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Karratha, WA

Modern service town and largest centre in the Pilbara

Karratha is a modern town which was created to provide accommodation and services for the employees of Hamersley Iron, Robe River Associates, the Dampier Salt Company and the workers on the North West Shelf Gas and Petroleum project. It has now grown to be the largest township in the Pilbara - it is nearly twice the size of Port Hedland and accounts for about 40% of the region's total population. Be warned: it is a town which is still driven by the high paying mining industry and consequently everything is about 50% more expensive that it would be in a non-mining town. In mid-2017 it was common for accommodation in three star motels to be more than $200 a night and meals, particularly the steaks beloved by miners, could be as much as $65.


Karratha is located on Nickol Bay 1525 km north of Perth via Highway 1.


Origin of Name

Karratha takes its name from the Karratha Station which was established in 1866 by Dr Baynton and Harry Whittal-Venn. The word 'Karratha' is believed to have meant either "good country" or "soft earth" in the language of the local Aborigines. 


Things to See and Do

Karratha Visitor Centre
The sensible starting place for any exploration of the Pilbara is the excellent Karratha Visitor Centre which is located on De Witt Road which runs south of Dampier Road near the town centre. It is open from April to September from 8.30 am - 5.00 pm on weekdays and 9.00 am - 2.00 pm on weekends. From October to March it is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm weekdays and from 10.00 am - 1.00 pm on weekends. It has excellent maps of the area and a wide range of useful brochures. 

Karratha Resource Tour
There is one tour from the Karratha Visitor Centre which covers most of the industrial attractions in the area. It starts at 8.30 am at Karratha Visitor Centre, moves to the Roebourne Visitor Centre where a video of the iron ore operations is shown, then moves out to Cape Lambert to see the port operations before heading back to Wickham and across to Cossack for lunch. It is only run during the winter months. For more information and bookings tel: (08) 9144 4600 or check out http://www.karrathavisitorcentre.com.au.

St Paul's Catholic Church
A landmark in the town because of its impressive 37 metre high copper coated spire, St Paul's Catholic Church is located on Welcome Road. The church has 24 glass windows at the base of the spire and a seating capacity of 280 people. It was officially opened in 1982 although it had been operating since 1978.

Walking in the Area
There are five interlocking trails (all accessible from the Karratha Visitors Centre) which are detailed - complete with a map - on the Yaburara Heritage Trail (download at http://trailswa.com.au/media/files/documents/SR9902_YABURARA_FOLDOUT_MAP_v6.pdf

Yaburara Heritage Trail
The brochure explains: "The Yaburara Heritage Trail is a 3.5 km, grade 4 walk highlighting the Karratha district’s natural history and cultural heritage and in particular the heritage of the traditional owners of this land, the Ngarluma people, and their neighbours the Yaburara people. It covers rugged country with some steep climbs and descents and features a number of Aboriginal sites including rock engravings and artefact scatters. The trail commences from the water tanks overlooking the Karratha town centre and access is via the information bay on Karratha Road, next to the Karratha Visitor Centre. There are also two short branch trails and three longer branch trails - a secondary trail around the base of the hills, recreational trail following the ridge top and a nature trail along two major valleys. Allow two to three hours to enjoy the full trail at a leisurely pace."
The trails that all connect with the Yaburara Trail are:
1. Point to Point Trail which runs from the Visitor Centre to the Karratha Leisureplex and includes sections of the other four trails
2. Rotary Trail which focuses on Aboriginal artefacts and includes a scatter (pieces of stone used for engraving and instruments are simply left lying around); a Talu site - a site for special ceremonies where mythical creatures live; Aboriginal engravings - a ridge with excellent petroglyphs; a lookout with views over Karratha and a place where grinding stones - used for grinding seeds - can be seen.
3. Short Loop Trail which includes the Salt Shakers Lookout with views over Karratha; ineresting displays of flora; an extensive display of petroglyphs; and a valley with bloodwood and coolibah trees.


