In September 2012 I took part in the my second Postie Bike Challenge (PBC) and I was one of more than 60 motorcyclists who rode a ex-Australia Post Honda CT110 motorcycle almost 3,400 kilometres from Perth to Broome over a period of nine days. As Ron hadn’t taken part in that PBC we decided our trip south after leaving Broome would be along the same route as the 2012 PBC and that we would do a lot of sightseeing along the way.
It was a great trip and we took twelve days to cover almost all of the 2012 PBC route (we didn’t go all the way to Perth as we wanted to visit some other places to the north and north-west of Perth) and I really enjoyed revisiting all sorts of places from the roadhouses and national parks to the country towns and caravan parks we’d visited as part of the PBC. However, what I enjoyed most of all was having the time to visit lots of other places along the way – especially Millstream Chichester National Park and the Wanna Munna Rock Carvings – and to spend more time exploring some of the places we’d quickly passed through like Karijini National Park and Sandstone.
Our first stop was Eighty Mile Beach and with a low tide late in the afternoon it was lovely to be able to walk along the shoreline and collect beautiful seashells including some murex and cowrie shells. However, I soon learnt that quite a few of the shells had inhabitants like hermit crabs or sea snails and I occasionally placed them upside on the sand just so that I could watch them right themselves and move away. At one stage I noticed a young girl of 9 or 10 walking nearby so I took some hermit crabs over to show her – at first she was concerned they would pinch her but once I’d convinced her they really only tickled she was happy to hold some and she then took them over to show her mother. I continued my shell hunt and found an exquisite little shell that was only about 10mm long and in perfect condition only to discover that it was also inhabited by a hermit crab even though about half the length of the shell was like a spike – guess hermit crabs start out really small too! I really would have liked to keep the shell but as I didn’t want to kill the hermit crab I decided to give it to the young girl I’d met earlier – she couldn’t believe her eyes when a tiny little hermit crab came out of the tiny little shell! The next day we visited Roebourne and Dampier (to see the Red Dog monument) before spending the night in Karratha.
Our third day of travel along this route also happened to be the first day of Spring and we hadn’t travelled very far before we started to see beautiful wildflowers, including carpets of Sturt’s Desert Pea, growing along the edge of the road and lots of wattles in bloom. Our first destination was the 200,000-hectare Millstream Chichester National Park which is mostly a landscape of rolling spinifex hills, spectacular escarpments and winding tree-lined watercourses. We visited Python Pool and a nearby lookout, the Mount Herbert lookout before taking the unsealed Snappy Gum Drive loop road to the Millstream Homestead Visitor Centre.
The Millstream Homestead was built almost 100 years ago and is set in the lush oasis of the Millstream wetlands that includes the nearby crystal clear Jirndawurrunha Pool, a permanent pool fed by springs that draw water from an underground aquifer within porous dolomite rock. Thirty three species of dragonfly and damselfly and more than 1,000 species of moths have been recorded in the Millstream wetlands along with hundreds species of both reptiles and birds and many native mammals. We took a walk around the pool and with its sheer beauty and abundant insect, bird, fish and plant life it was easy to understand why this place is of such deep cultural significance to the local indigenous people. We had originally hoped to get to Karijini National Park by day’s end but due to the amount of time we spent exploring Millstream Chichester National Park and stopping to assist a fellow traveller (he had blown a tyre and was having trouble fitting the spare) we only made it as far as Tom Price.
As we were approaching the caravan park in Tom Price I noticed a sign for a ‘4WD Drive Only’ track to Mount Nameless and with curiosity getting the better of me, we decided to go and have a look at it the following morning before we hitched up the camper and headed off. It’s described as a fairly basic 4WD track to the top of the highest accessible mountain by vehicle (4WD only) in Western Australia although some of the very steep sections had a lot of large, loose rocks on them. At 1128 metres above sea level it isn’t just a small mountain either (by WA standards!) and from the summit there were spectacular views of the surrounding countryside including the Tom Price Mine (unfortunately I didn’t think to take a photo of the FJ Cruiser at the summit – next time!).
As we returned to the bottom of the track we came across a group of 4WDs stopped on the side of the road that looked as though they were getting ready to head up. We couldn’t pass by as the driver’s side door of the lead vehicle, which was towing an MDC camper trailer, was wide open but once it was closed we pulled up alongside them to chat. Not initially knowing who they were (Ron recognised them as the “LowRange TV” crew while I was talking to them) and having just done the road to the summit I suggested it might be better if they didn’t try and take the MDC camper trailer any further. The smarmy response I got was “We’re extreme 4WDers and this is what we do for a living …” Whatever … (Rio Tinto owns the road to the summit and they had a sign a bit further on just before the start of the steep climb advising that caravans and trailers were prohibited beyond that point so it’d be interesting to know if these jokers ended up dragging the MDC camper trailer up to the summit.)
