Millstream Chichester National Park and two Station Stays. Week 13

Saturday, Jul 13, 2013 at 16:41

Member-Heather MG NSW

Monday July 1st.
We were one of the earliest rigs to leave Robe River rest area around 8am, and had woken to even stronger winds. We did contemplate staying where we were but, it being a 24 hour rest area, we felt we should move on to somewhere else.
There was a stop at the Fortescue river roadhouse to fill up with diesel and then we decided we may as well drive to Karratha, shop, fill with water and yet more diesel, and head for Millstream Chichester National Park. There was no chance of fishing in winds so strong and any thought of staying in coastal camps was abandoned. I took a couple of photos as we drove across the Ashburton River as it was flowing strongly and a brilliant terracotta colour, most unusual to our eyes.

In Karratha, we made a stop at the Tourist Information place and paid $1 for 5 0 litres of water, with John filling containers and the tanks while I went inside to make enquiries as to the location of supermarket, Service Stations and road conditions and whether we required a permit to travel any of them. (We did not as we weren’t taking the Tom Price Railway road).
I also made a couple of phone calls to let our girls know where we were headed and by 11.30am we were pointed almost south and driving along the Karratha Tom Price black top road through very picturesque Pilbara landscape, with red rocky hills and a covering of small green rounded spinifex plants. The blue, blue skies with white cloud, and the occasional gullies with tall, white, smooth trunked and limbed snappy gums made it even more beautiful and I happily put the camera to use.
At the turn to Python Pool the road turned to red dirt, as we expected, and John stopped to reduce the tyre pressure to help make the ride as smooth as possible. We also lunched in a small area near the railway crossing before continuing the final 40 kms to the Campground. There was a water crossing close to the campground turn off which would have closed the road only a few days previously after the heavy rainfall here but other than a few small slightly corrugated stretches, the road was in pretty good shape. We passed a grader which would have made a huge difference to the freshly graded section we drove over and reckon it could have been rough had we come here a day or so earlier.
On our arrival we decided to check out Stargazer’s campground as it was on our way in, but once we saw Miliyahna with its big, well-spaced sites we decided to stay. There were a number of other campers and Hosts. It is also generator friendly so I am able to make coffee from 7am..surprisingly early, but welcome when I am usually out of bed long before then. After selecting a site and getting set up, we walked over to introduce ourselves to the Camp hosts and paid them our fees, $6 p.p. for concession car holders, which is so cheap considering there is a big BBQ camp kitchen with hot water, toilets, and tap water.
Late in the afternoon we were invaded by hordes of mosquitoes and had to apply liberal quantities of repellent. I also changed into long pants and top as there is a warning here about mosquito borne viruses, including MVE. John did a great job of cooking our eye fillet steaks on the gas outside and I prepared myself a big leafy salad and, for him, steamed vegetables. With a new tub of vanilla bean gelato in the freezer, we finished off the chocolate gelato we have been allowing ourselves small portions of some nights.
We decided to take advantage of the hot water on tap and used it to wash the dishes and then for each of us to have a generous wash.
Tuesday 2nd July.
After a beautiful quiet night which cooled down comfortably, I woke to the call of blue winged kookaburra and turtle doves. I had spent an hour or so reading, well before daylight, so didn’t get up until 6.30, afterwards enjoying breakfast outdoors.
We then spent an hour or so with me doing the washing by hand so that eventually when we arrive at somewhere which has a washing machine, I can do the sheets and towels, and there won’t be a huge pile of other stuff. It was hung under the awning and then we set out to do the walk to the homestead and then to Crossing Pool, approximately 6.8 kms. return.

It was an easy walk with interpretive signs along the way. Only a short section was across a hot exposed area, for the most part being shaded by tall paperbarks. Palms and snappy gums. The final couple of hundred metres meandered across the river, with a small metal grid walkway to make it easier, and then we arrived at the campground, a small space much more shaded than the one we are staying in, and not suitable for caravans. I was not all that excited by Crossing Pool I must say, or maybe I just expected something different, however some of the photos I took are ok, and there was certainly lots of water. Having seen Mount Augustus and the Kennedy range so recently has spoilt me a little! We did see a rainbow bee-eater and since arriving back I saw a little bird coloured like a budgie with striking blues and greens. There is the occasional brilliant red sturts desert pea in bloom around the campground and we saw patches of them yesterday alongside the road as we drove to here, for the first time ever.
We were back at the van before lunch and I have used the opportunity to bake some apple and date muffins, and to catch up on some photo editing and other chores. The batteries are fully charged each day because of the glorious sunny weather, regardless of what we use at night, and we don’t seem to need the generator at this time to boost them. It is almost full of fuel just in case as we are now on our 8th night without power and maybe another week or more before we stay somewhere where we can plug in.
Wednesday June 3rd.
Today, with morning tea and lunch packed, we drove approximately 120 kms return to see Python Pool and Mt Herbert, travelling back approximately 40 kms. along the road we had come in on a couple of days previously. Without the van in tow we travelled quickly and passed the grader working almost back to the start of the gravel road.