Other Attractions in the Area

North West Shelf Project Visitors Centre
The North West Shelf Project Visitors Centre is located on Burrup Peninsula Road approximately 20 km from Karratha. It features viewing areas overlooking the Karratha Gas Plant and is open Monday to Friday, tel: (08) 9158 8292. Admission is free. As well as an excellent view over the works, the Visitors Centre has models and a theatrette where a film of the project is screened. The centre looks across at huge domes which hold liquefied natural gas which is shipped to Asia in LNG carriers.

Tours of the Dampier Archipelago
Helispirit Helicopter Tours
There is a helicopter company - Helispirit (check out http://www.helispirit.com.au/dampier-archipelago-and-karratha-helicopter-flights) which offers helicopter flights out of Karratha. There is a relatively short flights which includes Nickol Bay and Hearson's Cove; another up the Burrup Peninsula and another which goes out across the Dampier Peninsula Islands.  All flights can include an Aboriginal rock art tour organised by Ngurrangga Tours - this is an ideal way to experience the petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. For more information tel: 1800 841 611 or check out http://www.helispirit.com.au/dampier-archipelago-and-karratha-helicopter-flights

Ngurrangga Tours
The Aboriginal-led tours of the area around Karratha are highly recommended. They are run by Clinton Walker who, as the website explains, "started Ngurrangga Tours to educate and immerse people in the ways of his culture and history so that they could understand more about Pilbara Aboriginal culture and country. ​Ngurrangga Tours mostly operates from Karratha and offers visitors a unique experience of the Pilbara through the eyes of a traditional owner. Guests are given the opportunity to learn about bush foods and medicines, explore stunning locations, view and understand ancient rock art in the world's largest outdoor rock art gallery, hear traditional stories and listen to traditional songs sung using the wirra (boomerang)." There are a number of tours including a bush tucker tour, a day tour to the Millstream-Chichester National Park and a three day tour. In the immediate area is the Rock Art Tour to the Burrup Peninsula which is explained as "the highest concentration of rock art in the world and rediscover the petroglyphs (rock art) created by the Yaburrara (Northern Ngarluma) people. The rock art has been dated back to before the ice age ended and is approx. over 40,000 years old and there is up to 1 million rock art images scattered across the entire Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago." For more information, and online booking, check out http://www.ngurrangga.com.au/tours.html.

Background to the North West Shelf Project
This is an abridged and condensed version of the North West Shelf Project brochure. For a full version check out http://www.woodside.com.au/Our-Business/Producing/Documents/NWSV%20Corporate%20Brochure.PDF
“Representing an investment of more than A$34 billion, the North West Shelf Project is Australia’s largest oil and gas development and currently accounts for about one third of Australia’s oil and gas production. The North West Shelf (NWS) Project is a joint venture between six major international companies. 
“It is one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers, supplying oil and gas to Australian and international markets from huge offshore gas and condensate fields in the Carnarvon Basin off the north-west coast of Australia. 
“The NWS Project is Western Australia’s largest single producer of pipeline gas and this world-class project has been and continues to be a major contributor to the Australian economy. 
“The NWS Project has delivered more than 4000 LNG cargoes since 1989. The NWS Project is operated by Woodside. The six participants in the project are: • BHP Billiton Petroleum, BP Developments, Chevron Australia, Japan Australia LNG (MIMI), Shell Australia, Woodside Energy. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation is also a participant in the NWS Project but does not have an interest in its infrastructure. 
“The NWS Project started in the 1970s with the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas and condensate off the north-west coast of Australia. In 1980, the first major works commenced on this landmark project including the condensate load out jetty, the North Rankin A offshore platform and a 135 kilometre subsea pipeline to shore. 
“Pipeline gas production began in 1984 followed by the first shipment to Japan in 1989. 
“The principal NWS Project oil and gas fields are located approximately 125 kilometres north-west of Karratha, Western Australia in water depths ranging between 80 and 131 metres, covering a total area of 3,134 square kilometres. The Perseus field is an important longterm gas supply for the NWS Project and represents about one third of current gas resources. Other producing fields include North Rankin, Goodwyn, Angel, Searipple, Cossack, Wanaea, Lambert and Hermes. Undeveloped gas reserves include Wilcox, Dockrell, Lambert Deep, Pemberton, Lady Nora, Keast, Dixon and Gaea.”

