Our overnighter at the Port Hedland Golf Club was very pleasant. While the car park was red dirt, the Club’s hospitality was brilliant. The bar staff, all Kiwi’s from Kaitaia, gave us keys to the Clubhouse so we could access the toilets and bathroom after hours, they provided us with free WiFi and access to the Clubs bar facility. If we were going back that way again, we would certainly pop in. Many thanks guys.
Monday morning we drove back onto the North West Coastal Highway and made our way south. Our first stop for the day was at a little village called Roebourne. Roebourne is 200 km south of Port Headland and is a former goldrush town in Western Australia Pilbara region. While there is not too much to see, the town’s effort to restore their original town buildings to give an insight into the early pioneer times is worthy of the stop.
One of the navigator’s projects on this part of our journey is to photograph as many of the West Coast wildflowers that she can find. The area has 12,000 species of the flowering plants but there are 224 of them that we are likely to see as we travel along the highways. Flowering normally occurs between June and October so we are in the area at the best time.
Our next stop after Roebourne was 40km further on at the town of Karratha. Karratha is the town adjoining the port of Dampier in the Pilbara region and was developed in the 1960’s to house the processing and exportation workers of the Hammersley Iron Mining Company. In the 1980’s the town grew even further with the influx of workers from the North West Shelf Venture petroleum and liquefied gas operations.
The size of the town took us by surprise. We thought it was going to be quite small when in fact it ‘relatively’ large with a population of around 17,000. It has a modern shopping complex, some very new apartment complexes directly on the water and plenty of green gardens and lawns. We were hoping to catch up with Tunui while we were there but unfortunately he was back in New Zealand with his ‘new bride’. We made time to take a quick lunch in the town then carried on south. By this time it was around 3pm in the afternoon so we drove another 150km and spent the night at the Robe River Rest Area. It was nothing flash but it was free, flat, safe and a good nights stop.
On Tuesday morning the original plan was to drive directly to Exmouth but unfortunately we had under estimated the distance to travel against our fuel remaining (the Captain has taken responsibility for the error). Rather than create an embarrassing situation and get ourselves stranded on the side of the road, we did a wee divert (110km) to the Manilya River Roadhouse, fuelled up then made our way up the Manilya Exmouth Road as far a Coral Bay. That was us for the day – in fact that was us for two days.
Coral Bay is a small settlement that lies protected from the Indian Ocean by the Ningaloo reef. It is Australia’s only fringing reef where the coral starts right at the waters edge. While there was heaps of ‘tourist’ opportunity here in the form of glass bottom boats that will take you out to the main reef itself, because the coral starts at the beach all that is really need are a snorkel, eyepiece and fins to view tropical fish and the coral. We had luckily bought our snorkelling gear across with us so we spend a lovely Wednesday on the beach and in the water. For the fisho’s amongst you, some of the fish we saw were stunning. The huge norwest snapper were coming up to the beach and swimming around your legs. The temptation was almost toooo much!!
Thursday morning it was a reluctant goodbye to Coral Bay and onto Exmouth. The town is at the tip of the North West Cape in Western Australia and 1200km north of Perth. Of interest to the Captain was that Exmouth was established in 1967 to support the nearby US Naval Communications Station Harold E Holt. On Friday morning we took a drive just north of Exmouth to the station to have a look around. Obviously security is very tight so going inside was out of the question but with the station being situated directly beside the road so it was relatively easy to identify what part was what. The aerial farms are massive and take up much of the areas ‘spare land’. We were told that the location was first used as a military base in World War II.
On Friday afternoon we drove north and cruised around the Exmouth peninsula. Our first stop was the Viamingh Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is on the tip of the peninsula on the highest point of land and 17km north of Exmouth. It was built in 1912 to aid in the development of marine navigation along the western coastline of Australia and as a direct result of the wrecking of the SS Mildura in 1907. We were able to get some great shots of the surrounding area.
On leaving the lighthouse we carried on a further 50km down the eastern side of the peninsula to our intended destination, Turquoise Bay. Turquoise Bay is the highlight of the Cape Range National Park beaches and is a crystal clear lagoon beside the Ningaloo Reef that offers great snorkelling. We had taken our gear with us so spent a pleasant afternoon cruising around the lagoon and as close to the reef as the currents would allow. Our only regret is that we did not have an underwater camera to capture the stunning marine life we saw n the lagoon.
Today is our last day in Exmouth. The normal pre-departure domestics have been completed i.e. we are refuelled, topped up with water, LPG, groceries and both vehicles thoroughly checked. We still managed to explore more of the coastline today and spend a bit of time relaxing at a local beach.
Our plan tomorrow is to drive to 370km south to Carnavon and spend a next couple of days there. There a one or two ‘must sees’ in that area and we think two days should do it.