Mt Whaleback, largest open-cut iron ore mine in the world

A tour of an iron ore mine has been on our list for some time now. Being stuck in Newman waiting for new tyres to be freighted up seemed like a perfect opportunity.

First, a look at two of the Haul Trucks on display in the town.

The superseded model:

The truck on display at the visitor’s centre was one of only 30 such trucks produced. BHP purchased 22 of the trucks for Newman’s Mt Whaleback mine in 1973 at a cost of $2.5million dollars each. Each truck could carry a weight of 200 tonnes, and when fully loaded the trucks weighed 75 tonnes more than the take-off weight of a 747 jumbo jet. In 1992 BHP sold one of the trucks to the visitor’s centre for the princely some of $1.00.

Superseded Haul truck on display outside Newman’s visitor’s centre

The newer model truck:

The second truck on display in the town is located near the south bound exit to the Great Northern Highway.

Currently there are 40 – 50 of these 240 tonne trucks in the mine’s fleet. The left hand drive monsters are produced in Ameria. They have 6 forward gears, reverse, and of course, power steering.

The air conditioned cabs are fitted with a 2 way radio, dust suppression kits, and a CD player. There’s also a monitor fitted that views the drivers face looking for signs of fatigue. This is linked back to an office in Perth, approximately 1200 kilometres away.

Length – 13.2 metres

Width – 7.4 metres

The newer model

Goodness me, if it ran over me and I was in the right place underneath, all I’d have to do is duck and it’d miss me altogether.

‘Duck’ and it could run me over without mishap

Those wheels would do some damage though

About the tyres:

Tyre weight – 3.6 tonne each

Tyre diamètre – 3.5 metres

Tyre weight with the rim inserted – 5 tonnes

Expected life-span – 100,000kms (average 1 year)

The on-site tyre store can hold $2million worth of tyres

Them’s big tyres!

The mine tours are run from the visitor’s centre. There’s clothing requirements for anyone going onto the premises, and we all had to wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and closed in shoes. The visitor’s centre then supplied us with the other compulsory items, the hard hat, hi-viz vest, and safety goggles.

Paul displaying his safety gear inside a loader scoop

Most of the tour comprised of being driven around the various areas in an air conditioned bus. Our tour guide, Michelle, pointed out the various working areas, provided statistics, and generally gave us a good insight into the workings of the mine. There were a lot of statistics, far to many to remember. Fortunately, Michelle gave us a print out at the tour’s conclusion.

Open-cut Iron Ore mine

Pit statistics

Mt Whaleback was originally 805 metres above sea level. They are currently mining down to 135 metres.

Each step on the sides of the pit are called benches, each bench is 12 – 15 metres high.

The water table starts on bench 18, they are currently mining on bench 30.

They pump 46 million litres of water out of the pit each week. The water is used in the water trucks used to keep the dust under control, and used to assist with other production processes.

The trains

Once the ore is mined, it goes through a number or processes before being loaded onto trains and transported to the Port (Port Hedland) for shipping overseas.

The average length of each train is 2.7kms.

Each train consists of 4 locomotives, 268 Ore cars, and only one driver. Two locos are at the front of the train, the other two are in the middle. The driver in the front loco operates the other three locos remotely.

Each car holds approximately 130 – 138 tonnes of ore.

Loaded trains pull a payload of approximately 33,000 tonnes.

When fully loaded the trains can reach up to 65kms per hour, with a braking distance of 3kms.

The conclusion of the tour

The tour lasts around 1 1/2 hours. We learnt much more than I have included here, but if you want to know more, I’d recommend doing a similar tour. It was extremely interesting, and definitely not just ‘a man’s tour’.

The tour concluded with coffee, scones and jam back at the visitor’s centre (included in the price of the tour).

But that’s not all

The following day our tyres arrived and were fitted by 10.30am, enabling us to get on our way again by 11am. We were heading south towards Cue when an oncoming support vehicle for a massively oversized vehicle approached us driving down the our side of the road. The driver of the support vehicle was a few kilometres in front of the oversized loads he was escorting, so we knew it was going to be a big one.

Next came a second support vehicle with all lights flashing immediately in front of, not one, but two trucks, each loaded with a massive piece of machinery on it’s back. Clearly we hadn’t seen the last of the mining machinery, as these two massive babies would have undoubtedly been on route to one of the mines. They took up the full road, so all traffic travelling south had to pull right off the road to allow them to pass, easy enough for us. Not so easy for any road trains though, and there were two in front of us. 

A mining vehicle being transported up Gt Northern Highway

A third support vehicle followed behind, also travelling down the wrong side of the road to prevent any following vehicles from attempting to overtake.

Rear support vehicle preventing any attempts to overtake

A lot of tourists won’t use the Great Northern Highway because it’s well used by big trucks and road trains. For those of you unfamiliar with road trains, they’re a big road truck pulling 3 or 4 carriages behind them. They’re long, and can get a bit of sway on the carriages, but the drivers are pretty good at controlling them. We always give them space when they’re passing, and we find by conversing with the drivers on our two way, they’re always really considerate.

Because the Great Northern Highway is used by such heavy vehicles, and often has oversized mining equipment being transported along it, it’s kept in tip top shape. Even though a lot of the traffic is big and heavy, there’s still a lot less traffic than on the coastal highway. We personally prefer this route when travelling up and down Western Australia. Mind you, we’ve never been stuck behind any convoys such as we saw today for any length of time. For us, the reduced traffic, the considerate truck drivers, and the prime condition of the road has always made travelling this route a pleasure!

 

 

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Karijini National Park

We first visited Karijini National Park in WA’s Pilbara approximately 15 years ago. We’ve been promising ourselves a return visit ever since. This year we made good on that promise.

We left De Grey River early on Saturday morning, and arrived at Dales camp ground in Karijini around lunch time. As I remember it, last time we were there, all camp sites were booked directly at the visitors centre within the park, and you chose your own site. Now, you drive directly to your chosen camp ground (there’s two within the park), and you pay the camp host, who allocates you a site. We were allocated a lovely big site with lots of open space around us.

Karijini is full of the most beautiful gorges. Some are reasonably easy to access, and some aren’t so easy. At the time we booked in, the two park ranges were assisting the victim of a fall down one of the gorges as they waited for SES and an ambulance to arrive. Apparently, it’s the fourth serious fall within the past four weeks.

On our last visit we trekked down several of the gorges, most of which Paul found relatively easy at the time. I struggled. Fifteen or so years further on, and it certainly hasn’t become any easier. Most of the gorges that we did on our last visit, I wouldn’t even attempt this time round.

We did return to Fern Pool. We remembered it as being one of the easy ones to get to previously, and it’s even easier now. Metal steps now lead the way (around 240 of them I believe) make it considerably easier, even though a reasonable level of fitness is still necessary. It’s as beautiful as we remembered it, with an abundance of maiden hair fern, and a tranquil waterfall dropping into the inviting swimming hole.

Beautiful Fern Pool

A mass of maidenhair ferns visible behind the waterfalls

Having done most of the other gorges before, and understanding how difficult they were, we chose to by-pass them this time around. Instead we decided to do the 200 km round trip out to Hammersley Gorge, one we missed out on during our first trip.

The trip was on dirt roads, but they weren’t too badly corrugated. When we arrived the view from the top of the gorge showed some stunning, wavy rock patterns with some gorgeous colours. The walk down into the main part of the gorge was relatively easy as promised. However, we crossed paths with a family returning to the top with their son of around 10 hoisted over his fathers shoulder, and a towel wrapped around a gaping wound in his leg from a fall. Apparently, they were heading straight to Tom Price (the nearest town), to get his leg stitched up. I hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

The gorge was beautiful, and different from the other gorges we’d seen in the park. However, I found the main water hole at the base to be a little uninviting compared to Fern Pool. Paul managed to get in, entering via some quite slippery rocks. I chose to give it a miss.

We walked up as far as we could safely, and in the distance we spied what looked to be a much more inviting swimming hole. However, to get to it would have required crossing a small stream that looked quite slimy, and then scrambling up a steep incline. Getting up there may have been easy enough, but then we would have had to return. It looked to steep for me to be able to safely manage it, so we gave it a miss. I will usually give most things a go if it looks like I could possibly manage by taking it slowly. I’m sure this would have been one of those times. But having heard about the other four falls, and having witnessed the boy being carried out – it just knocked the adventure right out of me that day.

The gorgeous rock formations at Hammersley gorge. I only wish we already had the new camera we’re planning to invest in. Our current little Lumix isn’t really up to the job.

A tree growing out of rock – how do they do that.

Distinct layers.

The landscape in Karijini is arid, but beautiful. It’s dry, and it’s hot. When you manage to clamber down into the stunning gorges, the water holes provide a welcome, cooling dip. I was cruelly reminded that accessing the gorges requires a good level of fitness and agility. Whilst my fitness isn’t too bad, my agility leaves a lot to be desired. I wished, and not for the first time, that I’d had the good sense to start travelling around this beautiful country 30 odd years ago. But as my mum often said, ‘if wishes were horses, beggars would ride’. Now I am travelling, but sadly, there’s so many experiences I have to miss out on because I left my travels too late.

A red landscape supporting white gums.