Dampier Archipelago
Dampier and the Dampier Archipelago lie to north west of Karratha. The archipelago is a collection of 42 uninhabited islands, rocks and keys which feature unspoiled sandy beaches, excellent diving, fishing and snorkelling opportunities and offshore coral reefs. Ranging in size from one hectare to 3290 ha (Enderby). All lie within a 45-km radius of Dampier. Twenty five of the islands are conservation reserves. Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Flatback turtles nest there and the islands are also home to 26 bird species, including a couple of tern species which use them for nesting purposes.Bottlenosed dolphins and dugongs live in the offshore waters and humpback whales can be seen from July to September. 
The Dampier Archipelago covers a land area of around 400 square kilometres. The Archipelago was formed 6-8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains. The underlying rocks are amongst the oldest on earth, formed in the Archaean period more than 2400 million years ago.
This is a sacred place for the Ngarda-Ngarlie people who explain that ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. The Burrup Peninsula is 27 km long and four km wide. Many important native plants, animals and habitats are found in the area. For more information check out http://karratha.wa.gov.au/Assets/Documents/Document%20Centre/LGHI/13._Dampier_Archipeligo_including_Burrup_Peninsula.pdf.

Historic Sites
Aboriginal Engravings are found on many of the Islands, and the best examples are found on Enderby and Rosemary. Some new engravings have been found on East and West Intercourse Island. Ruins on West Lewis are believed to be part of an old pastoral settlement, and there is a remainder of a whaling station to be found on Malus. It is believed to have been operating between 1870 and 1872. 

Rock Engravings on Burrup Peninsula
It has been estimated that there are around 10,000 indigenous rock engravings (some sources claim that it is as many as one million making it the largest rock art site in the world) on the Burrup Peninsula, which extends to the north-east of Dampier.
The important viewing points for these petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula are all in the Murujuga National Park on the heritage listed Burrup Peninsula. There are two practical ways of inspecting the petroglyphs. 
• Take a guided tour (they can be arranged by contacting the Karratha Visitor Centre - and they need to be pre-booked) and have a local person point out and explain the significance of the rock art to the Yaburrara people.
• Travel to Deep Gorge (it is easy to find - take the turn to Hearson Cove on the road between Karratha and Dampier) and within easy walking distance there are images of emus, kangaroos and a variety of unusual petroglyphs. There is a sheet of directions available from the Visitor Information Centre.
According to the Ngarda-Ngarli people the engravings have a variety of purposes. Some depict ancestral beings or spirit figures, while others relate to sacred ceremonies and songs. But many are representations of the everyday life or events of the traditional ancestors. Engravings show humans (single people, pairs and groups); human activities like hunting and climbing; and animals such as fish, crab, turtles, sharks, lizards, goannas, snakes and kangaroos. Some images show animals no longer found in the area - like emus - and others that are extinct, like the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. Some images are so finely detailed animals can be identified right down to species level. Created by pecking, pounding, rubbing and scratching, the engravings provide a fascinating insight into the past.

