Dating back two billion years and stretching over 400,000sqkm, the Pilbara’s rugged landscapes are some of the world’s most broad and ancient.
Hit the open road. The true beauty of this land can be found in Millstream Chichester National Park, and further inland at Karijini National Park, the jewel of the north and a destination that deserves to feature on everyone’s bucket list.
More pristine beauty can be found on the Dampier Coast’s dazzling white beaches, at the Montebello Islands, and the Mackerel Islands, near the seaside town of Onslow. Charter a boat or plane to take you out over untouched coral gardens, and you can cast a line, or snorkel with turtles and dolphins. Whales can be seen migrating from July to October.
There are more than 31 Aboriginal language groups in the Pilbara region, and, for many of the Indigenous inhabitants, traditional law practices and custodianship obligations are an essential part of their identities. Visitors are encouraged to be respectful of culturally significant sites, including the Burrup Peninsula.
The fragile Pilbara has been labelled ‘the Engine Room of Australia’, and is home to massive mining operations for crude oil, salt, natural gas and iron ore. The two largest Pilbara towns, Karratha and Port Hedland, both owe their existences to
mining. Port Hedland was established in 1896, but truly took off in the 1960s, when iron ore was discovered at Mount Whaleback. Servicing ships of a quarter of a million tonnes, the port now handles the greatest tonnage in Australia. Karratha has had a similar rags-to-riches tale: established in the 60s to accommodate iron-ore miners, it’s been a base for the Dampier’s offshore natural gas-drilling platforms since the 80s.
Mining town locals looking to enjoy some hard-earned R&R head to the resort town of Point Samson at the eastern tip of the Dampier Archipelago.
1 Dive on unexplored coral reef sites off the Dampier Archipelago.
2 Explore what’s believed to be WA’s first shipwreck, The Tyrall, which sank in 1622 off the Montebello Islands.
3 Visit Marble Bar, reputedly the hottest town in Australia, with summer temps of 45°C. You can cool off and watch birds at Chinaman’s Pool.
4 Take a photo with the famous Red Dog statue in Dampier.
5 View Aboriginal engravings
on the Jaburara Heritage Trail in Karratha.
6 Rub shoulders with artists in an outback ghost town at the Cossack Art Awards.
7 Catch muddies off Middle Mangrove Island (limit five crabs per day, and no littlies).
8 Have a dip in the amazing Fortescue Falls at Karijini National Park.
9 Take the ultimate off-road 4WD trip through Millstream Chichester National Park, and camp by the Fortescue River under the stars.
10 Watch the world’s biggest container ships come and go from Port Hedland.
For more visit scooptraveller.com.au/Pilbara.
EAT AND DRINK
If you enjoy catching your own fish off the coast, and cooking over a barbie or gas stove, the Pilbara is ideal for you. Point Samson is the place for reef fishing – if you don’t catch anything, the town is famous for its fish ’n’ chips and delicious fresh seafood. You might give in to roadhouse food or hungry miners’ takeaway now and then, but when you’re in the outback, you really must give some traditional bush tucker a try, especially if you are on an Indigenous tour or cultural experience. At Karijini Eco Retreat, you can enjoy freshly grilled barramundi or kangaroo after a long day hiking the trails.
Karratha and Port Hedland have accommodation options from motel and hotel, to holiday park, caravan park, self-contained and hostel. At Karijini National Park, you can pitch a tent at Dales Campground (first in, first served). Alternatively, Karijini Eco Retreat offers campsites, eco tents with ensuites, dorm-style eco tents, and cabins. Camp sites are available at Millstream Chichester National Park. Peak season is mid-April to early October. Eighty Mile Beach caravan park has 150 powered and unpowered sites, plus cabins, a mini-mart and fresh water on tap. No bookings necessary. The Pilbara is also home to luxury lodges and station stays, including the working station of Cheela Plains, which is the perfect overnight stop en route from Karijini to Carnarvon, with a space for camping.
You’ll find a wide range of accommodation in Point Samson, from resorts, chalets and boutique bed and breakfasts to modern caravan parks and holiday homes – all on the beautiful Indian Ocean. Take a stroll at sunset or sunrise along the beach at Honeymoon Cove, or have a picnic or barbecue on the grass as the sun sets over the water.
Karijini National Park (photography David Kirkland).
Robyn Hean, tour guide
“You can’t miss the Dampier Archipelago: 42 islands of untouched natural wilderness and secluded beaches, perfect for day trips or your next camping adventure. Home to a large and diverse number of marine species, 25 of the islands are protected as part of the Dampier Archipelago Marine Park, making them some of Western Australia’s best diving and snorkelling spots.”
The Dampier Archipelago.
COSSACK ART AWARDS
For three weeks in winter, the ghost town of Cossack comes alive with some of the country’s most exciting artworks, displayed in its heritage-listed buildings. During this time, the town is open to visitors daily from 10am to 3pm. Jul-Aug.
Join in the fun at the FeNaCING Festival, held on Bulgarra Oval in Karratha. The Lions Club, puts on arts-and-crafts stalls, food markets, rides, live entertainment, and sporting events. Aug.
HEDLAND ART AWARDS
Get an look at the exciting local art scene at the iconic Courthouse Gallery in Port Hedland. Aug-Oct.
