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3 weeks in the Pilbara camping and 4WDing

In early June, just a few days after the Pilbara and Kimberley copped an unseasonal storm through, our family headed away for 3 weeks to explore the stunning Pilbara area. We’d decided to go solo this time, with just our Isuzu Dmax and Reconn R2, and no one else tagging along.

Like usual, I’d used every ounce (and more this time!) of annual leave that I had, and we were all very much looking forward to skipping some of the winter in Perth. If you haven’t headed north in winter time, you should; its sunny, warm and perfect from around Carnarvon north, whilst Perth is freezing and getting drenched most days.

This trip was different to any others that we’d done before, because of two main reasons. The first, and most exciting for us is that we’d said if it was successful, and we enjoyed our time on the road I was going to hand my notice in at work, and we’d be going on a lap of Australia for at least a year, and possibly more as a family with our two kids.

The second, which I was also pretty happy about was that we weren’t booking anything. We’ve often booked ahead, and its out of necessity and not because we want to, especially when visiting areas that you either book, or you don’t get a spot. Heading into the Pilbara though, we knew there were a heap of places that you could stay at that wouldn’t be busy, and many of them were not even bookable if you wanted to.

The freedom of being able to decide on the run proved to be priceless. We’d decide at any time that we had enough of a particular location, and we’d pack up the next day and move. We didn’t have to stress about having somewhere to stay as the Pilbara has plenty of options, and it made the trip far more relaxing than always having to meet a schedule, or deadline.

So, onto the complete trip summary. We left on June 3, and had 22 days away, staying at a huge number of places. Our intention was to leg it up to Newman and do Skull Springs Road, head back to Marble Bar and cross the Hillside road, then to Tom Price, and then head down towards Mt Augustus, and the Kennedy Ranges, before heading back to Perth.

If you are chasing more amazing camp sites in WA, we have our entire list here – Camping in WA.

3 weeks exploring the Pilbara

We’ve returned from an amazing 3 week trip through the Pilbara

Our itinerary went like this

Perth to White Wells for 1 night

White Wells to Gascoyne South Branch for 1 night

Gascoyne South Branch to Chief creek for 1 night

Chiefs Creek to Skull Springs for 1 night

Skull Springs to Running Waters for 1 night

Camped at Running Waters

Metres away from the water at Running Waters

Running waters to Meentheena Veteran Retreat for 3 nights

Meentheena to Glen Herring for 1 night

Glen Herring to Tiger Eye Pool for 2 nights

Tiger Eye to Bobswim/Magic Pool for 2 nights

Magic Pool is stunning

Magic Pool certainly lived up to its name

Bobswim to Cheela Plains for 2 nights

Cheela Plains to Mt Augustus for 2 nights

Mt Augustus to Temple Gorge in the Kennedy Ranges for 2 nights

Sunrise at the Kennedy Ranges

An amazing sunrise at the Kennedy Ranges

Kennedy Ranges to Bilung Pool for 1 night

Bilung Pool to the Waterfalls out of Mullewa for 1 night

The Waterfalls to Karda for 1 night

Camped at Karda

Karda is so worth a stay, near Jurien Bay

Karda to home

I must say, we moved a lot more than I had thought we would, and it was done fairly easily. Our setup now is about as quick and convenient as you can get without going to a Caravan (and even that’s not really any quicker), and the kids have started to help do little jobs around the site.

We would often only be in the car for a couple of hours, and then had the rest of the day to enjoy an area before we packed up the next morning and headed off again.

Driving on Skull Springs Road

We moved around a lot, but it was still very relaxing

Where did we get fuel?

Our setup should do about 800km from our Long Range Fuel Tank, but I’m always cautious of pushing our luck, and we took an extra 20L Jerry Can as a bit of backup, especially knowing we didn’t have a firm trip plan in mind.

We got fuel in the following places:

Perth

Mt Magnet

Newman

Nullagine

Marble Bar

Auski Road House

Tom Price

Mt Augustus

Gascoyne Junction

Mingenew

Diesel at Mt Augustus

A very, very reasonable fuel price at Mt Augustus, with Paraburdoo being 1 cent cheaper

How many kilometres did we do?

In total, we ended up doing just shy of 4300km. Initially I was thinking a maximum of 3000 – 3500km, but we did a lot of side tracks and drove around a fair bit! This trip was by far and away the most gravel driving we’ve done too, with easily 1500 – 2000km or more done on gravel roads. 

Dmax on gravel

We did a lot of driving!

Fuel economy

We did 90km/h for most of this trip on the bitumen, and did a heap of 4WD tracks and slow driving too. Our best economy was around 13L/100km, with our worst at 15.2L/100km, which was driving from Newman to Nullagine, then doing Skull Springs Road, spending a lot of time 4WDing around Meentheena Veteran Retreat and then heading back to Marble Bar.

We did 14.1L per hundred from Mt Augustus to the Kennedy Ranges and into the Gascoyne Junction, which was all gravel doing between 80 – 90km/h when the road was suitable to do so (which was most of it). 

