Covering more than 500,000km² (195,000mi²) – twice the size of the United Kingdom – the Pilbara region offers some of Western Australia’s most stunning natural landscapes, dating back more than four billion years.
This ancient region is home to the awe inspiring Karijini National Park, Millstream-Chichester National Park and Murujuga National Park. Here you can explore deep rocky canyons that lead to tranquil freshwater plunge pools filled from tumbling waterfalls and experience the quintessential Pilbara landscape of fierce blue skies, red earth, ancient gorges and dry scrub land.
The Burrup Peninsula is the perfect place to discover the unique art, history and culture of the Aboriginal people of the Pilbara. Explore some of the more than 700 historic Indigenous archaeological sites and one million rock engravings (petroglyphs), many dating back 40,000 years.
Offshore, unwind on a choice of dazzling white-sand beaches and swim in untouched coral gardens in the Dampier Archipelago and Mackerel Islands.
The Pilbara is also home to a massive mining industry that extract gold and iron from immense open-pit mines as well as crude oil, salt and natural gas.
Human settlements are few and far between in the Pilbara – the towns of Karratha, Port Hedland, Tom Price and Newman mainly cater to the mining industries.
While the Pilbara's colonial past is evident in Roebourne, the oldest settlement in the North West, and in Cossack, a ghost town complete with restored historical buildings, which offer an insight into the hardships and successes of the first settlers.
Port Hedland – the northern gateway to the Pilbara – is located 610km from Broome on the all-weather Great Northern Hwy (GNH).
Karratha is 240km (150mi) south of Port Hedland via the North West Coastal Highway. The surrounding area offers much to explore including Dampier, the Point Samson Peninsula and Roebourne.
Inland lies the spectacular gorges of Karijini National Park – a distance of around 350km (217mi) from Port Hedland via the Great Northern Highway.
Alternatively, from the south, Karijini National Park is around 1400km (870mi) from Perth – a 17-hour drive. The sealed North West Coastal Highway offers access from Carnarvon and Geraldton. There are also regular flights into Port Hedland, Paraburdoo and Newman from both Perth and Broome.
Explore a smorgasbord of red-layered cliffs and rocky gorges on foot, paddle through crystal-clear waterways and swim in cool, emerald waterholes beneath plunging waterfalls.
The ancient geological formations of Karijini National Park is an adventure just waiting to be discovered, with a choice of trails to suit all levels of fitness.
Spider-walk along sections of Hancock Gorge, hike Mount Bruce for spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and enjoy an easy stroll to admire the picture-perfect Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool.
Or join specialist guides on a longer hiking tour to experience areas of the park few people get to see.
Must-see sights in Karijini National Park, include…
Experience three major highlights of Karijini National Park at Dales Gorge: Fortescue Falls – perfect for a refreshing swim; Fern Pool – one of the prettiest settings in Western Australia; and Circular Pool – complete with a lookout and picture-perfect return bush walk.
Each attraction can be visited separately, or while completing a full loop following the marked walking trails.
Gorge Rim trail – This 2km (1.2mi) return trail along the rim of the gorge offers great views into the gorge and is an easy way to experience Dales Gorge. The path from Fortescue Falls to Circular Falls lookout and back again features a few short steep sections and the occasional steps.
Fortescue Falls trail – From Fortescue Falls car park this 150m long trail descends steeply via a long staircase and stepped rocks to Fortescue Falls – the only spring-fed waterfall in Karijini National Park. Water gently cascades down sloped rocks into a pool. A short stroll upstream takes you to the beautiful Fern Pool.
You can return to the car park via the same path, or cross the watercourse (on stepping stones) to join the Dales Gorge walk.
Fern Pool – From the base of the staircase on the Fortescue Falls walk trail, a short 300m walk along a signposted trail leads upstream to Fern Pool, which features small twin waterfalls – considered one of the most beautiful spots in the park.
A wooden deck at the pool edge offers easy access for swimming.
Dales Gorge trail – Connecting both ends of Dales Gorge, this trail follows the gorge floor, passing forested pockets of Fig Trees, Eucalypts and Snappy Gums along the way.
Access to the Dales Gorge trail is via the Fortescue Falls and Circular Pools access points.
Circular Pool lookout and trail – Located at the eastern end of Dales Gorge, the Circular Pool lookout is easily accessed along a trail from the Three Ways lookout that descends into the gorge.
The fern and tree-lined trail includes roughly hewn steps and a ladder section with spectacular views into the gorge and the large amphitheatre of Circular Pool, that is accessible for swimming.
You can return by making your way back to the top of the gorge, or follow the Dales Gorge trail to the Fortescue Falls end.
