It was a 3 hour drive to Millstream Chichester NP on deserted gravel roads (no traffic, no stations, just a few cows) and a very different place to Karijini NP. Millstream was once a 400,000 hectare station running 55,000 sheep and the homestead built in 1920 is now the Visitor Centre/Homestead museum for the Millstream Chichester NP, and it has a pleasant wetlands walk through what was once the garden/tennis court/yards of the property. Millstream Palms abound on the property and its a bit of an oasis. We did a 7.5 km walk to a Cliff Lookout in the midday sun without much shade so were very glad to go to Deep Reach Pool in the Fortescue River (and fed by an aquifer) for an aftenoon swim. We also did a 30km drive through an area of Snappy Gums with nice vistas and a scenic lookout. The next day we visited the Chichester end of the NP and were really taken with all the Sturt Desert Peas growing at the side of the road. We climbed Mt Herbert and then went to Python Pool for a swim. Had the place to ourselves, had a lovely swim and a bit of a shock after I got out of the water. Dick said he saw a crocodile swimming across the other side of the pool. I was quite shaken! As we left other people arrived and said it was probably a water monitor/lizard since there were no crocs in the area.
On our one hour drive to Karratha we saw over 10 huge, very, very long iron ore trains; either going to the mines to be loaded up or going over to the port for shipment. Learned later that the trains are each 2.4kms long with 234 iron ore cars. Lots of the infrastructure in the area is good and well maintained thanks to the mining companies. Got a pleasant surprise in Karratha when we rang Toyota re our Monday appointment and they did our repair work on the Friday afternoon, and they reduced the price for us also. Fabulous service!
Covered errands and phone calls in Karratha, checked out a beach and some aboriginal etchings on the Burrup Peninsula (quite disappointing) and drove through Dampier so I could see the Red Dog statute (because I liked the movie so much), before having dinner with our new friends George and Kylie in Karratha. With no reason to stay there any longer we went to Exmouth via a free camp stop on the way. That drive took us out of the Pilbara region.
PS – Disclosure – We have been down to one phone/camera since Cape Leveque, where I took my phone for a swim. This may mean fewer photos or just fewer photos of Dick!
Before we left Broome we had two days of rain and we also had the van booked into Toyota to check on two different squeaks. Although they had the van for 7.5 hours they did not find anything wrong, so we headed south down the highway and the squeaks returned! We had a couple of driving days and stays at beachside CP’s so got in some nice beach walks. Met our friend Geoff again and had a night of cards, playing my favorite game, ‘Up and Down the River’.
We finally left ‘The Kimberley’ after 51 glorious days and entered ‘The Pilbara’, possibly a lesser known region but an equally impressive holiday destination. The Pilbara stretches from the reef into the outback, north from the Tropic of Capricorn, south from Eighty Mile beach and all the way to the NT border; over 510,000 square kilometers. Generally known for its rich natural resources and mining riches, we focussed our time on the national parks with their sweeping vistas, aboriginal legends and many amazing gorges.
As we drove into Port Hedland there was no doubt that we were in mining country – mountains of dirt and salt on the roadside, lots of rail carriages lined up, the ships in the harbor and of course the road trains. We spent a night at Indee Station, a working 300,000 acre cattle station (ranch) where the owners host a happy hour for all campers at 5:30 every night. They also have a large red rock (mini Uluru), called Red Rock, on their property which is covered with aboriginal engravings on the top and also makes a good lookout/viewpoint. From there we drove to Karijini NP and along the way we lost count of the number of road trains we met and the number of dead cows we saw along the side of the road (due to the road trains no doubt).
Karijini NP features ancient geological formations formed over 2 billion years ago. As aboriginal people have lived in the park for more than 30,000 years, it is not surprising that many of the areas are special places for the local Aboriginal people. The Visitors Center has a big display featuring aboriginal history in the area, as well as geology, mining and local flora and fauna. One quote from an aboriginal woman sums up a lot – “They called a mountain Mt Nameless. How stupid. It always had a name, but they didn’t ask us.”
Having a bit of a rest day we only visited three lookouts over Dales Gorge- Fortescue Falls, Circular Pool and Three Ways; and planned our future walks. Next day we tackled Dales Gorge and did all the walks there which included visiting Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and swimming in Fern Pool, which was lovely. We moved on to the Karijini Eco Retreat as it is closer to the next lot of gorges, and when we got there we walked to Joffre Gorge so in total that day we walked about 7 k’s in the heat with lots of climbing and rock scrambling. But we were glad we could manage the walks, especially as we had another big day of walking ahead at the next set of gorges. Starting to appreciate the magic of the Pilbara which has a different feel with its big vistas and the long red gorges. We did the Weano Gorge walks including Handrail Pool, which is an amazing, spectacular walk with a difficulty rating of Class 5 on a scale of 1-5. We were pleased to be able to manage it. I had a swim at one of the Weano gorge pools which was refreshing before the long hike out of the gorge in the midday heat. That day we also visited four lookouts – Oxer (where four gorges meet so quite extraordinary), Junction Pool, Joffre Gorge (where Dick climbed down to the bottom and I only went part way down) and Knox Gorge. It was a big day of remarkable hiking and climbing up and down, and we finished it off in style with dinner in the EcoRetreat restaurant, where we dined with George and Kylie who we’d met earlier in the day.
We travelled to the town of Tom Price for fuel and food before driving to Hamersley Gorge, another stunning gorge and the most accessible one so far. Walked down and had a swim in the gorge. I was brave enough to even start swimming along the gorge. Camped at a free camp (the only ones there) next to Hamersley Gorge and enjoyed sunset views and Telstra coverage in the middle of nowhere. Also enjoyed sleeping-in big time as we didn’t set an alarm and there was no one around. Made a second visit to Hamersley Gorge to do the hill lookout before leaving Karijini NP.