: Colourful reflections off the gorge walls over small pools of water and waterfalls.
    • Best time: Mid to late afternoon.
Kalamina Gorge
  • Kalamina Falls
    • How to get there: After climbing down into the gorge turn right and walk upstream a little to the falls.
    • What to photograph: The Kalamina Falls however I’ve found they are often a little busy and have lots of sticks, leaves etc in and around the falls.  Personally I like to keep my photos clean of distracting elements so I find this spot challenging.
    • Best time: I’ve not yet determined the best time for these falls as the times I’ve been there I’ve had very contrasty bright sunlight patches and dark shadow areas.  I assume either early morning or late afternoon work best.
  • Unnamed spot
    • How to get there: Difficult one to describe however I’m guessing it’s at least 800 to 1200 mtrs downstream (say 30 to 45mins hike) into the gorge (from the entry point) and you’ll come to a large pool of water forcing you to walk down the left hand side (facing downstream) of the gorge.  If you’re in the right spot, at the head/upstream end of this pool you should be able to cross over the stream and you’ll find another branch of the gorge heading off to your right.  Follow that around 40mtrs and you’ll find a hidden pool with its own waterfall.  This is a great spot to relax, have lunch, take a swim etc. 
    • What to photograph: Swim across the pool (with your camera gear in a dry bag) and there are some interesting photo challenges at the little waterfall.  Also this little area has a snappy gum in it and the white trunk contrasts beautifully against the red gorge walls.
    • Best time: Not sure, I think midday to afternoon may work best but I’ve not been here often enough to determine a best time yet.
    • Note: You may need to swim some sections of this gorge to get to this spot so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
Knox Gorge
  • Unnamed spot
    • How to get there: After climbing down into the gorge, walk upstream approximately 50mtrs and then look back downstream to see a large pool which has a paperbark tree hanging out over it.
    • What to photograph: This spot often presents a beautiful reflection of the tree hanging over the pool.
    • Best time: Not sure, I’ve been lucky with this area but can’t recall what time is best.
  • Unnamed spot, but only if there has been lots of rain
    • How to get there: Walking further upstream, approximately 50mtrs, from the above tree reflection pool, you come to a point where you need to walk through some reeds.  At this point you should notice some water running in to the pool off to your right so follow that water around 30mtrs into a small pool with its own waterfall (when there’s been lots of rain). 
    • What to photograph: The waterfall, pool and the little snappy gum tree.
    • Best time: This spot only really works where there has been lots of rain and you’re seeing waterfalls flowing into the gorges everywhere.
  • End of class 4 section
    • How to get there: Hike approximately 2kms downstream into the gorge and you’ll come to the class 5 section.
    • What to photograph: Lots of little waterfalls, interesting rock formations and colours.
    • Best time: Late afternoon provides colourful reflections off the gorge walls.
  • Knox Lookout
    • How to get there: Follow the path from the carpark
    • What to photograph: The sheer gorge walls and the snappy gums and spinifex covering the hill on the other side of the gorge.
    • Best time: Late afternoon, possibly to sunset.
Joffre Gorge
  • Joffre Falls from the lookout
    • How to get there: Walk to lookout from carpark
    • What to photograph: Joffre Falls
    • Best time: Late afternoon/sunset as you’ll get even light across the scene.
  • Joffre Falls from the bottom
    • How to get there: Follow the trail around the head of the falls, down into Joffre Gorge.
    • What to photograph: Joffre Falls but shooting up
    • Best time: Not sure, I expect its late afternoon/sunset however make sure you leave yourself enough time to safely hike out of the gorge.
    • Note: You may need to swim some sections of this gorge to get to this spot so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
