From the pearling capital of Australia to the Iron Awe of the Pilbara…

Important Travel Tips – Australia’s North West

Leaving Broome we headed south to ‘The Pilbara‘, a region people identify with remoteness, mining and great expanses of land – and they are not wrong.

Fringing some of the harshest country we had been in, it was as good a place as any for a mine; and there are plenty of them… but then we were travelling in the biggest state of Australia and one of the world’s last great wilderness areas with fewer people per square kilometre than almost anywhere else on the planet!

Our journey will take us along part of the ‘Warlu Way’… a path that will reveal the mysteries of the mystical Warlu ‘sea serpent’, of cultural legends and historical secrets and allow us to share in some of the magnificent natural wonders of this country!

The ‘Warlu Way’ track starts at Broome and travels to Eighty Mile Beach, Port Hedland, Point Samson, Dampier Archipelago and Burrup PeninsulaOnslow and the Mackerel Islands then continues down the coast to Exmouth and Coral Bay before heading north east to Tom PriceKarijini National Park and Millstream Chichester National Park – a distance of 2480-kilometres!Warlu-Way-Map-1-1024x734

It was around a 4-hour drive from Broome to Eighty Mile Beach then a 10-kilometre corrugated road into the caravan park from the Great Northern Highway. It was going to be a long day at the office today with our only stop the iconic and rustic, outback Sandfire Roadhouse for fuel, a loo break and to light up the trangia for a cuppa.

Heading along the Great Northern Highway, we moved into 6th gear pretty quickly and we didn’t change back down again until we reach the roadhouse.

For that distance we travelled through a vast flatland of low scrub with the occasional tree that reminded us of our previous trip across the Savannah Way from the Northern Territory to Western Australia – plains of nothingness with only a few cattle grazing beside the unfenced road, a few wild horses and lots and lots of emus; some road kill and others taking their life in their wings as they dashed across the road in front of us!

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Sandfire Roadhouse is located 20-kilometres inland from the coast between Broome and Eighty Mile Beach and this area is of high cultural significance to the Nyangumarta people who hold native title over the area.

A bit over an hour later we arrived at Eighty Mile Beach, the longest, continuous beach in Western Australia. This was our second visit to these parts and we loved this beautiful pristine white shell beach that stretched for kilometre after kilometre in both directions. The beauty of the place certainly made the extra driving off the main highway worthwhile.

As we neared the end of the 10-kilometre dirt track, we stopped for a moment on a small hill to admire the ocean vista in front of us… it truly was a spectacular sight looking out over this famous stretch of beach – and we were keen to walk it!

All we could see were dozens upon dozens of 4WDs and people that disappeared into the distance. Those close by had a fishing line in the water, waiting for the big one to bite… and this is what this beach is renowned for – fishermen mostly fishing for Blue Nosed and Threadfin Salmon, Mullloway and Catfish.

The tides are really big here but it is the 1 to 2 hours before high tide that really count for these fishermen and lucky for us the water was quite a way out, so it was lovely to wander along the beach, collect shells and chat to a few of the locals.

IMG_2615This beach is also a turtle breeding ground but all we saw were heaps of fish and a couple of baby sharks that had been caught… and billions upon billions of white shells covering the sand!

There was definitely no swimming at this beach for us – where there’s a baby shark there is always a mother shark lurking somewhere close by! The odd croc has also been known to inhabit these waters… so spare a thought to what is swimming along the sea bed at Eighty Mile Beach when you look out over the beautifully coloured ocean that is so tempting for a dip!

This beach is big and vast with no shade so if your thinking of stopping in to do a spot of fishing make sure you have lots of protection from the burning Aussie sun… and there is a caravan park!

The caravan park is only open from April to December and part of the deal is you get to share the landscape with crowds of other people. It appeared to us it really only existed for the beach fishermen, consequently, being peak season, this park was ‘packed to the rafters’ with many people camping here for months on end.

For some 80 Mile Beach is the final destination and for others an overnight stop… just  a place to lay their head after a long drive. This would be one of those parks you would probably need to book in advance – and of course it’s always a bit busier on Wednesdays and Sundays when they hold a weekly market!

Back on the highway we came to Pardoo Roadhouse where we topped up with fuel, had some lunch then pushed on to Cape Keraudren.

We had already travelled 388-kilometres today with the temperature soaring to 41-degrees and we were pushing hard into a strong wind.

Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve sits at the southern tip of Eighty Mile Beach and marks the end of the famous rabbit proof fence, the longest fence in the world that stretches from Starvation Harbour on the south coast of WA, to Cape Keraudren in the north west, and although no longer maintained, remains can still be seen in the area. The 3 fences took 6-years to build and when completed in 1907, all 3 fences stretched 3256-kilometres… a pretty impressive fence just to stop these little wild European rabbits that have invaded much of Australia.

European settlers introduced rabbits to Australia in the 1800s. Free from diseases, and facing relatively few predators, the wild populations grew rapidly, quickly spreading across most of Australia with devastating impact… and they soon became a big problem for colonists trying to establish vegetable gardens and grow crops.

To the south-west of Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve is an area of reef with diverse coral and sponge gardens, and seaweed and seagrass beds that is of high cultural significance to the Ngarla Traditional Owners.

Adjacent is the campground and Ranger station – you can’t miss the signage… and after negotiating a 14-kilometre dirt road in off the main highway we found the perfect campsite on the tip of the Cape Keraudren where we set up our tent with the window overlooking the ocean… but rabbits didn’t seem to be the problem here and we were soon sharing our site with a few other furry locals… a number of kangaroos (roos) had popped up out of the tall grass that surrounded us – and of course these very friendly creatures didn’t take long to befriended us!

When we first arrived it was evident that the ranger had adopted quite a number of these Aussie marsupials as pets, or rather they had adopted him – they wandered in and out of the rangers quarters at will… but they certainly outstayed their welcome with us!

One tried to help set up camp while another settled for the very tempting food bits in the back of our car, mischievously trying to steal goodies from our fridge as I attempted to prepare our evening meal – they were everywhere and we later found out they even ate the pirate flag our one legged neighbour was flying at his campsite!

Kangaroos are native to Australia and are found everywhere. Wallabies are smaller versions of them but are of the same family and these unique marsupials are quite a sight to behold especially if it’s your first time seeing them – but friendly and harmless as they may seem, it’s best to be cautious…  so be warned, DON’T go for the perfect kangaroo selfie even if they do come up really close!

In our case these kangaroos had a strong taste for carrots and I had one roo actually push his back legs off my stomach (while balancing on this tail), just to get his little paws on some orange gold that was in our car.  It was quite scary but so many tourists and campers feed these creatures (and the ranger station was no exception), and they are now so conditioned to expect food that they can really hurt you if you get between them and what they want!

Remember – they are wild animals and they are equipped with long, sharp claws and a very strong tail and back legs and they do actually injure people from time to time.

Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve has great campsites and although no water is available there are long drop toilets, rubbish bins and an on-site ranger… and to our surprise, a Wi-Fi connection that allowed us to touch base with family back home, catch up on my blog and send a few emails.

Vehicle entry and camping fees apply here and even though it was quite a bit more expensive than our visit a few years back ($22 a night for a secluded bush camping), it was worth another trip in to see the beautiful sunset and sit under the stars looking out over the majestic Indian Ocean.

It was the perfect setting… and the perfect place to entertain Guy with a few chords on the ukulele… I’m not sure either Guy or the wildlife appreciated the tune – but at least the kangaroos left us alone!

Farewelling Cape Keraudren the next morning we continued south…we were now heading for the working hub of The Pilbara region, which covers the towns of Port Hedland, Karratha, Roebourne, Newman, Tom Price, Marble Bar and Onslow.

The terrain along this highway had been quite flat and featureless and bushfires were ever-present in the distance, a sight that had followed us since leaving Broome. Usually triggered by lightning strikes, we were unsure if this was the reason for these wildfires, or if they had been started deliberately.  Regardless they were a constant reminder of another element of the unforgiving outback.images-1

The road to Exmouth would be quite tedious to undertake in one hit but camping at Cape Keraudren and the free camps along the way helped to break up our journey and make it more interesting.

But what we noticed most about taking a break on this adventure down the WA coast was the completion of a network of new ‘Welcome Rest Stops’ providing free Wi-Fi, clean toilets and dump points, not that we needed the latter, and they were certainly a lot more appealing now than they were last trip!

For those who are not familiar with a  ‘Rest Area/Stop’ it is best defined as a cleared area next to the highway – some have really good facilities like these ones down the west coast and some have no facilities apart from a ‘long drop’ if you’re really lucky (unlucky if they are not well maintained) but the best part is… they are free – so open up your HEMA Maps,  Campermate or Wikicamps App and find a ‘free camp’ near you!

