Journey into the Pilbara

When we left Ningaloo and joined the mainland the scenery quickly changed and we were looking at deep orange undulating sand dunes with small shrubs and purple wildflowers! It was very pretty and we stopped to take photos and soak it in. We made camp at a 24hr roadside stop (which are free) and met a really nice old guy who was traveling on his own in an old Land Cruiser which he had made by hand to look like a Kenwood Truck. He even showed us his new Jayco caravan, which was pretty neat. The roadside stop was pretty full already and we definitely didn’t want to camp by the loos, so we took a drive over the other side of the highway and found it to be much quieter. After a short protest from me, Dave drove across the dry river bed and we found a perfect spot for a private camp. The best part was that we could have a fire as it wasn’t a national park!

On our way out we got flagged down by some grey nomads who’s car had conked out and wanted a lift to Fortesque to call the RAC. We weren’t heading that way and I had reception so we let them make a call from my phone. They were very appreciative and we left feeling good that we’d been able to help. Pannawonica marked our first step into Iron Ore Country. There isn’t much to report on Pannawonica, it’s purely a mining town except for 1 week a year when it hosts the Pannawonica Rodeo which draws a huge crowd from the Northwest. Unfortunately for us this wasn’t that week so we pushed on. The road was all unsealed from there down to Millstream-Chichester National Park and soon we were kicking up red dust like nobody’s business!

Millstream was practically deserted and we only saw a couple of people at the Visitor Centre – which was similarly unmanned. We toured round the various campsites and none really took our fancy. Crossing Pool would have been nice except for the 100′s of Corellas squawking in the trees. After our experience with the birds in Kalbarri, we thought best to leave them to it rather than get covered in bird poo! So we drove up to the Chichester section of the park and checked out Python Pool. It’s a deep pool at the base of a cliff, but the waterfall wasn’t running. We camped in Chichester the night and didn’t see a soul, so peaceful.

Next stop was Tom Price which was another 250km down the red dirt road. We booked into the caravan park which was surprisingly nice and cheap so we decided to stay 2 nights. By now the car was covered in a thick layer of red dust and so were we, so the showers were a godsend! We had a tipoff from some grey nomads that there was a good buffet dinner in town where all the miners come for their meals. Theirs are covered by Rio but we paid $25 for an all you can eat buffet and it was worth every cent. The food was good and it was fascinating people watching and learning more about the miners lifestyle.

Mining truck, Tom Price, The Pilbara

We also booked on a mining tour of the Rio Tinto operations at Tom Price. Tom Price is a mining town, but not just any mining town, discovery of iron ore here and the subsequent operations kicked off the mining boom in the Pilbara. It was it was great to see the operations of the mine and our guide was very knowledgable. Everything over here is on a massive scale. For example The trains that transport the iron ore to the coast have 3 engines, are 2.5km long consisting of 234 carriages, each carrying 200 tonnes, with 6 trains a day heading out of Tom Price bound for the Chinese. Selling at approx $100 a tonne and costing only $10 per tonne to collect – seems like pretty good profit margins to us! Colin or Jules, can either of you verify this?? The guy seemed like a bit of a drunk :-)

Its a rather sad story about how Tom Price got its name. It is named after Thomas Price, an American Geologist who was instrumental in identifying the iron ore deposits and getting the approvals through, together with Lang Hancock to mine the area. Tom took ill for a few years but went back to work against his wife’s wishes. On the day he returned to work, they received the approval to start mining and Tom was a very happy man knowing all the hard work had come to fruition. Subsequently he went back to his office and thats where he died. They named the mountain and the town after him as a memorial.

We’ve added the photos for this section to the The Pilbara.

T x

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3 thoughts on “Journey into the Pilbara

  1. Oooh you weren’t far from Brad’s mine there, it’s basically between Tom Price and Newman. Did you notice the smell of the red dirt, it’s got that really distinct metallic smell I reckon. Our country is so amazingly huge isn’t it, full of every type of scenery you’d ever imagine – your photos are truly amazing and have re-invigorated my desire to get up to Karijini!!!

  2. Hi T and D – glad to hear you think the Pilbra is pretty impressive – something else. as for the figures
    , they are a bit on the low side but the mining, processing and transport to the coast, blending and cost of loading the bulk carrier which is called a FoB cost (free on board) is about US$25 which still leaves a really attractive margin. So much so that “Gillian” is bringing in all sorts of taxes to try to get her hands on it and by so doing is making Australian mining companies invest overseas rather than at home.
    Enjoying the blog – enjoy – we are all jealous!!!!
    All love Cally and Wally

    • Thanks for confirming Walster! You probably noticed we took your advice and started adding a map to each blog post also, not that you need to be told where Iron Ore country is!