Day 48-51 Into the Pilbara

Who knew Port Hedland was a place where you needed to book a caravan site?! Our first rejection! A bit of a google and a few phone calls later we had a spot in South Hedland. It seems most of the caravan park space in Port Hedland is used by BHP workers. We were told the median house price in town is $600k, which no doubt makes the van parks good value! We also missed out on doing a tour of the wharf facilities because you need to book it a few days out and we weren’t staying any longer than necessary. We satisfied ourselves with a visit to the harbour to see the huge ships and a stock up at the supermarket. Greg visited the bottle shop and was queued behind about 6 guys in work gear stocking up. The prices were very good on beer… Either it is subsidised or they just buy in such bulk it is cheap?

Port Hedland bills itself as the economic heartbeat of the nation. And you kind of get that sense. The place is all business. Three kilometre long trains of ore pull in to load ships round the clock. We really wanted to eat dinner out, but this proved all but imposible. There really is nowhere to do so. We tried all four of the places suggested by the visitors centre and none were open. I don’t know what China pays for a tone of high grade ore, but it’s clear from the layout of Port Hedland that its more than a tourist pays for a pizza.

Every second car on the road seems to belong to BHP adorned with tall orange flags poking into the air. The flags presumably are there to increase the visibility of these comparatively small vehicles on mine sites and are just the same as those you used to have on your bike when you were a kid. Greg reckons they look like the aerial on the remote control cars he used to drive as a kid and says he chuckles to himself imaging god upstairs driving all these little mining vehicles around.

Happy to get out of Port Hedland we headed out into the Pilbara. The scenery changed from flat and uninteresting to striking red hills and rocks. It is different to the Kimberley. The green spinifex grass sits in little clumps across the bright orange hillsides dotted with white barked eucalypts and the depth of the hills and valleys is difficult to capture in a photograph. We were on our way to Karajini National Park. One night at the Auski Roadhouse, then into the park the next morning. We seem to be driving a max of 250km in any one day, and by doing this we have had very little complaint from the back seat.

Karijini is unexpected in this landscape. A series of deep gorges with waterfalls and rock pools sit beneath the iron rich landscape. See the photos to get the idea.

The park has a campground, but with no water or power. Fortunately for us we were allocated to a no generators section and wow it was quiet at night, and dark!! The kids had a ball here collecting and crushing (read smashing) rocks for hours. They were rewarded with a range of interesting discoveries – dark silver grey sparkly iron, white sparkly, yellow and of course the red variety. We were rewarded with very dirty children and limited water supply with which to clean them up.

Visiting the gorges involved a bit of walking down and up quite large numbers of stairs. We weren’t sure what we had done right but Amy and Oliver cheerfully managed it all making the experience all the more pleasant.

Our second day in the park was to involve a 50km drive on unsealed road out to a series of gorges in the ‘Weano’ sction of the park. The lady at the visitor centre assured us the road was fine for 2WD and had only been graded 3 weeks ago. It did seem ok. Sure a bit corrugated here and there and rocky every now and again. So when we arrived at our first of a planned five stops to discover a flat tyre we were not so impressed. The spare worked just fine, and fortunately Joffres Gorge, the one we had stopped at, was quite spectacular. So we visited the lookout and spent a while playing in the pools at the top of the falls before heading back to the bitumen. The other gorges will have to wait until our next visit as going further on the dirt with no spare seemed a bit risky. We went directly to the pay phone at the visitor centre to line up a new tyre at the next town, Tom Price.

PS there are wildflowers everywhere. We haven’t got too much into photographing them and probably won’t, but they are quite spectacular. The purple ones in the photo below line the roadsides and it was Oliver who named them the Christmas Tree Flower.

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