Walkers can choose to enter Weano Gorge in two places: the longer walk through Upper Weano Gorge starts at the car park, while the shorter walk through Lower Weano Gorge starts from the trail towards Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts and brings you to Handrail Pool – a spectacular spot for a swim.
Both Weano Gorge trails require some scrambling and wading through water. The last part of the trail to Handrail Pool is challenging; walkers need to traverse stepping stone and use the handrail to help negotiate the climb to Handrail Pool.
Knox lookout provides spectacular views across Knox Gorge towards its intersection with Wittenoom Gorge, and is particularly beautiful in early morning or late afternoon, when sunlight enhances the colours of the rock faces.
From the lookout, a path takes you to the start of the Knox Gorge trail, which descends into the gorge and traces a route along the base to where the gorge narrows to a slot canyon.
The 2km (1.2mi) long return trail requires some scrambling over rocks as well as some ledge walking.
Hancock Gorge is simply stunning, but best experienced with a Karijini tour guide.
Hancock Gorge trail – This 400m trail through Hancock Gorge, although short, is the most exciting and challenging trail in the park.
A steep descent (using a ladder in one section) takes you deep into the gorge through a narrow canyon across uneven rocks to a natural amphitheatre.
You can expect to wade through cold pools or swim a submerged section of the gorge. Here you need to clamber along rock ledges and stony creek beds.
The gorge narrows to a point where the only way to move forward is to spider walk with arms and legs straddling the gap. The reward is access to the stunning green waters of Kermits Pool.
Hancock Gorge trail is accessed from the Weano Recreation car park, with a path also linking the Hancock Gorge trail to the Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts walking trail.
Joffre Gorge is a stunning natural amphitheatre with a spectacular curved waterfall.
Views across the gorge can be seen from a lookout platform. The pool, situated downstream from the waterfall, can be reached by following a challenging walking trail to the floor of the gorge.
Joffre Gorge trail – This 1.5km (1mi) return trail starts from the car park and descends via a section of rock to a rough pathway.
Along the way, signage indicates a pathway to Joffre Falls lookout. From this point onward, the main trail becomes more challenging, requiring walkers to scramble their way down rock slabs to the base, where the path continues to the pool beneath the waterfall.
Located at the junction of four mighty gorges, the Oxer Lookout offers one of the most stunning panoramas in Western Australia.
From here, the sheer enormity and grandeur of Joffre, Weano, Hancock and Red Gorge is breathtakingly evident.
The 13km (8mi) drive (past the Karijini Eco Retreat) to the Oxer Lookout is unsealed. The lookout is a short walk from the car park. Nearby lies the Junction Pool lookout with views across Hancock Gorge.
The viewing platform at Junction Pool Lookout also offers a spectacular sight overlooking Weano Gorge, Hancock Gorge and Red Gorge – viewed in the morning and evening when the sunlight highlights the deep red colour of the rock faces.
Access to the lookout is along a walking trail from the Weano Recreation Area car park.
Kalamina Gorge is located part-way between the Weano Gorge and the Karijini Visitor Centre.
Kalamina Gorge trail – Following the initial descent down a set of roughly hewn steps, the trail at the base of the gorge continues to a seasonal waterfall trickling over rock ledges into a small permanent pool.
The trail continues alongside and crosses the stream (with stepping stones) at a couple of points past rock pools and banded rock walls before ending at Rock Arch Pool. A small amount of ledge walking is required.
There's an information shelter, drinking water and toilets at the car park. Allow 30 minutes return to walk to Kalamina Gorge Pool, and three hours return to walk to Rock Arch Pool.
Located in the northwest corner of Karijini National Park, Hamersley Gorge is the most remote of the gorges.
A 400m long trail of roughly hewn steps descends to floor of the gorge. Along the way you can see how the layers of coloured rock bent and buckled before emerging on the surface millions of years ago.
The pool at the base of the gorge offers a chance to swim, cool off and relax in the shade of the nearby trees.
A short walk from the car park, a lookout offers a wonderful view of the folded bands of ancient coloured rocks, and the stepped waterfalls at the base of the gorge.
Mt Bruce, or Punurrunha, is the second highest mountain in Western Australia, and boasts one of the country’s most scenic walks.
There is a choice of three walking trails of differing lengths and classifications. For the view overlooking the nearby Marandoo mine, a 500m trail from the car park to Marandoo View is an easy option
Honey Hakea trail – This trail continues on from the Marandoo View for another 1.8km (1mi) to a vantage point with views over the mountain ranges and towards the Marandoo mine. This section of the trail is easy, with a small amount of scrambling along a short section of boulders along the way.
