9. Playtime in the Pilbara

 

Feeling much refreshed from our sojourn in Carnarvon we skipped off towards Point Quobba. This ruggedly beautiful piece of Pilbara coastline is home to a billowing blowhole, several herds of lost looking (and rather skinny) Brahman cows, thousands of sharks, hundreds of migrating whales and a handful of derelict looking fishing shacks. We set up camp just behind the dunes and while the others set off to explore the blowhole, the lighthouse and the beach, I took a wander through the old shacks.

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There seemed to be a lot less of them than the last time we were here and many of the remaining shacks looked very damaged, almost beyond repair. Once again the local council have made their presence felt by not allowing any rebuilding following the havoc of the cyclones earlier this year. They have also cracked down on the length of time people are allowed to stay in the shacks and hiked up the fees so many families have just given up.

It’s really sad to see the demise of this special place, which served as a coastal getaway to generations of hard-working inland farming families, for almost 100 years. The ruins of the shacks including flattened kerosene tins, recycled barn doors and well-weathered solid timber posts would be highly prized back in vintage renovation frenzied Melbourne.

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The fellas tried their luck beach fishing near the unusable boat ramp (damaged by the cyclones and not repaired by council) and had some success. They also met up with two other couples travelling in Winnebago’s who were camped nearby. That night we enjoyed some giggles over an extended happy hour with Vicki & Terry and Kim & Jess along with their cool old doggie, Bob before returning to set up our very own campfire so Mrs G could do some poking.

The next day we headed off towards Coral Bay passing our first sighting of a whopping big red termite nest (displayed as a photo opportunity on the road signs – what the?) marking our arrival into the real heart of the Pilbara. After a long days driving in this hot dry country we sauntered into a blissfully beautiful blue water beachside holiday village just in time to share yet another happy hour with our new Winnebago pals.

The fellas excitedly put the boat in early the next day leaving Mrs G and I free to wander the shops and test out the quality of the coffees and cakes at the local bakery (five star review!) before Mrs G wandered down to the beach to watch the daily fish feeding and I spent the afternoon relaxing in the shade by the pool. At one stage I did stop to stroke my chin hairs and wonder what the poor people were doing but then I picked up my book and continued reading till the thought passed.

Our feisty fishermen later returned with a big catch including trevally, emporer and a few different types of cod and we happily handed out parcels of fillets to our Winnebago pals at happy hour that night. Once again, more celebrating had to be done but as almost everyone, (except me and Jess) were going on a whale shark tour early the following morning we had to call it quits early.

Mrs G, The Driver and Peter Perfect had all left before I woke up the next morning. So, I had a wonderfully cruisy day drinking endless cups of tea, reading, writing, browsing and people watching before taking a leisurely afternoon dip in the clear blue waters of the bay. The crew returned elated from their experience of swimming with the largest fish in the sea, the mighty whale shark. Happy hour was filled with their daring deepwater adventures in wetsuits and flippers (including how much of the seafood buffet lunch they ate) that night.

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Before we left the next morning I had an unexpected visitor in the shower. A small blonde boy called Willem, that I had been watching play soccer with his dad the day before, suddenly appeared in the shower cubicle behind me and began chatting away in German. Eventually his mum realised he had escaped from her shower into mine and she got him to crawl back under again. This incident could well be retold many, many times so that by the time I’m in my old age it’ll be known as that time Nanny Dani showered with a young German backpacker!

We all journeyed up the highway to Exmouth where, once again we parted from our 4WD-ing companions. The Driver and I stuck to the bitumen and headed into Cape Range National Park situated on the world famous Ningaloo Reef. We bagged a great spot behind the sand dunes and spent the rest of the day touring up and down the coastal road on our scooter, stopping to swim and snorkel at each pristine beach along the way. There is so much of this beautiful untouched, unbleached coral reef to explore that you could swim all day and still never see it all.

But the next day the bigger fish were calling to The Driver from the deep waters beyond so he put the boat in, leaving me to wander the pure white beaches and sparkling rock pools looking for shells. I may have found some pretty cool shells but as it’s a National Park I would never dare remove any from the beach. Well – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

The Driver did however bag a good number of large cod. His mighty haul was applauded with great enthusiasm over sundowners with our neighbours that night. Of course, this made him very keen to get out there again the next day and live up to his new ‘Super Fisherman’ image. But it seemed the sharks got there before him. Every cast of the rod produced either a fish’s head complete with bite marks where its body used to be or just an empty hook. Then when the pointy-heads surrounded his boat, scared all the other fish away and took off with his favourite lure, he decided to call it a day and headed back in for a few frothy refreshments with his forgiving fans. Suffice to say that sundowners were quite a protracted affair that evening.