After leaving Hammersley Gorge we decided we’d stop off at Mount Bruce, the second highest peak in WA. Apparently there’s a viewing platform there that looks out over one of the iron ore mines, and it’s supposed to offer a pretty good view. The track up to the viewing platform was much rougher than the road out to the gorge. We’d only travelled a couple of kilometres when we blew a rear tyre. With our only spare fitted, we decided we’d better by-pass any more unnecessary travel in the park, so we did an about turn and headed back to camp.

Yesterday we left Karijini and headed for Newman (a Pilbara mining town) so as to arrange for our spare to be fixed. I must admit it was a bit daunting to travel more than a 200 kms with a 3000+kg van on the back of our ute, and with no spare tyre. Anyway we arrived without mishap, but there’s no tyres of the same size as ours in the town. So, we’re stuck here in Newman for a few days while we wait for our replacement tyres to arrive. They should be here tomorrow, so we’ll have the best of the older tyres moved to the rear and the spare, and we’ll have the two new ones put to the front.

While we’re here we’re catching up on some mining tours and sightseeing that we’ve been promising ourselves for some time. So, whilst we’re stuck here, there’s things to do, places to visit, things to see. So, fear not – we’re not suffering.

 

 

 

Dampier to Pardoo Station

On our second day at Dampier we took a day trip to Point Sampson, for research. And what are we researching I hear you ask? Dog friendly caravan parks! Paul and I have decided after almost a 1/4 of century of being dog free that it’s time to add a four legged companion to our household. We’re both extremely fond of cats, but cats aren’t as practical as caravan travelling companions, nor will they take kindly to the occasional few nights being pet sat at Alice and Paul’s when the need arises, and I’m sure there will be an occasional need. We have our name on a waiting list for a miniature Labrodoodle. It’s almost a nine month wait, a bit like waiting through a pregnancy, and almost as exciting.

We’re spending much of this trip researching pet friendly accommodation in the North West, and yes, having a pet is going to restrict both where we can stay, and where we can go for day trips. So far we’ve found between Perth (but not Perth itself) and Carnarvon will be a breeze. The Winter Sun in Carnarvon will be perfect for a week or two for sure.

There’s plenty of overnight free stops that are good enough for a night or two between major destinations. We just need to determine the best places to put on our list for longer stays of a week or two. We’ve worked out Point Sampson looks to be the nicest of the pet friendly parks in the Pilbarra. There’s nice beaches there for playing with a dog on, good for a paddle or a swim too, and certainly good for fishing. So, Point Sampson will most likely be our 2nd major place to stop after Carnarvon on next years trip. While at Point Samson we called at Tata’s restaurant for a light lunch – good service, a pleasant lunch, and interesting decor, and so, so clean.

Life sized horse sculpture at Tata’s

and beautiful ocean mosaic wall.

Meanwhile back at the caravan park in Dampier the corollas were waiting for Paul to return. We’d no sooner returned to camp and sat outside with a drink when one came visiting.That’s what you get when you give them a nut or two, they remember for the next night. Several watched from the trees while the first one came in to test the waters. Yep! once it was established that Paul was indeed a ‘soft touch’ for the second night, the whole family/flock quickly descended upon us. I’m not sure if some had found water to have a good bath in, or if some had just taken a dust bath.

Clean and white

Clearly this one’s been enjoying the Pilbara dust

‘Soft touch’ Paul

Next stop,  Pardoo Station which gets great reviews for being pet friendly. As it turns out it wasn’t a good week-end to try it. Being a long week-end in WA, every man and his dog from Port Headland, only about 100 kms away, had decided to have a fishing week-end at Pardoo. It was jam packed. We were lucky to get a site, many that arrived later in the day weren’t so lucky and were turned away.

The station was in the middle of mustering, bringing the cows into pens directly opposite our caravan for re-tagging. Being confined to small holding pens after roaming free on the station didn’t make for happy cows. They bellowed their discontent well into the night. The wind was up, in fact, it was blowing a gale, carrying the noise, along with the smell of a couple of hundred penned cows directly towards the campers – but one has to expect that as a possibility when camping on a cattle station. Obviously the cows needs must come before the needs of the campers, and rightly so.

We drove down to the beaches to check out fishing spots. The tide was out, so what we saw I’m sure didn’t do justice to what the spots would look like at high tide. Perhaps, we’ll give it a second look one day, but for now from our first impressions, and despite the glorious sunset on our last night, it hasn’t made next years list.

As the sun drops over Pardoo

And dips a little further, turning from yellow to deep red

Tonight we’re camped in a free roadside camp at Stanley, approximately 200 kms from Broome. It’s a great overnighter with heaps of space and plenty of level areas for parking on. There’s lots of tables under shelters, and the toilets are in reasonable condition. A good, clean freebie before we head into Broome tomorrow is most welcome. After tonight, we’ll be paying Broome’s ‘high season’ prices of more than $50 a night. The caravan parks  fill up despite the high prices, so the cost is just a reflection on how much people love Broome – including us. Can’t wait…..

