Friday, April 24, 2009

Karijini and the Pilbara interior

* A shy new born lamb on Ningaloo Station. His nervousness was probably something to do with how close I'd just come to breaking our mammalian roadkill duck by running him over. The quality of the meat in the Exmouth IGA is so poor I was already thinking about how to butcher and dress him before we'd come to a stop. Better luck next time.

We finished our coral coast stay with a couple of nights back in Cape Range National Park at North Mandu. This promised to be a quiet spot on paper as it only had four designated sites (not big enough to warrant a 'camp host') and there was nothing particularly special about the beach.

We got there early on the Saturday morning and secured the only shady and wind protected spot, displacing a clearly disgruntled and mildly arthritic kangaroo. All was looking good until the 'Chillax Express' (an old coach with seven or eight international teenage backpackers) pulled in just after nightfall, closely followed by a campervan. A camp host (mostly former Sydney Olympic volunteers from what I can make out rather than the Bob Downe variety) would have sent them packing, or at least got some rent out of them, but instead we had to endure several hours of poor guitar work and conversation dominated by a boorish loud American. A slightly disappointing end to our three month coastal extravaganza, compounded by a difficult time of the month and some unlucky Yahtzee dice from me.

It was now time to turn inland again and experience the Pilbara interior. We put in a pretty big drive, 650kms, to reach Tom Price just as it was getting dark. We'd considered stopping at a road side rest area earlier on, but we've both been reading too many gruesome crime novels so we decided to push on. Our only stop en route was at the Nanutarra Roadhouse for some diesel ($1.60/l) and a pie ($6.50 + $0.50 for sauce) and a drink ($4).

* Road train approaching. Best strategy is to pull over and wait for the dust to settle. The longest one we've seen so far was about 30m long, but the problem is with all the dust you're never really sure how long it will be until it's gone past.

The Pilbara is simply glorious - deep red earth and golden spinifex, and surprisingly well vegetated.

The problem as we found around Alice is that the red dust just gets everywhere and into everything. A few minutes after a shower and your hand and feet are dirty red again. Being back on the dirt roads also means the car is shaking a lot more again and things are starting to come loose.

Tom Price is apparently the most affluent settlement outside of metropolitan areas. It's the highest town in Western Australia and sits under Mount Nameless which is nearly two thirds iron ore. For a town of only 2,500 people, it's incredibly well provisioned, several bottle shops, a decent sized Coles, reasonable priced diesel etc, and its own hospital.

Apparently the locals say the best feature of the town is the airport to get you out of here, but our reason for coming was Karijini, the national park formerly known as Hammersley Gorge, and Australia's second largest.

It's really unfair to make comparisons, but the gorges here were so much more dramatic than the ones we'd seen in the McDonnell Ranges either side of Alice Springs. This may have something to do with when we got here - ie a couple of months after the wet season finished so there was still plenty of water running through the gorges and the pools were full.

The rocks here are apparently some of the oldest on earth, around 2.5bn years. The high iron content comes from some of the earliest volcanic activity on the planet and the oxidisation provides evidence of some of the earliest life forms.

We stayed for three nights, and visited each of the gorges within the park. We stopped for two nights at Dales Gorge, and managed a four hour walk down into the gorge to Circular Pool and then back through twists and turns to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool.

* Circular Pool from above. The water was too cool for me to swim but Ness had a go

* Dales Gorge from above, and then Circular Pool from the bottom of the gorge

* Shots from the beautiful walk along Dales Gorge.

* Fern Pool, and Ness making moves for a dip before some fish started nibbling her toes and she made a quick exit.

* Welcome to our world - huge expanses, blue skies and lots and lots of red earth.

After our two nights at Dales we moved on to the Karijini Eco Resort, basically the refurbished Savannah camp ground which still had camping for the plebs, but there were also flash permanent tents which you could rent for $270 per night (a bit out of our price range).

The Eco Resort is adjacent to Joffre Falls and we packed a lunch and clambered down for a relaxing afternoon of swimming and reading.

The view down Joffre Gorge. Just below the gap is the Olympic Pool, a 200m swimming hole.

My walking shoes have finally given up so maintaining grip was a little difficult and I didn't want to risk taking the good camera down for a look.

The view from the tent, and the view inside the tent (me rushing through another Scarpetta novel) at the Eco Lodge.

The stars are amazing and now it's getting dark around 6.30 so there's plenty of time to get a sore neck staring up at them. We're slowly teaching ourselves the southern sky constellations and I have this cool app on my phone that tells me where the meteors are going to be.

* One of the many dingoes we saw around our camp. Despite Karijini being surrounded by pastoral land the dingo population within the park is pretty much left alone and used as a natural way of keeping down the kangaroo numbers as well as other feral animals.

Sleeping up on top of the car at night is becoming a better idea by the minute!

On our last day in Karijini we clambered our way down and then along Weano Gorge.

* Us and a giant termite mound.

Today we have a permit to drive on the private Rio Tinto road that follows their railway line from the mine here in Tom Price up to the port in Dampier (home of the famous Red Dog). We had to watch a 20 minute safety video but it all looks pretty straightforward compared to what we've been used to. Hopefully we'll get some good shots of the 2km long iron ore trains thundering along. Hopefully too we won't stall on any of the many level crossings.

The road goes through Millstream Chichester National Park where we'll stop for a couple of nights before I'll need to get phone coverage again and put in some more time in at 'the office'. Happy ANZAC day people, and happy belated birthday Mum!

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