AWOL Around Australia… The Pilbara. Part 1

Carnarvon is a produce growing area, despite being on the edge of the arid zone. So we got some local goodies. Fridge and fuel full we headed directly east. Stopping briefly at the ‘Rocky Pool’ a permanent water hole on the road out of Carnarvon.

About 180km down the road we hit the small settlement of Gascoyne Junction. We would be early for stopping in the outback, but we needed to do laundry and replenish our water stocks, etc. Things we had planned to do in Carnarvon, but I was keen to at least get some miles under our belts today, not to mention Carnarvon was going to be 40 degrees.

I had ideas that Gascoyne Junction would be some sort of rustic classic outback setting. As it happens it turned out to be an almost new pub and caravan park, it would serve our purpose but was completely lacking in any sort of charm or character. I’m not sure what the business plan is, being only 160km from Carnarvon, but anyway…
Sunset from the town airstrip.
Next morning we headed out to Kennedy Range National Park.
So our taste of the Pilbara scenery began.

Before coming here I tended to think of the Pilbara as a relatively small area, around the Hammersley Range. However, after purchasing Hema’s excellent dedicated map of the area I realised it was much bigger, with much more to explore.
The Pilbara (/ˈpɪlbərə/) is a large, dry, thinly populated region in the north of Western Australia. It is known for its Aboriginal peoples; its ancient landscapes; the red earth; its vast mineral deposits, in particular iron ore; and as a global biodiversity hotspot for subterranean fauna.[1]

Honeycomb Gorge. Kennedy Range.

After the NP we headed north, following one of the suggested routes on the above described HEMA map, hoping to visit Mount Augustus, the ‘Worlds Biggest Rock’. Well about 100km short I realised we were probably travelling on a closed road. I had noticed the roads joining our road had ROAD CLOSED signs at the intersection. Now, being on closed roads is not cool in Oz. They can be closed for all sorts of reasons, but anyway, explains why we have seen no oncoming traffic.
So we take the junction, bloody inconvenient as it meant about a 300km detour, and also not getting to Mount Augustus. Ah well, themz the swings and roundabouts of outback travel. Lucky we have the fuel range for these things, it’s only money at the end of the day…

Bloody green on the detour. We were starting to get a feel for the Pilbara’s bizarre climate, arid and tropical.

Mad storm once back on the bitumen, really thought we might have to find some accomodation. Then 100km later, all gone. Totally still and hot again.

So our eventual destination on the route was to be Tom Price. The oddly named town in the middle of the Hammersley Range. We soon realised that with the big detour that wasn’t going to happen, so we took advantage of one of the the roadside parking areas that allow 24 hour (overnight) stops.
Nothing glamorous, but anyway. Let’s talk about flies… There is no rhyme or reason as to where the flies are bad in Australia, but when they are bad they are a nightmare. I’ve seen people blame it on cattle, but we camped the previous night a few kilometres down the road from at least fifty head of cattle, no flies. Also the earliest report of some landing in Australia make particular mention of how bad the flies were, so to lay the blame completely at the door of introduced species is probably wide of the mark (but they probably haven’t helped either, WA has introduced dung beetles to help with the problem apparently). Anyway, this is all just circumstantial evidence. Safe to say the best piece of equipment you can have for exploring Oz is a fly head net.
They (flies) are not everywhere by any means (despite some overseas tourists wearing the headnet literally everywhere, maybe we’re just acclimatised, worrying) but where they are, a headnet, will turn the situation into mildly unpleasant, as opposed to ‘I’m going fucking mental…’ and people have.
Anyway, a dubious and slightly frustrating start to our Pilbara adventure, would it get better? I had faith.

So another record breaking pack down and we were out.
A short drive into the mining town of Paraburdoo. Green lawns, good coffee, almost nothing but Mining Toyota’s filling the streets and $12.50 bacon and egg sandwiches… A short drive to Tom Price, and our first good internet in about a week meant we spent time catching up on that, and I got ready for hiking tomorrow.
I went into town for a few things. The shire noticeboard caught my eye.
$72k. 20hr/week. 6 weeks annual leave.

Mine tailing pools. You could smell the acid coming off them. It reminded me of the Red Sand Green Earth book, and the dramas he had trying to get the birds off them, no one was bothered here, the birds were happily swimming and diving in the water.

So next morning, I was up and out early. Hoping to get out to Karijini before the masses arrived, but mainly before the heat of the day kicked my arse. As it had somewhat back in Kalbarri.
I was the first vehicle at the car park for the gorges I had decided to hike first, although others started arriving shortly. I lucked in with getting into what turned out to be the best hike on my own. This place is magic.

The warning signs had suggested walking through the pools to this point, rather than dangerously trying to skirt the outside. Well, I didn’t want wet boots for the rest of the day so I had taken the dangerous option. Except now there was no choice, so off came the boots.
I waded to the other side of the pool for some more snaps. A German couple had arrived by now and were watching the mad Australian take photos/selfies on the other side of the pool. Too deep from here to go any further with various electronics strapped to me, as it turns out this is as far as you’re allowed to go anyway. So be it.

I left ze Germans to it, and hiked the rest of the gorge.

Then the next gorge.

So yeah, Karijini is ridiculous in its beauty.
This area was getting busy by now. Time to move on.

Next up was Joffre Falls. One van in the car park, good.
Looking over the falls, not much water now, being the tail end of summer.

This was as far as I got. The trail got very steep, and went over this cliff (below). all the trails in the NP are graded and this was Class 5 (the hardest), same as the others two I had already done. Although in my eye this should have been Class 6, as this was quite a bit more difficult than the other two. I’m not good with heights at the best of times and this was shear drop on one side and nothing but these square shaped rocks to hold onto. Plus I knew I was tiring, I could feel it pulling out of the last gorge that the freshness in my muscles was gone. These hikes are not long, but there is a lot of climb in them. So I turned around. Haven’t done that too many times in my life.
There were warning sings all over the park about people injuring themselves, but what struck me was how they explained the massive effort that was required by the emergency services and the local volunteers if someone did need rescuing – you are miles from the nearest town. Literally 1000’s of kilometres from the nearest city. So even though I had a sat phone and a PLB, I wasn’t confident in myself of getting down and back up again safely. Maybe that’s the difference between 43 and 33? Maybe I’m just not as fit as id like to be. Whatever, it was the right decision.

I drove on the the visitors centre. Had a mosey around the shop, but more just to cool down in the A/C as much as anything else. I felt I had one more gorge left in me, so just a but of recovery time first.
A sad tale.

Someone had recommended Fortesque Falls, but the car park was packed, probably due to the fact there was swimming there. So I drove only a few hundred metres more to the almost deserted car park for the hike down to Circular Pool.

Round the back by these asbestosy looking rocks, was the sobering sight of this suitcase sized piece of rock that has obviously made its way down at some point. At least you wouldn’t know much about it if that hit you.

I put the camera on ‘sunset’ setting, just to see what it would turn out like (below). Maybe I should play around with my photos a little bit more, it can be difficult in the harsh Australian sun. Thinking aloud/first world problem.

Gorge number four, and last of the day done. I cruised back to Tom Price, and slept like a log.

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