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Red & gold

Gorges dominate our experiences in Karijini National Park, and the best and most popular include Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls, Weano Gorge and Oxers. Dales has paths and steps to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. Expect cold water.

But venture away from them, too, because the 600,000ha national park in the Hamersley Range, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, is on a high plateau and dissected by gorges and stony, tree-lined watercourses. Erosion has shaped the landscape from rocks more than 2500 million years old. Late autumn, winter and early spring are the best times to visit, with blue skies, sometimes chill winds, and clear nights that can even get frost.

Landscape in Millstream-Chichester Natioanl Park.
Camera IconLandscape in Millstream-Chichester Natioanl Park. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Millstream Chichester

What I come away with is the striking colour palette — the brown rock and light gold spinifex of Millstream Chichester National Park. The park has permanent pools and the Homestead Visitor Centre has information and is the base for walk trails.

Wildflowers bloom from June to August, and this looks like a particularly strong year. Mulla mulla, here we come.

On the wide Fortescue River, Deep Reach pool is said by the Yinjibarndi people to be home to the Warlu serpent.

Python Pool is a good swimming hole with walk trails.

Karlamilyi

The banks of the Rudall River are lined with tall coolibah and river gum trees, but to get to all of this, you need to be a competent outback traveller; self contained and self sufficient. Karlamilyi WA’s biggest and most remote national park. But travellers are rewarded with space and stark beauty — big horizons, dunes, grasslands, salt lakes and escarpments.

The main route in is from Newman via Walgun and Billinnooka and along the Talawana Track to the turn-off into the park. It’s about 300km.

Best spots include:

Rudall River has waterholes and the banks are lined with tall trees — coolibah, river gum and yulbah, the bats-wing coral tree. There are tough acacias and hakeas.

Georgia Bore, under a coolibah tree.

Desert Queen Baths, with breathtakingly cold water.

There’s an old exploration track into the Fingoon Range at Graphite Valley.

Outside Newman Visitor Centre.
Camera IconOutside Newman Visitor Centre. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

First, let me say, book in advance, it’s going to be busy.

Iron ore was found here in 1957 and it’s worth joining a tour of the BHP Billiton Mt Whaleback mine, an open cut more than 5km long and 2km deep. Haulpak trucks can carry 240 tonnes of ore and big shovel loaders might scoop 70 tonnes of rock at a time.

Book tours at Newman Visitor Centre (newman.org.au and 9175 2888). It is worth visiting, as is East Pilbara Art Centre, creative centre of the Martumili Artists.

Near Newman

Ophthalmia Dam, 18km north of the town, is a good spot for a picnic and swim. No camping.

Kalgan Pool, down easy 24km track north or Newman. It’s a good camping spot.

On Coondiner Creek, Eagle Rock Pool for camping and swimming.

Marble Bar.
Camera IconMarble Bar. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Marble Bar

The Marble Bar Race weekend is the highlight of the Pilbara racing calendar. The races have been held in July since 1893, and race day is on July 3. There’s a full day of fun, with racing from 1pm, night-time entertainment, and camping available from Friday to Sunday.

Down Comet Mine Road, just outside Marble Bar, is the Jasper Deposit. Visitors are welcome to help themselves.

Marble Bar Iron Clad Hotel is the spot for a feed and cold drink.

The Old Government Building houses the Marble Bar Museum.

Head out to Marble Bar Pool and adjacent Chinaman’s Pool.

Nullagine

Conglomerate Gorge has rock art, and Elle’s Pool, Beatons Creek Gorge, Garden Pool and Daylight Pool are worth exploring. For offroaders, I like the drive out to Coppin’s Gap.

The town was settled in 1888, during the goldrush, with its name based on the local Indigenous dialect name for the Nullagine River.

Deep Gorge petroglyph site. Burrup Peninsula. Near Karratha in the Pilbara.
Camera IconDeep Gorge petroglyph site. Burrup Peninsula. Near Karratha in the Pilbara. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

(heading northwards … )

This is an “inherited coast”, as geographers call it. The Pilbara coast’s story is one of big tides and strong weather. Water run-off after big rain events, tides and tidal surges have helped to sculpt up to 20km inland.

Onslow

We’re always looking for “alternatives”, and Onslow is in our sights. An authentic WA coastal town, it has plenty of stories in Old Onslow, and the excellent Onslow Beach Resort. About 10km from the townsite, don’t miss the “city that termites built” in late afternoon light.