  • Head of Joffre Falls
    • How to get there: Following the trail into Joffre Gorge you’ll need to cross over the river above the main waterfall.  This is the spot.
    • What to photograph: There are heaps of great little waterfalls and rock formations here.  Depending on the conditions, there’s also a great shot looking back downstream into the Joffre Gorge.
    • Best time: Not sure but I expect its late afternoon/sunset.
Weano Gorge
  • Handrail Pool
    • How to get there: Follow the rim trail or shorter trail from the carpark.
    • What to photograph: Handrail Pool and it’s waterfall.  There are also some interesting locations just downstream of Handrail Pool (but don’t go past the safety signs).
    • Best time: I’ve had some luck here early to mid morning.  By about 10am you’re getting fairly bright sunlight patches into the pool area making shooting difficult.  I’m not sure what this location is like later in the day.
    • Note: You may need to swim some sections of this gorge to get into Handrail Pool so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
Hancock Gorge
  •  The Spiderwalk
    • How to get there: Follow the trail into the gorge, the Spiderwalk starts just below the Amphitheatre.
    • What to photograph: The rushing water over the smooth and beautifully coloured rock walls.
    • Best time: I’ve found early to mid morning works well.  I’m not sure how this location works in the afternoon.
    • Note: You may need to swim and/or hike through some deep water sections of this gorge to get to this spot so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
  • Kermits Pool
    • How to get there: Follow the trail into the gorge, Kermits Pool is just below the Spiderwalk.
    • What to photograph: If you get here at the right time (see below) you’ll get a beautiful reflection of sunlight and gorge colour play across Kermits Pool.  Combine this light with the small pool and waterfall and you’re in for a great photography session.
    • Best time: I’ve found early to mid morning works well. I’m not sure how this location works in the afternoon.
    • Note: You may need to swim and/or hike through some deep water sections of this gorge to get to this spot so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
  • Down into Class 6 section
    • How to get there: Approximately 30mtrs beyond Kermits Pool you come to the Class 6 section. 
    • What to photograph: Looking down into the next section of the gorge you’ll often get fantastic colours in the flowing water, waterfalls and gorge walls. 
    • Best time: I’ve found early morning before the sun is too high to work well here, not sure how it goes in the afternoon.
    • Note: You may need to swim and/or hike through some deep water sections of this gorge to get to this spot so ensure you have a plan for keeping your gear dry.
Hamersley Gorge
  • Gorge entry
    • How to get there: Follow the trail from the carpark into the gorge.
    • What to photograph: Interesting geological and rock formations in the gorge wall.
    • Best time: Not sure, this area is fairly open and the bright sunlight makes shooting tricky.  I’m guessing very early morning or very late afternoon would work well but I’ve not tried these times.
  • Spa Pool
    • How to get there: From the gorge entry, walk upstream approximately 400mtrs.
    • What to photograph: The beautifully carved, smooth flowing rocks in and around the Spa Pool. 
    • Best time: Not sure, this area is fairly open and the bright sunlight makes shooting tricky. I’m guessing very early morning or very late afternoon would work well but I’ve not tried these times.
  • The Grotto
    • How to get there: Follow the gorge upstream approximately 1km and you’ll find the Grotto on your left.
    • What to photograph: Interesting little pool with water running into it from up high.  Also lots of ferns make this a challenging but interesting location.
    • Best time: Not sure, the Grotto is very closed in and I’m not sure when (if) the light makes it into the pool.  I’m guessing there may be a few magic minutes in the day when you’ll get a shaft of sunlight play into the pool but I’ve not had the time to wait for this.
  
