If you missed our first leg, our Pilbara adventure kicked off along the coast at the magnificent Cape Range National Park where the mountains roll into the sea. You can catch up on that leg here. In this issue, we dive into the Pilbara heartland, carving through the steep Chichester ranges cloaked in fresh green spinifex with contrasting ochre coloured cubed red rock.Leaving Karratha, we take the Karratha-Wittenoom Road. It’s initially sealed, but eventually regresses to an unsealed surface extending to the Millstream Chichester National Park turn-off.
Two distinct areas make up the park. To the north-east, a largely unsealed road winds its way to Mt Herbert where a number of walks depart, including those used by the early Afghan cameleers. If physically challenging walks aren’t your idea of a pleasant afternoon, make the most of the many vantage points to pull off the road and enjoy the amazing vistas.
Further on, the road finds its way to Python Pool; a permanent plunge pool at the base of a tall escarpment and a great place to cool off in the warmer months. The path is poorly defined, so follow the creek bed, stepping over the large boulders to get there. Nearby, Snake Creek camping area is limited to a pit toilet and a few clearings.
To the south-west is Millstream. While the rest of the Pilbara is largely dry and arid, Millstream is one of few places where water flows year round, in the lush Millstream oasis. The Millstream wetlands are fed by a natural underground reserve contained in the porous dolomite rock which includes run-off from the Hamersley Ranges. It is believed to store 1,700 million cubic metres of water, making the area popular for a range of wildlife, including birds, insects and wild flowers.
Although since closed, we camped at the Crossing Pool campsite on the banks of the Fortescue River. It was one of the smaller and intimate campgrounds with oodles of shade. Plentiful birdlife provide excellent bird watching opportunities and the river, or pools as they call them, are suitable for swimming, paddle craft or fishing.
The Snappy Gum 17km scenic loop provides a snapshot of the surrounding landscapes. It sweeps through vegetated scrublands featuring white-barked gums and pincushion spinifex. A lookout provides spectacular vistas in every direction, particularly the tabletop mesas and the Hamersley Range in the distance.
Miliyanha camp has 20 designated sites arranged in a circuit, with each tucked into the scrub, but offering limited shade. The campground has a camp kitchen including a gas barbecue, toilets and hot and cold water. Untreated water is available from the homestead car park which should be boiled before use. The homestead was formerly run as a pastoral station running 55,000 sheep. These days, it serves as a Visitor Centre with plenty of information on the surrounding area. While a ranger is close at hand year round, Camp Hosts manage the camps in peak season, collecting camping fees and distributing information.
A walking circuit departs from the old homestead, to lead you on a tour of the grounds and into the bushland through scattered date palms, introduced by the early Afghan cameleers. A management plan is slowly removing them so the native Millstream Palm can again flourish. The walk leads to the pretty Chinderwarriner Pool, carpeted with lily pads.
Beyond Millstream, the Tom Price Railway Road provides an alternative to the Karratha – Wittenoom Road. It is maintained by Rio Tinto and a permit must be obtained from the Tom Price or Karratha Visitor Centres prior to travelling. With countless runs each day, it’s likely you’ll come across the Pilbara Railway locomotives, tugging over two hundred trucks to the hubs of Karratha and Port Hedland. It’s quite a sight seeing three diesel locomotives tugging an endless trail of trucks through the mountain ranges.
Both the mining towns of Tom Price and Newman provide a rare glimpse of the mining industry with tours of the local mines. Fuel is surprisingly affordable in these locations. In late May 2011, diesel was retailing at around $1.68/litre. In comparison, Exmouth on the main North Coast Highway, diesel pumps out at $1.82.
At 747m above sea level, Tom Price is the highest town in Western Australia, earning the tag the ‘Top Town in WA’. It’s one of those pretty, tidy towns, oozing appeal, a surprise considering its industrial origins. The Tom Price caravan park is the only one in town, offering good facilities and close proximity to the four-wheel drive trek to the summit of Mt Nameless (1128m).
Check back next time as our journey extends to Karijini National Park and beyond.