In the vicinity of Karratha there seems to be many more four wheel drive (4WD) tracks than hiking trails, understandably so when taking into consideration the vast distances between locations in the Northwest of Western Australia, as well as, a lengthy summer that prevents most hiking activities. With Murujuga National Park within close proximity we made some vague plans to hike a not too long 4WD track from Hearson’s Cove through the park to Cowrie Cove. To be honest our expectations about walking a vehicle track were fairly low, however we hatched the plan in the hope it would unveil some new Pilbara landscape and perhaps in more of an adventurous way than sitting comfortable in a car.
The drive towards Dampier early Saturday morning was relatively quick as we zoomed along the highway in between salt flats. We were in good spirits with the prospect of an activity other than cycling. If you’ve seen the Instagram account it’s consumed by bike wheels and mtb trails and we’re probably covering more ground cycling each week than walking. So yes, hiking. Turning off to the Burrup Peninsula we pass Yara Fertiliser formerly known as Burrup Fertilisers (remember the Oswalds? The Indian tycoon family who fled Perth leaving an unfinished mansion dubbed The Taj Mahal?) The snaking drive towards the Pilbara coast and more specifically, Hearson’s Cove, reveals a series of hills made up of rocks, the stunning dark red shades divided by yellow spinifex vegetation, it’s a spectacular sight and quite different to the landscape found in Karratha. We pull up on the beach, immediately noticing the strong gusts of wind as we try to open the car doors. I realise I’ve forgotten the Garmin which we don’t necessary require, however I was hoping to record the kilometres travelled.
The high tide rolls in murky as we tread along the edge of the dune, the compact sand easing us comfortably into the walk. We amusingly watch a Suzuki jimny travel along the water’s edge with one energetic pit bull and another not so energetic one following behind, a new take on walking the dog. The gentleman whistling to the dogs when they detour to us for pats. Welcome to Karratha all!
We walk to the end of the cove passing mangroves fringing a system of rocky hills before a sign appears for the national park, in the foreground we are welcomed by disturbed vegetation and some litter, hopefully this is not a preview into the rest of the walk. The sandy beach walk was short and enough to say thank goodness because walking on sand can be a decent workout on the legs. Having said that, this section close to the dunes was compact and easy enough.
We take the first trail towards the coast leading to several dead ends which turn out to be interesting ones and we contently spend some time exploring the arid landscape and snapping a few photographs.
One of the disused tracks arrives close to a cluster of rocks which we climb for a 360 degree view and I take the below photo, capturing the layers of flats and hills. We hop a few more solid rocks and stand above a gully with a few river gum trees below. This landscape sits on rocks from Achaean times and for someone that knows very little about geology, I’ll just say this area is millions of years old. Appreciating the geology of the landscape makes walking through the area a lot more interesting and would love to walk this area with a geologist or historian.
Once we’ve admired the view and seemingly as we are not wearing any gaiters or protective shoes in the overgrown section, we think it’s a wise idea to return to the more open 4WD track. I wouldn’t want to step on a snake and I don’t, actually we see no snakes.
The pace is brisk once on the track as we keen are to cover some ground before the heat sets in, for now the winter’s day in the Pilbara is pleasant for a walk. The sun can be quite harsh in the region and we’ve found covering up is effective protection not only from the sun’s UV rays but the heat itself. The onset of heat exhaustion is something to be mindful of in the warmer weather.
We emerge to a flat open section and industry purposely excluded from the shots. The highlight of walking through open space of not a great deal of detail is seeing several kangaroos hop away from us in the distance. Well, they didn’t hiss at us like the ones we saw a few weeks ago. In all the years of seeing Kangaroos in the south west forest region of Western Australia, we have never encountered a hiss, so it caught us by surprise.
A section of gum trees appear and we do something we haven’t done in several months traversing trails, which is walking under them. Often than not when I have seen the coolibah or river gum it has been when I’m standing on a hill range and looking down into an inaccessible gorge or valley. So yes, happily excited about seeing native trees on the track for a brief moment.
We see a few more spur 4WD tracks but we skip the detour conscious of the time and after travelling in a westerly direction since Hearson’s Cove, the track curves north and we think we are closing in on Cowrie Cove. One of the reason’s I like the Garmin is essentially knowing if we are there yet. My brain is twitching with not knowing and it’s a good challenge.
We approach a large hill and the track follows alongside the enormous rock feature, we wonder if it can be hiked on the other side, however from what we see walking below, it rises sharply and magnificently. We spot a section on the rock where a waterfall would have been present over the summer season (rain occurs over summer in the Pilbara), carving a visible path down the rock face. The rain can be so heavy in the summer season, waterfalls and flash floods appear and while hard to believe, evidence is visible through washed out ruts in the ground or down a hill.
We arrive to an enclosed small cove standing on a round patch of white sand, circled by dry grass, rock and mangroves. We see a glimpse of the water and this becomes the marker we are heading towards.
We hop a series of rocks along the shoreline and the view opens beautifully, the water rushing in for high tide. The windy conditions continue to prevail and I almost loose balance on the higher placed rocks. The air is salty, dried salt covers our faces. I’m feeling the need to break and eat.
We rest on some rocks eating ham and cheese mini buns, living the simple life, all alone in the Pilbara. Beyond the city life, I’m soaking up every moment of being surrounded by such a huge landscape.
When we are done, we turn around walking into the wind. Our tanned legs from the red dust are beginning to feel tight and with a general achiness of my lower back and Derek experiencing a tight sharp pain in his upper inner leg, its crystal clear we need to hike more often. We may have left the hiking legs back in Perth.
In the full sun at around 10:00am the temperature has risen to 30 degrees and there is no shade on the walk, our only comfort is the cool wind except we’re not immune from windburn.
The harshness of the surroundings has it’s own unique appeal, something that has to be seen and experienced in person because the colours and sheer size of the landscape is just incredible. The Pilbara breaks the boundaries that a beautiful landscape is defined by how green and lush it appears. A palette of earthy brown colours against a blue sky, it’s no wonder we saw so many Pilbara inspired artwork at the Cossack Art Festival this year.
We return to Hearson’s Cove where a group of windsurfers have gathered taking advantage of the wind conditions.
Whether walking or driving the track to Cowrie Cove, it’s an interesting scene to check out being conveniently close to Karratha. I probably would only walk it again to explore the spur trails and perhaps further to Watering Cove. Now that I think about it, Cowrie Cove at low tide would be worth experiencing and not on a windy day.
We walked this trail in September during the winter season. Best to check with the visitor centre for track conditions, being mindful that summer is seriously hot and without suffcient hydration heat stress comes on pretty quickly so please be careful and explore within your physical ability.