AWOL Around Australia… The Pilbara. Part 3

Come morning I give the Cruiser a decent check over. What with after fly camp extraordinaire last night (where I didn’t do my usual morning checks), and a good two days of rugged trails. I wanted to check that nothing wasn’t untoward before heading out into the bush again today.
Bertha wearing a bit of fake tan these days.
The Cruiser was now overdue (again) a service, not by much, but it still bothered me. In my defence we hadn’t seen a town with an auto store for about a week. I had the Toyota parts, I just needed the fluids, etc. Which I don’t carry as they take up too much room. I suppose this is one of the benefits of only using genuine and top quality parts/oils, etc. If you are going to run a few hundred km over then at least you have the good gear in there to start with. Port Headland was the next major town, then it would just be a matter of finding somewhere where I could give the old girl a proper servicing…
It was only 112km to Marble Bar, the next ‘major’ town up the main dirt strip from, here. However, we would be heading east then north, then back west. Around a 350km on unknown dirt roads and tracks. Should be a good day’s adventure, and so it was.
First thing. There’s (comparatively) a LOT of water up this way.
The Pilbara had already been greener that I expected, but now we were crossing creeks. We passed and were passed by the odd mining vehicle – just for reference the mines really only use two passenger sized vehicles, both Toyota’s. Hilux for general duties and a 70 series Land Cruiser for the heavier loads. Probably the only reason the 70 is still in production – then the road, Skull Springs Road, once you got past that junction became more bush track, less access road.
Skull Springs. Geddit?
I love driving roads like this first thing. You are fresh, the light is good, the sense of adventure is strong. Conversely? I’m not a fan of these types of road as the last road of the day. You are tired, the shadows hide the holes, and you just want to get where you are going with hitting any fauna.
We spied dingo number 2 for this trip.
So first to Running Waters Waterhole. You could see the green upcoming oasis from some time away.
Although our exploration into it didn’t last long.
These stagnant pools of indeterminate depth and consistency meant a U-turn here. There might have been cool shit down this track, but if I wasn’t prepared to walk it, I wasn’t prepared to drive it (experience taught me this was black muddy bog hole, more likely than not).
Still the contrast between the Mars like landscapes surrounding and the lush green area around the waterhole was cool.
So a slight backtrack to the minor trail I had wanted to take. It was off the advised route but seemed to pass by the Upper Carawine Gorge, not to mention it went in the right direction. Given the choice between major and minor trail, I’ll take minor nearly every time, what else do we lug around all this kit for?
Within half a kilometre we were doing our fourth major washout crossing.
I mentally said to myself, one more of these and we’re heading back to the main track. This trail was about 40km long, so at 5km or so average, this could make for a long day. As it happens there wasn’t another washout, at least not for a while…
These flat top hills look like someone has put down foundations for a house or something. Especially from a distance. they look most unnatural.
Ok, now we were out there. The range of hills and about 10km separating us from the main dirt track, which itself was 150km from anything that could be called a town. No tyre marks and no evidence of vehicles having been through the softer wash outs. If we were the first vehicle in a month down yesterday’s track, when did the last vehicle come down here? 3 months? 6 months?
Many sticky sticks stuck under the Cruiser.
Overgrown. No specific tourist destination. This exactly the sort of trail I’ve been picking ever since I started this whole 4×4 malarkey…
We eventually came to cross the Carrawine River. I would have crossed hundreds of Australian rivers in my time, but this one was different… it had water in it.
At first I thought, no way. This thing was two meters deep at least, I had a bit of scout around but there was no other track or crossing, so I walked the section where the track ran out. Ok, this is alright, mid thigh at worst, but just for this section, a metre too far and it’s all bad.
I walk the crossing and someway out the otherside, to make sure there is a definite track to follow.
I put ‘wading stick’ back for the next person.
In the end, we make it easy.
The track out.
Finally now back to the main road. Which is now bitumen. A few km up we turn off to go check out Carrawine Gorge. On a private station but signposted off the main road and accessible by almost any vehicle, I’m pretty sure I saw a 4×4 you tuber come here.
The gorge is beautiful, but all around are signs of ‘fellow’ visitors, despite it only being us here. Dismayed, but also reinforced that finding your own way is the best way. We make a (very) quick lunch and eat it in the car (flies) and head back to the bitumen, carefully slowing for the blind washout that caught us out on the way in, and hang a left and truck out the 150km to the town of Marble Bar – ‘hottest town in Australia!’.
Challenging dirt in the morning, smooth and picturesque bitumen in the afternoon. I could get used to this combination (unlikely though…).
As Marble Bar is marked on the HEMA map as being a larger town than say, Nullagine where we stayed last night. I had assumed, that there would be phone and internet reception here, as we got closer and closer to the town and my phone stubbornly stayed on ‘SOS only’ my heart sank a little. Having planned out our little Pilbara adventure about a week ago, I hadn’t given too much thought about where we were going next, and up here at this time of year weather could play a big factor in that as we’ve seen. So that’s what I wanted internet for. I flicked on the ABC AM radio to see what they had to say, but Sunday arvo, nothing but Footy going on, mate.