Colours of the Pilbarra

Finally an opportunity to visit Millstream/Chichester National park. Despite good intentions to visit this national park several times, something has always managed to come up that’s thwarted our planned visits. This time we made it, albeit only a day visit.

The drive from Dampier where we were camped was over 130km each way, much of which was on corrugated dirt roads. It would be an understatement to say the scenery on the way there was gobsmacking – the colours glorious. Words can’t describe the awesomeness of the wide open spaces, the deep red of the earth and rocks, the stunning flowers growing out of the seemingly barren earth….

Hopefully the photos will tell a better story than words ever could. This is what we saw:

Wide open spaces fringed by heat-hazed hilltops in the distance

The rich red of iron ore country

Sturt’s desert peas on the roadside

The approach to Python Pool

The cool clear waters of Python Pool dwarfed by the towering red rock back drop.

The only way to truly appreciate the magnificence of the rocks is to swim to where they join the water, and look up, and up, and up….

Spinefix Pigeons

and wildflowers

giant termite mounds built out of the red earth

And more wildflowers

and more wildflowers

The Fortescue river

Parrots in flight above the Fortescue River

And coming in to rest.

So, that was our day at Millstream/Chicester. The drive to the park with the promise of better things to come had us enthralled – then we came to Python Pool. I’m not sure if the pool is actually in the park, we found the pool before we found the entrance to the park. It’s amongst the best of any natural fresh water pools we’ve ever been in, those rocks towering above you when you look up – words, nor pictures can do that justice. It was awesome.

After our refreshing swim, we journeyed on with eager anticipation to the actual park. And from there on we were a bit disappointed. All the best scenery seemed to be on the approach to the park and at Python Pool, and in comparison the actual park was relatively flat and uninteresting. Are we pleased we went though – absolutely, I would go again. The 260 km round trip to Python Pool was worth every kilometre of the bone shaking drive. To float in clear, clean water looking up to the top of the rich rocks, and the contrast of the vivid blue sky above – an absolute pleasure!

Wildflowers in the Pilbarra

Our eagerness to get back to Perth after having been away for nearly two and a half years has trumped our desire to travel slowly through the Pilbarra on our last leg of this trip.

Iron-ore rich, red Pilbara country.

Iron-ore rich, red Pilbara country.

Balancing Rocks.

Balancing Rocks.

Our planned four day trip has been condensed into two days. We left Broome, travelled through Port Hedland and took the Great Northern Highway via Newman towards Perth. First stop was a roadside stop approximately 280kms north of Newman.

Tonight, our second night, we’re in Cue, 1582kms south of Broome. Tomorrow we’ll travel the remaining 646kms and will be back in Perth at our favourite Perth caravan Park – Karrinyup Waters.

Those distances no doubt sound horrendous to both my overseas readers, and to some of my interstate readers. BUT – in WA, those distances aren’t difficult, even with a fifth wheeler trailing along behind. Since leaving Broome we haven’t been through any traffic lights, and we’ve only been through a couple of intersections ( both in Hedland). We’ve only had two road turns, the first as we left Broome and turned onto the Great Northern Highway, and then again as same Highway turns south just after Hedland.

Being a mining area, the superb roads are maintained to a high standard for the huge road trains. The road train drivers travel at a good speed on the flat or down hill, and are very courteous when they’re on an uphill grind. We have a CB radio which we keep tuned into the truckie’s channel. The truck drivers have a long, clear view of the road ahead, and give us the all clear when it’s safe to overtake. A constant speed of around 95kms an hour is easy to maintain.

A road train with three carriages, (some have four carriages and can be up to 53metres long.)

A road train with three carriages, (some have four carriages and can be up to 53metres long.)

Before we depart in the morning (at around 7am) we fill our thermos for coffee, and we pack our snack and lunch cooler bag to keep in the car between us. Paul drives, and it’s my job to keep him fed, watered, and entertained. A good supply of fresh fruit, nuts, and crackers with cheese, between sips of iced water keeps us sustained throughout the day. The iP0d provides entertainment with a good selection of our preferred music.

We usually have one fuel stop a day, and perhaps a couple of loo stops, at which times we fill our travel mugs with coffee, and on the road again.

So, that’s how we manage the long travel days – easy.

A sea of pink bursts from the red earth.

A sea of pink bursts from the red earth.

Not so easy, bi-passing Karijini National Park, and only snapping all the gorgeous wild flowers from inside the car as we zip past. Promise to ourselves – a slow trip next year over the same route taking time to enjoy all the pleasures whizzing past us this time round.