Having the pleasure of a free Sunday, we happily took the opportunity to visit Millstream Chichester National Park for a hike and swim. This West Australian National Park is a achievable day trip or weekend stay from Karratha.
Leaving the Pilbara town, very quickly the landscape transits to arid plains stretched to the horizon and random rocky peaked hills dissected by Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore train line. In any one drive it’s not uncommon to spot at least five iron ore trains and despite the downturn in recent times, the iron ore industry largely remains a permanent fixture in the Pilbara. While I think the locals might be pained having to halt at a crossing to wait for a train with 300 carriages to pass, it’s an exciting novelty for us. We don’t mind stretching the legs and watching the carriages cross.
As we approach the national park, the road climbs and cuts through a couple of rock hills giving us views into gorges cut off by the private railway.
Turning off the sealed road towards Python Pool, we drive along a red dirt section of around 19 km before returning to sealed road.
With our all wheel drive car fitted with low profile tyres (not the best for up here), we experience a slower and bumpier ride than the 4WD that pass by. We pull over and Derek releases some of the tyre pressure to help make the ride a little smoother and it does work slightly. Back in the car, surroundings of outback country unravel as we drive along and upwards. Higher views open up and there are a few opportunities to pull over in a space provided, to truly admire the Pilbara wild west views.
The drive alone is incredibly scenic and reaches high enough to give us a view like this, simply from the car window.
As lovely as the car ride is, I personally will say the best is yet to come, beginning with stretching the legs on a hike and getting some sun.
We begin the camel trail until a trail head opens up to three trails, a 300 metre return of Mt Herbert and then longer trails to Python Pool and McKenzie Springs. Today we’re taking the shortest one, to Mount Herbert.
The trail traces the side of Mt Herbert in easy fashion, flat and not overly rocky when comparing other Pilbara trails. Then again, substantially rocky if comparing Perth trails.
We walk in exposed surroundings and it’s incredibly windy on the side of Mount Herbert, a last minute idea of bringing along the fleece jackets was a brilliant idea by yours truly, because there was an undeniable chill to the air. Some may argue our extended time in the Pilbara has meant we have lost the memory of what a real chill feels like?
The harsh appearance of the uninhabited terrain holds a unique beauty, red dirt and the spinifex grass growing on sloping hills is not found in the south of Western Australia. When we first came up to the Pilbara, we had spent much of our time in the southwest forests and made the honest mistake of comparing the two landscapes. Where is the forest? The Pilbara landscape is stand alone fascinating and each photo fails to represent the vast presence of the ancient land. A wide angle lens would be very useful when exploring the Pilbara. Experiencing the new landscape for the first time has been a mixture of fun delights and eye opening realities.
The trail to Mt Herbert naturally tracks up rocky ground and over a few sections washed away from past summer rains. Nothing overly major. Most of the rainfall (if there is any) occurs over summer in the Pilbara. We climb steps towards the summit passing a couple of isolated Snappy gum trees twisting towards the cloudy sky.
We encounter a mildly steep section where we slowly step up uneven rock steps, surfacing to a wonderful opening.
The patchwork appearance of the hills are beautiful and I think the national park may gain a reputation for them. Dotted with spinifex grass and gums this is the essence of the local landscape.
A quick turn around reveals the trail covered by foot so far and as you can see, the trail along the open land has been easy to navigate. While you would think, it would be easy to spot the local wildlife, it isn’t the case today.
Anything that we were thinking and chatting about on the way up is lost to the view, we look upon the ending view. It is beautiful, isn’t it?
On the summit of Mt Herbert, it’s quiet, as quiet as space?
Mt Herbert is just a small portion of what makes up Millstream Chichester National Park which happens to be 200,000 hectares of wild landscape. The hike to the summit is quite short considering most of it is covered by car before setting off on foot. It can be easily combined with other activities in the park.
Following the hike, we pile into the car and continue to Python Pool, which I assume is named after the local Olive Python, a Pilbara species of snake. It’s all part of the experience and unless you threaten them, they’ll be on their way. Simply let them do their thing.
The short track into the parking area, is uneven with some washed out sections, requiring some skillful manoeuvring to avoid scraping the rock. Again, a 4wd car, no worries.
We casually walk alongside a dry creek line into the opening of towering red rocks to a small patch of more rocks where we set up a spot to leave our stuff under some trees.
The dark waters of Python Pool are calling and with the warm sun out and the area shielding us from any winds, conditions are great to be going for a dip. We notice the waterfall triggered by heavy summer rains we saw back in March has ceased, however there is plenty of water to swim in.
How to submerse in the fresh water pool? Run and fall into the water, or walk slowly into the depth of it? It’s hard to tell what’s in the water so we don’t dive into the water. Swiftly I think!
It’s deep in the middle and we feel the presence of little fish around us when we stop swimming. The water is cold and probably a little too cold to spend an extended period in it.
The refreshing experience is a nice way to end a hike. A few more people arrive ending our alone time at Python Pool. Lunch is waiting for us back at Karratha and we’re all ready to head towards food!