Ben and I have been really excited about getting to the Pilbara, back to the familiar ground of what seems like a lifetime ago – that’s pre-children, pre-marriage, pre-overseas travel… when we were considerably younger! Before we make it to Karratha we have around 850 kms and some beautiful sections of the West Australian coastline still to explore.
Our first stop out of Broome was not all that far down the road at Barn Hill station. This is a place that had been recommended to us on numerous occasions since we’ve been travelling, in fact I think it was one of the very first places we had been recommended, way back on the shores of Lake Hume, near Albury-Wodonga in Victoria. I loved it at Barn Hill, there was the crystal clear water and white sand beaches, but also a rocky point that was brilliant for exploring for shells at low-tide. The kids even managed to find a cave for a cubby. We’ll certainly be passing on good references for Barn Hill – although the free washing machines that we had been promised now cost the usual $3 per load!
We popped in to Eighty Mile beach for lunch on our way south and there were certainly plenty of fishermen there. As far as you could see in both directions there were people fishing, and you can see right into the horizon. We didn’t see anyone catching anything though, so we decided not to stay here, but try our luck further down the line at Cape Keraudren.
Cape Keraudren was a beautiful spot, although as we drove in to set up camp we were a little concerned at the strong wind blowing. All the not-so-friendly, maybe been-alone-to-long ranger had to say about that was “Yep, this is normal for this time of the year, helps to keep the midges away”. Righto! So we found a fairly sheltered spot near to a sandy beach (which is actually the very southern end of Eighty Mile Beach) to make our home for a couple of days. Unfortunately the wind didn’t keep up enough during our stay to keep the midges away though, we all came away spotty red and scratching. Still, we enjoyed ourselves here collecting shells, taking photos and generally lazing around. The photo below is a fairly common pattern in the sand around here, made when the tidal waters recede on the firm sand, the patterns remind me of boab trees and now that we are out of the Kimberley I guess this is the only boab I’m going to see for quite a while!
We made a flying visit to Port Hedland as we continued our journey south. Many people say to not even bother stopping, that it’s a bit of a dump, but from our brief encounter it didn’t look too bad at all. That said, we made the mandatory stop to look over the salt ponds and carried on, keen to make it to Karratha!
Wow, Karratha has changed! It’s been 15 years since Ben and I were here and we struggled to recognise some of the places. We searched out the backpackers, where we lived for three months, and it doesn’t look all that different, although it now accommodates mine workers and there’s no room for any backpacker looking for a night to stay. The availability of accommodation in the town is ridiculous, the property prices and the price of rent is sky high. Unless you are on one of the whopping mining salaries I have no idea how you’d afford to live here. There are new housing developments going up everywhere, even a multi-storey apartment building – this in a region which experiences cyclones fairly frequently – I’d not like to be living on the top floor, that’s for sure! We drove around for a while trying to remember where we had worked and finally found Ben’s factory. Mine was a little harder to find, being on Hamersley Iron (now Rio Tinto) property we couldn’t just drive on-site, but I think I figured out where it was. We stayed at the caravan park in Dampier while here, it’s a fairly basic park, but is just across the road from the ocean and about half the price of any of the parks in Karratha. And of course Dampier was the home to ‘Red Dog’, the Pilbara Wanderer so we had to get the obligatory photo with the statue.
The view into the bay from the caravan park at Dampier is a real mixture of natural beauty and massive industry. In amongst the blue waters of the Dampier Archipelago cruise the huge ships carrying tonnes and tonnes of iron ore out of the Pilbara, bound for China. Then there’s the Natural Gas Plant on the Burrup Peninsula burning it’s excess gas out of a stack in a pretty spectacular flame.
We headed out in our boat into the bay and really felt like we were in a toy boat among all of the other vessels. We made a short trip to Sam’s Island, a few hundred metres from the mainland and had our own private island for the morning. Sam’s Island is named after Sam Ostojich who lived on the island, building a stone ‘castle’ for himself and living there without electricity, but with his cat “Tiger” until he died in 2005. We did a spot of fishing, but really the morning was spent towing the kids behind the boat for a bit of wave riding (thanks to the Smidts for the tip!).