Overall, not bad, and it would have been a lot better if we spent more time on the bitumen, but if we were towing a big van you’d be super chuffed with these numbers! I suspect that the gravel driving chewed a bit of extra fuel running lower tyre pressures.

Gravel driving

We did a heap of gravel driving

What did we spend?

With fuel being as expensive as its ever been, I knew we’d be paying a fair chunk of money. Food is not really ever more expensive than at home, and we free camped for about 80% of our stay, which was fantastic, and made up for the price of fuel!

Fuel costs

Newman was $2.25

Paraburdoo was $2.34

Mt Augustus was $2.35 (seriously cheap for where it is)

Gascoyne Junction was $2.46

Mullewa wanted $2.48, but we filled up down the road at Mingenew for $2.25

Our total fuel bill was about $1350

Food costs

We had a meal out at Mt Augustus for $103, a couple of bakery stops and that was about it.

In terms of normal food consumed, we spent around $750, so a total of $850

Accommodation costs

We free camped for 13 of the 22 nights. 3 of the nights were national parks, and 5 were private properties. Our total accommodation cost was $296, which is $13.50 per night for 4 people on average. Pretty incredible compared to the average camping cost around Australia.

Paperbark Camp

We only paid for a handful of camp sites

Total costs

In total, we spent $2500, spread over 22 days, giving us a daily expense of $114. If we’d slowed down a bit I reckon this would have been reduced even further, which is pretty impressive.

Per kilometre, it was 58 cents, which isn’t bad compared to our cost of travelling Australia history. If we maintain that on our lap of Australia I’ll be a happy bloke!

Money well spent

Money well spent, in our books

Favourite places

I feel like we were a bit spoilt on this trip, and saw so many stunning locations. Skull Springs and Running Waters were amazing, Meentheena Veteran Retreat was pretty stunning, Tiger Eye Pool was unbelievably beautiful (despite the crowds), and we fell in love with Bobswim/Magic pool too.

I’d say that was my favourite place overall, and Sarah is saying Glen Herring, which is interesting too.

Magic Pool views

Magic Pool was my favourite place

Least favourite places

Honestly, there wasn’t too much that stood out as not being amazing on this trip. We really jagged some amazing locations and had a ball. If we had to be picking, the 3 rest stops on the way to Nullagine were probably the least favourite, with it getting better each stay.

White Wells Rest Area

Our first nights stop at White Wells Rest Area

White Wells is fine for an overnighter but nothing incredible, Gascoyne South Branch was nicer again but still not a place you’d go to stay for any other reason than you were passing by, and Chief Creek was a big improvement but still had nothing on the other camps that we went to.

Camped at Chief Creek

Chief Creek was decent, but didn’t compare to many other places

Most surprising places

Bilung Pool blew me away. I was expecting a fairly average water hole, and what greeted us was a truly magic camp site. We got the first site right on the edge of a rocky ledge overlooking the pool, with perfect shade over our camp for the whole day, and sun on the car and camper panels.

Camped at Bilung Pool

Bilung Pool was such a shock; its stunning

Enjoying Bilung Pool

We all thoroughly enjoyed Bilung Pool

The pool was cold for a dip, but pristine, beautiful and it was such a nice place to camp. Our neighbours even saw a big Bungarra Lizard and called us over, which was magnificent to see. We’d been looking for one for the whole trip and to see one so close, in full sun for so long was a huge highlight for us and the kids.

Bungarra Lizard

This Bungarra was well over a metre long

What went wrong?

Before we left, our Dmax wasn’t starting occasionally, and would take longer than normal to crank. It went away for a few days prior to leaving so I assumed it was sorted, but it absolutely wasn’t. After driving 400km one day to Mt Magnet, I filled up with fuel, and then it wouldn’t start again! After a few goes it went, but being in a remote part of the Pilbara had me quite worried.

As it turned out, it was just the fact that the pre filter drain wasn’t tightened up enough by Isuzu, and after a bit of mucking around and checking things the problem was easily remedied.

At our first camp site I realised I’d left the Ryobi battery charger at home, which meant my chainsaw was basically useless. I could have used the two batteries I had, but if we needed a drill for something later on I’d have been in a pickle! It didn’t really affect us too much, but it was annoying.

Ryobi Chainsaw gear

Someone forgot to pack the Ryobi battery charger!

I smashed the stabiliser leg plastic on our Reconn R2 heading into Magic Pool, after going down a seriously steep descent and then ascent on the other side. Part of it was from going a little bit too fast right at the end, but the other part was just that the terrain was seriously challenging.

On the way out I managed to squash the little carabiner that holds the breakaway cable to the vehicle, and had to hammer it flat again. I also found a piece of plastic broke off on the outer part of our door, which allows the fly screen to separate from the main door. A couple of washers that I drilled out further and I got it held together again before a big drive on dusty roads down to Mt Augustus.

Broken door

Our door decided it’d rather be detached at the top

Rolling into the Kennedy Ranges camp ground at Temple Gorge, I parked the camper and hopped out to see our rear right tyre was looking fairly flat. A quick poke of the head into the guard and I could hear a familiar hissing noise, to let me know we’d put a hole in the tyre.

