Before heading eastward across the Gary Junction Road we spent a few days exploring some highlights of the Pilbara region in northern Western Australia.
At completion of Shane’s trip across the Len Beadell outback road network Suzzanne flew into Port Hedland to join Shane for the homeward trip that would take a few weeks to cross the deserts from WA through the NT to Queensland – essentially a coast to coast expedition from western to east coasts of Australia with some side trips along the way.
Karijini National Park
First stop was a few days to check out Karijini National Park, jewel of the Pilbara. The park runs along southern side of the Hammersley Ranges where it encompasses a labyrinth of deep gorges containing spring fed creeks and waterholes.
First hint of the park’s grandeur comes when the Great Northern Highway passes through the Munjina Gorge, on eastern fringe of the park.
To help navigate the many gorges and trails the WA Parks has provided free downloadable Smartreka maps that can be viewed on the Avenza Maps app – though be sure to download them before heading into the park as there is no mobile coverage at the camp ground.
We set ourselves up at Dale’s Campground, which was fully booked, but wide spacing of the camp sites made sure it didn’t feel overcrowded. From here we set out to hike a few trails and explore Karajini’s renowned gorges.
A good place to start is the Karijini Visitor Centre where staff can provide maps along with tips on trails and attractions to suit your fitness level and interests. We started our wanderings in the Dales Recreation Area which includes Class 3 and 4 trails into Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool and Dale’s Gorge.
The following day we headed across to the Weano Recreation Area where we checked out the many lookouts around the gorge rim and then followed the Class 4 Upper Weano Gorge track. Despite a dull day with grey skies the scarlet red rock faces of the gorges and cliff lines popped, with the different layers of stratification highlighted against spinifex terraces like some sort of giant layered cake.
Nullagine mining area
Our first stop after leaving Karijini was to refuel at the Auski Roadhouse near Munjina before turning eastward toward Roy Hill. This is a gravel road that is well maintained given that it services some of Australia’s largest iron ore mines. While travelling across the road we came across a couple of locals taking opportunity to soak up some sunshine…
From Roy Hill we joined the northbound road to reach Nullagine township for lunch, although there was not much sign of life so we settled for something from our own supplies eaten at the well fitted out rest area opposite the pub.
Another turn to the east saw us on the ominously named Skull Springs Road, a good gravel road that wanders through old gold mining fields. There was plenty of evidence that prospecting and mining is still underway, plus a few abandoned mine sites along the roadside from the area’s hey days.
We were headed for Running Waters Waterhole but before getting there light rain started to fall, making the gravel road sticky and spraying the rig with red Pilbara mud. Finding the waterhole itself is a little tricky with no signage, it was only with guidance of the Hema map that we found the area tucked into river bed of the Oakover River.
After an aborted attempt to clamber the rig across the rock strewn river bed we backed out and opted for a camp site on higher ground, both in case the river level rose through the night but mainly because it offered a much flatter and easier camp site. This spot, surrounded by white ghost gums and with light rain, was pretty but also a little spooky as darkness fell.
We later walked down to the hot spring fed waterhole and it made for a very serene setting, but muddy approaches and the chilly rainy weather made us opt to stay dry rather than take a dip.
It continued to rain through the night so we woke early, packed up and hit the road, electing to find a higher drier place to stop for breakfast. A roadside truck parking bay provided the perfect place, with the day now warmer thanks to a clear blue sky.
This was also a good time to drop tyre pressures in readiness for the long haul across the Gary Junction Road, that I expected to be rough and corrugated. While doing this I noticed a piece of tree root had driven itself under bead of the front right tyre while we were trying to cross the Oakover River bed – although the tyre wasn’t leaking air I took the time to fully deflate it and remove the debris before the stake caused further damage.
Telfer Mine Road
To reach start of the Gary Junction Road we headed eastward to Kunawarritji, following the Telfer Mine Road for just over 100km.
In a previous blog I touched on our wet and muddy trip along the Telfer Road, which suffered from the over night rainfall to become a wet sticky mess. Check out this previous blog for more details… LINK
After slipping and sliding on the muddy road past Telfer Mine we then joined the 317km long Kiwirrkurra Road that skirted across top of the Karlamilyi National Park and past Punmu Community before reaching Kunawarritji, staging point for our trip across the Gary Junction Road.
Kunawarritji was established in the early 1980s by the local indigenous Martu people, as an extension of the Punmu community further to the west. Set up deliberately on the Canning Stock Route to service outback travellers, the community store and roadhouse here provides a decent selection of groceries and hardware items and is the last refuelling point before entering the Gibson Desert.
At $3.10/litre it wasn’t the dearest diesel we encountered and seems reasonable given how remote the community is. Before establishment of Kunawarritji community it was necessary to arrange a fuel drop here if traversing the Canning Stock Route or Gary Junction Road, so convenience of a roadhouse with fuel on tap is a big improvement for those planning WA desert travel logistics.
We made camp for the night just east of the community at Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, a well known landmark along the iconic 1,850km long off-road track that is high on the list of must-drive routes for many 4WD enthusiasts. For those interested in the very first motor vehicle traverse of the complete CSR check out this account written by Russell Wenholz – “Along the Canning Stock Route“.
From here we will continue eastward on the Gary Junction Road – check out our next blog to join the adventure 😉