This is a 4.6km (2.8mi) return walk from the Mt Bruce car park.
Mt Bruce Summit trail – Continuing on from the Honey Hakea trail, the Mt Bruce Summit trail takes you a further 2.2km (1.3mi) to the summit.
This is a challenging walk with a steep ascent and some scrambling over boulders and climbing, but ultimately rewards walkers with spectacular views across the Hamersley Ranges. This trail is a 9km (5.6mi) return hike from the car park.
Access to Mt Bruce is via a 3km (1.8mi) unsealed road, with a turn off from Karijini Drive close to the Banjima Drive West entry station. An information bay and toilet is also located at the Mt Bruce car park.
Karijini National Park is easily accessed from the towns of Karratha, Tom Price and Newman via sealed and unsealed roads. Qantas also offers daily flights to the town of Paraburdoo, around 100km (62mi) from the park.
The region has been the traditional home of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga people; the word Karijini is the Banyjima name for Hamersley Range.
The ideal time to visit Karijini National Park is during Australia’s late autumn, winter and early spring. The days are warm but the nights are cool. The water in the gorge pools can be very cold between April and September.
Millstream-Chichester National Park covers an area of around 200,000ha on the Fortescue River and offers some of the best nature based camping opportunities in the Pilbara.
This lush oasis of deep gorges and palm-fringed rock pools provides a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape of rocky escarpments and rolling spinifex-covered hills.
A choice of walking and bike trails network through the park giving access to the following sights…
Millstream Homestead Visitor Centre – Displays within the homestead information about the park's attractions as well as the life of the Yinjibardni people and the early pastoral settlers.
The Homestead Trail – a 750m walk – surrounds the homestead and offers insights along the way into station life in Millstream in the 1930s.
Python Pool – A refreshing rock pool offers the chance for a swim while enjoying the imposing backdrop of rugged ochre cliffs. The pool is easily accessible on a walking trail from the Roebourne-Wittenoom Road.
Camel Trail – This 8km (5mi) long trail follows part of the old camel road. The trail, which starts at Python Pool winds through rolling Spinifex covered hills and past large termite mounds, before ending at the rugged sandstone escarpment of the Chichester Range.
Mount Herbert – The peak of Mount Herbert offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and is reached after a challenging 25 minute climb.
Deep Reach Pool – This large pool is reached following a 200m walk from the car park. Swimming, canoeing and fishing for barrimurdi is permitted. However, the Yinibardni people ask that you respect the site and keep noise to a minimum.
Snappy Gum Drive – A 20km (12.4mi) loop road links the Homestead with Pannawonica Road, with scenic lookouts offering views across the Fortescue River Valley, undulating hills and to several important Indigenous areas.
The Yindjibarndi people are the traditional landowners of Millstream-Chichester National Park. Camping is allowed and there are well maintained facilities in the park, including bush toilets and gas barbecues.
Information on entry fees, passes, maps and camping permits can be purchased from Karratha and Roebourne Visitor Centres and at the self-registration stations in the park.
Millstream-Chichester National Park is located around 120km (75mi) southeast of Karratha via a sealed road.
Murujuga is home to the world's largest concentration of rock art (dating back more than 40,000 years), and lies along the rocky hills of the Burrup Peninsula.
The most accessible site to see these traditional engravings is at Ngajarli (Deep) Gorge, near Hearson's Cove.
Here you can find a range of diverse petroglyphs depicting a record of what was meaningful to local Aboriginal people at the time. Rock-carved engravings depict fish, goannas (lizards), turtles, ospreys, kangaroos and even a Tasmanian tiger.
The best way to see and appreciate the importance of this rock art is through a half-day tour from Karratha with Ngurrangga Tours.
Or take a self-hike through the gorge; bring plenty of water and take care not to get lost. The most dense concentrations of rock art are found around 50m south of the car park, and deeper into the gorge, where the ground is covered with scattered cockle shells.
Take note of signage that asks visitors not to climb onto the rocks and to abstain from taking photographs of humanoid rock art figures due to cultural restrictions.
Look out also for the diverse array of wild-flowers and wildlife, including Rothschild's rock-wallaby and echidna.
The park is co-managed by the local Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Yaburara and Mardudhunera communities and DPaW. You'll need a 4WD to explore north of Withnell Bay.
Murujuga National Park is located about 5km (3mi) north-east of Dampier and 35km (21mi) from Karratha. Access is via the Burrup Road, off the Dampier Highway.
Guided tours are available from Karratha. Murujuga National Park is a day use park only with no overnight camping.
