Pilbara, June 3-10 2004

The Pilbara is the region of Western Australia which occupies the "top left corner" of the continent. There's very little there, truth be told, but it does have 2 world class tourist attractions: Ningaloo Reef, just off the coast, and Karijini National Park, which is a few hours inland by car. Everything else in the region - which means a handful of small towns and a few thousand people - is there because of the business of mining for iron ore. Since the cool season was upon us Tina and I decided to do a road trip to explore the highlights of this region. 8 days and 3,600km (2,250 miles) later, this is the story of what we did and what we saw. You can read this if you want, or you can just look at the photos.

Day 1 - The Drive North

5:23am. Boy, that's early, but that was the time Tina backed the car off the drive and headed off along Whitfords Avenue towards the highway north. The car was packed. I mean really packed. We'd tried to put all the stuff in it so the driver had a view out of the rear window, but it had soon become clear that that wasn't going to happen. By the time we'd finished we couldn't have got another box of matches in there, let alone anything else. A lot of the space was taken up by tins of food, since we'd been warned that food stores were scarce where we were heading, and those that were there were seriously overpriced. We intended to be self sufficient, and to that end we also took water. Our friend Carina told us that Pilbara tap water was harmless to drink but tasted horrible, so she lent us her water containers. 40 litres of Perth's finest tap water came with us.

The drive we faced was 1,142km, or about 715 miles. The best way to tackle such a journey is just to get on with it. It's a lot worse thinking about it than actually doing it. Tina took the first shift because she has a tendency to fall asleep when faced with long, boring drives, and fresh out of the shower she was feeling perky. We soon left Perth behind and the sun started to come up as we made our way up the Great Northern Highway, then onto the West Costal Highway. It's a photographer's dream at that time of the morning - deep golden light across the agricultural areas of Western Australia. No time for stopping though. We really wanted to be at our destination - the hamlet of Coral Bay - before dusk, which would be about 5:30pm.

The hours passed and so did the kilometres. Tina's egg sandwiches were consumed at a roadhouse, then Tina drove again, then slept while I drove. I can't sleep in a car, so while Tina was driving we chatted and listened to music. When it was my shift I almost lost the Highway in Geraldton, but somehow managed to keep on it despite making a few best-guess turns at a couple of roundabouts. I once came this way as a young backpacker in the early '90s, but none of it was in the slightest bit familiar.

By the time we got to the little town of Carnarvon we were getting pretty tired and were swapping drivers every hour. But the end was in sight. Like a long plane journey, the last hour or two really dragged, but eventually we spotted the turn off to Coral Bay. Those last 14km passed with us scanning the horizon for signs the Indian Ocean, which we hadn't seen for several hours. No sooner had it popped into view than we rumbled into Coral Bay. I'd phoned ahead to check the location of the campsite Carina had recommended to us. "There's only one street in Coral Bay, and we're the first campsite on the left as you enter" were the not especially complicated directions I'd received. They proved to be accurate and as easy to follow as they were to write down.

The nice lady at reception gave us a choice of pitches so we went to have a look at them. They were all much the same, and all had one thing in common - sprinklers. For some reason the campsite had chosen to water the empty pitches 24 hours a day. If there were any grass there, that would make sense, but since there was nothing but dirt, it seemed rather odd. Did I say dirt? I meant, of course, mud. We chose the driest of the pitches and, after establishing that the water was brackish, hot (I presume it came from a deep bore) and couldn't be turned off, I dragged the sprinklers as far away as I could and Tina backed the car in.

Tired, and with only about 30 minutes daylight left, we got to work. I pitched the tent and blew up the inflatable mattress while Tina got out the camping chairs, table and stove (all borrowed). We heated up some leftovers which we'd bought with us in a coldbox and sat, too exhausted to move, as it got dark. Coral Bay is in the tropics so it gets dark quickly when the sun has gone below the horizon. Unable to do much we slung everything either in the tent or in the car and went to bed.

Day 2 >>>

See the photos!