The Flying Foam Massacre
The sign explains: "Hereabouts in February 1868, a party of settlers from Roebourne shot and killed as many as 60 Yapurarra people in response to the killing of a European policeman in Nickol Bay. The incident has become known as the Flying Foam Massacre."
The Flying Foam Massacre is one of Australia’s more brutal massacres of Aboriginal people. On the orders of the State Government’s resident Robert Sholl, police and white settlers were given permission to kill any Aboriginal person as retaliation for a police officer who was speared by the Yapurarra people. It has been estimated that up to 150 Yaburara men, women and children were killed between the months of February to May.
The event is recalled in some detail on the Monument Australia website: "The Flying Foam Massacres were a series of confrontations between white settlers and Aboriginal people around Flying Foam Passage on Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), between February and May 1868. Violence resulted in the deaths of unknown number of Jaburara (or Yaburara, Yapurarra ) people, with estimates ranging between 20 and 150 dead. The massacres followed the homicides on February 7, on the south west shore of Nickol Bay, of Police Constable William Griffis, an Aboriginal police assistant named Peter and a pearling worker named George Breem, by some Jaburara people as well as the disappearance of a pearling lugger captain, Henry Jermyn. Pearlers and pastoralists from the surrounding region, with the approval and support of the Government Resident in Roebourne, R. J. Sholl, organised two armed and mounted parties, which travelled overland and by sea respectively to Murujuga, the heartland of the Jaburara. The two parties moved towards each other in a pincer movement." For the specific location of the monument, which is in a particularly beautiful part of the Burrup Peninsula check with the Karratha Visitor Centre.

Staircase to the Moon at Hearson Cove
Between March and October, on an average of three times a month, the remarkably beautiful natural phenomenon named "Staircase to the Moon" occurs off the coast. The phenomenon is created when a full moon shines on the exposed mudflats at very low tide. The result is an illusion which looks like stairs reaching to the moon. It can be observed at Onslow, Dampier, Point Samson, Hearson Cove, Cossack, Port Hedland and Broome. Check out http://www.visitbroome.com.au/discover/facts-figures/staircase-to-the-moon for dates and times.

Bird Watching
The coast around Karratha is characterised by mangroves and mudflats. Particularly significant is Back Beach at Karratha where, when the tide is out, the mudflats are used by many waders. Further east mangrove trees fringe the coast. Behind the mangroves is an estuary of smaller mangroves and open mud and sand flats. Most of the common migratory waders can be seen foraging on the mudflats. White-bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites and Nankeen Kestrels can be seen practically every day as can be Great, Eastern Reef and Little Egrets. Little Corellas, often tarnished red by the iron ore in the dust, can also be seen all around Karratha.

Millstream Chichester National Park
Located 148 km from Roebourne, 105 km from Karratha on the Warlu Road and 97 km from Pannawonica, the 240,000 ha Millstream Chichester National Park is a landscape of spinifex hills, escarpments and tree-lined watercourses. There is also the lush oasis of the Millstream wetlands and Fortescue River pools. The area forms part of the Yindjibarndi homeland and had been a pastoral station, Millstream Station, since 1865. It became a national park in 1970 and was expanded in 1982.
The land around Millstream's water pool supports typical vegetation of the tropical north, such as palms, although introduced species such as date palms and cotton palms have spread out along Millstream Creek. From June to August the winter rains encourage the growth of colourful wildflowers. Black flying foxes, a range of birds and swarms of dragonflies and damselflies are also found around Millstream. Euros are found in the rocky areas and red kangaroos on the plains.
When you visit the park first call at the Millstream Homestead Visitor Centre to obtain information on the park’s many features and learn about the interpretative walk trails. The visitor centre, which is normally unattended, has rooms dedicated to the Yindjibarndi people, the early settlers and the natural environment. It offers an important introduction to the park's attractions. There is an excellent, downloadable brochure - https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/downloads/parks/20140464_MillstreamChichesterNP_v4.pdf - which lists five Millstream Trails and five Chichester Range Trails with information about difficulty levels and attractions.
The trails are:
Millstream Trails
* Homestead Walk - 750m – 30 minutes return – a path through the Millstream Wetlands with interpretative signs about the wetlands.
* Warrungunha Trail - 8 km – 2.5 hours return – links the Millstream Homestead with Cliff Lookout and crosses areas of melaleuca woodland, hummock grassland and riverine woodland. 
* Red Roo Trail - 9 km one way – 3 hour walk - begins at Miliyanha Campground and ends at Deep Reach Pool. 
* Stargazers Link Trail to Deep Reach - 5 km return – a 500m track links Stargazers Campground to the Red Roo Trail. A further 2 km along the Red Roo Trail is Deep Reach.
* Cliff top walk - 600m return, allow 20 minutes – a 300m cliff top walk links three vantage points from which you can view the Fortescue River and the distant Hamersley Ranges. This trail can be accessed by vehicles from Millstream Road.