On our way out of the National Park, we drove the short detours into a Lookout and to Deep Reach Pool. At both places there were short walks and near the lookout, many plants were flowering, including holly grevillea, a type of wattle (I think) and mulla mulla.
The drive to Mt Herbert was very scenic with the iconic Pilbara landscape stretching in every direction. As we climbed towards Mt Herbert and the road was sealed again, there were random large patches of sturts desert pea in bloom, the startling red contrasting with other plants flowering, the yellows, purples and mauves a splash of colour to complement the jade blue grey and green of the small rounded clumps of spinifex on the terracotta earth. With white clouds drifting the brilliant blue sky, many of the photos I took today are some of the most beautiful I have taken on the trip to date.
As we reached the Mt Herbert car park my phone received messages and emails and,from the summit, I managed to phone and send messages,
We took a rocky track from the car park steeply up the side of the hill but from on top, found a gentler return track which joined the walk to McKenzie Springs and a longer walk through to Python pool. The small climb was rewarded with wonderful views in every direction and we spent some time enjoying the place, looking out over the ranges and spinifex covered hills, and taking photographs.
It was already getting very warm so we returned to the car and collected water bottles and fruit before taking the track to the Springs, 2km each way on the Camel trail, from the sign a short distance along the way. This was once a watering hole for camel and bullock teams and there was a deep pool of clear water at the base of a small waterfall with water trickling over. I was tempted to peel off the clothes and have a cooling plunge however resisted the urge, instead sitting in the shadow of some overhanging rocks and also wandering around to photograph the place. Then it was time to make the return journey and by the time we reached the car it was hot and almost midday.
We continued on the meandering sealed road to Python Pool where the road curved down the side of the mountain, with many opportunities to pull over to view the landscape and take photographs. It was a beautiful drive and when we reached the car park at Python Pool we carried our lunch to a picnic table shaded by a large tree and ate, with me all the time taking photos. Afterwards we made the 100 metre easy walk to the permanent pool at the bottom of a cliff in the Chichester range escarpment.

The return journey to the Campground seemed to take half the time of the one to get there and we were back mid-afternoon with plenty of time to enjoy the balmy temperature and sunshine.
I spent some time putting my photos (200 in all) on the laptop and then editing them while the sun was pumping power into our batteries, also backing them up on the second laptop. With diary to catch up on there was so much to do and so little time as usual.
Dinner was curried lamb shanks, red lentils and vegetables slow cooked outside on the gas cooker as it was too warm to cook inside the van. It bubbled away for a couple of hours while I read my kindle, sitting outside enjoying the place with its many birds. There were new groups of campers arriving, some with tales of tyre problems, and it seems the grader is a curse, as it brings up nails and other sharp objects which pierce the rubber. Two vehicles sustained three flat tyres each on the same roads we have driven in the past couple of days and we wondered why we had escaped…Is it related to tyre pressure, condition and age of the tyre, driver related, a matter of luck…..possibly all of the above!
Thursday July 4th.
After a leisurely pack up, we drove out of the campground just before 9am stopping on the way to thank the camp hosts and hand back a completed DEC survey. Then it was back on the dirt 20 kms or so to the turn on to the Roebourne Wittenoom road in the direction of Tom Price. There was approximately 30 kms of shared road where we passed two mine or rail vehicles, both travelling at some speed. One threw up a rock which put a big chip in the windscreen on the drivers’ side, above the curved crack, so I guess it is just a matter of time before a new windscreen is required!
We found the road in mostly good condition, mildly corrugated in a few sections and small washouts in dips, even a little water lying partly across the road in a couple of places. Mostly we were able to travel around 70 kms which was fast enough to make the ride comfortable and once we left the intersection which requires a permit (to Tom Price), we didn’t see another vehicle.
With tonight’s destination Mt Florence station, we pulled in around 11am, followed the directions to the campground and set up in a big grassy patch, parked so that the fridge wouldn’t be in sun for the rest of the day. Peter, the caretaker, appeared and pointed out the fairly rustic amenities (hot showers and flushing toilets) and a twin tub washing machine, the use of which is included in the $20 fee. There is no power but the campground is lovely and grassed, with big shady trees.
Before long, I was remembering the joys and drawbacks of using a twin tub, and our sheets and towels were given a well needed wash. John erected the clothesline under the awning and soon we had everything hanging and flapping around in a warm breeze.