Sample of some of the photographic opportunities in the park

Following are some of my interpretations of the locations described above however do not be afraid to be adventurous and discover your own special location..
 

Kermits Pool, Hancock Gorge

 
Circular Pool, Dales Gorge
 
Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge
 
 
Personally I’ve found some of the ‘less popular’ gorges to be just as interesting as the other gorges and typically they are easier to photograph as less people seem to put the effort into hiking them.  In some gorges it’s not uncommon to have the entire gorge to yourself!
 
Reflection, Knox Gorge
 
 

What photography equipment to take

Everyone has their own personal preferences of what the ‘essential photography kit’ is but my recommendation, specifically for Karijini is:
 
  • If you’re camping at Dales Gorge then take at least two camera batteries as there is no power for recharging batteries at the Dales campground.
  • A tripod for those wanting to use slow shutter speeds, shoot pano’s or use bracketing.
  • One, or better yet two, neutral density filters for your favourite lens.
  • A comfortable backpack for all your gear which should include camera stuff, water, sunscreen and lunch.
  • Dry bags for your camera gear and your tripod in case you have to swim across any pools.
  • A shutter release, either a remote or cable release.
  • I prefer to use a 50mm prime lens for most of my panoramic shots however I stitch most of my pictures so you may find other lens more practical.  Good macro and telephoto lens are also useful for the many interesting scene’s you’re bound to encounter.
  • It’s really easy to lose sense of direction in the gorges. so I also carry a small compass with me as I find it really useful for determing the track of the suns path so that I can make the most of the light reflections off the gorge walls.
  • A photo storage/backup device for doing a daily backup of your shots. 

 

 

Tips and tricks for taking the perfect shot

I prefer taking panoramic photographs, typically with an aspect ratio of 3:1 (i.e. 3 x times as wide as they are high) and for me that means taking multiple shots and digitally stitching them together in post processing.  However regardless of your photographic style and preferences, my advice for making the most out of your Karijini photo shoot is as follows:
 
  • Use a tripod for slow shutter speeds shots, bracketting and/or shooting stitched panoramic pictures.
  • Learn how to, and practice your ‘bracketing’ skills before leaving home.  Bracketing consists of taking multiple photographs of the same scene with each photograph set at a different exposure value.  This allows you to save your shadow and highlight area’s and blend the various photographs into a single picture that has the complete tonal range with no blown areas.  There are heaps of Internet resources on bracketing so Google away.
  • A lot of Karijini scenes are large and detailed so rather than throwing on a wide angle and trying to capture everything in a single snap why not try shooting a stitched panoramic photo?  Again, there are heaps of Internet sources for how to do this but personally I always use a tripod with a Nodal Ninja pano head for my panoramic pictures which I later stitch using PTGui.
  • Try some neutral density filters which allow you to slow down your shutter speed times and create that misty, flowing water feel to your water shots.  I use one or two (stacked) ND8 filters depending on how bright the overall location is and how much I want to slow my shutter speed down.
  • When shooting inside the gorges try shooting the colourful gorge reflections on the water in early morning or late afternoon light. At these times of day the sun is angled into the top of the gorges and the brilliant reds and oranges reflect down into the bottom of the gorge.
 
Kermits Pool sunlight reflections
 
  • When shooting landscapes you can’t beat the magic minutes at sunrise and sunset.  Personally I find sunset easier to shoot as you’ve got more time to prepare and pre-visualise your shots in the fading sunlight.  A couple of nice sunset shot areas are the hill just past the Eco Retreat going towards Weano Gorge and the road out to Knox Gorge.
  • Don’t be a slave to the common Karijini shots. For instance, almost everyone (including me) who visits Karijini to take photographs must take “the shots” of Kermits Pool, Circular Pool, Fern Pool etc however Karijini is a diverse and beautiful place so find your own magic spots.
  • Be creative and enjoy the place and experience.  The more you relax the more likely you are to take a great shot.
  •  
 

How to get to Karijini National Park (from Perth, WA)

There’s no hiding the fact that Karijini is a long drive from Perth, approximately 1400km in fact.  However if you’ve got multiple drivers you can (we do) drive it in a day reasonably comfortably and safely as long as you regularly change drivers (say every two hours).  Another method is to drive the shorter 1150’odd km to the town of Newman, camp there the night and then do the short drive out to Karijini the following morning; you’ll be hiking and taking pics that afternoon. 
 
