NOW: THE PILBARA
On the Great Northern Highway as we head into Port Hedland we know we are near a big town. It was a little nerve wracking negotiating under and over passes, dual lanes and traffic lights! I can’ t remember the last time we saw traffic lights – might have been Alice Springs about 5 months ago. This is a mining town where the Pilbara iron ore is transported by train and shipped out to destinations all over the world. We took the BHP Port bus tour where everything is huge and in huge quantities. The ore trains are 3 kilometres long and each carriage carries more than a road train.
Rio Tinto also mine salt which is used in the manufacture of steel with only 1% of the salt mined ending up on our dining tables. The turtles don’t mind the polluted air created by the mines and swim in along the cliffs near Cemetery Beach.
From Port Hedland we headed to Marble Bar which actually has a rock bar of Jasper, not marble. Gold was also mined here and the tall smoke stack of the Comet Goldmine still towers above the hills.
Continuing on we arrived at Dales Campground in Karajini National Park just before dark, setting up in a bush camp bay. We loved the coast but we’ve missed the bush. When we were at Cape Leveque two little girls recommended we swim at Fern Pool because “it was the best” so down into Dales Gorge we climbed. At the base of the gorge we went right to Fern Pool where the fish nibble on your feet. It was pretty special with ferns cascading into the water and water falling over the rocks.
Retracing our steps we went back to Fortescue Falls for another swim followed by a rock scramble down the gorge to Circular Pool which was very shaded and cold. I think the recommendation we were given was right. While all the pools were interesting, Fern Pool was the best! Rather than retrace the trail along the gorge floor we climbed up the rock steps near Circular Pool and walked back along the gorge rim. That climb was a challenge at the end of a big day!
Once again we’re glad we’re not 70 yet because the walking in Karajini is fairly demanding. In our boots and swimmers we climbed down into Hancock Gorge, waded through the cold water to the Amphitheatre, spider walked on the narrow rock walls and then slippery dipped on the rocks into Kermits Pool.
Next it was Weano Gorge and the Handrail Pool. After negotiating the rock ledges and narrow gorge walls we saw the handrail! I was ready to bail but once David went down I could see that it was actually possible. With the rail between your legs and a foot on each of the little rock bits bolted into the rock wall, you can actually climb down without even getting wet shoes.
We enjoyed being back in the bush and the challenges the gorge country threw at us. We’re glad we are used to walking, have comfortable boots, our soft bamboo socks and backpacks.
Leaving Karajini early proved to be a good idea as we arrived at the Tom Price Visitors Centre just in time for the Rio Tinto Mine tour. While I opened the back of the Tvan to get our boots, David paid for the tour and we set off in our hard hats and safety goggles to see where millions of tons of ore are dug out of the hills and transported to the waiting ships. Everything is big here – the hole in the ground, the machinery, the trains and the piles of ore.
You need a permit to travel the Rio Tinto Road which follows the rail line from Tom Price up to Dampier. We got our permit from the Visitor Centre after watching the safety video and making a donation to the RFDS. This was a well maintained gravel road and we even reached the 80km speed limit! We stopped along the road to watch and photograph the trains, getting flashing headlights and toots from the train drivers. In the not too distant future the mining process will be so mechanised the trains won’t even need a driver!
We were too late in the season to appreciate the waterholes in Millstream Chichester National Park as the waterholes were low and there was growing green algae. BUT it was interesting to see the old Millstream Homestead, the spectacular landscape and watch the Karajini pigeons scratching in the red dirt for grass seeds and insects. The wind was blowing raising dust in the camp ground but we’ll come back here in Autumn next year rather than Spring to see it at its best.
We stayed in Point Samson and drove into Karatha which had Coles, Woolies, Kmart and Target! Spoilt for choice we bought nothing and drove on to Dampier which is recognised as a beachside holiday destination. We didn’t get that holiday feel but it was windy and the kite surfers were out. Dampier does however lay claim to Red Dog who travelled the Pilbara making a name for himself. Natural gas is also mined off the coast and you can visit the gas information centre to find out all about it.
The historic village of Cossack has been restored to tell the story of pearling prior to the industry relocating to Broome. The safe harbour on the Harding River allowed supplies and passengers to unload in the shallow bay. Cossack ceased to operate when a deeper harbour was established in Dampier. Watch out for the sandflies which swarmed head high as we wandered the village!
NEXT: EXMOUTH AND NINGALOO
See you on the Emu Track
Cheryl and David