The Pilbara (pronounced as “Pillbra”) is a large, dry, thinly populated region in the north of Western Australia known for its vast mineral deposits, in particular iron ore. It is one of nine regions of the Regional Development Commissions Act 1993, and is also a bioregion under the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA).
You cannot begin to understand how vast the Australian Outback is until you drive across it (or some part of it) and see the unending landscape pass by hour after hour. And so our trip ran along, hour by hour, day by day. I’m not saying that it was boring, quite to the contrary, we had a smashing time. I was surrounded by 8 enthusiastic travelers with diverse backgrounds and experiences, an experienced driver and guide, beautiful landscapes, nature and wildlife and interesting stops along the way. After our unique and rewarding experience with the dolphins at <Monkey Mia> we had several additional stops on our way heading north along the western Australian coast.
Our first stop north of Monkey Mia was the beautiful river that snaked its way in a double horseshoe around a unique geological formation that made a natural archway called Nature’s Window. We exited our bus and (as at every other stop so far) we were immediately bombarded by thousands of flies. Not since Iraq had I seen so many flies and I tried my best to ignore them as we walked along the path from the parking lot to the edge of the canyon. We were parked up high on the mesa above the river bed and as we approached I could see the river as it snaked its way towards us and then away, towards us and then away again. The green water of the river contrasted against the green scrub-brush and the deep blue sky and I was again reminded of the beauty of this land.
We walked along the foot path and then reached the end of the trail where we saw the archway that we had read about in our brochures on the bus. I was happily surprised at the structure of the archway as it was not only one of the most unique rock formations that I had ever seen but that it also provided some beautiful and spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
We posed for individual and group photos in front of Nature’s Window (above) and enjoyed the view for as much time we had before we had to return to our bus to continue our trek north. Our next stop took us to Shark Bay and an amazing view of a beautiful cove that serves as a shark nursery in the springtime. While we were out of season to observe sharks the signs said that mother and baby sharks and sand-rays can be observed swimming in the shallow waters from this “high-up” observation area. The white sands of the coast contrasted beautifully with the shallow green waters and the dark blue water of the deep ocean.
Our next stop took us to (what was described as) a VERY unique geological formation called The Stramatolites. Sorta like coral reef but much older, the Stramatolites have been around for millions of years. The plaque at the entrance to the park says that these living rocks are found only here and one other location in the world and this makes these rocks a very rare and unique formation. Hmmm… well, I looked at them and they looked like a big pile of rocks to me. In fact, they didn’t even look like coral reef at all but instead just a pile of rocks just below the ocean’s surface. We all took a few photos of them, shrugged and then admired the beautiful ocean view. Fortunately, the park designers built a long 100 meter boardwalk out into the ocean so that visitors could see the Stramatolites. This boardwalk provided a beautiful walk and access to view the sea beyond the shore that was quite unlike anything that I’d ever seen. We took the opportunity to make some group photos and to take some photos with friends. As I look at my photos of the Stramatolites I find that the photos of my fellow travelers are much more interesting.
And so, while I enjoyed the park, I didn’t really think that the Stramatolites were any big deal. Maybe one has to be a geologist to appreciate them.
Somewhere near Shark Bay I suggested that we pick up a carton of beer for a party at our next overnight stop. A few of us pitched in (most of us in the back of the bus) and soon we had a cold case of beer. On a side note, they don’t call a case of beer a “case” of beer in Australia: it is called a “carton.” A few times I’d said, “I’d like a carton of beer,” and I was met with confused looks. A case of beer in Australia can also be called a “two-four” but no one seems to know what a case is. The rules of our Western Exposure Tour explicitly stated that alcohol consumption was not allowed on the bus – so we made sure to keep it on the ‘down low’ so that Mick wouldn’t have plausible deniability. Having a cold beer while watching the beautiful Australian Outback pass by is certainly a wonderful way to spend some hard-earned vacation time. Of course, we made sure that our ‘precious cargo’ was belted in for road safety:
Our last stop before Exmouth was the one of the most beautiful that I’d seen so far. Unfortunately, it was raining. Our beautiful weather had been dashed by a storm but we decided to take a walk on the beach anyways. I was most impressed with Coral Bay: the water was so clear and the color was pale baby blue caused by the white sand beneath the shallow water. I knew that I’d be coming back and I hoped that warmer weather would prevail. A local jewelry vendor runs a store in Coral Bay and it is the ONLY place where one can find a good deal. I picked up a beautiful shell necklace for my Mom for Mother’s Day. Everything else in Coral bay is 100% to 400% higher than in the rest of the world; imagine paying $15 for a hamburger or $8 for a beer. Mick explained that one man owned most of the town and charged exorbitant rents and prices. If it wasn’t for the beautiful scenery no one would come.
I have a gazillion pics of Coral Bay but Mom has been after me to post more pics of her son, so here is one for her:
We waded up to our knees in the rain to get past some rocks that separate the beaches and despite the rain we had a smashing time. I shot this pic of my travel comrades as we trooped back to our tour bus:
Along the way north we chatted and talked and I got to know Michelle and Ronnie from Hong Kong a bit more. Michelle is an avid photographer and is the only other traveler who was packing an SLR camera. We compared pics and exchanged pointers and as the sun set we shot some pics to capture the stunning sunsets. I must have taken a hundred photos of the sunsets this evening and picking out only one or two was very difficult. As we drove along in our bus with Mick’s soundtrack playing on the stereo I just thought about how beautiful this place was and how lucky I was to have the chance to travel here.
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