You’re going to love this Pilbara feast of history, culture, mining and sea
WORDS BY JANNE HARDY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEOFF AND JANNE HARDY
The Pilbara Coast may look vast and empty but it’s packed with people and sights to delight everyone, and you can camp in paradise for $7 a night at Cleaverville free-camp while you explore! Cleaverville Beach, seemingly wild and isolated in red earth country 32km north of Karratha WA, is accessed along 12km of well kept dirt road and is just the right base for a Pilbara feast of history, culture, mining and sea. This nature based camp is untouched except for a natural boat ramp; several dump points and a single, majestic toilet that guards the boat ramp. Choose any site to camp either right on the beach, nestled behind the beach with large bushes for shade and shelter (It’s windy because it’s WA), or on wild red headlands along several km of coastline. Fishing is good and the rocks are packed with marine fossils. Swimming is great and walking is easy. The feeling of remoteness is exhilarating. At night, the huge flames of the North West Shelf gas plants – across the water on the Dampier Peninsular – light the sky with proof that there’s more here than meets the eye.
Make sure you take your own water to Cleaverville and bring water carriers for a long stay. You can top up at the Roebourne Gaol or Karratha Visitors Centres for a gold coin donation. The Roebourne Goal visitors centre also offers laundromat services in a unique setting and there’s a Woollies in nearby Wickham.
If you are using a boat, plan for 5m tides and the movement of huge iron ore ships. Overnight camping is allowed on some of the 42 islands off the coast and fees are paid to the on-site caretaker, but there are no fees in off season.
After having walked the rock pools, stretched out on the white sand and enjoyed our camp fire it was time to explore.
We began at Roebourne, located 40km east of Karratha. This historic town is packed with wonderful stone buildings. Turn off here for; the old pearling port of Cossack, now a historic precinct; Point Samson a gem by the sea and the 40 year old mining town of Wickham.
Running in the opposite direction from Cleaverville is Karratha, the Dampier Archipelago and mystical Burrup Peninsula, Miaree Pool and inland to Millstream Chichester National Park.
Today it’s left onto the highway to the cultural town of Roebourne where the visitors centre, located in the quaint 1880’s gaol, teems with people and you can grab yourself a driving map of historic buildings. The Roebourne visitor’s centre also has a lovely museum and RV parking outside.
Roebourne is a centre for indigenous culture and several world famous aboriginal artists live locally. The town, established in 1866, was once the administrative capital for the area and is the oldest town in the North West, hence the beautiful stone buildings not seen in the newer mining towns. Nearby Cossack was the port for Roebourne and became the hub of the early pearling industry.
The Roebourne races are a must during the June racing season and punters will enjoy the two-up played at the end of the meeting. All local festivals are always packed with mining families from Karratha and Wickham so they are big affairs.
Roebourne is also the beginning of the Emma Withnell Heritage trail named after the first female European settler and its 52km of driving and walking traces the development of the peninsular taking in buildings, harbours and towns.
Another 11km brings you to quaint and beautiful old Cossack and into a time warp. There are only historic buildings here. Originally called Tien Tsin, Cossack was gazetted in 1872 and was the port for the local pastoral industry through which hundreds of prospectors also entered the area.
On the day we visited, it was the opening day of the Cossack Art Awards. Worth over $100,000, these are the richest and most isolated regional art awards in Australia. Usually sparsely populated by day visitors, Cossack was bursting with over 5,000 people enjoying the stunning yearly spectacle and local carnival. Along with the amazing regional art that hangs on the stone walls, many famous artists such as Pro Hart and Jack Absalom have also featured in the Cossack Art Awards.
There is a leaflet available for the Cossack Heritage Trail for a self-guided walking tour of the town. Featuring vast sea scapes from nearby Reader Head, the old jetty sites, beaches and shops – all of which are eerily haunted by 1860’s settlers.
We were delighted to see Mike and Colleen Jones, from Victoria, who we had met back at 80 Mile beach. That’s the joy of caravanning, there are people you meet and meet again along the road, sometimes over several years. So we ate carnival food together, swapped camping stories and enjoyed a great day.
After our great night with the Jones’, we were back on the Point Samson Road and about 12 clicks from Point Samson town. Later, we were to spend three months there whilst Geoff drove excavators for a quarry company augmenting the longest wharf in the west. Cape Lambert and its three kilometre wharf are best seen on the Port to Port Tour from Roebourne Visitors Centre. It takes in Roebourne, Rio Tinto’s Cape Lambert Port Operations, Wickham and lunch at Cossack. Its great value at $20.