A rock had gone straight through the thickest part of the tread, and was leaking air. A bit of time on a screwdriver, then the reaming tool and then poking a rubber repair piece in and it held for the remainder of the trip.

Tyre repair kit being used

Fixing a punctured tyre at the Kennedy Ranges

Before leaving I debated replacing the tyres as they were getting close to end of life, and this was the final nail in the coffin. The tyres were looking very, very shabby after a significant amount of Pilbara rocks and gravel roads and I wasn’t overly concerned about it overall.

Also, around camp at the Kennedy Ranges, I could smell something that I thought was citronella, and every time I stuck my head in the storage hatch it got worse. I couldn’t work out what it was, until I grabbed something and smelt my hands, and realised whatever it was, came from the storage hatch itself. Reaching in further, I grabbed the can of silicon spray that I’d purchase to lubricate our pop top, only to realise it was completely empty!

This was a full size can that had clearly had something sit on top of it while we were travelling, and it sprayed the entire lot out. $10 down the drain, and given its flammable probably not the best place to have stored it, but there you go!

Overall, nothing to whinge about and it was quite problem free in the grand scheme of things.

Amazing wildlife experiences

We love nature, and in particular looking for animals and plants. We got some ripper photos of rainbow bee eaters, which are absolutely magnificent.

Rainbow Bee Eater

A couple of Bee Eaters with one having a feast

We saw a Pelican at Mt Augustus cattle pool, a big Bungarra lizard at Bilung Pool, some special finches at Meentheena Veteran Retreat, lots of whistling kites including a very friendly one at Magic Pool and Sarah had a great time taking photos of random plants (some of which could even be weeds, but they were still pretty!).

Whistling Kite

This Kite would sit in the tree and watch us for hours

Finches at Meentheena

Incredible little finches at Meentheena

Overall thoughts

We had a truly amazing trip this time. Our kids are getting to the age where they can have a lot more freedom, and we can have a lot more fun. We can trust that if we warn them about something there’s a reasonable chance they are going to listen, and that means we can relax a bit. Our toddler camping guide is still relevant, but things are certainly heading in a positive direction.

Kids camping

Our kids are getting much easier to travel with

They also walk fairly well now, and even Cooper managed to do a 6km hike up part of Mt Augustus with very little carrying (I held his hand most of the way), and despite moving so much we were relaxed most of the time. A lot of days we’d get to camp by 12PM, and that meant we had many hours to kick back and chill, so moving the next morning wasn’t a big issue.

Climbing to Edneys Lookout

Climbing to Edneys Lookout at Mt Augustus

The Pilbara once again blew our minds, and I cant wait to show you some more photos of the amazing places that we went to, in the hope that you too one day, might be able to visit some of them and enjoy the same experiences.

Skull Springs Road

The Pilbara is truly an incredible part of the world

Have you been to the Pilbara? If not, make a plan to do so. It’s stunning!

If you want to watch the trip on Youtube, here’s our first episode:

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6 comments… add one
  • Jo collins August 8, 2022, 10:29 AM

    Thanks for sharing, loved reading about your trip !

  • Aaron Schubert August 8, 2022, 1:42 PM

    Hey Jo,

    You’re very welcome. It was a magic trip, and if it inspires a few people to do the same then we’ve done well!

    Take care
    Aaron

  • Neil Malcolm Ensor August 9, 2022, 8:33 AM

    Great reading . Love the detail and all the facts.This is the info I need to get me off my seat and start travelling, seeing and appreciating my own state in more detail.

  • Trish August 9, 2022, 3:17 PM

    Looking to do very similar itinerary leaving Friday! Not so far north sticking to gorges around Newman and Tom price. Trying to find more info about Bobswim/ magic pool – how to get there would be nice! Does the visitor centre in Tom Price or Newman have any mud maps?
    We would be towing an off road camper trailer (Trackabout) behind Pajero. I guess if you got in with your rig then we should be OK providing we can find it!
    Cheers Trish

  • Aaron Schubert August 9, 2022, 5:43 PM

    Hey Neil,

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. We love the travel, and sharing it equally as much.

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert August 9, 2022, 5:49 PM

    Hi Trish,

    Have an amazing trip; there’s heaps to see. We found vague directions to Magic Pool online, and used a mapping system to find it exactly. If you have a decent 4WD mapping app or device you shouldn’t have to work too hard to find it.

    The visitor centres are no use; they said it was too hard to give directions for, which I’m sure translates to ‘we don’t really want to share the place and have any liabilities sending you there’.

    In terms of access, the track is fairly straightforward except for one quite nasty descent. Our tow bar scraped, and we damaged the rear stabiliser leg, but went through OK. Coming out was OK with a good line and a bit of momentum, but its a bit sketchy.

    On your way in, when you get to this spot, you can take the far left track (before the hill) and it avoids the nasty sections, but its pretty tight.

    All the best
    Aaron

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