And speaking of ‘Welcome Rest Stops‘ and free camps, just down the road was our next camp for the night, the ‘De Grey River Road Stop‘!

We have come to realise on our journey that there appears there are no strangers on this road, just friends we haven’t met yet! We’re used to talking to strangers, that’s just what we do – and while walking along the crowded, uneven riverbank in search of a camp spot, we stopped to chat to a lovely guy… welcome to our blog Nev!

Nev and his wife had camped here for a few days and were more than happy to offer some good advice on where to set up camp for the night to avoid the dust and the odour from the smelly toilets… and the riverbank or the picnic shelter were not the place to be!

The river was very low and the campground was very dusty but eventually we found a nice spot under a shady tree further way back from the highway where we could open our rooftop tent windows for the breeze without the worry of a dust clouds caused by the vehicles that drove in and out and around the dusty central rest area!

It was a great stop, there were lots of cattle that wandered down to the river twice a day for a drink and while we were sitting having a cuppa we counted 12 walk past our car to graze on the dry grass close by.4f9b7c67-06be-44ce-a1e1-434c4ba04196

Since we have been on the road our ever reliable electronic clock had gone out the window so to speak, but there was no need to worry about getting up early because we always had a variety of alarms to choose from each day – mostly the good old reliable feathered kind… but today we were awake before the sun rose with the cows mooing outside our bedroom window – so it was easy for us to be on the road by 7am.

It was another hot day and already 30-degrees when we set off but it was only around 80-kilometres to Port Hedland and as we neared the outskirts we could see the evidence of its mining origins.

Dozens of termite hills wearing hard hats and boots lined the sides of the highway and it was obvious someone has gone to a lot of trouble to entertain travellers.

Apparently it is tradition around mine sites in parts of Australia that when a mine workers leaves the company they leave a souvenir of themselves behind by hanging boots and hard hats on a nearby tree, however in this region trees were somewhat lacking so the good old termite mounds made a wonderful substitute and some miners had gone to a lot of trouble painting faces and arms on the mounds then putting their old hats on and boots beneath to make them look like people… we found them quite amusing.

Defined by its ochre red dirt and its iron ore mining, our first sight of this town provided a stark contrast to our stopover at the De Grey River and wherever we looked there were railway lines, huge trucks, bigger machines, trains, piles of iron ore and in the middle of all that red earth and iron ore, a monstrous pile of salt.

Huge freight trains were parked on the tracks stacked high with dark red-brown iron ore and others literally kilometres long, spanned the length of the road, transporting their load to the harbour where massive carriers waited for the iron ore to be conveyed aboard.

Port Hedland, also called the Economic Heartbeat of Australia supplies 34% of the world’s seaborne iron ore trade and actually, if the truth be known, our car was probably born here in the The Pilbara of Western Australia.

It was hard to believe this town was once a port for the fledging pearling and pastoral industries! It is now Australia’s largest iron ore port and home to the giant BHP mineral facilities boosting some of the world’s longest trains and largest ships, which transport goods across the nation and beyond and as well as iron ore, this mining town and major port, also processes huge quantities of salt!

After a sightseeing trip around the town we pulled into the Marapikurrinya Park car park to have our lunch on the harbour shoreline where we could watch the big ship come in and out of port.

It was here we met up with Nev and Barb again from the De Grey River campground – well actually they are from Rockhampton (welcome to our blog Nev and Barb). A simple hello and before you know it, you are traveling with people for a couple of weeks! As I said before ‘there are no strangers on this road, just friends we haven’t met yet’!

It was fascinating watching the giant bulk ore carriers being guided in and out of the very busy port by tugboats, while on the far shore 2 carriers were being loaded. This park was certainly the best vantage point to observe these huge carriers as they came into town riding high only to slink out very close to the water line once they had been loaded with hundreds of thousands of tons of iron ore destined for China, Japan and other places.

Port Hedland or Marapikurrinya, (a word from the local Karriyarra language meaning “place of good water“), is home to the Kariyarra Aboriginal people. Mara means hand, pikurra means pointing straight and nya is a location marker. The hand refers to the five-finger formation of the tidal creeks feeding into the Port Hedland Harbour. According to Dreamtime legend there was a huge blind water snake living in the landlocked area of water known as Jalkawarrinya. This landlocked area is now the turning basin for the ships that enter the port and as the story goes, ‘the coming of the big ships meant the snake was unable to stay’!

