Our final weeks in the Pilbara saw us slowly winding our way south-west from Port Hedland through the Karratha and Dampier region and then ending at Onslow.
Karratha, with a population of almost 17,000, is the main centre servicing the Pilbara region. With the best range of shops we’d seen in a while, we replenished our dwindling supplies, and also spent some time catching up on neglected chores. As we’d been free camping in very remote places with only our solar power for a few weeks, we took advantage of having access to water and washing machines to clean the last vestiges of Pilbara red dust out of our clothes, the truck and the van!
And, naturally, we explored the region!
After checking out Karratha, we headed towards the nearby port of Dampier, just 20kms away. The road travels past large tracts of salt pans, part of the regional Dampier Salt mining operations. We couldn’t help but be amused by the ‘artwork’ that appeared alongside the road, amidst the salt pans … including a creature from the deep, the bottom half of a diver, a giant ant, a vegemite jar, a can of VB, and many others. Here’s just a taste …
Note also the long – empty – ore train in the background of some of the above images, having been relieved of its ore on a ship in Dampier.
The port of Dampier was developed in the 1960s to allow exporting of locally produced iron ore.
Visitors are welcomed to Dampier by the statue of ‘Red Dog’, the Pilbara’s nomadic kelpie made famous by the endearing movie of the same name.
Dampier is a small town of around 1,100 people, with a delightful beach and busy port, where the loading of bulk ore carriers continues around the clock.
The next image shows a selection of boat trailers parked at the Dampier boat ramp, and represents the scene at most boat ramps we visited along the Pilbara coast. It was taken mid-afternoon on a weekday, and yet there are more boats out fishing than we would see at most boat ramps at home on the NSW south coast on weekends! The other point to note is the size of the trailers … the recreational fishing boats up this way are HUGE!
Dampier is adjacent to the Burrup Peninsula, with its red rocky terrain, ancient Indigenous rock art engravings, beautiful beaches and Woodside’s immense $27 billion North West Shelf oil and gas project.
One of the main reasons for visiting the Burrup Peninsula is to see the ancient petroglyphs (Indigenous rock art engravings) at Deep Gorge, one of the most prolific Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia. Over 10,000 individual engravings are located in this area. Unfortunately, the site was closed for the whole time we were in the Karratha region, due to the carpark being upgraded. So we had to settle for replicas (image below) on display in the North West Shelf Project Visitors Centre.
We were delighted to see an array of wildflowers growing by the road on the Burrup Peninsula and in the surrounding region. The following images provide a sample …
Settlers Beach and Cossack
Our next stop was a short drive away at Settlers Beach, near Cossack. The camping area is quite literally at the edge of the beach at one end of a small carpark, segregated from the carpark by traffic cones. This is a picturesque spot, and we spent a very relaxed three nights there, enjoying both sunrises and sunsets over opposite ends of the beach.
We also took the opportunity to use this stay as a hub to visit other towns in the area: Roebourne, Wickham, Point Samson and Cossack.
Cossack was originally named Tien Tsin. Its rich history includes pearling and, in its heyday, it was the bustling main port for the northwest and a thriving regional sheep industry. It also hosted thousands of people seeking their fortune in the Pilbara Gold Rush. These days Cossack is a heritage listed museum town, with many of its bluestone buildings restored to their former glory.
The town hosts the annual Cossack Art Awards over a three week period in July and August. 2019 will be the 27th anniversary of the Awards. This is the most isolated acquisitive art exhibition in the world, and the richest awards of its kind in Australia. Thousands of people are expected to visit Cossack during this exhibition.
Point Samson, Roebourne and Wickham
The picturesque seaside village of Point Samson, with its beautiful sandy beaches, is popular with anglers and swimmers alike. And it was certainly bustling with school holiday visitors when we came through … which made our secluded beachside hideaway seem even more special!
The nearby town of Roebourne, first gazetted in 1866, was the first town established in WA’s north west.
Wickham was established in the 1970s to house and provide provisions to local mining employees. On approach to the town is a park containing sculptures and old mining machinery – including the haulpak (aka oversized Tonka truck!) in the feature image at the top of this post. Another delightfully clever piece of art was the bulk ore carrier depicted in the image below.
We have been intrigued by the many bins with bin liners at remote rest stops throughout northern Western Australia, and also in the Northern Territory, as depicted in the image below. Some of these rest stops are merely small pull-overs by the side of the road, with nothing other than a couple of bins … and in the middle of nowhere! That’s the intriguing part: who goes around emptying these bins and replacing the liners? … as we’ve rarely come across full bins! They’ve all been well serviced. Go figure, and well done to all the shires that support travellers by providing these services.
Our Facebook followers will have already seen this next video of some of the highway hazards we’ve encountered in the Pilbara. But it’s worth another run for our non-Facebook blog followers.
Our next stop was a free camp just off the highway, en route to Onslow, at a little remote place called Quartz Hill. No facilities, no phone or TV reception, but peace and serenity, and with a great sunset to boot. We were surprised to find one bar of H+ Telstra reception when we climbed the small hill behind our campsite. Our surprise turned to delight when it proved just enough to stream the Wimbledon men’s singles final to the mobile phone … just as long as the phone was high up on a pillow in front of an open window facing the little hill behind us! And what a fabulous match it was!
Onslow itself is a small village of less than 1,000 people, on the west Pilbara coast.
The following images are of Onslow’s beautiful Anzac memorial, which depicts the Army’s emblem of the rising sun. The sculpture is positioned to allow the sunrise to appear through the arch each morning.
In front of the memorial is yet another bench seat with an exquisite sculpture, this time of two army slouch hats.
As we head south, we can’t help noticing slight changes in the weather. The evenings are cooler, but the days are still a balmy 28 to 32 degrees celsius. And what’s with the WIND? We’ve had a few onshore winds of 30-35km/h this past week, with very strong gusts … enough to make us put the van’s awning away on more than a couple of occasions!
But head south we must. Next stop, the much anticipated world heritage Ningaloo Reef, and a snorkelling date with the whale sharks! We can’t wait!