Karratha

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Cleaverville Creek near Karratha
Cleaverville Creek is scenic spot near Karratha. PIC: Tourism Western Australia

At first glance, the modern city of Karratha in the heart of Western Australia’s industrial Pilbara region might not appear to be a natural destination for grey nomads.

Established in the late 1960s to house the workforce of the Hammersley mining company, the city doesn’t boast streets lined with heritage buildings or exude the country charm of other similar-sized settlements.

Yet, the story of Karratha is as much a part of the fabric of the Australian narrative as the establishment of the giant cattle stations, the gold mining boom towns, and the bushrangers and sheep shearers of folklore.

This is the ‘Engine Room of the Nation’, and the salt, iron ore, copper, fertilisers and natural gas produced here have underpinned the strength of the Australian economy for decades. Grey nomads who stop to discover more about this unique place and its staggering contribution to our national wealth can add another dimension to their Big Lap experience.

And it is not just about vast industrial plants, and mining tours. This area is rich with natural beauty, Aboriginal rock art, and excellent camping. Karratha sits on the North West Coastal Highway about 1500 kilometres north of Perth and 850 kilometres south of Broome. As the centre of a strong industrial region, it boasts a population of around 20,000 and a full range of services including an impressive shopping centre, a hospital, and a range of caravan parks.

Two sides to Karratha

The best way to get a feel for the raison d’etre of Karratha is to book into the Pilbara Resources Tour at the visitor centre. The tour includes visits to the Dampier Salt Lookout, Parker Point and East Intercourse Island, which is Rio Tinto’s loading operations.

A visit to the North West Shelf Venture Visitors’ Centre about 20 kilometres out of Karratha along the Burrup Peninsula Road is also highly recommended. The North West Shelf Project is one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas producers, and the interactive visitors’ centre overlooks the sprawling Karratha Gas Plant.

The fact that this is all located on the Burrup Peninsula, which is in itself a naturally beautiful location emphasises the contradictory nature of the Karratha area’s appeal. The peninsula’s top attractions include Deep Gorge, home to thousands of Aboriginal rock engravings, and the nearby shell beach and tidal flats of Hearson’s Cove. The Staircase to the Moon phenomena can be seen here.

But the natural beauty is not just restricted to the Burrup Peninsula. Just 20 minutes  from Karratha is the shady swim-friendly oasis of Miaree, and the magic of Millstream Chichester National Park is just a couple of hours away. Besides Millstream Chichester National Park, there are some great ‘natural’ camping options in the area, including Cleaverville, 26 kilometres to the northwest, and 40 Mile Beach, 56 kilometres to the south.

It’s peaceful enough to make you forget you’re camping in the nation’s ‘Engine Room’.

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