Our next destination was Karijini National Park, which is Western Australia’s second largest national park and encompasses more than 627,000 hectares, and the Dales Camping Area where we stayed for a couple of days while we explored the park. On the first day I walked to Circular Pool and then took the two kilometre long, creek-side trail between Circular Pool and Fortescue Falls before continuing on to Fern Pool for a refreshing dip. Dales Gorge, with its numerous sunken gardens, deep sedge-fringed pools and permanently cascading waterfalls, is absolutely beautiful!
The following day we visited the very impressive Karijini Visitor Centre whose design represents a goanna moving through the country and is symbolic to local Banyjima Aboriginal people. The tail represents their history, the head the future direction of the traditional owners, and Aboriginal Law is in the centre or stomach. The high, weathered steel walls of the visitor centre mimic the sheet-sided gorges that are a feature of the park. Ironically the building blends so well into its surroundings that we had to point it out to some visitors who couldn’t find it from the carpark!
From there we continued on to Kalamina Gorge where we did the walk to Kalamina Falls and Rock Arch Pool. We also visited the Joffre Falls and Knox Gorge Lookouts before calling into the Karijini Eco Retreat for lunch. We finished the day with a visit to the Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts over Weano Gorge but we decided not to tackle any of the walks down into the gorge as they were all quite difficult, it was very hot and we were both feeling tired.
Our first stop after leaving Karijini was the Wanna Munna Aboriginal Rock Art site which contains a stunning collection of ancient petroglyphs along both sides of a short rocky gorge that surrounds a waterhole. At first it seemed there weren’t many petroglyphs there but once I started looking at the rocks more slowly and carefully I was amazed to see lots of very detailed artworks some of which were quite high on the rock faces. We stopped and had lunch at Kumarina Roadhouse – where I encountered a rather entertaining short-billed corella who said “Wanna have a scratch” and then presented his head to be scratched whenever someone walked past him – before continuing on to stay at a caravan park in really interesting place named Karalundi.
Karalundi was established in 1954 as an Aboriginal boarding school run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Western Australia but closed in 1974 in a government move to phase out church involvement in indigenous affairs. In the early 1980s many former students came to recognise that under the state system their children’s education was inferior to their own. These parents lobbied the state government for Karalundi to reopen as an independent parent-controlled Christian Aboriginal boarding school where children could gain an education focusing on practical life skills, as well as literacy and numeracy. The advocacy group was supported by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and, in August 1986, Karalundi was reopened. Unfortunately, and due to declining student numbers, staffing challenges and fiscal restraints the school was again closed only a few weeks before we arrived. While we were there I purchased a copy of the book “What are You Doing for Us?: The Untold Story of Karalundi 1954-2004” and it was really interesting to read and learn about this Aboriginal community working to overcome the challenges of history and environment to build a future for their young people through education and faith.
After having a lovely cooked breakfast in the cafe at Karalundi we continued on to Meekatharra before taking the Meekatharra-Sandstone Road to … Sandstone! Along the way we encountered a Wedge Tail Eagle feasting on roadkill and, for the second time in as many days, the eagle left it until almost the last second to get out of the way even though a road-train was also bearing down on it – it clearly didn’t want to leave its meal!
The Alice Atkinson Caravan Park in Sandstone was one of the places where the 2012 PBC riders and support crew stayed and it was a nice caravan park in a lovely little town that has a great pub. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to do any sightseeing around Sandstone back then so the day after we arrived Ron and I took a drive along the Sandstone Heritage Trail and visited the Old Sandstone Brewery, a rock formation known as “London Bridge”, the Sandstone State Battery and Contradiction Well.
One of the most striking features of the landscape around Sandstone are the breakaways – rock formations and bluffs of weathered, rust-stained basalt that have eroded less and rise above the surrounding flat sandy landscape. The Old Sandstone Brewery, which was built in 1907, is located on top of the breakaway near the edge of the cliff, and a cellar to store the beer in was created by blasting a cave into the base of the cliff with dynamite. Water drawn up from a well was pumped to the top floor of the brewery, where the brew was mixed. From there it was piped down into coolers, then into two large vats on the ground floor. The finished product was then stored in kegs in the cellar cave. Up on top of the breakaway you can see a shaft in the ground that connects to the cave below, acting as an air vent to help keep the cave at a cool and stable temperature even in the most scorching weather conditions. The “London Bridge” rock formation is a natural bridge that is part of a larger formation about 800 metres long, varying in height from around 3 to 10 metres and is made of weathered basalt.
