Aus Update 16 - Tom Price,  Karratha, Exmouth & Ningaloo Reef


<Paula> 24th September 2006 - The Town of Tom Price is situated below the mountain of Tom Price, which is an opencut iron ore mine.  The maps say Mt Tom Price is over 1200m above sea level, I wonder how often they amend those figures (it gets smaller as they mine it). It seems strange that you just dig up a mountain and send it all over the world.  We checked into the only caravan park in town which was underneath a mountain by the name of Mt Nameless.  We decided to do the 4x4 track up the side of this mountain and have a look at the view.  The track takes you around the bottom of the mountain and then straight up the side.  From when we started going up there was only one corner, it was rather steep.  The Maverick walked up in low no problems, although there was some cooling off to do at the top.  It was a rather hot day and the steep hill caused some boiling of the water in the radiator.  It was interesting to watch as we climbed the hill so too the temp gauge climbed, almost like a altimeter.  Here are some photos of the Tom Price area, most taken from the top of Mt Nameless.

Tom Price the town

Mt Tom Price

Mt Nameless

25th Sep - We wandered around town and went to the information center to obtain a permit for the private road we were going to take to Karratha.  The road is owned by Hammersley Iron and follows the railway through to the coast. It is one of the most well kept and thoroughly signposted dirt roads we have travelled on so far.  The trains were cool too.  We saw five trains, four going the other way and one going the same way as us. We counted 224 carriages to two locomotives on one of the trains, they all looked roughly the same length (very long!).  This road also took us through a massive lake that is the water supply to the West Pilbara region.  It is of course a dam that causes the lake, it is a very dry area.

Just showing you the size of the tumble weeds.

Divided highway Western Australian style.

Driving into a dry river crossing, the tracks go over.

This was taken from the drivers seat looking through two of the tunnels that go under the track. It must be a huge river after rain!

I was trying to get Chris to go faster and catch it.

And we did.

<Chris> This is one for all the technical types that I know. Out here, the sun shines strongly in a pretty much cloudless sky for at least 12 hours a day. It appears that this makes solar energy a perfectly viable means of powering all manner of electrical gear that has to be located in the middle of nowhere. The most common example is the Telstra buildings dotted along the main highways. These are usually guarded behind wire fences, but as we were driving on the private railway road, they obviously felt a little safer from unknown persons/vandalism, because you could drive right up next to them. This picture shows the setup that ran the level crossing gates and lights.

We arrived in Karratha late afternoon and after briefly looking in at the visitors centre, went to find a caravan park. The first one was full, which is something we hadn't experienced to date - I hope it's not a sign of things to come as we get closer to populated areas. We ended up at the (we thought) rather pricey Big4 caravan park. I guess it's like the MacDonalds of caravan parks, you know what you're going to get and people are prepared to pay for it. We had been to plenty of other caravan parks with just as good facilities that were a lot cheaper, but we've also had some rather awful experiences too.

26th Sep -  Russells brother lives in Karratha, and Russell suggested we looked him up. We found his phone number and gave him a call, only to find he was away on holiday for a couple of weeks and there were only house sitters staying at his place - dissappointed, we were looking forward to hearing the stories of Russ that he doesn't want us to know, oh well.

For the past week or so, our fridge hadn't been staying cool overnight. It is a 3 way 240V/12V/gas powered unit and we run it on 12V in the car during the day, and on LPG when we stop overnight or longer. It appeared that the gas section just wasn't working properly. I decided to take a look at it for something obvious (there's really not that much to them), but not having anywhere to work on it, we decided that a picnic table at the beach was as good as anywhere.

The gas flame seemed a bit small and weak (the wind at the beach kept blowing it out), but the jet did not appear blocked or sooty, so I decided that the problem must be somewhere in the regulator or safety switch area and there was not much I could do. This discovered I figured we'd go and see if the local Repco would replace it under guarantee as we've only had it 2 months. Repco was very helpful, but did want to ask some technical questions with  someone on the east coast, and as it was getting on in the afternoon they asked us to come back the next day.

We drove down the road a little bit to Dampier and found there the Dampier Transit Caravan Park. Specialising in stays of less than 3 days (tourists, not semi-permanent residents) this delightful little place was right on the coast and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening with another amazing sunset, followed by lights from the port facilities.

27th Sep - We drove back to Karratha in the morning and looked around the shops. We purchased some snorkelling gear as the coast south of here is supposed to be amazing for snorkelling. We returned to Repco where they checked that we had tried all of the gas "remedies" that their technical rep had suggested (of course I had, I'm the guy that reads manuals before using things!) and as none of those had worked, they swapped our fridge for a new replacement. Since then, we've been very happy with the performance on gas. We suspect now that our original fridge had never worked properly on gas.

