Wandering the Warlu Way

The Warlu Way is a drive between Coral Bay and Broome in Western Australia.  If you follow the complete route, you will travel about 2,500 kilometres, and the route has really been designed for those with four-wheel drive experience as it traverses some remote and potentially dangerous country.  The Warlu Way has been designed to feature the best of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and takes participants to seven inspiring national parks.

The name Warlu is named after a legendary sea serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime which snaked its way along the sacred traditional lands, forming waterways as it moved.  It is fitting, then, that the modern Warlu Way begins at the Ningaloo Marine Park and the town of Coral Bay to, more or less, follow the rivers that intersect the Pilbara.

After visiting the coastal towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth, a town best known for its Whale Shark Watching tours, you head inland to the mining towns of Paraburdoo and Tom Price, and the Karijini National Park, and ancient geological formation that is dissected by deep gorges and soothing rock pools.

From here the Warlu Way next takes you too Millstream-Chichester National Park, one of the few places in the Pilbara where there is permanent water. There’s a nice walktrail here which takes you to several refreshing pools and cliff lookouts.  Camping is allowed and there are basic facilities for visitors to enjoy.

The trail then heads back towards the coast, to the towns of Dampier and Karratha, where you will see how of an affect mining has on the local area.  After the harshness of the inland Pilbara, the Dampier Archipelago is a great place to swim and fish.  The Archipelago comprises 42 islands, islets and rocks close to the town of Dampier, many of which are conservation reserves.  The beaches are used by turtles for nesting and there are large populations of birds.  In winter, humpback whales make their way here from Antarctica in order to give birth, and snorkelers can also observe dugongs and bottlenosed dolphins.

Nearby is the Burrup Peninsular, a rocky landmass which boasts one of the most prolific indigenous art sites in the world.  It is believed that Aboriginal people have occupied this area for 40,000 years, and their rock art and petroglyphs can be readily seen everywhere on the peninsular.  It is also possible to see a diversity of native animals including quolls, rock wallabies, echidnas and euros (the marsupial, not the European currency!).

Next the Warlu Way heads north, and sticks to the bitumen roads, so driving from this point is quite comfortable.  The next major stop is Port Hedland, one of the busiest ports in Australia, due to the millions of tonnes of iron ore which are exported through here.  Port Hedland is no place to be stopped by a train passing a level crossing, as the trains are frequently up to three kilometres in length, so take quite some time to pass you as you patiently wait.  You can tour the port facilities are simply enjoy the local beaches.

The final short drive of the Warlu Way is a mere 630 kilometre trek to Broome.  You can deviate to the historic town of Marble Bar, which is famous for being Australia’s hottest town.  In a country that is renowned for its hot weather, Marble Bar has the record of 160 consecutive days where the maximum temperature didn’t fall below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8C).  Marble Bar was established as a gold rush town in the late 1800’s, and you can only admire the toughness of those pioneers for having the guts to build a town amid such harsh conditions.

There’s nothing harsh about Broome, however.  It too was founded around the same time as Marble Bar, but as a pearling town.  Broome is a magnificent holiday destination and its Cable Beach is truly superb.

From Broome you can continue on into the Kimberleys or head back south.

There are several things you need to remember when attempting the Warlu Way.  Firstly, you will need a permit to travel on some roads, and you can do this at the various visitor centres on the route.  In fact, it is a good idea to drop into each Visitor centre to determine road and weather conditions for the road ahead.  They do have treacherous weather up here.  Although it is mostly very hot and very dry, the areas are also hit by cyclones, which leads to flooding and much damage, always check before you proceed.

Let the visitor centres or police know of your plans and of your intended route.  If something unfortunate does happen, such as a breakdown, they will send out search parties to look for you.  The first rule of outback travel is that in case of a breakdown or an emergency stay with your car, your car is easier to spot from the air than you are, plus it provides shade and some protection from the elements.  When people have perished in the desert it is usually because they have left their car and have got lost in the desert.

Always ensure that your vehicle is perfectly roadworthy and that you carry spares of essential items. Likewise, ensure that you carry plenty of water and food.  Purchase good maps of the areas, sand if you tire, because driving on some of these roads requires intense concentration, stop and rest.  Tired drivers make mistakes, and out here mistakes can be fatal.

The main form of carrying goods here is by road train, some of which are more than 50 metres in length.  Be very careful when overtaking, make sure that you can see the road for several kilometres ahead, and that there is no oncoming traffic.  Do not take chances on overtaking near curves (there aren’t that many anyway), or against oncoming traffic.  This is big country, and that means that much of it is flat and you can see much further than you can in most other parts of the world.  The heat haze also causes mirages.  Because of this, distances can be deceiving, and an object that can appear to be kilometres away may be much closer, or even further, than you think.  If in doubt, do not try to overtake.  Road trains are not slow, and the drivers are usually pretty good at indicating whether it is safe to pass or not; but be cautious, you are a long way from both the hospital and the morgue.

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