First taste of the Pilbara
We got about 320km under our belt after a late and frustrating morning leaving Coral Bay. Our home for the night, Wikicamps' "House Creek Rest Area", was a perfect little spot pulled off from the highway. It felt exciting to have crossed over into the Pilbara, which was just stunning, and surprising how immediately different it was from the Gascoyne region we'd just left behind. At sunset we climbed a small hill opposite the campsite on Mount Stuart Station. The vantage offered incredible views of the ranges and red spinifex plains stretching away at all degrees of the compass.
In my rough planning I'd allocated five nights between Coral Bay and our campground booking in Karijini, which was a distance that only really needed one stopover. So with time on our hands we decided to spend a couple of nights at Cheela Plains Station, which was just brilliant, a perfect teaser of what Karijini held in store.
Though the homestead camping at Cheela Plains looked tempting with green grass, hot showers and hot meals for purchase each night, we opted to stay at one of their wilderness camps, Woongarra Pool, 30 odd kilometres down the road. It was a beautiful spot and we had it all to ourselves, apart from the cattle that popped in for a drink. Our camp was at the start of the Beasley Gorge trail, an apparent geological wonderland; the features of which had been described by a visiting geologist and shared in a visitor guide. Despite the detailed explanation of our rocky surroundings, we were still left slightly baffled as to which rock was which and how many billions of years ago it was all formed. Much easier for me to grasp was the birdlife which was fabulous. I ticked off about 30 different species in the short time we were there.
We drove the geological trail to Peaimatha Soak, stopping at Mussel Pool for a very adventurous walk. The official walk up to the pool lookout was not well signed so we picked our way along the gorge ridge, stopping to explore some bat filled caves. We returned to the riverbed via an unofficial route that took us over the dry Perentie Fall. We were rewarded with a great swim at the beautiful and deserted Mussel Pool.
After two nights of campfires and incredible Milky Way stargazing we returned the gate keys to the homestead and treated ourselves to their coffee and carrot cake before driving on to mining town Tom Price.
We spent a full day climbing WA's second tallest mountain, Mount Bruce. The 9km return hike serves as a giant viewing platform for Rio Tinto's Marandoo iron ore mine which was fascinating to watch and I think it was one of the key motivators that kept Hugh interested in walking. We watched long snaking trains file in and out lugging thousands of tons of ore over the 7.5 hours we were out there. Trucks and diggers were busy loading and dumping and we even saw a blast. One section in the middle of the walk was a bit hair raising involving some cliff edge scrambling, which Hugh loved. It was the first walk to date that he didn't whinge once. He was painfully slow at times and over confidently fast at others but it was a mammoth achievement.
We returned for a second night at a secluded on-the-side-of-a-random-dirt-track bush camp. It was a free camp labelled on Wikicamps as "Going Overland Flat Spot" which we chose for its proximity to Mount Bruce and that it had great reviews. When we’d arrived the first night after dark, I had visions of being lured into a trap by a Wikicamps serial killer. It was in a very out of the way place on a track that seemed rarely travelled and on land with unclear ownership or use. But we passed the first night peacefully and all our gear was where we left it when we returned from our hike. In the light of day it wasn’t so haunting and in fact boasted superb views of the Hamersley Range. It was also home to curious trains of hairy caterpillars.
After so many months of sandy campsites I'd almost forgotten what it was like to manage the filth of red dust. It's hard enough staying clean as an adult, but kids are a whole other level. I remember from our early Kalgoorlie days being astounded by Hugh and Claire literally rolling in the dust. Six months on, they're still rolling in dust. I think we will be carrying Pilbara red with us all the way to Darwin.