Karlamilyi National Park

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Updated: April 30, 2020

At 1.3 million hectares KNP is the largest and the most remote national park in WA.

Phil Bianchi has the heads-up for those wanting to explore the region.

Ancient ranges, bluffs, peaks, gum-lined watercourses and large waterholes make Karlamilyi National Park – formerly Rudall River National Park – a 4WDers’ heaven.

There is so much to see and do at KNP. I’ve been there numerous times and never tire of the place. But make no mistake: you’re on your own out there. You’ll need to be thoroughly prepared and plan right down to the last detail.

History

As you drive through the park the views – bluffs, mesas, quartz outcrops, jump ups, and distant ranges – are fantastic. On my most recent trip we approached the park from the southern end via Len Beadell’s Talawana Track. On the southern edge of the park a grove of white gums provided excellent camping among the trees, and while some maps show a hand pump at the site, it has been removed and there is no water available.

Once across the wide, sandy and stony Rudall River bed, a winding track west gives access to a series of waterholes on Watrara Creek which offer good camping. The first stop is Tjingkulatjatjarra Pool.

Yep, that’s its name. I call it ‘T Pool’, and it is as pretty a waterhole as you could ever wish to see. It has white gums, a small bluff as a backdrop and glass-like water. A few days camped at this restful spot under the shade of the magnificent gums is a great way to recuperate and chill out.

A gum tree on the edge of the pool has a small plaque placed there by Noel and Robert Ives in 1970. They were retracing three expeditions led by their father, Alfred ‘Wild West’ Ives. Ives was a boundary rider on the Rabbit Proof Fence from 1925 to 1940 who, in his spare time, went prospecting.

The Rabbit Proof Fence (RPF) is the fence three Aboriginal girls from Jigalong followed when they escaped from the Moore River Native Settlement in 1931. They returned to Jigalong by walking 1500km along the fence on a journey that took nine weeks and their story has been the subject of a book and a film.

Spectacular

Further westward along the track is Curran Curran Rock Hole.

This large rock hole in the Throssell Range is located at the base of a small waterfall. You can spend many an hour there watching the antics of birds, mainly finches, coming in to drink, and for the energetic, a climb up behind the rock hole is rewarded with extensive views.

Further west is the spectacular Hanging Rock.

This lone pinnacle rises out of the spinifex plain like an ancient monument and is just awe inspiring!

On the southern side you can climb halfway up the rock and enter some wide crevices to almost the middle of the monolith. If you look about you’ll see swallows’ nests and native tobacco plants.

Returning to the main track and heading north takes you through an ever-changing scenery of breakaways, mesas and distant purple ranges. A turn to the east leads to what is without doubt the most visited and picturesque spot in KNP: Desert Queen Baths (DQB).

The track carves through the Broadhurst Range, spoiling you with breakaways, mesas and conical hills. You’ll also have to contend with some sandy and rocky patches and numerous creek crossings and dips. Groves of scratchy grevillea will add character lines to your vehicle.

Cutting through the Broadhurst Range, DBQ gorge allows you to walk from pool to pool. The mirror-like pools, flitting birds, red coloured bluffs and towering white gums provide spectacular sights at every turn. There is some rock art in the cave on the eastern side of the second pool, but it is in poor condition and badly weathered.

Allow at least two hours to complete the return walk and do wear stout boots. It’s very rocky and scrambly in places.

Poetry

DQB was named in 1970 by Jean Paul Turcaud, a prospector and discoverer of the Telfer gold mine. He recalled a line from a poem: ‘Where the queen of the desert comes to bathe…’

For years camping near the entrance of the baths has been very popular. Sadly, this camp is now suffering, with more areas being cleared to create additional camping spots, and each becoming dusty and littered with old fireplaces. The rocky ground makes toileting very difficult, but don’t be the lazy, ugly Australian. Do the right thing and bury your business.

It would be better to camp elsewhere and visit the baths as a day trip. That way the area may recover and animals can come and go when seeking a drink. There are many good camping spots back along the Desert Queen Baths track.

