Roads and Tracks We Have Traveled (Part Three The Pilbara)

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 08:37

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

The Pilbara region as well as being the largest shire in Australia, would have to be one of our favourite regions. Each time we have visited this area the enjoyment we have experienced has been reflected in the beautiful colors of those hills, the deep blues of the ocean and the wonderful array of gorges cut deeply into the landscape. The mining industry adds to its fascination with those deep deep holes, the 2klm plus trains of ore, the mining communities and townships and the huge gas installation beside Dampier Salts and the Art works of the Burrup Peninsula.
On our first visit there in 2002 we spent time in the National Parks - Karajini and Millstream/ Chichester. The fabulous drive via Python Pool towards Roebourne and the coast must be one of the best in Australia. We have been to the Pilbara 4 times now, arriving from the north, the south and from inland. On 3 occasions we have traveled the Bore Line Road and the Shay Gap to Marble Bar Road. In 2005 as we headed north into Shay Gap and following the rail line, I radioed back to my mate and his wife that a road train was approaching and that we had pulled over - he heard only the train part of the message and was looking along the train line for the train and suddenly encountered the road train rounding the bend - windows down they missed the head on but not the choking cloud of dust. It has taken him a while to live this down around the campfires.

The following are a few of our favourite locations around the Pilbara. There will be many places of interest not mentioned and some I would still like to visit. Watching the film Red Dog reignited our desire to return to this area.
Perhaps that wonderful Karajini NP is an excellent place to start. On both occasions that we have visited here we have been awestruck by how these gorges have developed, below the level of the land, different to the Kimberlies where you basically walk into the gorges or down through an escarpment.Weano Gorge is the show piece and a great experience to reach the Handrail Pool. Oxer Lookout overlooks the convergence of a complex system of 5 gorges, often subject to extreme flooding (and on occasions, sadly the loss of lives) the Wittenoom Gorge drains the water from Joffre, Knox, Hancock (Red Gorge) and Weano Gorge. A powerful force of nature often triggered by a regional thunderstorm. Another gorge to look at is the less impressive but lovely Kalamina Gorge where you can easily walk its length and swim in the waterfall fed pool. (good place for little kids).

Close to the main campground (there are a couple of smaller ones) is Dales Gorge. It is possible to descend down to Circular Pool and walk the length of the gorge or to take the path and steps to the base of Fortesque Falls. This is a lovely area, quite dramatic with its rock formations and colours, you can swim at the base of the falls or take a short walk to the beautiful Fern Pool about 100 metres above the falls for a refreshing dip. It would be easy to spend several days in this park.

The surrounding landscape is harsh and one that bears respect when driving through it. The area is served by extremely good bitumen roads via Auski Roadhouse or through Paraburdoo and Tom Price, although from here to the park entrance is via a well formed dirt road. From Tom Price there is a lovely drive 32klms along a dirt road and then north another 20klms to the intriguing Hammersly Gorge. Climbing down into it is like entering a geological time warp, the waterholes are just lovely but framed by massive examples of geological folding.

You continue driving through a very pretty, at times narrow and winding road towards the now abandoned Wittenoom township. Once again it is a chance to enter a bygone era. What was left on our last visit in 2005 was a cafe/ tourist info centre with one of the better mineral displays of the region (there is probably little left now as Government policy was to completely close it and erase the asbestos saga associated with it). Back in 2002 there was still a caretaker, she sold you home grown veges and preserves at the far end of the gorge as well as telling stories of the areas heyday in the 60's. In 2005 she was gone as were the buildings in fact we camped on the old house concrete slab. Back in 1964 my parents-in-law visited Wittenoom as part of their trip around Australia in their Holden panel-van and small tent and were welcomed to look through the asbestos mine - how times have changed! To us it was a fascinating experience to talk with a couple of remaining locals about their fight to retain their town. I'm not even sure that you can still obtain access into the gorge with its lovely waterholes and examples of asbestos evident in the creek beds.

