North West Coastal Highway
- This article is an itinerary.
The North West Coastal Highway is in Western Australia and runs from Geraldton in the mid-west to Port Hedland in the north. It is numbered highway One - and is an extension of the Brand Highway that runs from near Perth to Geraldton.
Its an amazing trip, and including the Brand highway, the trip from Perth to Port Hedland is over 1,700 km. To get a sense of that distance, the trip from Adelaide to Perth is close to 2,700 km. But this route is travelling into the Mid West, and Pilbara regions of Western Australia that are
The Highway goes past some of the most impressive coastline in Australia.
To understand the trip is not just the length, but the range of climates, and the sheer size of Western Australia can be appreciated by travelling this highway. You pass over the Tropic of Capricorn just north of the Minilya roadhouse (near the Lyndon River), as well as through a region with some of the largest iron ore deposits in the world just inland from your route, and some of the oldest rock on the planet.
Its a great trip and a busy highway, you need to be prepared for long sections between roadhouses, as well as hot long boring sections, good food supplies and water supplies are worth getting at the larger stops like Geraldton and Carnarvon.
As an itinerary this trip can be spread out in time as long as you can afford, as there are stopping places, and regions that can consume time.
From Perth, travel north along Great Northern Highway, turn left at Brand Highway, and continue through to Geraldton to reach the southern end of North West Coastal Highway. Other routes can be taken to reach Brand Highway near Dongara, such as Wanneroo Road and then Indian Ocean Drive from Perth's north-west, or The Midlands Road from Moora.
From the state's north or the Northern Territory, travel along Great Northern Highway to Port Hedland. The northern end of North West Coastal Highway is about 30 kilometres beyond the Port Hedland turnoff.
Between Geraldton and Carnarvon, the highway passes through remote and dry semi-desert areas. There are no towns along the highway for about 400 km, with several roadhouses being the only settlements. Travellers are advised to bring adequate drinking water as the roadhouses do not provide it for free. On this stretch, a turnoff at the Overlander Roadhouse leads to Shark Bay with its world-famous Monkey Mia via a stretch of road known as World Heritage Drive.
Carnarvon, the only town between Geraldton and Karratha, marks a change in climate. Bananas and other subtropical fruits are grown here. Unlike the subtropical areas on the east coast, the climate is much drier, but Carnarvon is also notorious as one of Western Australia's windiest locations.
Further north, the highway passes through desert and becomes very flat. Bridges span many creeks and rivers, which from the distance can be spotted by stands of eucalyptus which grow along their courses towering above the surrounding spinifex and mulga plants. Most of the time these creeks and rivers are dry; however between November and April, the passage of cyclones and other rain bearing depressions can cause the rivers to rise from dry to over 10 metres deep in less than a day.
Near Minilya Roadhouse is the turnoff to the North West Cape area which is home to the tourist destinations of Cape Range National Park, Coral Bay and Exmouth. Exmouth is also home to the US Navy communications base.
Further north the road goes inland and crosses the Ashburton River near Nanutarra Roadhouse. Nearby is the access road to the mining towns of Tom Price, Paraburdoo and the former asbestos ghost town, Wittenoom. The following turnoff leads to the coastal town of Onslow. After crossing the Robe River, Fortescue River, and Maitland River, the highway reaches Karratha. Karratha, together with its nearby sister town Dampier, is home to the North West Shelf oil & gas project, and the Pilbara's number two iron ore exporting port. A little further east, Roebourne is the gateway to Wickham, the nearby ghost town of Cossack, and Point Samson, the region's number three iron ore port. The highway finishes near Port Hedland, the region's number one iron ore port and one of the largest towns in Western Australia's northwest, with 15,000 residents.
The remoteness of the northwest can be gauged by the number of roadhouses serving the highway, which are the only settlements for some of the long stretches of the highway. Significant distances separate larger towns such as Geraldton, Carnarvon and Port Hedland with extensive rangeland expanses. The highway provides access to some of the better known tourist destinations in the North West of Western Australia.
The highway has long monotonous sections where drivers fall asleep at the wheel - be vigilant in watching other vehicles movememnts and behaviour. The roadhouses along the route are excellent stops for coffee or stretching the legs, and have sufficient facilities for drivers on the long stages of the route.
If riding at dawn or dusk expect wildlife that goes to the roadside, and be vigilant at that time for tired truck drivers not paying attention. Where necessary if a road train is in the vicintiy, pull off the road and wait for it to pass if in doubt as to its capacity to slow down while passing you. Also never attempt to pass a road train unless you are 100% sure you can see the road ahead. Road trains can be long, you'll generally need several kilometres of empty straight road ahead to be able to safely overtake a road train.
- Return to Perth along the inland route - south along the Great Northern Highway that goes via Newman and Meekatharra
- Go further up the coast, from Port Hedland to Broome along the Great Northern Highway