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.
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.
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, its arguably the most famous of the National Parks in the Pilbara. Plenty of waterfalls. Like any of the best things to see in Northern Australia, jumping in an ice-cold swimming hole on a scorching hot day is just amazing.
There are some nice beaches here and there, but as usual sharks, jellyfish, crocodiles and other poisonous critters are a bit off-putting. If you have access to a boat, its nice to explore the Dampier archipelago.
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.
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. Another mining construction boom is well under way in 2020 and going into 2021, and as a result a lot of hotels and accommodation are fully booked for months on end. What remains can be very over-priced. Even short-term rentals are not easy, due to an influx of workers and those stuck due to covid. Tourist time is from April to August and some places can get very busy. Worth booking ahead. Bringing a tent and camping gear will be the best decision you ever make coming up here.
Karijini National Park
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 possibilities to leave the Pilbara to the East on the ground on very remote and isolated dirt tracks. Anytime within a few weeks after rain, or the rainy season in general this way is impossible. If you are fully equipped with very strong 4wd vehicle, a LOT of water, food, two spare tires, spare petrol, tow rope with winch, your own tools, a good mechanical knowledge, GPS, satellite phone and about the strongest spirit of adventure you can muster, there are tracks that lead through the desert, eventually to Alice Springs, or north to Halls Creek. However, it is HIGHLY recommended you dont do this unless you know exactly what you are doing. Also permits are needed to enter Aboriginal land (which may have extremely limited supplies, but dont count on it at all).
The principal way to get out the region is to the North on the Great Northern Highway towards Broome. You can go south via the more scenic coastal highway, or the inland route is more direct going to Perth, but very boring on the way. Prior to covid, there were semi-regular flights from Port Headland to major centers on the east coast, and to Bali.