WEST END MARKETS
If purchasing local arts and crafts is more your thing, head to the gallery gardens for the morning markets. Aug-Oct.
RED EARTH ARTS FESTIVAL
Attracting talent from right across the country, REAF showcases art in all its many forms, with a mix of free and ticketed experiences across Karratha over ten days. Sep.
Rosie, by Joshua Cocking.
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Jane Knapp, manager
“Cossack Heritage Town was originally established as the North West’s main shipping port, and named Tien Tsin, after the boat that carried the first settlers to the region in 1863. It’s now a ghost town. Walking through the beautiful old buildings and reading about the people who lived there really connects you to Cossack’s history.”
Hannah Moss, information consultant
“I like to walk on the sand flats of Hearson’s Cove at low tide. There are pools of water among the outcrops of reef, full of underwater wildlife, including 123 different species of coral, as well as octopus and mud crabs. It’s all set against the background of red rock and earth, blue skies and spectacular sunsets.”
Qantas, Virgin and Airnorth fly from Perth to Karratha, Port Hedland, Paraburdoo, and Newman.
The Pilbara is a 1481km drive from Perth. Take either the North West Coastal Highway or the Great Northern Highway.
DO AND SEE
Heroes in a half shell
Eighty Mile Beach has been hailed as one of the longest uninterrupted stretches of beach in Western Australia – and that alone is enough to draw visitors. But it’s the coming and going of tiny flatback turtles, only found in Northern Australia, that make people stick around. Mating season runs from October to February, hatching is from December to March. You’ll find Eighty Mile Beach between Cape Missiessy and Cape Keraudren on the Great Northern Highway – turn down the 10km access road to the caravan park.
Gorge on the gorgeous gorges
Travelling through the extremely hot and dry landscape of the Pilbara, it seems impossible to believe that water could exist there in abundance. And then you discover the miraculous beauty of Karijini National Park in the Hamersley Range, where emerald-green rock pools of ice-cold water lie at the bottom of deep red-rock ravines. Oxer Lookout, an 800m stroll from the car park, brings you to a spectacular drop-off with breathtaking views over the junction of four mighty gorges: Red, Weano, Joffre and Hancock. Getting to other sites often involves longer walks through challenging terrain in sweltering temperatures (it’s always worth it in the end).
Karijini National Park (photography David Kirkland)
Hot tips for Karijini dips
Wash all that red dirt away at Fortescue Falls, the park’s only permanent waterfall. Find it at Dales Gorge, an 800m walk from the car park (there are rocky steps so allow an hour return). From Fortescue Falls, take the 300m detour to pretty, spring-fed Fern Pool, complete with timbered swimming platform and stairs. Fortescue Falls is also the starting point for an 800m hike (allow two hours return) to Circular Pool. The walk starts off steep but ends in an easy and scenic ramble. Named for its luminous green waters, Kermit’s Pool at Hancock Gorge is at the end of a challenging 1.5km trail (allow three hours return) that involves a steep descent and ladder. An equally adventurous option is Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge, with a very steep and narrow 1.5km descent (allow three hours return).
Grab your swag and billy can
One of the best places for camping is Millstream Chichester National Park. Fed by an underground aquifer, the park’s gorges and pools are in stark contrast to the barren surroundings and spinifex-covered hills. The Miliyanha campground offers powered sites, while Stargazers is unpowered. BYO fuel stove, because campfires are prohibited, and don’t forget your bathers so you can enjoy
a cool dip in Deep Reach, Crossing, and Python pools.
Captivating captains of industry
The best way to appreciate the gargantuan scale of mining operations is to head to Marapikurrinya Park in Port Hedland. From the water’s edge, you’ll see massive container ships loading up iron ore, salt and other minerals before heading off to international ports. Further along, at Redbank Bridge, watch for 3km-long trains bringing iron ore from the Newman mine. You’ll also spot
a massive salt stockpile. Visit at sunrise or sunset for photo opportunities.
Awe-inspiring art and artefacts
More than one million ancient rock engravings can be found simply by strolling around Burrup Peninsula, near Dampier. This ‘outdoor gallery’ has the highest concentration of rock art anywhere in the world, and special significance to the Ngarluma-Yindjibarndi, Yaburara-Mardudhunera and Woon-goo-tt-oo people, the traditional custodians of the land for 40,000 years. Good examples can be viewed at Deep Gorge, within walking distance of Hearson’s Cove and accessible to all vehicles. The beach also has barbecues, shelter and toilets, so sit a while, cast a line for coral trout, red emperor, scarlet sea perch, spangled emperor and norwest snapper, and contemplate the passing of time in a timeless landscape.
Don't miss: A Castaway's Folly
The North West is filled with larger-than-life characters, including Sam Ostojich, legendary for building his own castle on Tidepole Island, off the Dampier coast. After years of transporting rocks, soil and timber, he was granted a 99-
year gentleman’s lease and connected to the mainland’s water supply. Sam whiled away his days on the island with his cat, Tiger, until he passed away in 2005. Today, you can tour the poignant remains of Sam’s Island. Ask for a visitor’s permit from Karratha Visitor Centre.