Blog 24: Western Australia - Karratha to Broome
More Pilbara adventures! This week we have done a little National Park hopping, been on a boat in the worlds busiest port (by tonnage per annum) and crossed into the Kimberley (just). Check it out!
After our last post, we went to Dampier for a sunset goodbye-birthday picnic and enjoyed the golden orange dusk over the Rio Tinto port. Palm trees, grass, a blanket and warm air. Then a little more birthday cake.
Rested and rejuvenated, we bid farewell to Prue, Rob and Will, turned southwards and (after searching Karratha unsuccessfully for a place to exchange a 4.5kg LPG bottle, headed for the Millstream-Chichester National Park.
We paralleled rail tracks and the occasional ore train as the landscape slowly changed into rolling golden spinifex covered hills. In the breeze the grass stalks ripple like the fur of some resting beast. We turned towards Python Pool, a small waterhole for lunch by the red rocks. Then climbed to the top of Mount Herbert for a sweeping vista of the plains below the Chichester Range. There is no photo that does it justice. The sky and golden plain is just too wide. Peppered with mountains and creek lines, a warm clam wind and the soundlessness of uncorrupted sky. A broad and expansive place.
From Mount Herbert we moseyed on down back to the train tracks, conquered some corrugations and eventually made it to the Hamersley River and the Millstream part of the National Park. We visited Deep Reach, a confusingly deep part of the River, just a few kilometres downstream of where we drove across the dry river bed, then made camp near the old homestead. The camp-ground was full of friendly people and one of the nicest camp kitchens we have ever used.
Morning saw us wandering along a cliff-top lookout adjacent to the Hamersley River before returning to the rail tracks. A special pass, courtesy of an online safety induction and Prue's printer let us drive along the Rio Tinto rail access road adjacent to, and frequently crossing over, the tracks. We corrugated our way south before turning east and heading to Hamersley Gorge for a picnic lunch. The bombastic echo of grimy french hip hop from some shirtless backpackers creating a certain kind of ambience. Beautiful rock formations though.
Some more driving, then a gander a Joffre and Knox Gorges, a rough road and we made it to Dales Campground in Karijini National Park after a long day of driving. Karijini is a special place. We were last here about five years ago, and it still has a profound effect. The red and golden hills and mountains, the odd splash of wildflower colour, the sudden surprising slice in the landscape that makes a watery sanctuary and beautiful gorge.
The next morning we set out to hike the loop through dales gorge. Two lookouts, a descent and rock scramble to Circular Pool, a hike back along the gorge, climb up Fortescue Falls and then stroll over to Fern Pool before climbing back out and back to camp for lunch.
We began with a wander from our camp through the burnt mulga woodland to the first lookout. Down below us the permanent water of Circular Pool looked inviting, and chilly. The geology of the gorge walls offered red and brown striations in the morning sun. There weren't too many people about and the conditions were perfect for a morning hike.
Past the second lookout (Three Ways) and down some reasonably irregular steps, a ladder and we were on the gorge floor. Yellow class 4 trail marker discs on the edges of ledges guided us along the watercourse, climbing natural steps and traversing smooth rocky sheets. Some watery rock scrambling and we made it to Circular Pool. The air and water was very chilly - we still went for a very brief swim though.
Back along the floor of the gorge, our rocky ledges transitioned into stands of tall gum trees, reedy marshes, and gentle cascades over rocks. We hopped along stepping stones, ducked under branches, scrambled up ledges and progressed towards fortescue falls. Then Ruth let out a startled yelp. Mis-footing lead to a little stack and a very large bruised lump on her upper shin that Adam initially mistook for a broken bone. Ruth was surprisingly unfazed and we got moving again quickly.
We climbed up the side of Fortescue Falls and skipped Fern Pool in favour of returning to camp and icing Ruth's bruise. An afternoon of relaxing and recuperating, then a very chilly night in our roof tent.
Thursday morning we hit the road again. We turned left onto Great Northern Highway and drove into new territory. We had never been through the north-east part of Karijini before and found it stunning, especially the descent through the Munjina East Gorge pass. Wide open landscape somewhere between desert, prairie, mountain range and plain. More of that golden spinifex and red dirt. We wound our way north to Port Hedland and a rendezvous with Adams former housemates Rob and Aom.
We did find a place to swap our gas bottle in South Hedland - surprisingly their bottles are refilled in Karratha. Go figure.
