From Karijini National Park, we arrived at Tom Price running on fumes. Tom Price is 50kms west of the Karijini boundary and a further 50kms from our camp inside the park at Dales. The Landy had been fuelled in Newman before heading to Karijini, but with getting there and all the running around to gorges and so forth, the tide was fast receding in the fuel tank. What was left in the diesel jerry can on the Kruiser was transferred to the Landy, just enough to see us into Tom Price.
We’d been on solar for the previous six days, battery power was at 100% every day, but our water and fuel had been steadily running down. Being the nearest town for quite some distance around, we headed to Tom Price to refuel, rewater, restock, and have a good long shower or two. It is the highest town in WA at 747 metres above sea level, and is primarily a mining town centred on the Mount Tom Price iron ore mine operated by Rio Tinto. Di had a sore back so we stayed two days to rest it.
Leaving Tom Price, we skirted around Karijini National Park back to the Great Northern Highway in the east, via the unsealed Nanutarra Road along the western boundary of the park and then along the northern boundary on the unsealed Munjina Wittenoom Road, that took us through to the Auski Roadhouse. Along the way, we detoured into Hamersley Gorge for a look, down a steep road to the parking area next to the gorge itself. There was a turnaround at the bottom but nowhere to park the van except on a rather sloping section of gravel off the road. Wouldn’t hurt for a sign at the top warning “No caravans beyond this point”. Anyway, I chocked the van, we had a quick look at the gorge and the rig was still there when we got back.
Just a little further along Nanutarra Road, the road narrows to a single lane that winds down through Tom Price Gorge. You have to call ahead on the CB to ensure the road is clear of oncoming traffic before heading in. As luck would have it, on the narrow gorge section we came across a semitrailer lowloader hauling a 60 tonne mining truck, blocking the road while two flat tyres were being changed. We pulled up and chatted to the drivers and managed to squeeze the van through between it and the gorge wall. It pays to have a narrow van.
Our intended camp site was Indee Station, 200kms north of Auski Roadhouse. For a lunch stop, we pulled off the highway about 40kms north of the roadhouse and followed a track for a couple of kilometres to a bore, water trough and small dam on Mulga Downs Station. Di had a scout around for birds and was pleased to see some Painted Finches and Zebra Finches, and a hundred or so white Corellas were adorning the small trees beside the dam. There were signs of previous campsites around the bore and being such a pleasant spot in among the spinifex with the low Chichester Ranges in the distance, we stayed the night, just us and a small mob of Droughtmaster cattle around the dam. From dog tracks around the van the next morning, a dingo must have checked us out during the night.
This was our first free-camp in WA that didn’t have litter spread around everywhere, because I guess it wasn’t a designated rest area and didn’t have any bins. Might sound strange – no litter because no bins. Bins at WA rest areas are steel drums with hinged open-mesh tops, presumably designed to contain the rubbish from the wind. However, they aren’t emptied often enough so the contents build up, enabling crows to pull plastic bags and paper up through the mesh and drop it around the base of the bin to be blown everywhere. Good design on the drawing board but effective only as Crow Feeders if not serviced regularly.
The next day, we travelled about 500kms, north for a quick stop on the coast at Port Hedland for fuel and then further along the Great Northern Highway north-east to a small bush camp on Mandora Station south of the Sandfire Roadhouse. A track from the highway took us about 500 metres into the scrub and, like the night before, we had the place to ourselves with just the occasional big Droughtmaster wandering around. We stayed there two days, the second day overcast and very hot until the temperature eased off after sunset. There were very few birds for Di due to the lack of water, but we did come across recent camel tracks in the red sand.
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” – Ray Bradbury