Personally I find the inland road via the Great Northern Highway to be the best route and there are a few towns along this road between Perth and Karijini however they are mostly mining towns and have limited facilities so we prefer to drive to Newman, or all the way to Karijini.
 
For those with a bit more time available, an alternate route is up the Brand Hwy (coastal route).  With more frequent and bigger towns along the way, you can easily break this trip into more manageable sections such as ‘Day1: Perth to Geraldton, 430kms’, then ‘Day2: Geraldton to Carnarvon, 475kms’, then ‘Day3: Carnarvon to Tom Price, 660kms’ and lastly ‘Day4: Tom Price to Karijini, 110kms’.
 
Whatever approach you take, please ensure your car is in good working order (i.e. serviced) and that you carry water and food as the further north you head, the more remote you are.  Whilst all the roads to, and within, Karijini National Park and driveable in a standard 2 wheel drive, I personally recommend a 4wd with a bullbar with a bullbar if you have one due to the chance of encountering both wildlife and livestock on the roads.
 
With a little bit of planning, Karijini is one of the most accessible ‘remote’ locations in WA and is very easy and safe so please make the effort to visit and enjoy one of Australia’s natural treasures. 
 
 

What time of year is best?

I prefer to go in early to mid Autumn, around April, as typically the gorges and waterfalls have lots of water in them due to the cyclonic rain experienced in the north during summer.  Temperatures range in the extremes from +40C to sub-zero so travel prepared.  Visit the WA Department of Environment and Conservation Park Information website for more information.  Also check the WA Main Roads Department for road information before leaving home as roads can close quickly due to flooding and damage.
 
Needless to say, hats, sunscreen and lots of water are must carry items at all times of the year.
 
 

Accommodation in Karijini National Park

There are two accommodation options in Karijini being basic campgrounds near Dales Gorge or the upmarket camping (permanent tents) options at the Karijini Eco Retreat.  Personally I prefer the basic camping offered at Dales Gorge as you get the whole living under the stars experience, however you also get no showers (or water.. BYO water) and you have to put up with the traditional Australian bush/drop dunny (toilet)..
 
Although I’ve never stayed at the Eco Retreat I’ve heard great reports about it and they offer basic camping options through to fully serviced (i.e. hot water and toilets) eco tents.
 
 

Safety notice!!

Karijini National Park is a remote area in Australia’s outback.  Granted, it has lots of people visiting it every year so you’re typically not the only person in the area however you do need take extra care.  Following are some quick safety tips however for more detailed information seek advice from the rangers, camp hosts (at Dales Gorge), visitors centre or Eco Retreat.
 
  • Do not enter gorges when it has been raining orthere is a threat of rain in the area due to the risk of flash flooding.  Many people have died as a result of flash floods in Karijini.
  • Do not put yourself in danger near cliffs etc to get that perfect shot.  Again many people have been injured or killed, including a well known WA professional photographer in 2010 in Karijini by slipping from rocks.
  • Always carry water and essential supplies suitable to the type of hike you are doing.
  • Some areas of Karijini require you to lodge your travel plans with the ranger so always check local notices and information before leaving.
  • Be careful and considerate.  It’s amazing how far a little common sense will carry you..
  • Remember, no photograph is worth dying for.. 


 

About the author

I am a amateur landscape photographer based in Perth.  I’ve been serious about taking landscape photo’s since 2006 and love the fact that finding these fantastic locations means experiencing some of Australia’s best secrets.

For me my photography is an excuse to get outside, with my family, and enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful scenery Australia has to offer.
 
Whether you’re a photographer, hiker or wildlife spotter make sure Karijini is on your bucket list of places to visit.
 
Please feel free to contact me on the email address at my website www.tonybudge.com.au if you would like any more information on Karijini, or simply want to talk about photography.
 
Cheers Tony
 
 
Mt Bruce
 
All photographs in this article were shot in April 2011 by the author, for more photographs by the author please visit www.tonybudge.com.au.