Mackerel Islands

About 20km off the coast at Onslow, there are 10 islands, but Thevenard is the place to stay, with self-contained two, three and five-bedroom cabins on the beachfront, a restaurant and store. The island has a reef 50m offshore and good swimming beaches. Guests can hire stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, and snorkelling and fishing gear.

Target red emperor, Spanish mackerel and spangled emperor.

Karratha

The undulating Red Earth Arts Precinct building is shaped to mirror the Karratha hills. There are views from Water Tank Hill Lookout, TV Hill Lookout, Rotary Lookout, Salt Shaker Lookout and Searipple Lookout. There are cafes, restaurants and help at Karratha Visitor Centre.

Dampier

The port town of Dampier, 20km from Karratha, is guarded by the Red Dog memorial, hinting at the story of the Pilbara’s roving red kelpie. Dampier is the gateway for exploring the Dampier Archipelago — 42 islands and islets with 25 nature reserves within a 45km radius. Camp on Enderby, Eaglehawk, Dolphin and Gidley. Karratha Visitor Centre has details. There’s a trailer boat hire and boat charter. The $1.6m upgrade of the two jetties at the Dampier boat ramp is expected to be finished by the end of July. City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long says the ramp is the gateway to some of the best fishing grounds in Australia.

The Burrup

It has been said that some of the rock engravings of the Burrup Peninsula may be 40,000 years old. They include images of animals now extinct. The most popular spot is Ngajarli (Deep) Gorge. I visit Hearson’s Cove, on the way. Less than half an hour’s drive from Karratha, it’s the town’s swimming beach, but flanked by industrial plants and best at high tide, if you really need a cooling swim.

Port Samson

I drive out past Roebourne and Wickham, and on to Point Samson, with good beaches like Honeymoon Cove and John’s Creek. Port Samson Community Park is a sunset spot, looking out over the ocean.

The Courthouse. Cossack, in the Pilbara.
Camera IconThe Courthouse. Cossack, in the Pilbara. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Cossack

Its well-restored historic buildings and courthouse, which is now Cossack Museum, make it well worth the side trip.

Roebourne

Roebourne’s Andover Park reopened in March after a $1.9 million upgrade which includes a new shade structure and improved park furniture. The work was done by local Indigenous contractor Yurra.

The Roebourne Cup horse race day is on July 24.

Salt pile at Port Hedland.
Camera IconSalt pile at Port Hedland. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Port Hedland

Yes, there’s industry, and the infrastructure for that is an intriguing sight, with piles of iron ore and salt. But this is also a place with mangroves and good fishing, and the Port Hedland Spoilbank Marina with its boat ramps

Port Hedland Visitor Centre has plenty of advice to offer.

What I’d do — sunset at Cemetery Beach, Koombana Lookout to watch the ore carrier ships, and learn more at the Don Rhodes Mining Museum.

Staircase to the Moon will be good from May 27 to May 29, with the excellent views from Discovery Caravan Park. It is best to arrive 20 minutes before the Moon rises (on those days: 6.24pm, 7.25pm and 8.29pm).

Wedge Street Footpath Markets have crafts, bric-a-brac, jewellery, preserves and buskers on Sundays June 20, July 18, August 15, September 19 and October 17.

In the gorges of Karijini National Park.
Camera IconIn the gorges of Karijini National Park. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

The Pilbara is basically two days’ drive from the Metro area.

For the “inland Pilbara”, including Karijini, Karlamilyi and the East Pilbara, I head up Great Northern Highway, staying overnight in Mt Magnet, Cue or Meekatharra.

For the Pilbara coast, I head up North West Coastal Highway. Because of the situation in Kalbarri, following cyclone Seroja, the overnight stop needs to be in Geraldton, Wooramel River Retreat Station (about 75km north of the Overlander Roadhouse), or in Carnarvon.

Fly to Newman, Paraburdoo, Karratha and Port Hedland.

The winter season from May to October is the best time to visit the Pilbara coast, with daytime temperatures from 20C to 30C and cool evenings. In the middle of the year, pack gloves and a beanie for cold nights.

Travel by car with hand luggage and stay in accommodation. Take the camper trailer or caravan. But with all options, ring ahead to book spots. Visitor centres can help. visitorcentreswa.com.au

Contrast. Options. Very different experiences. From the inland (be it Marble Bar or Karlamilyi) to Karijini and then the coast, it’s a huge, mix-and-match region. Choose the interior, choose the coast, or do a transect from one to the other and feel the contradistinction. Feel the rub.

The new, COVID-normal passport is sitting on the driveway. Just about any car sitting on Metro drives can do it.



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