The Pilbara region covers more than 505,000 square kilometres (195,000 square miles) of Western Australia. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the Northwest, the Kimberley to the North, the Northern Territory to the East and the Goldfields, Mid West and Gascoyne regions to the South.
The Pilbara is a very ancient land, with iron mining being the main industry. Like all other areas of Northern Western Australia, the Pilbara is very sparsely populated. It is a very hot area, the Marble Bar area is often quoted as the hottest place in Australia.
The Pilbara is an arid land of Old, a landscape of ancient rocks and stones, some estimated to be over 3 billion years old (!). The area is not fully barren (like the inner deserts), but is still very inhospitable, dry, and most of all extremely hot. Just like the rest of Western Australia, the Pilbara is very sparsely populated, furthermore here a good majority of the small population works for/is related to the mining industry. The scenery, however, has not been disfigured, and some beautiful natural attractions are found throughout the vast expanses of the Pilbara.
The current industry that is removing vast amounts of iron ore from the region has a very extensive affect on the landscape and the experiences of the region. Port Hedland is the main export port, and huge tonnages of iron ore are shifted out. The railways, the mine sites, and the communities are geared to the iron ore export, and very little is open for the tourist to access.
- Central Pilbara Coast is dotted with very small industrial mining towns, the largest being Port Hedland. Life there revolves around iron mining, and all shops, houses and vehicles are reddened by the iron ore.
- Karijini region, the beautiful Karijini National Park is one of the top destinations of Western Australia. Between the coast and Karijini, accessible by an unsealed track is the Millstream Chichester national park, less visited, but nonetheless worth a detour.
- Beyond Karijini, the Outback Pilbara is a large area, with few real roads, with a mixture of inhospitable desert and very featureless rangeland.
- 1 Karratha – on the coast with some diving options
- 2 Newman – a fairly big town from which to explore the surrounds
- 3 Onslow – a small coastal town near the Ashburton River, and the gateway to Mackerel Islands to dive, fish and snorkel. Also known as a magnet for cyclones.
- 4 Port Hedland – the largest town serves as a hub for the iron ore mine
- 5 Tom Price – little more than dormitories for the mining industry workers
- 1 Wittenoom – An old asbestos mining, semi-ghost town, where inhabitants were forcibly evacuated except for a few holdouts
- 2 Karijini National Park – the top destination in the Pilbara, and one of the most impressive natural attractions in Western Australia. Hundred meters deep red canyons, gorges and magnificent trekking will be the reward of the long drive from the coastal area.
- 3 Marble Bar – is believed to be one of the hottest towns in the world. Temperatures easily cross 45°C.
- 4 Millstream Chichester National Park – is on the way to Karijini, reached by unsealed track starting at a bifurcation 40 km east of Roebourne. Python Pool, a small swimmable waterhole on the track to the parks makes for a refreshing stop on the way.
- 5 Mackerel Islands – Off the coast of Onslow, the Mackerel Islands feature top fishing, a resort and is one of Western Australia's best kept diving secrets.
In the few areas where there are actually people to talk to, English should do just fine, just like in the rest of the country.
Flights from Perth are expensive, but the cost varies greatly depending on the type of ticket purchased. The less flexible "Red E-Deals" are the lowest cost, but sell out quickly. Book well ahead to ensure you get a seat at a reasonable price.
Do not be discouraged by the distances if you are adequately prepared.
There are two main sealed roads, the Great Northern Highway and the North West Coastal Highway. The Great Northern Highway passes through old gold mining towns like Cue and Meekatharra. North West Coastal Highway passes through Geraldton and Carnarvon.
The Karratha Tom Price Road (Stage 2) is a sealed link from Karratha to just short of the Millstream oasis (about 90 km). There are some spectacular views long the way. The road is not sealed all the way to Tom Price.
Coming to the Pilbara without paying a visit to Karijini would be missing a lot.
- Dampier port tour, ☏ . 9:30-11:30AM. The tour runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and go for two hours. Contact the Karratha Visitors Centre for bookings. $18.
- Cape Lambert port tour (start at Roebourne Visitor Centre), ☏ . 10AM-2PM. This tour runs from May to October on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The tour includes Roebourne, Cape Lambert port and Cossack. This tour usually books out so book at the Roebourne Visitor Centre. Dress requirement is collared shirt with sleeves and closed shoes. Cost is a donation.
Eat and drink
Eating fine delicacies should probably not be the main objective of a trip to the Pilbara. Port Hedland and Karratha are reasonable options to gather sufficient supplies to go into the outback, and are probably the only options to have a drink anyway.
Temperatures can be extreme, so the recommended choice for a drink in the area is water.
- TaTa's Cafe Restaurant, 56 Samson Road. This restaurant is attached to the Point Samson Resort. It is one of the better restaurants in the region with a good selection of seafood and meat dishes. There is one vegetarian option. But as it says on the menu - this is not fast food - so enjoy the drinks between servings.
- Moby's. The fish and chip shop below Trawler's pub. Great food that can be eaten on the outside tables or get a take away and eat on the beach. Large selection of food.
- Trawlers. A pub serving food on an upstairs, outdoor area. Serves a huge seafood platter with a large selection of food. There's a curry night on Thursday nights which is a good feed.
Accommodation anywhere in the Pilbara (but especially Port Hedland and Karratha) is likely to be in short supply at most times, and very expensive. Book well ahead to secure a room.
- Onslow Beach Resort (Ashburton Resort), Second Ave Onslow (Cnr Third St), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Located at the waterfront in Beadon Bay, the resort has dazzling ocean views.
Karijini National Park
- Karijini Eco Retreat (next to the magnificent Joffre Gorge), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. $25 for campsite up to $275 for deluxe tent.
- Point Samson Resort, 56 Samson Road, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Samson Beach Chalets, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Samson Beach Caravan Park Tavern / General Store, ☏ .
- Cove Caravan Park, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Pilbara is hot, very hot, so always carry plenty of fluids with you. Some unsealed roads are quite remote, bring extra food and extra water with you in case you leave the sealed highways (in which case a 4WD is highly recommended).
- Cyclones - during the northern 'Wet' season, Cyclones can drop a lot of water on the Pilbara, flooding rivers, as well as having a big punch with very strong damaging winds. When travelling during this time, keep up with weather reports, and make sure you are familiar with safe places to stay if you are anywhere near the path of the cyclone. If cyclones are designated in higher categories, it is well worth heading into towns with evacuation centres - they are set up for survival and with all the appropriate necessities. The national ABC radio services are worth checking for updates on conditions. Always expect delays after cyclones for facilities to recover and be repaired. It always advisable to never camp in what look like dry creek beds, flash flooding is always possible.
- Road trains are common on the Great Northern Highway in this area. Take care, as it is extremely difficult for them to brake over short distances. Passing a road train is not a good idea.
- The area around the semi ghost town Wittenoom was a large asbestos mining centre in the middle of the 20th century. Be wary if you decide to drive through the area, and do not hesitate to close the windows of your car and limit your activities outdoor. The town is to be stripped of its status, so there is a chance it will not even appear on road signs in the future.
If you are extremely well prepared for some very serious remote 4WD driving, you can reach the vast Karlamilyi National Park on the Eastern side of the Pilbara. This park is actually one of the largest National Parks in the world, but also one of the most remote and least visited. There are absolutely no facilities, stores or supply, and you will have to drive 260 km on 4WD tracks from Newman.
There are no possibilities to leave the Pilbara to the east on the ground (no tracks, even unsealed). The only way to get out the region is to the north on the Great Northern Highway or to the south.