The Pilbara region covers more than 505,000 square kilometres (195,000 square miles) of Western Australia. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the Northwest, the Kimberley to the North, the Northern Territory to the East and the Goldfields, Mid West and Gascoyne regions to the South.
The Pilbara is a very ancient land, with iron mining being the main industry. Like all other areas of Northern Western Australia, the Pilbara is very sparsely populated. It is a very hot area, the Marble Bar area is often quoted as the hottest place in Australia.
- Karratha - on the coast with some diving options
- Newman - a fairly big town from which to explore the surrounds
- Onslow - a small coastal town, and the gateway to Mackerel Islands to dive, fish and snorkel
- Port Hedland - the largest town serves as a hub for the iron ore mine
- Tom Price - little more than dormitories for the mining industry workers
- Wittenoom - An old asbestos mining, semi ghost town, where inhabitants were forcibly evacuated except for a few holdouts
- Karijini National Park - the top destination in the Pilbara, and one of the most impressive natural attractions in Western Australia. Hundred meters deep red canyons, gorges and magnificient trekking will be the reward of the long drive from the coastal area.
- Marble Bar - is believed to be one of the hottest towns in the world. Temperatures easily cross 45C.
- Millstream Chichester National Park - is on the way to Karijini, reached by unsealed track starting at a bifurcation 40 km East of Roebourne. Python Pool, a small swimmable waterhole on the track to the parks makes for a refreshing stop on the way.
- Onslow - On the coast and near the Ashburton River it is a magnet for fishermen and cyclones
- Mackerel Islands - Off the coast of Onslow, the Mackerel Islands feature top fishing, a resort and is one of Western Australia's best kept diving secrets.
The Pilbara is an arid land of Old, a landscape of ancient rocks and stones, some estimated to be over 3 billion years old (!). The area is not fully barren (like the inner deserts), but is still very inhospitable, dry, and most of all extremely hot. Just like the rest of Western Australia, the Pilbara is very sparsely populated, furthermore here a good majority of the small population works for/is related to the mining industry.
The scenery, however, has not been disfigured, and some beautiful natural attractions are found throughout the vast expanses of the Pilbara.
- Central Pilbara Coast is dotted with very small industrial mining towns, the largest being Port Hedland. Life there revolves around iron mining, and all shops, houses and vehicles are reddened by the iron ore.
- Karijini region, the beautiful Karijini National Park is one of the top destinations of Western Australia. Between the coast and Karijini, accessible by an unsealed track is the Millstream Chichester national park, less visited, but nonetheless worth a detour.
- Beyond Karijini, the Outback Pilbara is a large chunk of remote arid bushland, with very little attraction.
In the few areas where there are actually people to talk to, English should do just fine, just like in the rest of the country...
Getting in the Pilbara requires flying to Port Hedland, Newman or Karratha via Perth (daily flights by Qantas), or drive the very long route from either Perth or Darwin (Port Hedland to Perth is 1650 km via the Great Northern Highway, 1770 via the Coastal Highway, and Port Hedland to Darwin is 2400 km...).
Flights from Perth are expensive, but the cost varies greatly depending on the type of ticket purchased. The less flexible "Red E-Deals" are the lowest cost, but sell out quickly. Book well ahead to ensure you get a seat at a reasonable price.
Scheduled buses between Perth and Port Hedland are operated by Integrity Coachlines. The service runs four times a week and takes approximately 22 hours with 19 intermediate stops. Three times a week the bus continues on to Broome, a further 14 hours.
Standard one-way fare for one adult from Perth to Port Hedland varies between $275 and $295 depending on which route the bus takes. Port Hedland to Broome is $129 (June 2015).
There are two main sealed roads, the Great Northern Highway and the North West Coastal Highway. The Great Northern Highway passes through old gold mining towns like Cue and Meekatharra. North West Coastal Highway passes through Geraldton and Carnarvon.
The recently constructed Karratha Tom Price Road (Stage 2) is a sealed link from Karratha to just short of the Millstream oasis (about 90km). There are some spectacular views long the way. Note that the road is not sealed all the way to Tom Price.