A brief stop for a quick look was certainly enough time to spend in this industrial town and our impression was reinforced even more as we travelled west out of the town – we were amazed at the hinterland of salt lakes and scrap heaps that surrounded Port Hedland.

People had told us on our travels that this is the grottiest and dirtiest town in Australia and I am afraid I would have to agree. As far as I could see, apart from the beautiful little park where we had lunch and watching the big ships, there were only two other good things that come out of this place and that was the Great Northern Highway going south and likewise, going north.

Throughout our travels we have found some very interesting and colourful pubs and there isn’t any better example than Whim Hotel, which has been the local watering hole in the Pilbara area for 132-years… and incidentally the only building in Whim Creek.IMG_2954

The first Whim Creek Hotel was a tin-roofed structure, which was blown down in a cyclone in the 1890s. It was reconstructed and has been blown down twice since then.

The current Whim Creek Hotel was erected in the early 20th century by the same people who built Sydney Harbour Bridge using the steel building frame that was intended to be the frame for the Marble Bar courthouse… but they couldn’t get it there because of floods!

We found a real little gem here; with a bar, a cafe and counter meals, interesting local history up stairs, interesting locals, a green lawn garden, a swimming pool, very clean amenities, out-door billiard/pool tables, friendly staff and free camping for the price of a beer– you can’t beat that for hospitality in the middle of nowhere!

There were a couple of very talkative cockatoos and lots of colourful, majestic peacocks wandering around and other birds in cages, which we had heard some people comment on rather negatively.

For those that don’t know, this hotel is a registered sanctuary for injured birds and has been for many years. The birds in the cages are injured birds and struggle to fly so here they are lovingly looked after until they can recover. Those that do have a full recovery and can fend for themselves are then released back into the wild. The staff also care for young joeys whose mothers have been killed and they too are released into the wild when they are old enough and able to care for themselves!

We really enjoyed our pit stop at another of Australia’s iconic watering holes and I would definitely recommend a stop over to anyone passing through… it’s located halfway between Roebourne and Port Hedland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Travelling in convoy with Barb and Nev we continued on for another 2½ hours (approximately 200-kilometres), arriving in Roebourne.

Named after John Septimus Roe, Western Australia’s first surveyor-general, Roebourne was established in 1866 and is the oldest town on the northwest coast. As the centre for early mining and pastoral industries in The Pilbara, it was connected by a tramway to the pearling port of Cossack and later to Point Samson. Now Cossack is a ghost town and Point Samson is known for its beachside pleasures.

We had already spent a pleasant hour or 2 wandering around the Roebourne Goal on our last trip so this time we headed for Mt Welcome Lookout.

The goal is well worth a visit just to reflect on how life would have been as a prisoner inside these 4 walls and we had a glimpse of what life was really like not only for the traditional owners but for the men and women who came to the area as the first European settlers and it certainly painted a pretty harsh picture of the Aboriginal and white settler relationships in those early days.

Treatment of the Aboriginals was absolutely terrible and it was quite distressing to see the iron bolts and rings where they were shackled off at night. The cells featured iron rings in the centre of the floor where prisoners were manacled for extra security. Neck chains were used on the Aboriginals for the whole length of their sentence but not on the white prisoners. I remember one story clearly from my high school history lessons of an Aboriginal by the name of Kianardie who escaped and out ran a trooper on horseback along Eighty Mile Beach.

The scenic Mt Welcome Lookout offered great 180-degree views across Roebourne and the surrounding hinterland and is also home of 6 silhouette statues of Aboriginal men all with a spear in one hand and standing on one leg. These statues represent the immediate neighbours of the Ngarluma people, and they face towards their country.

Continuing on, our little day trip took us to Point Samson, Wickham and the historic abandoned town of Cossack.

Point Samson is a delightful little fishing town further on from the mining town of Wickham.

Named after Michael Samson in 1863 Point Samson was established as a deep-water port, which serviced local and surrounding areas, and although it was a small port, it once had the third largest annual port tonnage in Western Australia. The original jetty, which was 1900-feet long was taken out by the cyclone in 1925 and for historical purposes, a section was rebuilt in 1991.

