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Hidden wonders down under: The Pilbara

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Pilbara area in Australia's rugged northwest covers 500,000 square kilometres, including offshore islands. A 2.5 billion year old landscape, the rugged Pilbara is a premier adventure holiday destination.

The Pilbara is often harsh, prone to long dry spells and violent cyclones. Summers are ferociously hot. Winter temperatures might dip to just below 10&#deg;C, making it the most comfortable time to visit. Spring brings a profusion of the west's wonderful wildflowers — Sturt Desert Pea, kangaroo paws and other exotic blooms, attracting busloads of tourists.

The population of around 40,000 mostly lives in the western third of the Pilbara, in towns including Port Hedland, Karratha, Newman and Marble Bar. The centre is a vast area of inland ranges with a number of mining towns and gorges. These ranges contain some of the world's oldest surface rocks, ancient stromatolites and granites more than three billion years old.

The Pilbara's economy is dominated by mining and petroleum industries. Most of Australia's iron ore is found here, with mines mostly centred around Tom Price and Newman.

The little town of Tom Price was purpose-built on the edge of the Hamersley Ranges and set at the base of Mt Nameless. At 750 metres above sea level, it is Western Australia's highest town and the gateway to Karijini National Park.

The fantastic Hamersley Range possibly dates back 3500 million years. It has spectacular gorges carved by the Fortescue and other rivers and sheer walls of rock layered in a rainbow of red to green and blue to pink, changing in the sunlight. The gorges are up to 100 metres deep, some with flowing water just a metre wide, some with crystal clear pools.

Beautifully located in the depths of Karijini is the only permanent accommodation in the park, Karijini Eco Retreat. It has comfortable eco tents, with or without ensuite facilities, traditional campsites with shared facilities including toilets and showers and barbecue bush kitchens for self-catering. There is an outback-style alfresco licensed restaurant, all in a rugged setting. Picnic lunches and snacks are available to take to the gorges.

Guided walks and tag-along tours are offered.

The accommodation is owned by the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the three language groups of Niapiali, Bunjima and Innawonga.

Dampier is a coastal playground. Built by the massive iron ore company Hamersley Iron to house employees, the town takes its name from the Dampier Archipelago, a group of 42 islands hugging the central Pilbara coast. Everything in the town revolves around the water — boating, sailing, fishing, diving, windsurfing and swimming.

The islands have a fascinating history of shipwrecks, whaling, pearling and farming. Shell middens and Aboriginal rock art remain as remnants of old campsites. The Burrup Peninsula, close to the centre of Dampier, has 10,000 Aboriginal rock engravings and is said to be the world's oldest outdoor art gallery.

Discovery Sailing Adventures uncovers the secrets of the archipelago on Spinifex Spray, a 12 metre sailing ketch. They sail from Hampton Harbour, offering day and overnight cruises, sunset cruises and Sunday Breakfast Afloat cruises.

You can snorkel in the clear waters of a mangrove creek with loads of fish, mud crabs, turtles, stingrays and the incredible mangrove root system.


1300km north of Perth.


Karijini National Park costs $10 vehicle entry.

Karijini Eco Retreat campsites are $17 a double a night. Eco tents without ensuite are $140 a night and with ensuite, $270 a double a night. Three-hour walks with guide are $20 per person.

Discovery Sailing Adventures overnight cruises are $200 per person for between four and six passengers. All meals and activities are included. Bookings are essential. people.

For more information

Karijini Eco Retreat
206 Adelaide Terrace
Perth 6000
Ph: (08) 9425 5591
Fax: (08) 9425 5566

Discovery Sailing Adventures
1 Marine Parade
Dampier 6713
Ph: (08) 9144 4600

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