Friday, October 7, 2011

The Pilbara Coast

Photographs don't get much fresher than this, taken 30 seconds ago from my delightful campsite overlooking the Robe River while I update this blog.

Gee, Life is tough! I wonder what the poor people are doing? Anyway, time to update you on my travels - Last time I posted I had just arrived in Newman and re-stocked with essentials.

Thursday, 8th September 2011 - Day 1,000 ! ! !

1,000 days! It's incredible to think that I have been on the road for this long and I am still not bored or jaded in any way. Every day is still an adventure and I still look forward to more time spent travelling. I will admit that since I made the decision to slow down and spend more time camping and less time driving, my "quality of life" has improved immesurably. Who ever it was who coined the phrase "take the time to smell the roses" (or whatever) really knew what they were talking about.

I pulled in to the Albert Tognolini Rest Area at Munjina Gorge, about 17 kms south of the Auski Roadhouse and this gets a guernsey in my top ten favourite campsites. The rest area itself is H-U-G-E with plenty of room to spread out without being right next to somebody else's screaming kids / yapping dogs / blaring music / noisy generator / phone calls (fill in your own pet hate here). Rather than simply a big camping area, there are several "island" sites spread all along the ridgeline and the scenery is simply stunning. I think I might be here for a while as there is great potential for some serious bushwalking.

Thursday, 15th September 2011 - Day 1,007

Still at Munjina Gorge, This place is fantastic. Make sure you put it in your "to-do" list. The weather has been fine, but very windy. It has been blowing an absolute gale ever since I got here, but it seems to be calming off a bit now. I don't know what the wind speeds actually were, but I had serious concerns for the Penguin, I really thought the awning was going to tear free from the van and it was way too windy to try and roll it up.

Went for a couple of wanders up the hills surrounding the gorge and also down into the gorge itself. I absolutely have to come back here when the wet season has filled the creeks, there are a couple of waterfalls which must be spectacular when the creeks are flowing.

Wednesday, 28th September 2011 - Day 1,020

No, that's not a misprint, I ended up staying at Munjina for 3 weeks (don't tell the ranger). To be fair, I was tucked away right at the far end of the area, probably about a kilometre from the "day" area, so I wasn't inconveniencing anybody by over-staying.

I finally packed up and headed north, bought some bread and milk at Auski and headed in to Wittenoom. The road is pretty rough, but the scenery is great. The road follows the edge of an escarpment so there are ridgelines to one side and a huge flat plain to the other. Wittenoom itself is even more run-down and deserted than when I was here several years ago. There are supposed to be 8 people still living here, but the gem shop and the campground both appear to be closed down. There are signs everywhere warning about the danger of asbestos, so I erred on the side of caution and didn't go into the gorge itself.

 Onwards to Tom Price - rough road and BLOODY dusty. Couldn't go into Hammersley Gorge, the road was closed, probably from damage during the last wet season - oh well, been there, done that before. The last 2 kms or so of the road before the Hammersley gorge turn-off, through a gorge, has been sealed, which was a relief, it was basically a sandy creek bed last time I was here about 8 years ago and I was a little worried about pulling the van through sand, but no wucker's.

Blew a tire on the van (on the bitumen, mind you) just short of Tom Price and had to buy a replacement. Pissed off to say the least - I only bought new tyres for the van in Broome. The problem with the van tyres, is that you can't feel any problem until the van starts bouncing all over the place and by that time the tyre is stuffed.

I headed for Millstream up the Tom Price Railway Access Road. I asked about a permit at the Information Centre and had to sit and view a 20 minute safety video. It was like being back at work again running inductions. The road wasn't too bad, I sat on 70 kph for most of the way (maximum speed limit of 80) but a lot of floodways on the road and some of them were pretty rough at the bottom of the dip, so averaged only about 50 kph with all the slowing down.

I got to the Millstream turn-off and the access road was absolutely awful. The road is very poorly maintained if at all. After 11 kms I got to the first campsite access, Crossing Pool. The fees posted were $11 entry to the park (one-off) and $8 per person per night for camping. The information board describing the camping areas was very un-inviting pointing out that most of the areas had very limited shade, un-treated water and no showering facilities. It was 10 kms to the campsite with a sign that said "rough road - 4WD only" or still another 11 kms of that rotten road to the visitor's centre, I decided that I wasn't all that impressed and decided to give it a miss. Maybe another time (or maybe not).

The bitumen from Karratha has been extended as far as the Python Pool turn-off, 100 kms from Karratha, so I stopped in a lay-by and re-inflated my tyres from the 26 psi I run on gravel and there, right at my feet was a gorgeous Sturt's Desert Pea. Obviously the season because they're everywhere.

Heading into Karratha, I spotted what to me is the quintessential Pilbara landscape. The hills are basically just pure ironstone, increadibly weathered and crumbling, with just a covering of desert spinifex.

I headed for the campsite at Miarree Pool, about 30 kms south of town, I have been looking forward to this ever since I left Tom Price. I got to the spot on the north bank of the river where I camped a couple of years ago and found a big (new) sign, saying "NO CAMPING - $1000 on-the-spot fine" What a bummer! this was a really nice spot to camp. I pulled out and headed down the highway and noticed several vans camped on the south side of the river so I pulled in and was advised that the ranger had been around and told everyone that they had to be out by Monday. I decided to try my luck as I really needed to re-stock before heading further south. Sure enough, the ranger came around on Saturday afternoon and, while he was quite polite and pleasant, said that everybody had to be gone by Monday morning. It appears that there is no camping permitted anywhere in the Shire of Roebourne. Presumably this has to do with the chronic shortage of accomodation in Karratha. I noted in the local paper that locals were renting out rooms for $600 a week or you could rent a 3-bedroom house for $2800 per week. I went into Karratha and re-stocked before heading out. It's such a pity that you can't camp here, it is a really beautiful spot.

Monday, 3rd October 2011 - Day 1025

I packed up on the Monday morning and headed south. My destination is Robe River rest area. I haven't stayed here before, I have always by-passed it but I will give it a burl this time. When I arrived about 13:00 or so, I got out to have a look for a reasonable spot to camp, when I heard my name called and who should be standing there, dressed in her fetching blue and yellow mining company uniform, but a girl I worked with before I retired. Mary had quit AMCOR in frustration about a year before I retired and moved to pannawonica with her partner. I knew she lived in this area, but to find her standing in the rest area was a pleasant surprise. There were a lot of vehicles already set up, so I did a "temporary" set-up and hopefully I'll find a nice spot tomorrow morning.

Sure enough, most vehicles pulled out by 09:00 and I managed to grab the best spot on the site. Shaded, overlooking the water, but still with sunshine for my solar panels. This is a 24-hour rest area so I'll not overstay tooo long, maybe 3 or 4 days so that I can get some bushwalking in - I spotted a couple of interesting-looking hills a couple of kms away.

Friday, 7th October 2011 - Day 1029

I was absolutely flabbergasted to find that I have internet access here. I overheard the people in the van next to mine making a Skype call, so I thought I'd give it a try and bugger me! I've got 4 bars.  I'm right in the middle of nowhere, about 150 kms south of Karratha and yet I have got a quite good signal. Must be an overflow from the Pannawonica minesite I guess. Anyway, I thought I'd take the opportunity to update the blog 'cos I probably won't be in range again until I reach Carnarvon in another couple of weeks. I'm planning to then head inland to Gascoyne Junction and then down through Murchison, as I haven't been through there before. That should take me through to the end of October or beginning of November when it may be nice enough weather to head for Perth.

See you soon

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