Today, the town is still used by large fishing fleets who supply some of the best fresh fish and there are a number of beaches with Honeymoon Cove probably the most popular… but you really need to visit this beach when the tide is in otherwise it’s too rocky to swim.

Heavy machinery monuments are always worth a photo or 2 and just outside the mining town of Wickham we came across a huge dump truck and iron ore train.Wickham 3

Wickham was named after the captain of the HMS Beagle, John C. Wickham, who surveyed the North West Coast in 1840.Wickham

Wickham has since become a prominent mining town. Cliffs Robe River Iron Associates established it in 1970 with the aim of creating a processing plant for the iron ore mine at nearby Pannawonica, a port at Cape Lambert from which to ship the produce and a town to house the associated employees.

Next on our map was Cossack, the closest thing Western Australia has to a ghost town.

Lying at the mouth of the Harding River it is 12-kilometres from Roebourne. Once a busy port town and pearl diving centre, today it’s abandoned with only a handful of beautifully restored buildings including a school, a courthouse, a post office and a bakery. It was a pleasant little place that felt like time had stopped still in the colonial past and the history of the site was well explained on signed boards around the place.

It was late afternoon as we approached Karratha. We passed a sign for Tom Price, a mere 400-kilometres along a dirt road – we would be coming back this way to head to Tom Price in a few weeks, and we passed a huge iron ore train – it must have been at least a kilometre long so we had to stop so I could take a video to send to my grandson back home… he loves trains.IMG_2934.MOV

Moving on we passed 4 more large iron ore trains, travelling in both directions after collecting ore from Tom Price and delivering it to Dampier Port to go on the large ships waiting in the bay.

As we drove into Karratha it was incredible to see streetlights, lots of traffic and the hustle and bustle of this remote city. This booming mining town and the shopping hub of the Pilbara  – nowhere near anywhere – is home to the North West Gas Shelf and our first impression was that of a sprawling town that wasn’t a beautiful beach location or a popular tourist spot… just a busy mining town and a place for men to work and play hard. It seemed everyone owned a 4WD… and if they didn’t own one they drove a white mining company 4WD -the streets were dominated with them!

Founded in 1968 as a result of the expanding iron-ore industry, Karratha was originally established for workers on the huge industrial projects nearby such as Pilbara iron and Dampier salt. It accommodates lots of workers from the surrounding industries, mines and ship loading facilities. Although there seemed a lot of people living here I would guess that there were considerably more people with temporary residence on a fly in, fly out basis than permanent residents.

The name ‘Karratha’ originated from a pastoral station and was named by the first owners of the property between 1866 and 1879 from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘good country’ or ‘soft earth’.

From Karratha we continued west to Dampier and the gateway to the Dampier Archipelago, a fascinating group of 42-uninhabited islands located just off the coast. Both the town and nearby Archipelago were named after English explorer William Dampier.

Dampier is also the home of ‘Red Dog‘, a wandering kelpie who personified the character of The Pilbara and captured the hearts and imaginations of a town and the nation (in book and film) in a true story of his life… so we had to stop at the entrance to this small town to grab a photo with this most famous of all Australian dogs.Unknown

Red Dog, who made this town famous actually has his own statue and it didn’t surprise us given our Aussie love of ‘Big Things’. Well it isn’t actually a ‘Big Thing‘ but it is a monument – and this particular statue is the one used in the film!

Dampier offered quite a contrasting picture to Karratha and the red dirt of the Pilbara country with its beautiful blue sea dotted with islands and even though there seemed to be a lot of industry with a big iron ore port and big ships being loaded, the town was really lovely with well kept gardens, lots of trees and a waterfront with a nice beach where we made our home for a couple of nights at the very friendly ‘Dampier Transit Caravan Park‘. IMG_2774Located right on the esplanade overlooking Hampton Harbour and Sam’s Island this was a lovely clean park and we set up camp on a double site with Barb and Nev (for the price of one), washed off the red dust we had been wearing around for a few days then set off to explore the area on our bikes.

Dampier was constructed in 1965 as a port and processing centre for Hamersley Iron Mines after lucrative iron-ore deposits were discovered at nearby Tom Price and Paraburdoo. This deep, artificial port supports the largest tonnage of any port in Australia and is also used to store the iron-ore until it can be processed for export.

