The park is most notable for its many gorges containing waterfalls and water holes
On a sultry summer day in 1952, mining magnate Lang Hancock and his wife, Hope, were flying from his asbestos mine in the north of Western Australia towards Perth, when looming storm clouds forced them to divert their light plane low over the cliffs and canyons of the Hamersley Range in the central Pilbara district. “On going through a gorge in the Turner River,” he later recalled, “I noticed that the walls looked to me to be solid iron, by the rusty looking colour of it.” As it turned out, the Pilbara contains almost 15% of the world’s economically mineable iron ore deposits and now produces 300 million tonnes of exports annually, worth more than $30 billion. Even after it has been mined for nearly 60 years, the Pilbara’s reserves of iron ore still stand at an estimated 24 billion tonnes. But, as awesome as they are, it wasn’t the world’s largest open cut mine at Newman or the gigantic one at Tom Price that beckoned us to the Pilbara; rather, it was the prospect of exploring the spectacular gorges of Karijini National Park that so captivated Lang Hancock.
Karijini is the second largest national park in Western Australia, straddling 6,274 square kilometres of the Hamersley Range, an elevated plateau dissected by stony, tree-lined watercourses that drain abruptly off the northern escarpment towards the Fortescue River or more gently and fitfully southward across red earth plains to the Ashburton River. Formerly known as Hamersley National Park, it was officially renamed in 1991 to reflect the traditional custodians’ ancient connections with the region. The Banyima, Kurrama and Yinhawangka Aboriginal people have lived here for more than 20,000 years; Karijini is their name for the range and, in their language, Pilbara derives from the word bilybara, meaning ‘dry’. In 1861 surveyor and naturalist Francis Gregory was the first European to explore the region, naming many landmarks including the Hamersley Range, after his friend and supporter Edward Hamersley, Mt Bruce and the Fortescue River. Gregory’s reports of good grazing lands attracted settlers to the region in 1863 and relics of early pastoral occupation remain in the park in the form of dwellings, stockyards, and wells.