Saturday, 26 July 2014

KKK No. 9 - The Pilbara

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce and Audrey)

No: 9

The Pilbara

15 July, day 101 finds us departing attractive, touristy Broome and driving through the very extensive, treeless, grassy Roebuck Plains, just about the only decent grazing country for the following 400km or more of low, scrubby, treeless hard red terrain that marks the western extremity of Western Australia’s vast Great Sandy Desert.

Great Northern Highway

This particular portion of the State’s countryside may be ordinary, but WA’s Great Northern Highway is amongst Australia’s best. Km after km of consistently superb road.

Typical Pilbara Scenery
We passed by ‘the Eighty Mile Beach’ and topped up fuel at Sandfire Roadhouse at $1.96 per litre, traversing another 140km of arid, semi desert country until arriving at De Grey Rest Area, where we camped beside Pear Creek with a few others, in fine sunny weather

Salt Mine - Port Hedland
Another brisk morning followed as we drive the 90km to Port Hedland, a major iron ore port servicing the Pilbara mining region. We did our customary sightseeing of this mainly industrial town, in which Rio Tinto have a huge Salt Mining operation, and were back on the Great Northern Highway heading towards Newman, deep into the Pilbara
Loading Iron Ore
Driving south from Port Hedland, the first 200km was mostly flat to undulating grassy countryside running to distant hills, then the red rocky nature of the Pilbara starts to dominate, becoming increasingly red, rocky, hilly and harsh. After all, this is the heart of Australia’s rich, quality iron ore deposits, so beneficially recognised by local grazier Lang Hancock, flying his station aeroplane through these valleys in the early 1960’s. 

They just keep on coming!!!
The GN Highway services many mines throughout the region and the number of Road Trains using this road is truly remarkable. That day we passed, or were overtaken by scores of Road Trains, mostly 4 units’ long, outnumbering motor cars 3 to 1. Then a little nationalism was on display as we passed an isolated roadside hillock, in the middle of ‘nowhere’, with an Aussie Flag proudly fluttering in the breeze atop of it.

Go Aussie go!
That evening we discovered what is arguably one of our most scenic, free camp spots ever, the Albert Tognolini Mountain Reserve. Winding up the 2km track brings us to a high ridge overlooking picturesque rolling hills and green valleys, with many suitable camp spots offering panoramic views and a pretty sunset; though hard to leave such beauty next morning, plans to be at Karijini National Park that weekend called us on. 

Tognolini Mountain Reserve
Situated in the Hamersley Range in the heart of the Pilbara, the Karijini National Park enjoys a reputation for spectacular, rugged scenery and ancient geological formations; it is WA’s second largest national park, and we were not disappointed. We spent two days there and marvelled at the awesome scenery of Dales Gorge, including Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool, Circular Pool, and the Rim Walk overlooking it all. 

Dales Gorge - Karijini NP
Fortescue Falls
Lazy Gum on Rim Walk
Circular Pool
Next stop was the mining town, Tom Price, built by Rio Tinto in 1965 to service their open-cut iron ore mine at Mt Tom Price, following the discovery of iron ore there in 1962. The town was named for leading American geologist Thomas Moore Price whose initial involvement and enthusiasm bought it all to fruition.

Tom Price Open Cut Mine
We did a guided tour of the Rio Tinto owned mine, whose singular mining interest is iron ore only, with any other minerals being totally disregarded. Rio Tinto operates 15 other mines within the Pilbara, which are all serviced by Rio’s largest privately-owned and operated rail system in Australia, totalling 1600km of track. 

Quicker than a wheelbarrow!

The ore trains are 2.5km long and each hauls 27,376 tons of ore worth $3.5 million ($130 p/t), with five trains being the daily average from Tom Price mine alone. Little wonder their Shares are valued towards the top end of the ASX market!

That afternoon we left Tom Price via the Munjina/Nanutarra road, passing several mines but no trucks whatsoever on this lesser road, then turned south on Highway No1, passed across ‘Capricornia’ from the tropics into the temperate zone and camped at the Beasley River in company with newly made, fellow Kimberley Karavaners Peter and Ellie from Brisbane. Another blazing campfire, more stories, another bottle of red.

An eggs and bacon breakfast tell us it’s Sunday (20 July) and after a (big) 460km day towing the van at 80/90kph, Manberry Rest Area 90km north of Carnarvon is our address for the night, and to our great surprise very few trucks passed throughout the night.

The next morning we drove the 90km to Carnarvon, a modern, attractive town of 7000 pop., situated on the seemingly dry Gascoyne River, along whose rich river-bank soils are 16km of fruit and vegetable farms, irrigated by water pumped from the underground stream which flows several metres below the dry, sandy river bed. An amazing amount of water for so many irrigators! 

The Mile Long Jetty
 Other attractions include its ‘Mile Long Jetty’ constructed in 1897 and since restored, with its “Coffee Pot” train ferry service, and the old OTC Dish one used by NASA as part of their space communication and tracking station during the 60’s and 70’s space race, but since outdated and therefore decommissioned after tracking Halley’s Comet in 1987.

Rugged Sandstone Coastline
We topped fuel and food then drove 85km up the coast to Quobba Station, a working pastoral property with 80km of harsh, unpredictable and spectacular coastline bordering the Indian Ocean. Between sandy beaches, there are large areas of rugged sandstone foreshore and, with a strong on-shore breeze and powerful ocean swells, the Quobba Blowholes were booming geyser like jets of water up to 20 mtrs into the air. Spectacular!  

Quobba Blowholes
Quobba Station provides basic camping facilities behind beachfront dunes, offering land based game fishing, isolated beaches, king-wave surfing, crayfish snorkelling and whale watching, a few of which we’ve seen passing close by. 

Quobba Station Campsite
The Quobba lease was taken up in 1898, is approx 80km long by 14km wide, comprises 187,000 acres and runs around 10,000 Damaras, South African meat sheep, which grow hair rather than wool and therefore require no shearing. The country here is dry, sandy, low Saltbush scrub, more suited to pasturing the goat-like Damaras, occasioning the switch from Merinos some years ago. 

Hairy Damaras Sheep
We’ll leave here tomorrow after a 4 night stay, heading back to see more of Carnarvon before continuing our adventures further southwards.

Fully setup Campsite

 Bruce and Audrey
Quobba Station, Carnarvon
July 2014

No comments: