Heading out from Tom Price that morning.
We stopped off at the other side of the National park and had a quick peer into Hammersley Gorge.
We were now on the northern side of WA’s second biggest National Park, and so took the road east, a bit more picturesque than the southern, eastern road I reckoned.
People in a mining Hilux stopped as I was taking the above photo, make sure we were ok. Love Australia at times like that.
We came an offset crossroads, the road north was closed, and some of the road signs had been modified, there were lots of asbestos warning signs around. We took the road we needed and drove past an old, abandoned town. Nothing too unusual here for this sort of the outback, but a few things started to add up in my mind...
I had read about a road north that was closed, and would not be reopened as it could not be maintained due to the amount of asbestos in the road. Plus we had heard on the radio about an old asbestos mining town that still had three residents in it that refused to move, despite the government striking the town off the (official) map in 2007. This played over in my mind and we did a U-turn whilst N consulted WikiCamps app and found this was the place!
It is Australia’s ‘most deadly’ town and described as the most contaminated site in the Southern Hemisphere, but the three remaining residents of Wittenoom have steadfastly refused to budge.
Anyway, we took a few photos, but didn’t head into the asbestos gorges. I for one, have ingested more than my fair share of chemicals back in the UK in the 90's. Drive on.
Part the appeal of the Pilbara, at least to me. Is this mix of properly mad, remote, beautiful 4x4 exploration, and then some of Australia’s biggest industry operates out of here. On all but the most minor tracks your are constantly reminded of this.
I could see on the map there was a detour to drive WA’s height peak, Mount Meharry. It was still early, might as well check it out.
Seems we weren’t the only ones, to come this far at least....
Down to 20/25psi softened out the corrugations. We nipped across this crossing just before old mate rolled through.
Anyway he gave me the mother and father of blasts on his horn (snigger) as I gave him the thumbs up. Hopefully livened up his day as he livened up mine.
Now the trail turned more serious. Gone were the corrugations and the typical growth on a rarely used track was evident.
First short climb.
I walked it but no worries. Although I noticed the coolant temp had bumped a little over halfway by the top. A clear run for the next few minutes meant everything normalised. Then we got to the bottom of the climb proper. I put the windows down and the A/C, OFF.
Not the steepest, or the most technical climb we have done but steep enough, and the loose square edged rocks, multiple lines and tracks, plus the odd decent step up, meant that I was still regularly walking sections and the going was SLOW.
About halfway up, after just bit of a tricky section. I stopped again to walk as there were two distinct tracks ahead. I walked the more well worn one and then crossed to the more overgrown one, as it seemed easier going. Until why I saw it was overgrown, a heavily eroded rock step with a good trench, dug by multiple wheels spinning at the bottom of it. I crossed back to what must be the new track. Loose and steep but no worse than what we had done till now.
By now I was some way from the Cruiser.
I walked a bit further up till I was confident of making it to the next flat-ish section.
Walking back down. Rain in the distance.
As I got back down the hill and jumped back in Bertha, N said “the car is getting really hot” no joke, the temp gauge was probably just past the 3/4 mark. I should mention despite being overcast and still, it was probably 38 degrees C outside. Right, not good. Think quickly. First, heater on full blast hot, and on the windscreen so it can go straight out the windows. We needed airflow over the radiator and the load off the engine. So forget going up, that plan was done for the day. We could reverse but that doesn’t exactly give much airflow and tends to be a very slow process in my book. Nothing for it but to turn around...
This photo was down a bit from the highest it got. Taking photos wasn’t a priority at that point!
Going side on to a steep hill is not advised. However we were at a relatively flat section of a not so steep hill. Immediately where we were there we no be holes or steps, and enough bush either side of the track to do a not so quick 6-ish point turn. I hate side angles, but I know they feel WAY worse than they actually are. Anyway, so we quickly but calmly got turned around and headed back down. The windscreen heater had stopped the coolant temp going up anymore and now we were idling down, albeit it slowly, the temp was starting to come down.
Back down at the bottom we stopped for a breather.
So what happened? Well high ambient temperature, high engine load and most importantly very slow speed plus a long period of idling. Plus, I suspect the viscous fan hub is tired. You can normally hear that fan sounding like a jet engine when those things are locked and working properly. I replaced the radiator, hoses and coolant before this trip but should probably have done that to. Add it to the list for the next Toyota dealer.
Anyway, hopefully blown head gasket or any serious other malady dodged. We drove back fine, with the A/C on (and at the time of writing, spent the next day remote exploring with multiple short hill climbs with no dramas). By the time we got back to the main road many hours had been burned.
Our initial plan of trying to make a meteorite crater for camp that night went out of the window. We pounded bitumen.
Now we could see the weather that had been coming all afternoon come rolling in and hit the hills we had just been exploring. Heavy rain and lightning was evident, and even when we were far away the rivers were already pouring off the arid landscape.
Neither of us are traditional spiritual people by any stretch of the imagination, but the more time we spend out here the more we are connecting one series of events with another, so to speak. [being the truck overheating, and so we didn’t get to the top of the mountain to then be caught in the storm...]
So another roadside camp that night, and another community of flies to get to know intimately... That’s the only link I’ve got so far, there are always mega flies at the prescribed roadside camps.
Plus cool spiders. I could see their little eyes glinting around the camp but mostly they would dive back down their little holes when I approached, but this little chap seemed happy to hang around and have his photo taken.
[I have since learned it is a Wolf Spider. Cool name, cool spider]
In the morning we headed out to find the crater. Having sung the praises of HEMA’s map of the region just recently, today was the day the deficiencies of that map became apparent. Despite it being one of their ‘ground checked maps’ and while they showed the crater and gave its background, they didn’t show a track leading to it. So, switching to their topo map, there seemed to be tracks from the south, which is where we were. So we took them, right up till here.
I did briefly flirt with the idea - if I could drive over the railway... Not really, the consequences of getting stuck on a mining railroad don’t really bear thinking about. Only recently the news had been full of a runaway iron ore train, that had to be derailed in this region.
So once again we were back to ‘if you think the map is wrong, then the map is almost certainly wrong’ anyway, whatevs.
Luckily we had other information on the crater from WikiCamps. So we took that advice and drove to the rough and ready mining town of Newman (every time I saw the sign I just thought of Seinfeld...) and to the tourist information for a permit and directions. Said acquired, and fuelled up $1.60/L - bargain! We headed out, this time to come from the north.
The (free) permit is to traverse BHP’s private road to get to the turn off to head out in to the bush.
Definitely had some rain here.
As soon as you leave the road running alongside the railway, the scenery gets good, fast.
I climbed this sand dune to take the above photo. This animal track struck me as being instantly familiar from indigenous artwork. Goanna track.
The directions you get from Newman are mostly excellent, and don’t get me wrong you would struggle without them, but there are a few sections that still need you to make a decision. Maybe not so bad.
The first junction is the point to go and find some indigenous rock carvings, as I allude to, it takes a bit further than you might think and the two seeming obvious caves first up, aren’t it.
So we squeezed through these rocks a couple of times till we went far enough, but you’ll know it when you get there.
Bloody awesome. Felt almost illegal to be there, these things are normally behind a fence or a rope. I was very careful were I put my feet.
It appeared the track went further, but maybe not...
Some combined teamwork reversing - N watches the front corner whilst I watch out my side.
So, back to the junction. Let’s go find this crater.
The Hickman meteorite crater, named after Arthur Hickman, a state government geologist, who discovered it whilst browsing Google Earth in 2007. There is a joke in there about government workers, but let’s leave it at that...
It was starting to feel pretty lonely out here. Great.
The lady at the TI had warned us there were many tracks for mining exploration out here and she wasn’t wrong. So there were lots of ‘best guesses’ as the track split into two or more. Anyway, seems I got it more right than wrong.
We signed the visitor book in the letterbox. First people since the 4th of March, today was the 30th.
The return leg presented a few new junctions we had missed coming the other way. Luckily the main track was distinct enough, you know once you got too far away from it.
I was keen to try to find the Punda Rockhole, but co-pilot was done with exploration for today. So, once again in our democracy of 4 (only 2 have voting rights) we headed back out. As it turns out that worked out well.
The main dirt road we hit.
The hour or two we would have burned valuable time for finding accomodation down the road and not hitting any local wildlife (as it was I just missed a couple of big male Roos, with the ABS working overtime on the 105. Luckily even though they came out of the bush late, they were already motoring and crucially they didn’t deviate from their line, as those crazy marsupials often do). I often push the adventure a bit too far, so it’s good to have old sensible shoes on hand for balance.
Rolling into the very green oasis of Nullagine. It had outback charm and everything we needed. Somewhere to pitch the tent, and somewhere to buy a cold adult beverage or two.