There are two caravan parks at Point Samson, one very new and one very cosy, both excellent. Pick up a heritage trail leaflet at the general store to see; the prawning ground of Sam’s Creek; the quaint protected Johns Creek Harbour; the horizontal waterfall under Popes Nose Bridge; the wreck of the Norwegian vessel Solveig that sank in 1903 during a cyclone and beautiful Centenary Park with its superb sculptures and historic wharf relics. The Town beach and Honeymoon Cove are great for swimming and the Tavern, attached to a caravan park, is famous for fish meals – a place where whale watching and eating can take place simultaneously. Point Samson also has its annual Chilli Festival, held around August every year.
On the way back, we called in to Wickham. A small, red dirt mining town named after a European Lieutenant who headed a Pilbara coastal expedition with Charles Darwin on the Beagle in the 1830’s. One of Wickham’s best features is the Picture Gardens, located on Walcott Drive, Wickham. Wickham’s Picture Gardens show all the latest films and is a great way to spend an evening. However, if you’re in the mood for a bit of beach luxury, you should try the waterfront wonder that is Port Walcott Yacht club. Surrounded by white sand beaches and set on a green grassy headland shaded by palm trees. This is the place everyone goes on Sundays to eat perfect fish and chips that only cost $12 each. You’ll find all the mining families there, swimming and eating and being happy. It was such a beautiful experience mingling with these wonderful people. After gorging ourselves, we headed further down the beach and found a most interesting oddity, a dog cemetery. It was sad, but lovely to see such devotion to our canine friends.
MILLSTREAM CHICHESTER NATIONAL PARK
After our visit in Wickham, we headed in the opposite direction to a town called Karratha. With a population of 12,700 people, Karratha has a great shopping mall and is an excellent place for stocking up on supplies. We learned that Karratha was established in the 1960’s to support iron, salt and later gas initiatives that have made the region very rich and very busy. Karratha also happens to be the jump off point for Millstream- Chichester National Park and has a first rate visitor’s centre that will point you to the Ancient Aboriginal Petroglyphs at Deep Gorge, the excellent North West Shelf Gas display and Miaree Pool. All of which are located down the coast towards Dampier, approximately 20km from Karratha.
The Petroglyphs at Deep Gorge are part of the Dampier Rock Art Precinct. The precinct is comprised of the 42 islands and islets of the Dampier Archipelago and contains the highest concentration of rock carvings in the world, dated between 6,000 and 20,000 years old. What makes the Petroglyphs so interesting is that they are rock carvings, quite different from rock paintings – known as Pictographs. You definitely need a map to get to the Deep Gorge Petroglyphs as the directions get a little tricky. For those of you towing caravans, you will need to unhitch beforehand because towing space is limited. As you meander down the creek at Deep Gorge, take special note of the large boulders flanking your path and you will begin to see the many rock carvings, telling the story of the Jaburara Tribe. At first the Petroglyphs are hard to see and we found using the map as a reference helped us to know what to look for.
Back on the road, we continued on to the breathtaking Hearson’s Cove. Located on the Burrup Peninsula between Karratha and Dampier, Hearson’s Cove has one of the many beautiful beaches of Pilbara region. We had a great time exploring the tidal flats and were lucky enough to encounter some turtles, an octopus and birds galore!
Our next stop was Woodside’s North West Shelf Venture, one of the country’s biggest resource developments. The system provides over 40% of Australia’s oil and gas and 1% of the whole nation’s gross domestic product. They also have a super visitor’s centre that features an iPod tour of the gas plant, displays and some very informative films. It’s free and well worth the visit.
Down the road from Woodside’s North West Shelf Venture is Dampier. A total of 20km from Karratha, Dampier is home to the Yaburrara Aboriginal tribe and has a beautiful beachfront with an ocean pool – great for recreational boating, picnics and BBQs. We spotted a delightful little caravan park called Dampier Transit Caravan Park, located on The Esplanade. Dampier also has a fantastic view across to the huge Gas shipping terminal way out across the water and hosts a famous fishing tournament every July or early August.
On our return journey through Millstream-Chichester National Park we visited Miaree Pool, located 20km south of Karratha. An idyllic fresh water swimming spot that’s great in stinger season. There is a short gravel access right next to the North West Coastal Highway that is suitable for RV’s.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to experience our amazing travels, we were able to visit all these beautiful places for just $7 a night by making our base camp at Cleaverville free-camp. Travelling through the Pilbara is all about soaking in the natural wonders and luckily the natural wonders tend to be free. We found this trip to be tailored to most any budget and with the money you save by touring the Pilbara, you can stop into all the little towns and support them with your travelling dollars.