It seems options might be limited anyway…
We may as well stay here a night anyway, and hit the dirt again tomorrow to take the long way out. Despite topping off the tanks in Newman, with all the off-road, we were by now on the sub tank (which is actually the main tank, but the Long Ranger sub tank is nearly twice the size and mounted further back so I use that first, confused? Good.). So I splashed $60 in and we paid for a patch of grass (weeds) and bedded down. Helpful lady at the servo said the road north might be open tomorrow, just one river is still swelled from the cyclone.
Forlorn truck at the campsite.
Come the next day we had a chat with a loose but friendly fella at the campsite. He was sure the road was going to open, maybe at lunchtime, and if not was going to take it anyway “what’s the worse they can do? just send yer back… unless they fine ya” “how much is the fine?” I enquired “$1000 a wheel!” he said. Holy crap, I’m glad I got off that other closed road once when I did.
We packed up slowly, in case the road dept didn’t get up too early. Made banana and coconut milk pancakes to use up a few leftovers – pretty good, would make again.
Loaded back up we headed out to the servo, she know nothing new so we drove back out to the junction, ROAD CLOSED signs definitely still up. Oh well, looks like we were taking the dirt road out, it’s an extra 100km but sometimes that’s the way it is. Or not.
Beginning to feel like were in a Hollywood B movie…
So the only road open was the road we came in on yesterday. Back in town we tried the cop shop for more solid info, no one home. Next door was the town museum. Lovely old dear inside, dark and cool too… she didn’t know but explained that the shire office is the one that has the definitive information on the roads, and explained where it is.
Poster outside said the road was open! Lady inside first gave me the number of dept of roads, I must of looked at her funny (really, unless I’m pulling out the sat phone to call them…) and she then said in slight exasperation “it was declared open about 30 minutes ago!” ok cool, thank you (must have been a very stressful Monday morning in the Shire of East Pilbara).
Feeling very illicit, we motored past the ROAD CLOSED signs.
This is the Shaw River, the reason the road was closed. Still up a bit. I hit it reasonably hard, this Pilbara red dirt is a nasty corrosive sucker, best get it washed off as much as possible.
Port Headland was the main town that was affected by Cyclone Veronica a week or so ago. Still a bit of evidence on the way in.
Like so many of these north Western Australian towns they are purely functional. This town’s function was to get BHP’s iron ore onto ships and out to the world. Before arriving I thought it might be like a bigger version of Denham and we could swan around for a few days whilst getting stuff done too, but no. Ok let’s smash down a couple of crocodile wraps, and get. stuff. done.
N worked on the weather for possible destinations, whilst I grabbed fluids and spare parts. Big Bertha needed a service, change out that fan hub and a really good going over. As the last ‘service’ had been a quick oil change in Port Augusta car park. We’d done A LOT since then.
Then new (cooler) clothes for her, a few fresh groceries and car wash, lots of car wash. Then fuel. Once I poured in $250 worth of petrol the nice lady in the servo said I could have any two things, from this one fridge, for free. Great I said, and grabbed a couple of Gatorade’s. I saw then that everything in that fridge was 8c off a litre of fuel – so she had worked out, whilst seeing me empty a second mortgage into the Land Cruiser, that if I bought two things out of that fridge I would effectively get them for free, what a nice lady!
We hit the road. We turned back, as I had forgotten a drain tray for the Cruiser service. We hit the road. Apart from literal lay byes there was nothing. So we stopped at Pardoo Roadhouse 150km out of Port Headland, as the day was gone now. Also roadhouses tend to be way less fussy about people working on their cars than caravans parks, etc.
Old one was CAKED in dirt once I got it out. Probably not helping matters…
So I smashed out the tyre rotation (rears starting to look ugly again, front not looking exactly brilliant either – could I be up for another set of new tyres come Darwin…?) underbody check and fan hub replacement. Fluids will keep till the morning.
So up early, and the flies and I get to it. I’ve got 4L of ATF to change into the gearbox, not a proper fluid change but better than nothing. I did this at home back in January 20-ish thousand km’s ago, and it worked great. Here, sweating my guts out on uneven soaking wet grass, temperature already well into the 30’s, not so much.
The idea, simply enough, is to drain 4L of fluid out, and pour the entire new container in, empty the old fluid into the container. Each time I do a service on the road I buy a cheap drain tray, as it goes in the bin afterwards. This one didn’t appear to have ‘litre’ markings on it, but I knew it was an 8L so fill it half full, and Bob’s your uncle. Long story short, I didn’t drain enough out, had to drain some more, drained too much, then got ATF all over the engine bay, as the cheap arse drain tray also has a cheap arse spout.
Anyway, I still got it done even if it wasn’t pretty. The rest all went fine, and I had a GOOD look round. All things considered, it looks pretty good under here.
On to Broome.
Asian Myna bird on the way, after my burger and chips breakfast – happy to be hand fed, cheeky bugger.
Thanks for reading.

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