After all that coastal activity, our next mission was to head inland toward Karajini National Park. Almost as soon as we turned off the highway the scenery around us began to change from the harsh red of the desert to dry grasslands dotted with greenish grey shrubs dwarfed every now and then by a majestic white trunked gum. The birdlife also increased markedly, where before we were only seeing kites and hawks diving for road-kill, we now spotted flocks of tiny green budgies sporting bright yellow tummies flitting between the undergrowth while swarms of pink and grey galahs erupted across the skyline to perch in the upper branches of the gum trees.

 

We stopped for the night at House Creek and met up with some very stylish motorhome travellers. Greg & Heather have a luxuriously large US built coach they’ve imported while their mates Ian & Anita cruise around the country in their custom-built 4WD Iveco. The Driver was drooling with envy at their classy rigs, so he lost no time inviting himself aboard for a tour and a very jolly happy hour was shared.

 

We pulled out the next morning with four cool new friends and an army of ants who’d decided to hitch a ride with us. Driving up into countryside dominated by the massive red rocky ranges looming ahead, fields of wispy waving grasses added an optical illusion where everything seem to zoom in and out of focus. A minute later, it felt like another trick of the eye when a large brown Brahman cow suddenly appeared next to me on the edge of the road. I was staring right into her dark almond shaped eyes when with completely unexpected agility she jumped up into the air then landed on all four clod-hoppers and raced off in the opposite direction. It was a very near miss!

 

After The Driver had collected himself, we drove on through sparse countryside that gradually expanded into red-gold hills leading up towards the largest of them all, Mt. Nameless. Long ago, all of this was the Hancock family’s sheep station. It wasn’t until the 60’s that an American named Tom Price suggested to young Lang Hancock that it could be worthwhile drilling cores into these hills to test for Iron ore. The tests proved positive and our boy Lang happily hung up his akubra hat and shears to pick up a shovel and a hard hat and begin his new life as a mining magnate.

 

The next town up the road is actually called Tom Price in honour of its founder, although sadly he died not long after they began mining. It’s a carbon copy of Paraburdoo but with a few more locals roaming the streets, some grassy green playing fields and a much bigger supermarket. After restocking with groceries we set up camp for the night just outside the township at Tiger Eye Pool, a rocky reserve next to a dried-up riverbed at the base of an odd shaped mountain that, in burst of creativity, was also named Tom Price.

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The next day we met up with our new motorhoming pals in town and after receiving a safety briefing and donning hard hats we all boarded a bus to take a tour of the well-named Tom Price Mine. Once on the bus we were bombarded with loads of statistical information about iron ore. We got to see some really, really, really big trucks plus other enormous pieces of equipment that were digging, loading and carrying massive piles of red dirt from a hole in the ground into the trucks and onto huge conveyor belts before being tipped into the never ending carriages of the super long trains that were headed for the coast to be shipped off overseas. I’m sure it was all very informative and exciting as The Driver can still clearly recall all the details and recite the figures quoted but my eyes had glazed over after the briefing and all I can remember is that the hard hat left me with a bad case of hat-hair!

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Our next stop was the dry and dusty Savannah camp ground in Karajini National Park. The Driver was keen to get cracking on all the hiking, climbing and adventuring on offer here but it was just too hot for me so we decided to start out early the next morning. In much cooler weather, equipped with walking shoes, broad-brimmed hats and some rather glamourous fly nets, we set off to conquer the western set of trails. I was proudly keeping pace with The Driver by climbing up and over rocky ledges, managing to slowly descend steep ladders and even scampered along slippery creek beds until the very last track. When we reached a very narrow section filled with knee-deep icy water that could only be accessed by climbing along the crumbling cliff edge, I decided to let him go on alone.

 

By the time he re-appeared, he was soaking wet and full of bravado about rescuing a young backpacker in bikinis who’d got scared half way around. But by then I was tired, hot and cranky and just didn’t want to listen. I began carefully picking my way across the slippery rocks and somehow one foot got stuck under a rock and the other foot slid out in front of me and before I could do anything, I landed flat on my back in the water. I looked across to see the Driver just standing there laughing at me. Then, with every bone in my body stinging in pain we eventually made it up to the top just before the bikini-clad backpacker and her boyfriend. We couldn’t understand very much of what they were saying except that they were effusive in their thanks to The Driver for all his help, which is certainly more than I could say!

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The next morning, despite the purple and green bruises blooming on both knees all over my butt and across the top of my arm like war paint, we tackled the eastern section of the park. This was much easier and maybe even prettier. We found some gorgeous swimming holes and waterfalls. There were beautiful glades of ferns and palms at the bottom of the gorges as well as some tiny but perfectly formed rock orchids. We spotted lizards, frogs and a sleeping colony of bats and we managed to explore it all without calamity. At the end of the day, I hung up my walking boots determined never to climb another gorge again. Until the next time…

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