Western Australia’s North West

This is a very large area, covering over one million square kilometres, which includes the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia.

Starting with the Pilbara, this is ancient land, in places over two billion years old, and most of it still remains untouched by human endeavour, so they only changes to the landscape have been created over eons by wind and water.  If you’ve ever had the desire to see the Earth the way it used to be, before humans had any impact upon it, this is the place to come.

Having said that, the Pilbara is rich in minerals, so development has been taking place in the relatively recent past, and it is expanding.  With an area of 400,000 kilometres, though, mining and agriculture occur only in very small pockets of the Pilbara, and most of those are contained in isolated spots where workers commute by air every few weeks.

There are some glorious natural landscapes here, perhaps best encompassed by Karijini National Park, which is famous for its spectacular gorges, and is perfect for exploring ancient rocky tunnels or paddling through crystal-clear waterways and swimming under stunning waterfalls.

Millstream Chichester National Park is another beauty.  An oasis in arid country, here you can try some outback camping and relax in rocky pools.    

Karratha and Port Hedland are the two major Pilbara towns, and both are sustained by the onshore and offshore mining industries.  Up this way you find massive iron ore mines, which fill trains that are over three kilometres long to be hauled hundreds of kilometres to ports for export overseas.  In the Pilbara, mining takes place on a massive scale, and Karratha and Port Hedland are the conduits for that industry, and the places where you can best get an idea of how large the Pilbara mining industry is.

Just 20 kilometres west of Karratha is Dampier. Named after the English buccaneer William Dampier and built by Hamersley Iron in 1965, it’s the largest tonnage shipping port in Australia and houses the massive export facilities of Hamersley Iron, Dampier Salt and the North West Gas Shelf Project. You can join a Pilbara Iron Port facility tour and learn all about the crushing, stockpiling and loading processes.

Or, you can witness rock etchings which date back over 30,000 years on the Burrup Peninsular. Over 10,000 rock carvings, or petroglyphs, have been counted, making them one of the oldest and largest natural art galleries in the world.

Head further north in the Kimberleys and you will find another piece of the world that time forgot.  This can be tough country in its wet season (there’s only two seasons here – wet and dry, it has none of the niceties of more temperate climes), with soaring temperatures and oppressive humidity and mighty rivers rushing down towards the sea.

Don’t be put off – because in the dry season, the temperature is warm and comfortable, and the humidity scarce.  The Kimberley is the site of one of the world’s most interesting towns – Broome the centre of the pearling industry, where the people of many lands have left their influence, and its Cable Beach, a magnificent ribbon of sand that is washed by turquoise waters, welcomes everyone from camel rides for tourists to nudists alike.

Broome is the western gateway to the Kimberley, and has become ever more sophisticated as more and more resorts spring up.  From Broome its best to take a tour, or hire a vehicle, preferably four-wheel drive, in order to explore the Kimberleys.

Head up to Derby to witness the world’s second largest tides, which at their peak rise ten metres or more.  From here you can go out to see the only two waterfalls in the world which fall sideways (thanks to those massive tides).

From Derby you have two choices, head east to Fitzroy Crossing to Tunnel Creek (so called because in order to follow it you need to walk underground) and the impressive Windjana Gorge.  Or, you can head slightly north to follow the Gibb River Road, which can only be traversed in the dry season, but will take you to some very remote and spectacular country as you head towards the East Kimberley town of Kununurra.

From Kununurra or Hall’s Creek it is possible to get to Purnululu  National Park, site of the incredible Bungle Bungles, a series of sandstone domes that suddenly spring up from and tower over the grassy plains.  This is a truly awesome place, with soaring narrow chasms and huge gorges, and many species of flora and fauna that occur only here.  And if you’re not up to driving over very long distances of very bad track, then take the nest best option and head to Kununurra to hop on board a fixed wing or helicopter flight for that truly amazing experience.    

Kununurra is the major town in the East Kimberleys, and the headquarters for the Ord River Scheme.  The mighty Ord River was dammed back in the 1960s in the hope that the East Kimberleys could become the food bowl of Australia.  That dam created Lake Argyle, which is now almost the size of an inland sea.  There was a succession of agricultural disasters in the Ord Scheme, but now they have cottoned on to what really grows well there, and it is on its way to becoming the tropical fruit capital of Australia.  At Kununurra and Wyndham, a port of the Cambridge Gulf, you can see real live saltwater crocodiles in the wild – just don’t get too close.  There is stunning scenery around here, and some fabulous places to stay, including the luxury El Questro Resort.

Western Australia’s North West is a place for adventurers, but it is tinged with a bit of luxury.  If you truly want to visit a part of the world that is absolutely unique, which offers sights available nowhere else, that will give you the experience of a lifetime, and stories that will enthral family and friends, then this is the place for you.

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