This little towns has a lot of industry… as well as mining and LNG it also processes salt. The Dampier Salt Company is Australia’s largest producer of salt and also another important local industry. The salt is produced from seawater, which flows through a series of ponds, where it evaporates leaving salt crystals. It is then harvested, washed and stockpiled ready for loading into ships.

Dampier was not without its sights either –

Bushes of the unique red ‘Sturt’s Desert Peas’ surrounded us wherever we rode, so vibrant and beautiful that we couldn’t help but notice them!

From William Dampier Lookout we were privy to beautiful views over Hampton Harbour; the Rio Tinto Iron Ore export facilities, and the Dampier Archipelago, which was even clearer through a free telescope provided.

Deep Gorge, located on the Burrup Peninsula, in Murujuga National Park is recognised as one of the most important Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia and it was certainly worth the trek along a rocky creek bed and over large granite boulders to see the best of the art work that depicted fauna, animal tracks and figures in a small canyon where it is said there are over 500 etchings.IMG_2849

This art is testimony to the 30,000 year history of the Indigenous people in The Pilbara, the Yaburarra Aboriginal people, and the etchings are considered to be among the earliest examples of art in the world.

1.1-kilometres back along a dirt track to Burrup Peninsula Road and the Woodside Northwest Shelf Development Project was just across the road – and it certainly lit up the sky of a night!

This is one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers, supplying oil and gas to Australian and international markets from huge offshore gas and condensate fields in the Carnarvon Basin off the north-west coast of Australia and the internationally renowned North West Shelf Venture Visitors’ Centre that overlooks the Karratha Gas Plant includes interactive displays that invite you to look, touch, feel and listen as you learn.

Hearson’s Cove, a small sandy cove with steep rugged hills to the south and west and a beautiful outlook across Nichol Bay was just down the road. This was an ideal swimming spot at high tide, and at low tide we could walk for hundreds of metres on the exposed tidal flats. These expansive mud flats were also an ideal spot to watch the ‘Staircase to the Moon‘… another of the best free things to do in Dampier.

The ‘Staircase to the Moon‘ can only be seen in the Western Australian towns of BroomePort Hedland, and Dampier and at Cossack and Onslow. It takes place when the full moon rises over the exposed mud flats at extremely low tide with the resulting illusion of stairs reaching to the moon. IMG_3041 We just missed this natural phenomenon in Broome but we were so lucky to see it here in Dampier with Barb and Nev… and it was quite spectacular!

If you are around one of these places check the local Visitor Information Centres for the next occurrence – I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Over our couple of days in Dampier we enjoyed the company of Barb and Nev, saw beautiful sunsets, rode our bikes along tracks, around streets, checked out the sights and sat at the esplanade watching big boats come in and go out… we loved Dampier and we will certainly be back to visit!

The Pilbara region is home to some of the most spectacular array of wildflowers especially during the months of June through to August and although it was September we didn’t miss the bursts of colour easily visible in the red earth as we drove back along the road to Karratha.IMG_2866

We passed a saltpan where we discovered some peculiar artwork we had missed on the way past a few days earlier, and according to one sign the area was obviously named Anchovy Flats! For the most part, salt flats can seem like a barren wasteland, too harsh for life, but not these… someone with a quirky sense of humour had obviously been very busy during their ‘smoko’ and created some interesting sculptures to amuse passers-by; the Titanic, Elvis, shark fins and even a Santa Claus to name a few.

We stopped in at Karratha to stock up on groceries and find a second-hand bookshop then we were back out to the Great Northern Highway.

Millstream Chichester National Park is a comfortable 2-hour drive south of Karratha but we had visited there before so bypassing the turnoff we continued on to the turn off to Onslow.

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Millstream Chichester National Park covers an area of approximately 200,000-hectares around the Fortescue River – the heartland of the Yindjibarndi people – a lush oasis of deep gorges and palm fringed rock pools, which provides a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape of red dust and spinifex covered plains we were currently travelling through.

One of the most scenic attractions in this National Park is Python Pool, which is easily accessible by road and there is some great camping deeper in the park at the beautiful Crossing Pool and Stargazer’s (seasonal), which are only accessible along dirt roads.

Further down the highway we passed the turn off to the mining town of Pannawonnica, which although only 46-kilometres east off the highway would have to wait for another trip. We originally had plans of calling in after fellow travellers told us the tavern had great counter meals but on further research we found the town, owned by Rio Tinto, is actually a ‘closed’ community of around 700 people who all work for the mines – and not a lot of tourists… unless they were doing the 4WD track to or from the Millstream Chichester National Park.

