Pilbara Region

May 1st, 2001 Features, Scoop Traveller

Things to do

Explore the dirt tracks and trails that stretch across the semi-arid desert for hundreds of kilometres. A good way to travel overland is to follow the Canning Stock Route that passes through the Pilbara from north to south. Take a well appointed 4WD in top condition and have a sensible itinerary.

Swim in the gorges — most are easy to climb into but are out of the way, so take precautions and provisions. Wildlife-spot among the scrub and desert — the region is home to most of Australia’s famous (and infamous) natives, from the kangaroo to the largest land lizard in the country — the Perentie.

The area surrounding the Hamersley Range is full of natural beauty. Roads travel deep within rock faces and along high, slender ridges. Drive up Mt Nameless — it’s the highest vehicle access point in WA but it isn’t easy to get up without a well-equipped 4WD.

Tour the area’s two best-known National Parks, Millstream-Chichester and Karijini. Both are stark lands of flat scrub plain and rolling hills that give way to dramatic river gorges with deep pools, waterfalls and rich vegetation. Go fishing, swimming, canoeing, and even windsurfing.

See the ghost towns of Wittenoom and Cossack, having met their demise because of asbestos and the movement of the pearling industry respectively.

Tour the facilities that make up the mining economy in the region. You can tour the ports of Dampier and Port Hedland and also the mines of Paraburdoo, Tom Price and Newman, where you’ll see the huge engineering projects that make the mining industry tick.

Tour and camp throughout the region, but plan carefully and consult a CALM office or tourist bureau. Lack of fresh water, unfriendly or dangerous wildlife and inclement weather are all factors in the Pilbara, and if you mistreat or misunderstand them up here, it can cost you your life.

See the Montebello Archipelago off Dampier by boat or plane. The islands are dotted with great fishing and swimming spots and great scenery.

About the region

In some places in the world, the desert gets below freezing. The lack of cloud cover and moisture in the air means that the heat from the day evaporates out of the ground and it isn’t out of place to see frost.

In some places, heatwaves can come and stay seemingly forever (Marble Bar — reputedly the hottest place in Australia — recorded 170 days of temperatures over 40 degrees during the 1920s). In the Pilbara, it isn’t uncommon for both places to be one in the same.

It’s a state of contrast that suits the Pilbara perfectly. Panoramas of rolling ridge and cleft covered in low shrubs and wildflowers end at the 100 metre drop of gorges carved by ancient rivers crisscrossing the region, their walls the colour of sunset, the focus of life in the desert.

It’s one of the most visually arresting regions in WA. Take your camera, video camera and plenty of film & spare tapes, because you’ll see so many sights of the landscape you wouldn’t possibly be able to remember them all.

The Pilbara isn’t the best area for young children. The going is hot, the journeys long, and the scenery doesn’t change much until you search for the known attractions such as gorges and rivers. It’s the place to go for a holiday where swimming in warm tropical water and looking over unforgettable scenes of natural beauty are the fare of the day.

In the early years, explorers wandered wastelands dying of thirst and pastoralists did fairly well from cattle and sheep. Then, in the 1950s, people started to notice iron deposits in the ranges a few hundred kilometres inland, and when they tapped the range — which turned out to be almost pure iron — it was the birth of WA’s definitive industry.

Coastal ports like Dampier and Port Hedland now rival the size and operations of ports around Australia and the world. Millions of tonnes of ore, salt and gas is moved through them every year.

Main Page

A long dark line wanders through a deep valley. Either side, rock faces tower hundreds of metres, covered in outcrops, sparse trees and shrubs. Colonies of cockatoos rest in them, looking over pools and lakes or fresh river water.

At a snail’s pace, a train appears and crawls through the valley. Three diesel engines drag carriages that stretch back two kilometres, full of enough iron ore between them to make 15,000 family-sized cars.

The ore will be unloaded on a wharf miles long onto a ship bigger than most Australian towns and exported all over the world. The train will return to the sandy heart of the Pilbara where more four-story high trucks will fill it — one 200 tonne load after another — until it returns to the coast again.

The Pilbara covers over 500,000 square kilometres from the Indian Ocean to the Northern Territory border. The rock is thought to be 2.8 billion years old, and as we know today, it contains some of the richest deposits of salt, iron and gas in the world.

It’s a sweeping desert of wildflowers, rugged coasts, hardy vegetation and rivers that have cut deep gorges through the blood-coloured sandstone over millions of years, slowly preparing an area that commands care and respect but, when treated and approached carefully, is one of WA’s most beautiful sightseeing regions.

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