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Starting your drive in the East Pilbara.
Starting your drive in the East Pilbara.
On the road.
Taking a long-deserved dip in the Coongan River.

Newman Drive

Thursday, June 28, 2001
Take a drive in the vast desert of Western Australia, from the sandy desert to lush green land!

In the vast desert of Western Australia are the world's greatest deposits of iron ore, the necessary ingredient for steel. In the 31 years since it has been worked, 800 million tonnes of high-grade ore have been mined; half of it being exported to Japan. It is estimated 33 billion tonnes of iron ore remain in the earth, and eventually, the miners will reach a depth of 350m.

The eastern Pilbara is isolated and inhospitable, with summer heat constantly around 40 degrees Celsius, accompanied by hot winds from the Great Sandy Desert. On the drive between Newman and Marble Bar, you will pass over 52 creek beds, most are easy to cross. The best time to do the drive is from June to August.

Newman is a large, modern town, built by BHP for its workers in 1968. There was a time when mine workers were the only people permitted to live there, but that changed when it was handed over to the East Pilbara Shire Council in 1981. Fifty percent of its residents work at the mine and the rest run businesses in the town, or work for government departments and tourism operations.

For a desert town, Newman is surprisingly lush and green year round, thanks to the 13-square-kilometre Ophthalmia Dam. It not only supplies water to this otherwise arid land, but provides recreation. Each year, there is a sailing regatta held on the dam, and at other times, locals use it as a picnic spot. Newman boasts many parks and gardens and is a popular place for tourists interested in seeing the Mount Whaleback Mine, the waterhole circuit and the glorious annual display of Western Australian wildflowers.

The Mount Whaleback Mine is the largest open-cut, single-deposit, iron-ore mine in the world. It employs around 740 people representing 30 nationalities. 10,000 visitors do the mine tour each year. You will see the crushing areas and, from the Whitehouse — or production office, you can look into the 300m pit. From that vantage point, everything falls into perspective.

Heading north along a mostly unsealed, but comfortable road, in two hours you will reach Nullagine where place diamonds were discovered in Western Australia. Around 130 people and four camels call it home, and the residents spend their time fossicking for gold, gemstones and various minerals. The tiny town has a pub, a general store and a park, a school and a police station and lots of large, magnificent gum trees.

Nullagine has gorges and wild flowers, but most people visit there for the fossicking, usually in winter, as the summer heat is too intense for those not used to it.

Another two hours further on, you will reach Marble Bar, the hottest place in Australia. In the 1920s, there were 160 days with temperatures of over 37 degrees Celsius. Marble Bar has a post office, general store, garage, caravan park, school, old people's home, cemetery and two hotels, The Ironclad and the Travellers Stop.

Around 200km inland from the coast, Marble Bar was proclaimed in 1893 after gold was discovered in the Coongan River. This resulted in the Comet Gold Mine, where lucky prospectors found some huge nuggets, such as the Bobby Dazzler, which weighed a healthy 11,700 grams! It closed in 1994 but continues to operate as a tourist attraction.

Marble Bar is surrounded by rocky ridges formed by ancient volcanic activity and large tracts of granite covered with savanna grasslands. A number of historic buildings remain and are in use, and the historic Ironclad Hotel, dating back to 1893, is a feature of the town that should not be missed.

Just out of town, you can visit Chinaman's Pool and the Marble Bar Pool, a field of jasper and a flying fox to take you across the river.


From Newman to Marble Bar, in Western Australia's Pilbara.


Mount Whaleback Mine tours cost $8 for adults and $5 for children.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Comet Gold Mine: Ph: (08) 9176 1015
Ironclad Hotel: Ph: (08) 9176 1066
Mount Whaleback Mine Tour: Ph: (08) 9175 3502
Nullagine Caravan Park: Ph: (08) 9176 2090
Pilbara Tourism: Ph: (08) 9185 5455

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