We drove from South to Port and met up with Aom and toddler Ryan in the late afternoon. Rob arrived home from work and we spent a nice evening catching up, swapping stories and walking around inside with bare feet.
Friday morning saw Adam doing some minor repairs to Gary - the foxwing bracket that he fixed in Elliston way back in blog number three or four broke again in the Denham wind. Luckily the awning came with two spares. Might have to pick up another couple. Also fixed was the winch solenoid mounting bracket - a couple of bolts had rattled loose with all the corrugations we had been driving.
Friday afternoon Rob had arranged for us to have a site visit to the BHP port facility. Unfortunately a few work issues meant he got tied up until late in the afternoon and we didn't get to go.
Saturday was calm enough for us to go on a little adventure in Rob and Aom's new boat - Ryan's first time on the water. We launched right at the mouth of the port, motored around the Spoil Bank - a sand bar of old dredging material - and enjoyed the salt air and sunshine of being offshore. Super relaxing.
Ruth, Aom and Ryan hopped off the boat and Rob and Adam went for a cruise around inside the port proper. Kind of amazing that in the busiest port in the world (by tonnage), you can launch and motor around in a little boat. Eight BHP berths, three Fortescue Metals Group and a couple of Roy Hill, all occupied and all loading as fast as possible. Each ship takes 24 to 30 hours to load, to a capacity of 260 000 (ish) tonnes. It is an epic scale of transport of material, all heading to China for steel production.
We returned ashore, cleaned down the boat (a definite strike against boat ownership) and enjoyed a nice dinner out at a place called Raika's that made us some delicious vegan food.
Sunday we got to go on our site visit. We saw the ore car dumpers, giant rotating wheels that spin the rail car carriages over to tip the ore into giant hoppers and onto conveyors. We climbed up onto a giant stockpile reclaimer - a massive arm with an eighty tonne rotating bucket wheel that scoops away the ore stockpiles. Conveyor belts everywhere move the ore onto the ships, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The ships have a laden draft of twenty metres and can only sail on a high tide. And there is red dirt everywhere. The scale of this place is truly epic. Just think, from simple tools - sticks, rocks and ropes - humans have managed to master fire, metal and electricity to the point where this endeavour - moving millions of tonnes of ore laden rock around the globe is achievable. Wow.
Monday we bid farewell to Rob, Aom and Ryan and drove the 611 kilometres to Broome. There isn't much to see on the way. We did sort-of-almost-not-really touch the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. We also did get into listening to podcasts on the road. Specifically the Slow Home podcast. Loads of thought provoking stuff to talk about. I highly recommend checking it out.
That is it for now - the Kimberley beckons!
All our love,
Adam and Ruth,
Days on the Road = 166
Distance Driven = 22 602 km
Mean Distance per Day = 136 km
Mean Fuel Economy = 13.73 L / 100 km
Best Fuel Economy = 12.17 L / 100 km (Port Lincoln to Port Augusta)
Nights Free Camping = 36
Nights in Roof Tent = 142/165
Coffees Purchased = 48
Instagram Posts = 368
Instagram Followers = 174
Geocaches Logged = 32
Gary Breakdowns = 0.25
Drone Flights = 2
Videos Made = 0
French Land Rover Drivers Scared = 1
State or Territory Borders Crossed = 14
Bucks Parties Accidentally Crashed = 1
Vegan Vanilla Slices Eaten = (Adam 2, Ruth 1)
Times Set Up Camp after Dusk = 2
Chairlifts Not Used = 1
Waves Returned by Tasmanian Land Rover Drivers = 2
Cups of Tea Made for Strangers = 1
Tasmanian Short Walks Completed = 10/60
Rounds of Lost Cities Played = 68
Longest Continuous Sleep in Roof Tent = 11 hours
Gary Oil Changes = 2
Blood Donation Dates = 1
Sick Days = 4 (Adam 4, Ruth 0)
Australian Deserts Visited = (5/10) (Strzelecki, Perdika, Great Sandy, Gibson, Great Victoria)
Cattle Stations Camped On = 1
Iconic South Australian Track Completion = Oodnadatta 100% (617 km), Strzelecki 26% (122/475 km), Birdsville 0% (0/517 km)
Uluru Climbs = 0
Tyre Punctures = 1
Tasmanian Job Applications = 3 (Adam 1, Ruth 2)
Babies Met = 5
Boat Rides = 8