On leaving Wittenoom in 2002 we followed the Roebourne road, stopping off at Mt Florance Homestead's small and neat camping area, along with a donkey hot water heater, green grass and very pleasant and welcoming owners. We shared a night here with a very inquisitive Frenchman, Andre and his wife, who insisted on camping almost on top of us and looking over our shoulders as we cooked a BBQ tea, not sure why we grilled tomatoes (they needed cooking by then)- we shared a pleasant night with them and another friendly couple, Penny and Phillip from Canberra. From there we moved on to spend time at the lovely Millstream- Chichester NP with its riverside camping, thousands of Correllas and the fascinating water aquafiers.
Marble Bar - the hottest town in Australia - we've all heard of it. It is an interesting destination. On our last visit we came in from Rudall NP via Rippon Hills Road after camping at the lovely Carrowine Gorge. The gorge is a popular destination but probably should be avoided during school holidays, however it really is a must when you visit this area. It's huge wall on the far side provides a scenic backdrop to the waterhole and provides a great spectacle with the sunrise and sunset. I distinctly remember the lovely early morning vision of a graceful Sea Eagle gliding along the waterhole framed by the wall.

Continuing towards Marble Bar we recrossed the Oakover River and then the Nullangine River causeway, a pleasant and peaceful spot for lunch. A few weeks prior to this however it was a raging torrent that washed 2 B-Doubles loaded with tonnes of manganese ore from the causeway. The remains of the ore and pieces of the trucks were clearly evident.
So, what's at Marble Bar? Well, there's Chinaman's Pool, a grassed picnic area and swimming hole about 4klm out of town, however you do share it with the local cattle and horses. 'The Bar' itself is a wonderful example of jasper (not marble) rich in reds, oranges, greys and white which can be enhanced brilliantly by applying water to the rock. The town itself is a neat and tidy strip dominated by its large water tank on the hill overlooking the town. There is a great little caravan park the proprietor of which, enthusiastically gives you a rundown of the town's history and what to visit - surprisingly there is quite a bit to see. The 'Iron Clad Pub' has to be visited for that cool drink or several, even a meal, mostly pizza or even if it is just to say you have been there. There is a fossicking area set aside about 5klms out of town and the old Comet Mine Tour was well worth the 2-3 hours it took for us to be shown through by an enthusiastic ex-miner and now care-taker.

Out of Marble Bar about 50klms towards Shay Gap you can detour off to Coppins Gap, where a small waterhole and a dark red jasper deposit exists. It seems to be a popular camping spot for the young locals (station-hands), unfortunately some of the through tracks are now closed off due to extensive mining activities.

The rivers of the Pilbara are huge, and at times during the 'wet' season and associated cyclones, siphon vast quantities of water towards the coast. During the 'dry' however the riverbeds are wide tracts of sand with the occasional waterhole or shallow stream. Some of these rivers include the Ashburton, (in the south) the Fortesque, which drains the huge central area of the Pilbara and the De Grey which is fed by the previously mentioned Oakover and Nullangine rivers in the north. Crossing these river beds makes you realize how awesome they would be in the wet, but for now in the dry season they can make a great site for a camp.

The mining industry provides a fascinating context to the area, from the old Wittenoom workings to the huge holes and investments of Tom Price and Newman etc. In these places well developed townships have been established for the workers by the industry. Today tourism in these townships is merely a byproduct, the emphasis is all about getting the ore out. Many of the camping parks are dominated by workers accommodation, the shopping facilities however are first class. It is possible, with a permit, to drive along the rail line from Tom Price towards Port Hedland, a rough trip but awesome when being passed by one of the lengthy ore trains (but a bit boring on the video). The coastal towns of Port Hedland, Karratha and Dampier are the product of the mining industry over the last 40 years and today they are still booming. The smaller coastal communities situated on this stunning coastline from Exmouth (and the Ningaloo Reef) to the older Onslow township (with its close by historical ruins) and north to the historic Cossack and beautiful Port Sampson are well worth spending some time at.

In summary the Pilbara is an area of Australia that really grows on you, the colours in the landscape are just ------- well we both love them. I think what really sets it aside is the 'chocolate icing' that seems to cap each and every hill.
Additional photos :-

Next in the series 'Beaches South and North of Broome'.
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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