Like a lot of Camper readers, my family likes to explore the parts of Australia that many people don’t see or skim over on their big lap.
So naturally we decided to head inland from Carnarvon and take a few weeks to explore Gascoyne and Pilbara – two vast, thinly populated mid-northern regions, out of the nine that make up WA. These areas are full of natural rock formations, huge gorges and hidden treasures.
Knowing what was ahead, we were just busting to get the tyres onto some red dirt!
KENNEDY RANGES NATIONAL PARK
The Kennedy Ranges National Park is the perfect place to get away for a few days and camp in remote bush campgrounds. There are plenty of hiking trails here and we were keen to delve into the sights and experiences they offered. Some of them are easy, like the one that leads you to Honeycomb Gorge, which makes you feel like you’ve stepped onto a different planet. We had a fantastic time marvelling at the strange rock formations. During the wetter months this place is often flowing with water, which would be a sight to behold indeed.
If you’re a keen hiker like we all are in my family then you’ll love the longer walks here that take you up to the top of the plateau. We decided to get up before the sparrows and start our hike in the dark to catch the sunrise from the top; to say that that view was one in a million is an understatement. Safety is paramount in this remote area and it is recommended you don’t travel on your own, given help is a long way away.
There is so much to see in this area that we could have happily spent a few more days walking around the rocks, looking for gemstones and fossils, hiking up to the plateau and sitting around the campfire. But we had to head off in search of another awesome place to experience.
MOUNT AUGUSTUS NATIONAL PARK
The next stop over for us was at Mount Augustus which is twice the size of Uluru at 715m above the surrounding plains. This massive rock is definitely worth taking a gander at and if you’re keen you can drive the 49km track around the whole thing. This allows you access to rocky creek beds and open plains, and you can even walk in to see Aboriginal rock engravings. The very keenest among us can climb to the top. Unfortunately we ran out of time!
Our family absolutely loves Australian history and every chance we get we’ll stop to read information or look at old bits of history. That’s one reason we love to travel off the beaten track and into the remoter nooks of Australia. For example, when you’re travelling in an areas where there aren’t many people, you come across Aussie humour (in the form of crazy road signs) and old mining machinery, which adds a bit of excitement to long and dusty drives.
We decided to take a break from the red dirt at a mining town called Paraburdoo which is about 71km from Tom Price. A lesser known fact is that the famous Red Dog was actually born in Paraburdoo, before he travelled all over the Pilbara region during the 1970s. From Paraburdoo it was off to Tom Price where we drove to one of the highest points you can drive to in Western Australia, standing at 1,128m above sea level. The view over Tom Price and the surrounding area is worth the incline. If you’re itching to get even higher you can abandon the 4x4 and walk to the very top.
KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK
Lucky for us there was relief from the red dust as we cruised into Karijini National Park. This really is the hidden oasis of the Pilbara. There is an abundance of campsites to chose from and after some debate we chose Dales campground. Karijini is a magical place, with arid plains, scrubby bush and massive gorges full of blue water, lush green flora and purple rocks. Simply walking down into some of these gorges is a fantastic experience.
Karijini National Park is well known for its hiking; there are plenty of easy, medium and hard trails to follow. Circular Pool and Fortescue Falls are two of the best and offer some amazing swimming, but the water is pretty cold as it seeps out of the rock and creates pools and streams through the gorges. A more challenging walk is through Hancock Gorge and into Kermits Pool; on this one, you pass through a section called the ‘Spider Walk’, aptly named given you’ll feel like Spiderman as you navigate your way through this tricky section with outstretched limbs. We had an absolute ball climbing over the smooth rock and trying not to get too wet as we ventured into what felt like the centre of the earth.
Another fantastic gorge to walk through is the one that Joffre Waterfall flows into. This walk is about a two hour round trip and takes you right down to the water’s edge and then up into a natural amphitheatre. This place doesn’t feel real; it’s such a change in environment compared to the dry scrub above. The bottom line? The whole family will absolutely love Karijini National Park. I know we did!
WITTENOOM AND MILLSTREAM
If you can tear yourself away from Karijini National park, you’ll find a place called Wittenoom a few clicks north of the park. This funky little place is a declared contamination site. There are still remains of blue asbestos all throughout this area, because, at one stage, it was the site of Australia’s biggest blue asbestos mine; however, works were shut down due to the growing health concerns around the mineral. Don’t worry though because it is quite safe to drive through and take in the wonderful scenery. We, at least, emerged unscathed!
You can camp all through here and some of the wildlife is spectacular. Falling asleep under a trillion stars and listening to the dingoes howl is something that my family will remember for a very long time. Walking trails zigzag through this area too; they take you to some insane views over the gorge and surrounding landscape.
After a quick stop over at Wittenoom we shot off up to Mount Florence Station; a chance to wash off the layers of red dirt with a hot shower was a enough to convince us to stay here.
There are heaps of station stays like this all around Australia and each and every one of them is unique, the one commonality being that the hosts are incredibly welcoming to everyone who passes through. Well worth it if you’re looking for a place to set up the camper trailer.
Not too far north of Mount Florence station is Millstream Chichester National Park. I’ll tell you what, we could have easily spent a few weeks exploring all the walking trails, rivers, lookouts and history in this park. The cliff lookout gives you a spectacular view over the Fortescue River and is a great place to birdwatch and have lunch. Then you can head down into Deep Reach Pool, a place best described as an oasis amidst arid lands. It’s a great spot to go for a paddle in the kayak or take a dip on a warm sunny afternoon. Millstream ticks all the boxes!
Another favourite for everyone who visits Millstream Chichester National Park is Python Pool; don’t worry, it’s not a pool full of actual pythons. It’s more hospitable than that; there’s a day use area with a barbecue and toilets available. Plus the 20 minute walk to the base of a seasonal waterfall is easy and worth it, as the amazing sheer rock walls that shoot up from the pool are sensational.
BURRUP PENINSULA AND CLEAVERVILLE
Of course we had to keep moving, so we made our way up to Dampier which is just above Karratha. This area is well known in the film industry, with the majority of the movie Red Dog being filmed here. The original statue of Red Dog is something that we had to see, so we stopped for a quick photo with the famous pooch before it was off to do some more exploring. Heading up the Burrup Peninsular, we stopped to take a look at what is believed to be some of the world’s oldest Aboriginal rock art. As you walk along the trail the whole family will have a ball pointing out the art hidden in the natural rock piles. We even managed to spot a few wallabies throughout the rocks.
Research pays off when it comes to looking for good campsites and we’d found a beauty! Cleaverville is a paid camping ground and you can camp up in the sand dunes or right down on the beach. What we didn’t know until low tide was that Cleaverville has some of the best rock pools on the west coast! Full of colourful coral and exotic sea creatures such as octopuses, turtles, sea cucumbers and crabs, this place is heaven on earth for nature lovers. We couldn’t drag ourselves away and ended up spending the better half of a week in this fantastic spot.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
You simply can’t skip the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions of WA. These places are truly tailor-made to camper trailers. When you hitch up and ride on through this place, you’re bound to have a great time together, sharing a range of unique experiences before you emerge full of memories and covered in red dust! Bush camping, hiking, offroading, wildlife – you name it, this region has got it, and it’s always close at hand. Around every corner there’s another magical oasis. So what are you waiting for? With the winter months looming, pack up the camper, grab the whole family and take off on an adventure of a lifetime!