After lunch we sat under the shade of one of the nearby trees, read our kindles, I took some photos, enjoyed a couple of coffees brewed on the gas, and whiled away the afternoon. Both of us had long hot showers mid-afternoon and they were surprisingly good with plenty of hooks, a chair, even a mirror and floor mats for comfort. Two big vans pulled in and there seemed to be a frenzy of cleaning going on in both, muttered remarks about dirt roads and minor damage for quite a while. We wondered how prepared they seemed to be but it didn’t sound good, although later around the fire there was no mention of anything!
Later in the afternoon a tray top camper arrived and set up and then we all met around the big campfire where Peter was proving and baking his weeks’ bread rolls in two camp ovens. He is obviously very experienced and said he hated bought bread, something I can relate to! We also met another long term camper and is son who is visiting from a mine near Marble Bar, two of the young employees (an Irishman and a Pom), and the son of the owners who is a ‘kind of manager’ according to him. We sat around until close to 8pm and enjoyed the diverse opinions and yarns and I was glad I only had to heat some leftovers for our meal.
By the time we watched a DVD, it was 10 pm and the rest of the camp had long gone quiet! With many drinks consumed around the campfire I reckon they would have slept well too!
Friday July 5th.
Although we took our time packing up, we were first to leave the campground, just before 9am, again in brilliant sunshine. Once again the surface of the road surprised us, mostly being so much better than we had expected, with only occasional rough patches, deep gravel, and small washaways in dips, but there WAS a lot of dust! I had covered the door vent with cardboard and taped it firmly in place hoping to avoid the usual dust around the step inside.(on pulling up I found it pretty much the same as usual, so won’t bother in future as there’s not so much to worry about, and all it does is clog the vents with red dust). In places, water lay beside the road and the only animals we saw were a few cattle near a waterhole.
Close to the road junction for Tom Price and Auski (Munjina) Roadhouse, we found a level place off the road to park the van, unhitched, and set out to drive to Hammersley Gorge, a distance of around 25 kms each way. For the next 10 kms, near the railway line, we suddenly saw frequent vehicles most of which had flags and decal markings for mine or railway workers.

The drive through the gorge was just beautiful, weaving its way along a narrow passage lined with soaring red cliffs dotted with spinifex which from a distance appears to be soft and moss like but in reality is extremely spiky and nasty to touch! We turned off to the Gorge lookout and the road in was frantic with road workers rolling and wetting the surface, seemingly in preparation for sealing.
The Gorge itself was simply stunning, with unusual rock formations in curved stripes of different colours like waves. A path led to a lookout where below water splashed down the rocks and sat in turquoise pools at the base. We followed the rough steps down and had a close up view of the rock formations and the water and try as I might, the photos I took do not really convey the magnificence of the place possibly due to the position of the sun and parts being in deep shadow.
Having seen the other, South side of Karijini National Park, I feel that this gorge is possibly the most spectacular of all, although it is a few years since we visited, and time may have dulled my memory. For us, it was well worth the couple of hours spent driving there and then back to the van and re-hitching.

