If you are the kind of person that LOVES road trips, driving in the outback is probably for you. A love of the desert and quiet serenity doesn’t hurt; we might only pass another car every 2 or 3 hours. One BIG benefit to the wide open spaces out here is that you can just pull off to the side of the road and camp wherever you want. Wherever we pulled over to camp we found sufficient wood pieces to build a small fire and we enjoyed the bright stars and the tranquil wilderness.
The nearest town to Karijini is Tom Thumb – there you’ll find a visitor center with maps and supply and grocery stores. I found a little coffee shop café & took the opportunity to purchase my last “real” coffee before we began our camping.
For those of you that are traveling to Karijini from the west, I’m including copies of my maps below. You might find them helpful in planning your trip before you come out and purchase your own maps. Be sure to fill up your vehicle with gas and fill your water tanks at EVERY chance – a few times we pulled up to service stations a bit low on gas. The area is very remote and services are quite spread out. Heading east from the coast on Burkett Road and then further east on the West Coastal Road, the first gas opportunity from Exmouth is at the Nanutarra Homestead (see maps below).
When we reached the Paraburdoo turnoff near Rocklea Homestead we debated the pros and cons of taking the paved road through Paraburdoo or taking the dirt road that ran northeast directly to Tom Thumb. We decided on the dirt road and it wasn’t too bad. The red dirt road was well maintained and we were able to drive at between 50 and 80 kilometers per hour (approx 30 to 50 mph). When the road was straight and flat we could go a little faster but had to slow when we reached dry creek beds and turns.
Near Nameless Valley we passed a huge iron ore mine and I pulled over to shoot a photo. A never ending line of massive dump trucks carried ore down from the mine to waiting railroad cars. Bucket loaders scooped the ore and put it into the waiting railroad cars that would later drive north to the coast for offloading to ore ships. Most of the ore (if not all of it) is shipped to Asia (China) to be made into steel for automobiles and other industrial purposes. Australia’s rich mineral assets helped it to avoid the 2008 worldwide recession – as far as I can tell the Australian economy is humming along at a strong pace.
In the town of Tom Thumb we made lunch in our little white Wicked Campervan. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Andrea, a treat she had never tried before. I was quite surprised to learn that the PB & J sandwich wasn’t well known down under. She liked it and it became a regular treat for the rest of our trip. We filled the gas tank and began our drive to Karijini excited to see the river gorges that looked so beautiful in the tourist postcards.
As we neared the park we ran into an occasional truck and we would wave to the other tourists; the infrequency of other travelers added to the feeling of remoteness here. We didn’t find a park ranger at the park entrance. Instead we found a small booth with envelopes and a drop box. After depositing our park entrance fees into the deposit envelope, we tore off the attached receipt and placed it on our dashboard.
At the park entrance I looked around before snapping some photos. In the photo below you can get a good idea of what the Karijini landscape is like. The unseasonal rains added a nice splash of green but most of the landscape was semi-arid plains and hills. The ground has a red color from the rusted iron ore in the soil. The spring grasses were yellowed and I noticed that almost every color of the rainbow was represented in the landscape: blue skies, green leaves, red earth and yellow grasses.
We climbed back into the van and drove into the park wanting to see the famous canyons before the sun set.
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