The Sandstone State Battery was a government-owned and run facility that crushed ore from the gold mines in the Sandstone area. It was in operation from 1904 right through to 1982 and the workers lived on site in little cottages not far from the battery building. Unfortunately the ore-crushing building, workers cottages and one remaining shed are in very poor condition as they have been both neglected and vandalised since operations ceased there. Contradiction Well, also known as the Sandstone State Well or Sandstone Government Bore, was the first town water supply for Sandstone and was actually established before the town existed to supply water for gold prospectors.
As luck would have it the route for the 2016 PBC was also Perth to Broome and based on the start date I anticipated this year’s group would be also be staying in Sandstone for one night while we were there. The first of the 2016 PBC riders arrived at about 4:00 PM and, as we later learned, they had been battling headwinds almost all the way from Kalgoorlie more than 400 kilometres away. Unfortunately the constant headwinds resulted in quite a few riders running out of fuel about 20-30 kilometres from Sandstone and having to wait for extra fuel delayed their arrival at the end of a long day of riding by more than an hour. I knew all of the support crew on this year’s PBC from the previous Challenges I’d done (and Ron knew most of them) and I also knew one of the riders as he had also been on the last Challenge I did in 2013. As they were also having dinner at the pub we spent an enjoyable evening with them and it was great to catch up with some old acquaintances and make some new ones …
After seeing the 2016 PBC riders and crew off the next morning we headed in the opposite direction to Kalgoorlie via Lake Ballard and Menzies. Lake Ballard is a salt lake that is home to the “Inside Australia” outdoor art gallery. “Inside Australia” comprises 51 metal figures, dotted across seven square kilometres of the salt-encrusted lake bed. Each of the sculptural figures, both male and female, are the result of 3D laser scans made by the world renowned artist Antony Gormley of 51 Menzies residents whom he refers to as ‘insiders’.
Having not slept well for several weeks (our camper is very comfortable to sleep in but unfortunately factors such as the weather, the late arrivals/early departures of other campers and noise from nearby road traffic and/or pumps/generators running through the night have often interrupted our sleep) we decided to stay in a motel in Kalgoorlie for two nights so that we could catch up on some quality sleep. During our stay in Kalgoorlie we visited the Western Australian Museum which, apart from showcasing the rich history of the Eastern Goldfields and the city’s mining heritage, was also hosting the excellent photograph-based touring exhibition “Indigenous Australians at war from the Boer War to the present”.
We also visited the “Super Pit” – a 3.8 kilometre-long, 1.8 kilometre-wide pit, officially named Fimiston Open Pit, that is carved 550 metres down into the earth. Incredibly for every 1 million tonnes of ore extracted from the Super Pit only 250-300 kilograms of gold is produced and more than 85 million tonnes of ore and waste rock removed each year. This equates to 1 in 7 trucks, which each have a capacity of about 240 tonnes, carrying about a golf ball size quantity of gold. To put it another way, two-and-a-half grams of gold is extracted from each tonne of rock removed and while this might not seem much the current value of gold is enough to sustain the mine’s existence.
On our second last day of following the 2012 PBC route in reverse we took the Great Eastern Highway through Coolgardie and then took the Emu Fence Road – the turnoff is about halfway between Yellowdine and Southern Cross – to Hyden. After setting up camp we visited Mulka’s Cave and The Humps followed by Hippos Yawn and, of course, Wave Rock.
Mulka’s Cave is an Aboriginal art site and despite the cave being quite small it contains more than 450 motifs and almost 70% of those are hand prints. Mulka’s Cave formed beneath a large boulder at the base of a large granite outcrop known as The Humps. This granite outcrop is 2 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres and rises to 80 metres above the surrounding plain. I followed the Kalari Trail, which had great interpretive signs focusing on the geology of the rock and the plants that grow on it, to the summit to see the great panoramic views of the surrounding area.
On our final day of following this route we only went as far as Mile Post 40 on the #2 Rabbit Proof fence near Corrigin because, as mentioned earlier, we wanted to do some sightseeing to the north and north-west of Perth before we visited Perth.
Broome to Karratha
Millstream Chichester National Park and Tom Price
Karijini National Park
Karijini to Corrigin
Hermit Crabs on Eighty Mile Beach
Sea Snail on Eighty Mile Beach