Back on the dirt road towards Auski, we soaked up the marvellous sight of the mostly deep red, mauve, blue and soft green range close by, on our right side, for most of the drive. I don’t think we saw more than a couple of vehicles until we came to the, now abandoned, town of Wittenoom famous for its lethal asbestos dust, where we waited off the road for two big road trains to pass.
The last 30 kms of road was sealed which did feel rather nice after the past few days of dirt and then suddenly we arrived at the Roadhouse where huge heavy vehicles covered in red dust like us, pristine caravanners, and all manner of other travellers, converged to buy fuel and stop for food. Here we saw a couple who had stayed with us at Mt Florence last night, changing a flat tyre on their vehicle and once again we felt very lucky to have escaped any trouble.
Although it was our usual lunch time, we decided to get to our possible overnight roadside stay before we ate, and turned north toward Port Hedland on the Highway busy with very frequent huge road trains. There were two rest areas marked in the Australia Wide Camps 7 book, three kms apart, so we decided we would choose the most appealing one to stay in. The first, with toilets and dump point was situated off the road a bit on a very bare patch so we continued to Bea Bea Creek and found quite a big area, screened with trees, with garbage bins and even a picnic table. Two vans were already there, pulled in right down the back away from the road noise, but we found a place to reverse into which was at least a bit private and no one could park right next to us. With no toilet facilities, the place is littered with paper and other human garbage although the bins are empty and lined with plastic bags so it is looked after. We are so glad we have our toilet to use in places such as this.
After lunch, John put air in the tyres as we will be travelling mostly on sealed roads for a while now, and pulled out the awning to shade us against the hot sun, then we spent the afternoon doing the usual stuff….reading, editing photos and the like. The traffic noise is frequent and with so many heavy vehicles using the road, it probably won’t be the most restful night, but in the spaces between the silence is pretty nice! And there are lots of birds here, including zebra finches, so there must be water somewhere close. I spent time trying to photograph some spinifex pigeons but gave up!
We ate the last of our Bullara T-bones for dinner and it was delicious. After we had done the chores we watched another DVD as our batteries are seeming to be full after a couple of hours of sunshine each day, despite us now having been out of parks for close to a fortnight.
We are surprised at how few vehicles we are sharing the area with, after the busy Coastal Highway rest areas, but maybe it’s because there is no toilet here. With school holidays starting this weekend we know the next couple of weeks from Port Hedland to Broome will be busier than usual and we will have to be tolerant, put up with close neighbours…but hey, maybe we will meet some interesting people along the way, maybe even make new friends. We aren’t sure where Barb and Darrel will be, or whether we will catch them. I guess it depends on how long Darrel is prepared to spend in places and what he wants to see.
Saturday July 6th.
After a very disturbed sleep, we packed up and left Bea Bea creek free camp before 9am. The road train traffic continued all through the night and both of us woke often but that is one of the drawbacks of choosing to stay in a roadside rest area!
Back on the road we were passed and overtaken by B4’s..road trains towing 4 large containers or fuel tanks. John used the CB radio to contact them to let them know we would allow them to pass and we were thanked each time, so it seems a bit of road courtesy exists. I took a couple of photos as they overtook us for Oliver.
At the next rest area with toilets we stopped to dump our toilet in the point provided and because it didn’t have water to flush anything, it was truly disgusting and took some fortitude and breath holding for John to do it without throwing up his breakfast. We used the last of our untreated water from Millstream to rinse the toilet and plenty of hand sanitiser and then hand wash when the ordeal was over
As we travelled north, the landscape gradually became more interesting, with large rock piles resembling the Devils Marbles, and there was even a miniature Uluru. My phone had a signal for a brief period too, and I managed to phone Lou to let her know our whereabouts.
Indee Station was well signposted, some 60 kms south of Port Hedland, and we took the dirt road through the closed gates, a right turn off the Highway. Having had recent rain, the next 8 kms was interesting and would turn off many caravanners as there was a swiftly flowing, although only 200 ml creek crossing with a rocky uneven surface, followed by some wet patches with small detours around the boggy bits, and a couple of hard rocky sections thrown in as well. Having just increased the tyre pressure, John was worried that we would do some damage and said had he known what it was like he probably wouldn’t have come in!
We pulled in at the Homestead/Office and I went in to do the necessary registration. In the huge comfortable dining/ living room I was greeted warmly by Betty, one of the owners, who was having morning tea with another regular camper, and invited to join them. We talked for a while, I paid my $20 fee and filled in the book, then found John outside to park the van, who by this time could have been completely set up!
The homestead park is pretty ugly with blue metal surface which I guess is practical. Around the fringe is a large amount of acquired stuff which looks fit to take to the tip, wrecked bodies of caravans, rusting 44 gallon drums, old dilapidated buildings and the usual farm rubbish. A big shed cum workshop is on one side and the rustic amenities on another and a few trees dotted throughout the campground which provide welcome shade.
We had a choice of sites as there was no one else in the big central area, and had no trouble getting level, choosing to park with the fridge side in the shade and the awning out to provide a bit of shelter against the very hot sun.