Coming to the Pilbara without paying a visit to Karijini would be missing a lot.
- Dampier port tour, ☎ 08 9144 4600. 9:30-11:30am. The tour runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and go for two hours. Contact the Karratha Visitors Centre for bookings. $18. edit
- Cape Lambert port tour, (start at Roebourne Visitor Centre), ☎ 08 9182 1060. 10am - 2pm. This tour runs from May to October on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The tour includes Roebourne, Cape Lambert port and Cossack. This tour usually books out so book at the Roebourne Visitor Centre. Dress requirement is collared shirt with sleeves and closed shoes. Cost is a donation. edit
Eat and Drink
Eating fine delicacies should probably not be the main objective of a trip to the Pilbara. Port Hedland and Karratha are reasonnable options to gather sufficient supplies to go into the outback, and are probably the only options to have a drink anyway.
Temperatures can be extreme, so the recommended choice for a drink in the area is actually water.
Moby's (downstairs) and Trawlers restaurants, Point Samson.
- TaTa's Cafe Restaurant, . This restaurant is attached to the Point Samson Resort. It is one of the better restaurants in the region with a good selection of seafood and meat dishes. There is one vegetarian option. But as it says on the menu - this is not fast food - so enjoy the drinks between servings. edit
- Moby's. The fish and chip shop below Trawler's pub. Great food that can be eaten on the outside tables or get a take away and eat on the beach. Large selection of food. edit
- Trawlers. A Pub serving food on an upstairs, outdoor area. Serves a huge seafood platter with a large selection of food. There's a curry night on Thursday nights which was a good feed. edit
Accommodation anywhere in the Pilbara (but especially Port Hedland and Karratha) may be in short supply at most times, and very expensive. Book well ahead to secure a room.Since 2017 the mining construction boom has ended and accommodation is more available. Tourist time is from April to August and some places can get very busy. Worth booking ahead.
- Ashburton Resort - Onslow, Second Ave (Cnr Third St) OnslowWA6710, ☎ (08) 9184 6586, . Situated at the oceans edge in Beadon Bay, Onslow the new Ashburton Resort Motel offers a new level of first class accommodation for the corporates and famililes alike. edit
Karijini National Park
- Karijini Eco Retreat, (Located adjacent to the magnificent Joffre Gorge,), ☎ +61 (0)8 9425 5591 ([email protected], fax: +61 (0)8 9425 5566), . $25 for campsite up to $275 for deluxe tent. edit
- Point Samson Resort, 56 Samson Road, ☎ 08 9187 1052 (fax: 08 9187 1603), . edit
Samson Beach Chalets, Point Samson.
- The Pilbara is hot, very hot, so always carry plenty of fluids with you. Some unsealed roads are quite remote, bring extra food and extra water with you in case you leave the sealed highways (in which case a 4WD is highly recommended).
- Road Trains are common on the Great Northern Highway in this area. Take care, as it is extremely difficult for them to brake over short distances. Passing a Road Train is not a good idea.
- The ghost town Wittenoom and the surround areas is contaminated with crocidolite, a deadly form of asbestos. Wittenoom is classified as a contaminated site under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003. It was a large asbestos mining center in the middle of the 20th century. Driving through the area should be avoided. If you do visit, bring appropriate equipment and close the windows of your car. Limit your time and outdoor activities to a minimum. The town is now stripped of its statute, so it does appear on road signs or official government maps. At all costs, avoid the George where large asbestos trailings are still present.
If you are extremely well prepared for some very serious remote 4WD driving, you can reach the vast Rudall River National Park on the Eastern side of the Pilbara. This park is actually one of the largest National Parks in the world, but also one of the most remote and least visited. There are absolutely no facilities, stores or supply, and you will have to drive 260 km on 4WD tracks from Newman.
There are no possibilities to leave the Pilbara to the East on the ground (no tracks, even unsealed). The only way to get out the region is to the North on the Great Northern Highway or to the South.