We got on the road heading south towards Exmouth late in the afternoon. We had decided that depending how far we got, we would just stay at a roadside rest area. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Robe River transit stop was beautiful, located right next to a full river (strange in these parts) quite a few other people had decided it was a nice place to stop too. The only real annoyance was the bull dust in the parking area, this fine talcum powder consistency dust blew around at the slightest disturbance and settled on everything.

<Paula> 28th Sep - We travelled onto Exmouth. One thing we thought was funny was the sign that warned you that the road is also the landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  Here is a photo of the end of the runway.

As we were heading into Exmouth we came across the airforce area.  We had read that Exmouth was settled because of the Navy having communications set up here in 1967, but I didn't realise that this area was also airforce and has a history with the second world war.  Exmouth is very much now a tourist town with major developments going in at the moment for a marina.  We had a look around and then went on out to stay at the Lighthouse Caravan Park.  On the way out we stopped to look at the wreck of the SS Mildura which found her spot here in 1901, the crew survived and the skipper received 6 or 8 months suspension for the incident.  All the cargo was lost or drowned, mainly bullocks.  

We also saw the navy communication towers.  We noted the sign as we were coming up the coast to town stating that no electronic detonators were allowed into the area.  I am going to let Chris talk about this, to me it looked like some very large towers with lots of wires anchoring it to the ground. Chris however got animatedly excited about it as he was explaining it to me.

<Chris> This is actually a VLF (very low frequency) transmitter designed for communicating with submarines in the Indian Ocean (and presumably Timor Sea). It didn't explicitly state it on the sign, but I believe that this is actually a US Navy facility hosted by Australia. If you click on the centre picture there is a higher resolution image that you should be able to read the specifications on. It requires 6 x 3MW generators to broadcast a 1-2MW transmission!

<Paula> 28th Sep - We headed toward Cape Range NP. We were already at the begining of the Ningaloo Reef and the NP was a good place to experience the reef up close.  More about that shortly.  First we stopped at the lighthouse for a bit of whale watching.  I was expecting that I would need to bring a book for this as it is the time of year the Humpback whales migrate and go past this point, and it is a big ocean. How many whales would go past in a day and what were the chances of them going past while we were there?  As it turned out when we arrived we saw a group travel all the way past the cape.  We watched them for ages, they love to jump out of the water and they also travel really close to the reef here so they were easy to see.  It was an amazing sight!  Unfortunately no photos of whales (well photos, but you can't really see the whales).  It was something really worth seeing. 

The lighthouse lookout where we watched the whales

The view back towards the Mildura wreck and the Navy Communications Station.

Ningaloo Reef is 250km in length and it is only one of two reefs in the world on a western shore, I thought that was an interesting fact.  The reef is very close to shore and very easy to snorkle.  We stayed in the park for two nights. I don't know how to describe this place so I will just put some pictures in.

Entry to the park. Pay station just ahead, $9 entry then $5/night/person. really cheap. You have to bring your own water and shower.

First night we stayed at Mesa Camp. This was our view.

Each evening we went for a walk around the rocks, so many crabs!

Oyster Stacks beach, excellent snorkling, quite shallow and you are really close to the marine life.  We were really close to a huge turtle here, they come into the reef this time of year for breeding.

Turquoise Bay.  Really strong currents here, you walk down to the point, swim out and drift back. We did this a few times before calling it a day.  Just an amazing place!

This guy was wandering accross the road on our way back to camp.

The second night was at Pilgramunna camp, which was pretty much on the beach.  Our site was soft sand.  The tide came to  the gravel hump you can see there.

Emus are wild and just wander around, it seems so odd to have such large birds roaming around. These birds were bathing just by our camp site.

This is after we left the park, it is on Ningaloo Station.  I will explain a little more about this shortly.

We don't have any underwater photos, our camera isn't equiped for that.  It was really amazing though.  I am unable to tell you what we saw exactly except for lots of colourful fish and colourful coral.  We did see a turtle, it was really close, he sat and looked at us for a while and then turned around and swam away.  My nasal passages and throat got a good involuntary salt water rinsing, unfortunately multiple times until I managed to sort out the problem with the purge valve.  There was only one paniced moment through it all, grazing my knee on coral helped me to gain presence of mind to stop breathing long enough to get out of the coral.

1-Oct We left the park via the southern entrance which isn't advertised very much. It is a sandy 4WD track that follows the coast out of the park, through defense land and on to Ningaloo Station. We noted that you could camp on Ningaloo Station  for only $15/wk/person.  Same reef, no crowds, but you have to be completely self-sufficent.  Past Ningaloo Station we stopped at Coral Bay.  It is very tourist oriented, we decided it was the plastic wrap commercial version of the reef.  I have to admit the resort on the hill overlooking the beautiful bay looked like very nice plastic wrapping to me.  We stayed the night at Minilya roadhouse camp ground, which has the nicest grass sites.