A hand pump located at the northern edge of the park provides good water, however don’t rely on it. On occasions it hasn’t been operational.

Camp

Before the Yandagooge Creek crossing take a track eastward to the Maroochydore mining camp (owned by the Nifty Mine). This spectacular drive in the Broadhurst Range will take you through some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. You’ll see a maze of buttes, conical hills and breakaways, and cross picturesque creek lines and drive along ridges and valleys. It is real picture-postcard stuff, but while the views are awesome, take great care. Deep washouts, steep, rocky outcrops, and soft, sandy or sharp winding track sections could catch you out.

Maroochydore is a mining camp, and often there isn’t anyone there. Don’t interfere with any equipment or facilities, stay on the track and continue your loop back to the main north-south track.

On the main track and between the northern and southern entry points to the Maroochydore loop is the 500-metre-long picturesque Coolbro Pool. This waterhole is another great place to swim, camp and chill out.

Done

Christmas Pool (Wantamata), just outside the park at the northern end, is a great stop. This little gem was found on Christmas Day in 1896 by H S Trotman (of later RPF and Canning Stock Route fame). He was a member of explorer William Rudall’s exploration party.

On a rock face at the pool are the inscribed names of Trotman and expedition members, HWBT (Talbot was a government geologist), Chudleigh – a government surveyor in 1967 – and Turcaud. You will also find some faint rock art and petroglyphs.

Above the pool are large flat stones with numerous grinding depressions made by Aborigines preparing food. They must have been rubbing that rock for hundreds of years to make so many depressions.

If you’re keen on a good hike, follow the creek bed for about 1.5km eastwards through a gap in the range and you’ll come to a vast gallery of rock art under a long, curved overhang. It’s a difficult, scrambly walk over rocks and across gullies, but well worth the trek.

Return to the main north-south track. From there you can travel further north to the Telfer Road and the end of this trip.

Nitty Gritty

  • Trip rating: difficult. Early in the season you could be crossing steep and rocky creek beds and dunes and driving up and along steep ridges. Do not travel alone. At a minimum there should be two well-prepared and well-equipped 4WDs with high clearance. Having two spare wheels is highly recommended
  • Maps and guides: Hema’s Australian Desert Tracks, north-west sheet, and Rudall 1:250,000 topographical map
  • Contacts: Jigalong store (08) 9175 7070 and Parngurr (Cotton Creek) (08) 9176 9110
  • Fuel: Newman, Marble Bar, Nullagine, Jigalong and Parngurr. Fuel availability in aboriginal communities is not always guaranteed and shop hours are restricted. Check in advance
  • Supplies and facilities: No facilities of any kind are available in the park. Be well prepared and totally self-sufficient. Purchase supplies in Newman or Marble Bar. Jigalong and Parnngurr have only the basics
  • Note that Telfer, Woodie Woodie and Nifty are closed mining towns. Access is not permitted
  • Currently there are no permits required for travel within KNP, but there has been discussion about the park reverting to Martu control. Before travel, check requirements at parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/ know/park-entry-fees.

Fantastic

You could easily spend five days enjoying the scenery and the serenity of the park, but even then you’ll only have had a taster. It’s recommended you give yourself eight days at least to enjoy your visit.

If planning a trip to KNP, plan thoroughly and have an HF radio, SPOT, EPIRB or satellite phone for emergencies. A high-clearance 4WD is an absolute must. You just can’t risk being underprepared. Plan, plan and plan. Also choose your weather correctly. If it’s too hot you’ll have a miserable time and increase your chances of vehicle problems.

Note the distances are vast, and there is nowhere to buy supplies in the park. The nearest locations for fuel and basic foodstuffs are Parnngurr, Jigalong (a permit is needed for entry) or Marble Bar and Newman.

Karlamilyi National Park is a fantastic place to visit, and given the pressure the Canning Stock Route is getting nowadays, more and more people are taking in KNP. It’s only a matter of time before restrictions and Koppers logs are put in place at many spots – places like Desert Queen Baths.

If you want to visit a vast and pristine desert environment, KNP is a good as you’ll get.