The port town of Dampier is named after the English buccaneer William Dampier, who visited in 1688.
From here you can join a cruise to the Dampier Archipelago, discover fascinating Aboriginal rock art at Murujuga National Park and follow the Red Dog Trail to learn more about the North West’s favourite canine and his remarkable story.
The Dampier Foreshore offers shaded picnic areas and pedestrian walkways along the palm tree lined Esplanade, with swimming opportunities at Shark Cage Beach and Hampton Harbour Beach.
Dampier is the largest tonnage shipping port in Australia and houses the massive export facilities of Hamersley Iron, Dampier Salt and the North West Gas Shelf Project.
Dampier is located just 20km (12.4mi) west of Karratha.
Unwind and relax in this small sandy cove with its steep rugged hills to the south and west and outlook across Nichol Bay to the east.
Come at high tide for a swim or at low tide for a long walk across the exposed tidal flats to the turtle islands; and try to spot turtles on the coral cay.
The expansive flats also make Hearson Cove an ideal spot to watch the Staircase to the Moon phenomena.
Hearson Cove is a day use area only, no camping is permitted. Facilities, including public toilets are located in the car park, with shade structures and barbecues available on the beach.
Popular with locals and visitors alike, Hearson Cove is located on the east coast of the Burrup Peninsula, around 11km (6.8mi) from Dampier and 28km (17mi) from Karratha.
Unwind and discover the untamed wilderness of the Dampier Archipelago, a chain of 42 islands and islets.
The archipelago is home to coral reefs, sponge gardens and more than 650 species of fish. In the surrounding waters you can spot green, loggerhead, flatback and hawksbill turtles as well as dugongs, whales and dolphins. Island wildlife also includes wader birds and rock-wallabies.
The best diving is around the outer islands, such as Delambre, Legendre, Kendrew, Rosemary and Enderby, and on the reefs between them.
Join a boat tour to explore the islands, go diving or snorkelling, swim and relax on the beach or head off on a fishing charter – this coastal playground offers world-class deep water, reef and sheltered inlet fishing.
Some islands are set aside for day trips and camping, while others are sensitive seabird and turtle nesting areas. Camping is permitted on a few the islands, including Enderby, Eaglehawk, Dolphin and Gidley Island for up to five nights only; there are no facilities.
The islands lie within a 45km (28mi) radius of Dampier on the Pilbara Coast and are easily reached by private boat or with a tour.
The bustling city of Karratha is the perfect base to explore the ancient Aboriginal rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula and the picture-perfect beach at Hearson’s Cove.
Stroll the 3.5km (2.17mi) return Yaburara Aboriginal Heritage Walk Trail through the Karratha hills with scenic lookouts along the way. For panoramic views of the city head to Water Tank Hill Lookout, located above the Karratha Visitor Centre.
Elsewhere, Cleaverville Creek, a popular fishing and camping spot, is a thirty minute drive away; Millstream-Chichester National Park is a comfortable two hour drive from Karratha.
Karratha is located 20km (12.4mi) south of Dampier, just off the North West Coastal Highway, and around 240km (150mi) south of Port Hedland.
Check out some of Western Australia’s best beaches, coral gardens and fishing spots on the Point Samson Peninsula and its surrounding islands.
Follow the Point Samson Heritage Trail to discover restored heritage buildings and explore the towns interesting past. Stop by the viewing platform for a beautiful sunset.
Take a stroll at sunset or sunrise along the beaches at John’s Creek and Honeymoon Cove, or unwind with a picnic or barbecue on the grassed areas next to the beach.
Point Samson is accessed via the Roebourne – Point Samson Road, just off the North West Coastal Highway in Roebourne. The Peninsula lies around 55km (34mi) west of Karratha, a 45-minute drive.
Located off the Pilbara Coast around 120km (75mi) west of Dampier and 139km (86mi) north of Onslow, the Montebello Islands Marine Park covers more than 58,000 hectares of ocean and more than 250 low-lying limestone islands and islets.
Take a fishing charter from Karratha is explore the parks rich maritime heritage and marine diversity including coral reefs, colourful tropical fish and wildlife.
Camping is allowed on Primrose, Bluebell, Crocus, Hermite and Renewal Islands (year-round), and Northwest Island (from April to Sept); within 100m of high tide mark, for up to 5 nights only. No pets or open fires permitted.
Note: Atomic tests were carried out at the Montebellos in 1952 and 1956. Due to slightly elevated radiation levels on Trimouille and Alpha Islands, visitors are advised to restrict their visits to one hour per day.
Latest update: The Pilbara, Sights & Attractions: 8 October, 2020
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