We made a day-trip out to Cossack and Point Samson (just north-east of Karratha), where we checked out the sights, did a spot of fishing and headed back to camp. We lost a very important member of our adventure on the journey back to Dampier. Ned was knocked for six by a bird who then slammed into the windscreen, with the shock of the bird whacking against the windscreen we didn’t even notice poor old Ned was missing until we were too far down the road to retrieve him. RIP Ned!
After reading the blog of some fellow travellers who we met on Cape York the kids and I decided we’d check out a new pastime (new for us anyway) of Geocaching. It’s essentially a game of hide and seek, where the ‘hiders’ hide a cache (or treasure box) of some sort, then give you GPS coordinates and sometimes clues for the ‘seekers’ to find it (excuse the inaccuracies of the explanation to those geocachers who are a little more experienced!). So we had our coordinates and clue in hand – good old fashioned letter swapping for the secret clue – and went in search of our first cache. It was up a very steep hill on an extremely windy day, so we had to go the last part on foot, but we did find it in the end… very exciting for all – except Ben who thought we were a bunch of nerds and opted to stay in the car! Thanks for the fun Sue and Marty, I think we’ll be geocaching some more in the future. For anyone else interested, check out www.geocaching.com.au.
From Dampier and after about a month on the coast we headed inland again. First stop was Millstream Chichester National Park, this was a favourite spot for Ben and I when we lived here, the homestead was certainly the lush oasis that we remembered, but the rest of the park was not as wonderful as our memories were. So we moved on to Karijini a little earlier than we’d planned.
Tobey has been planning his on-road birthday celebrations ever since we started on our journey and I can tell you that his idea of a great birthday was definitely not being in the middle of no-where doing a hike. I’m fairly certain that lunch at McDonalds before leaving Karratha, his remote controlled car birthday present and the swimming holes at the end of the walks went a long way to making amends though.
Karijini was certainly as stunning as we remembered and happily for the kids the walks were all far shorter than I thought they’d be! We’ve seen our fair share of gorges on this trip, especially in WA, but the gorges of Karijini are really something else altogether. Squeezing through tight spots, clambering along gorge walls and wedging ourselves against the gorge walls above the flow of the water all made for exciting adventures onto the gorge floors. Brilliant fun and some amazing sights.
We made an early start to Circular Pool in Dales Gorge and were lucky enough to have the pool to ourselves for a while before the flow of people started in. The pool itself was pretty cold, but we found that the water flowing out of the rocks was really quite warm, so we sat under our warm shower for a while washing off the red Pilbara dust.
We were camped very near to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool which made a great spot to cool off in the afternoons.
The walks through Hancock and Weano Gorges are the more difficult routes that require rock scrambling and wall clinging. We have so many photos of these walks, but here are a few to give you some idea of the beauty and scale of the place.
The kids all loved the adventure of walking through these gorges and despite the rush to be the leader of the pack they even managed to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings too!
Karijini really is a magnificent place, from the huge gorges right down to the colours and shapes of the rocks up close. You could spend a very long time here just sitting and looking.
The minerals in the earth are literally right at your finger tips. If you drop a magnet in the dust on the ground you pick up a whole lot of iron. You can see why the mining companies find this area so attractive.
We got up close – well as close as all the Health and Safety regulations allow tourists to get – to the operation of the iron ore mine at Tom Price. The size of everything is huge. Big trucks, big holes in the ground, big mounds of iron ore and big money! The tyres on the dump trucks cost $60,000 each – with six tyres on each truck needing replacing every three months and each of the 30-odd trucks on site use around 800 litres of diesel per day – makes the running costs of the Disco pretty insignificant!
Indianna really looked the part in her mining get-up, all covered in red dust like she’d been hard at work all day. I’d like to say that the state of her face was like this just on the mine tour, but in reality if there’s dirt around both she and Tobey make sure they get a fair deal of it on their faces.
We are starting to come encounter the wonderful wild flowers that Western Australia blooms at this time of the year. I’ve been looking forward to this, much to Ben’s disgust at having to pull over for the photos, so watch this space for more brilliant shots as we head down the coast!! We’re heading for the coast again now to enjoy the beautiful Ningaloo Reef during our school holidays – perfect timing!