Turning off the highway to Onslow we continued a further 82-kilometres travelling west across arid plains covered in flowering shrubs and wild flowers that formed a beautiful carpet on the sides of the road.

Grass shimmered on hillsides and there were more Sturt’s Peas and lots more termite mounds.IMG_2872

We hadn’t visited Onslow before so we decided to sneak in for a quick look.

Onslow is a small town on the northwest coast between Exmouth and Karratha and the supply base for offshore gas and oil fields and after spending an hour or two in the old ‘Goods Shed Museum‘ we soon discovered that Onslow had a very impressive history considering its size and location.

This part of the coast is among the north’s most cyclone-prone and Onslow has often suffered severe damage. The town was originally at the Ashburton River mouth and a bustling pearling centre.

In the 1890s gold was discovered nearby and in 1925 the town site was moved to Beadon Bay after cyclones caused the river to silt up.

During WWII, submarines refuelled here and the town was bombed twice then in the 1950s it became the mainland base for Britain’s nuclear experiments on the Monte bello Islands. In 1963 Onslow was almost completely destroyed by a cyclone.

On one side of Onslow was Sunrise Beach, the spot for swimming or launching a boat and also home to Onslow’s striking ‘Anzac War Memorial’ – with its rising sun badge emblem this memorial is designed to catch the rays of the sunrise through its centre each Anzac Day.images-2

On the other side of the town was Sunset Beach and as the name suggests it is the place to watch the sun go down.

Just 22-kilometres off the coast 2 of the 10 islands of the Mackerel Islands; Thevenard Island and Direction Island offer accommodation and a wilderness-style experience boasting world–class fishing, diving, snorkelling, swimming, boating, nature watching and relaxation in protected, calm waters.

Old Onslow was a bit out of town but we couldn’t come this far and not visit so 17-kilometres out of Onslow we followed another dirt road and made for Three Mile Pool just 19-kilometres down the Old Onslow Road – where we were surprised to find the free campground packed with campers. These dirt roads obviously don’t stop caravans from travelling on them, there were quite a few here.

This camping ground is run by the council who allow free camping for 3 consecutive nights – or you can apply for a permit for longer. It would have been a great overnight stop had we not made arrangements to meet up with Barb and Nev, so we kept moving and set off to explored the ‘Old Onslow Ghost Town’ before heading back to the highway.

The original town of Onslow was gazetted as a town site on 26 October 1885 and named after Sir Alexander Onslow, the Chief Justice of Western Australia at the time. It supported nearby stations that had been established along the Ashburton River and the gold mines that had developed in the hinterland with one of the first recorded stations being Minderoo, which was established in 1882.  By 1890 all the land along the Ashburton River had been taken up mainly with sheep and a few cattle but today it is predominantly cattle with only a few sheep.

In the early settlement days, pearls were found in Exmouth Gulf and this town became homeport to a fleet of pearling luggers. These luggers stayed in local waters up until World War II when most were commandeered by the armed forces or destroyed then the post-war period saw pearling start again, but only in a small way with the last lugger being sold in 1965. Today pearling is a small industry with the shells farmed for cultured pearls.

By 1925, the port facilities at the mouth of the Ashburton River were so affected by the silting of the river it caused more and more problems in the loading and unloading of visiting ships so with the deeper water at Beadon Point the town was moved to the east to the town now known as ‘Onslow’.

The only ruins at ‘Old Onslow’ town site today are the stone remains of the gaol; the courthouse, the police station and police quarters, now just a few stone walls but mostly rubble having suffered badly from vandalism and exposure to the harsh conditions. The old cells and exercise yard were very small and in the centre of each was a large ringbolt the same as those we had seen at Roebourne Gaol.

Heading back out to Onslow Road we travelled to the main highway then pulled in at the roadside stop near the intersection to boil up the trangie before setting off to meet up with Barb and Nev at Robe River roadside stop.

And so we had passed through the Pilbara… for now!

From ore to awe, this coast has it all… beautiful beaches, coral reefs, deep gorges and incredible sunsets where the rustic red and the beautiful blue of the the Indian Ocean flood the landscape!

This coastal region of northern Western Australia is truly remarkable, so leave a note and grab your coat… we’re heading where the waves kiss the shores!

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