Carawine Gorge – An Unlikely Respite From The Dust And Heat

If you’ve just driven from Alice Springs across 1,500km of desert country via the Gary Junction Road, then you must stay at Carawine Gorge.

We had no expectations of Carawine Gorge, we knew nothing about it. What a fantastic surprise! Such a beautiful place, with a large body of water as a bonus.

Carawine Gorge is perfect for swimming and kayaking.
Totally unexpected. This is the scene that welcomed us after a long drive across the Gibson Desert.

So if you like the idea of bush camping on the edge of an enormous billabong, surrounded by thousands of birds, the odd bull and extraordinary East Pilbara scenery, you’ll love Carawine Gorge.

Where Is Carawine Gorge?

Carawine Gorge on the Oakover River, which ultimately flows into the De Grey River and out to the Indian Ocean, East of Port Hedland. I use the term “flow” loosely here, as it only really flows during big rain events.

The nearest town is Marble Bar, 174km away to the west. From Marble Bar, follow the Ripon Hills Road for 152km until you reach the Telfer Road turnoff on your left. Keep going straight ahead on the Woodie Woodie Road for 9km then turn right onto a dirt road, signposted “Carawine Gorge”. Follow this rough dirt road for about 13km to the gorge.

It’s on private property and the owners have generously allowed bush camping there. So make sure you do the right thing. Be fully self-contained and take all your rubbish with you. Bring firewood with you if you’re thinking of having a fire.

A Sight For Sore Eyes

The landscape along the rough dirt track into Carawine Gorge gives no indication of what’s ahead of you. It’s typical Pilbara country, mesas and spinifex with the odd gnarled shrub.

We expected a small gorge with maybe a pool of water if we were lucky. As you get closer to the gorge, you’ll start to see a wall of layered rock, interspersed with lines of spinifex. A line of scrub hides the gorge, until you drive through this scrub. Then Carawine Gorge explodes into view.

The imposing rock wall at Carawine Gorge.
The imposing rock wall at Carawine Gorge.

The first thing that hits you is the huge pool stretching in both directions. Behind this is an imposing wall of rock rock, part of the Ripon Hills that’s been cut through by the Oakover River. On this side, lots of trees give you shade and an escape from the relentless sun. And we even had some green grass!

A long boy of water at Carawine Gorge.
A long body of water stretches for a couple of kilometres, supporting a huge variety of bird life.

There’s plenty of camp sites. The more southerly ones are on fairly soft river sand and a little higher off the river. They give easy access to the water. The coarse river sand is a reminder of how high the waterline is during a strong wet season.

As you drive north along the water, you’ll drop down a bank to some more shaded camp sites. The downside is the fine red dust which penetrates everything like talcum powder. A small price to pay for such a fine camping spot. 

Carawine Gorge was quite simply magnificent, a perfect tonic after our desert crossing!

If you’ve ever been to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, you’ll know what I mean. Just like Boodjamulla, you travel long distances through arid and remote country. You can’t possibly imagine a pristine body of water could be hiding within this country.

Yet it is… right there in front of you.

Swimming And Kayaking

And we really hadn’t expected to be kayaking. After a refreshing swim in the shallow waters, we launched our inflatable kayak and started exploring.

From the water, this country is ever better. We kayaked across to under the huge gorge wall and gazed up. Birds have safe refuges along the walls where they can nest without fear of land-based predators.

Then we discovered spots where the sun never penetrates. These have almost lush pockets of vegetation, no doubt remnants of how this place looked millions of years ago.

Some of the shadier places along Carawine Gorge support a surprising amount of plants.
Some of the shadier places along Carawine Gorge support a surprising amount of plants.
Parts of Carawine Gorge appear to sport a fluffy white beard.
Parts of the gorge appear to sport a fluffy white beard!

You can paddle a couple of kilometres upstream until the huge billabong peters out. Along the way, the scenery is spectacular. Rugged cliffs, still bodies of water, birds of every description, steep slopes covered in red rock and spinifex plus those weird flat-topped mesas so typical of the Pilbara.

Just a few metres away from the cooling waters of Carawine Gorge, you'll encounter the arid terrain of the East Pilbara.
Just a few metres away from the cooling waters of Carawine Gorge, you’ll encounter the arid terrain of the East Pilbara.

Spare a thought for the people who must have lived here way before white man arrived. They had everything. Food, water, shelter all year round, and all in one place.

And take in the magnificent sunsets, not only the gorge but the hills to your East. The colours are stunning.

In Summary

Sometimes you just stumble upon the most amazing places. For us, Carawine Gorge fits this description. It is special… relatively unknown, yet comparable to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill).

If you’re looking for a place to rest and relax for a few days, then Carawine Gorge more than fits the bill.

Carawine Gorge is in Nyamal Country.


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