Having set up, we visited the amenities. They are in big container like buildings with clean flushing toilets and showers, also a big auto washing machine in both mens and womens, with a donation tin for the RFDS. It was too good an opportunity to miss so I did two loads of washing, including all of our floor mats, and then had thorough clean of the van interior, washing the floor and cleaning out the red dust from inside cupboards over the wheel arches, which John will attempt to seal when we return home. They aren’t really a problem as I am very careful what gets stored there however it would be good not to have it come in if possible.
With the washing drying in the sun, I enjoyed coffee in the shade of the awning and late afternoon we both had lovely showers before joining the other campers and our host at the Homestead for Happy Hour. Because we arrived before midday, we chose to have dinner in the Workers camp at $20 a head. The 3rd Rugby Union match between the Aussies and the British was to be on TV at 6pm and John was keen to see it, having missed the first two.
The workers camp is situated at the entrance to the Homestead complex, in white prefab accommodation and buildings, and houses miners and other people associated with the activity in the area. We met a couple of drillers and a young Irishman who is currently employed at the station, and sat at the table in the Reception building with them using their iPads and the 4G signal provided by the company and available within the building. I was tempted to return to the van and get my phone but decided to leave it until tomorrow when we reach Port Hedland.
At half time Betty, and a number of other campers who are here for a long stay, joined us, and the meal was provided, buffet style in a room off the commercial kitchen. The food is cooked by a young chef, so the workers are well fed. The menu was a spicy chicken pieces, steamed rice, stir fry beef and crispy vegetables, even hot chips and gravy which seemed to be the preferred vegetable for one of the workers! It was very good, seconds were encouraged, and a peach crumble and cream for sweets followed. Great value for $20 a head and thoroughly recommended if offered on arrival.
At the conclusion of the game, around 9.30 we left the happy group and said our thanks and good nights and, by torch light, found our way back to the van. With a much quieter night in store, we looked forward to a great nights sleep.
Sunday July 7th.
Left Indee Station a bit after 8am and turned right at the gate.
Spent the morning in Port Hedland trying to locate a tap to fill our van tanks, and after visiting the Tourist Information centre, had to do it via 20 litre plastic containers in a children’s playground at the Park nearby, as it wasn’t possible to fit a hose to the tap. We also filled up with diesel and bought groceries in preparation for trip along 80 Mile beach and a few days of fishing and coastal scenery. We found a Shopping centre in South Hedland with plenty of flat parking near the Hotel across the road, as it was Sunday morning and the place was closed. John tried to find somewhere to buy beer but eventually we left without so he is on rations until we reach Broome. Also we were unable to find anywhere open to refill our gas cylinder so will do it before the second one runs out.
We were happy to leave the town and arrived at the De Grey River rest area in time for a late lunch, choosing to pull up on the Western side of the Highway as the main parking area was very busy. We could already see lots of vans parked and by nightfall the place must get packed! Not our type of place to stay at all.
At Pardoo Roadhouse we took the left hand turn to Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve which we had heard good reports about for fishing and camping. It’s about 10 kms off the Highway on a mostly very good dirt road, and a caretaker mans the gate to take fees at the entrance to the park ($10 vehicle entry and for us $9 a couple per night). We were given some instructions about where we might like to stay and took the road to the boat ramp, finally selecting a flattish site all by ourselves in the attractively named Mosquito Bay. It would more appropriately be named Sandfly Bay we reckon and requires frequent application of strong, effective insect repellent to keep them and the mossies at bay! I am using Bushman’s 80% Deet insect and sunscreen combined cream, and John aeroguard tropical, so we can do an effectiveness report in a day or two.
Setting up was hot and thirsty work but we had a couple of glasses of cold water from the fridge and got the awing and one shadecloth wall erected to help protect us from the afternoon sun. The temperature was in the high twenties and a bit uncomfortable after sitting in air conditioning all day in the car.
Then it was time for a walk and a look around the immediate area. We said hi to a few of the many other caravanners set up higher along the headland and had a bit of a walk down onto the exposed flats usually covered by water at high tide, and had a look around at the small octopus’ and black sea slugs and other interesting marine creatures in the small rock pools left behind in the dropping tide. Everyone we spoke to warned us about the sandflies so they must be bad here.
We were surprised to have the temperature drop once the sun set and had a lovely cool night with a breeze which made sleeping comfortable.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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