Chichester Range Trails
Python Pool - 100m – 20 minutes return - a trail along a dry creek bed to Python Pool which is a permanent freshwater plunge pool located at the base of a cliff in the escarpment. The water is suitable for swimming.
McKenzie Spring - 4.5 km – 2.5 hour return – From the Mount Herbert car park to McKenzie Spring. The spring was once a watering hole for camel and bullock teams.
Mount Herbert Summit - 600m – 25 minutes return – From the Mount Herbert car park to the base of Mount Herbert, and then to the top of the mountain for a panoramic view. 
Chichester Range Camel Trail - 8 km – 3 hours one way or 16 km – 6 hours return – the trail crosses the rugged basalt and sandstone terrain of the Chichester Range. It includes steep gradients, natural obstacles and consists of variable surfaces including loose rocks. 
Cameleers Trail - 4 km – 1.5 hours return – Follow the trail towards Python Pool and head up the hill. There are natural obstacles including washouts and the surface is loose and rocky. Take time to appreciate the work that went into its early construction. 
The Millstream Chichester National Park is situated in a remote area and travel on dirt roads is necessary to access the park. Road conditions change frequently especially in summer with rain. In the cooler months, the park is generally accessible by 2WD vehicles but it is necessary to contact the park office or the department’s Karratha office beforehand. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/millstream-chichester for detailed information.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was home to the Ngarluma Aborigines for over 25,000 years.

* On 21 August, 1699 William Dampier reached the islands now known as the Dampier Archipelago.

* In 1818 Captain Phillip Parker King reached the Dampier Archipelago. He named the Intercourse Islands, Nickol Bay and the Lewis and Enderby Islands.

* In 1861 the explorer Francis Thomas Gregory reached Nickol Bay. He named Hearson's Cove, the Hamersley Ranges, Mount Samson, the Maitland and Fortescue Rivers.

* In 1866 Dr Baynton and Harry Whittal-Venn established Karratha Station. The station continued to operate under Baynton and Whittal-Venn until 1879.

* The district of Nickol Bay was gazetted in 1871.

* The Commonwealth embargo on the export of iron ore was lifted in 1960.

* In 1963 a causeway was built connecting Dampier to the mainland.

* The town was specifically constructed in 1965 as a port and processing centre to meet the needs of the Hamersley Iron mining operations at Tom Price and Paraburdoo. 

* In 1966 Hamersley Iron constructed a sealed airport at Dampier. 

* By 1968 Dampier had outgrown its original plan and the new town of Karratha was established.

* The modern town of Karratha was planned and constructed in 1968-9 as a joint State government - Hamersley Iron project to meet the expanding accommodation needs of the mining company. 

* Karratha's first residents arrived in 1971.

* Karratha became the administrative centre for the Shire of Roebourne in 1975.

* The area known as Pegs Creek was settled in 1976.

* The St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church was consecrated in 1977.

* In 1979 Dampier Peninsula was renamed the Burrup Peninsula.

* Millars Well was developed in 1980.

* Nickol was settled in 1981.

* St Paul's Catholic Church was consecrated in 1982.

* In 2012 Woodside Pluto Gas Plant was opened on the Burrup Peninsula.


Visitor Information

Karratha Visitor Centre, Lot 4548, De Witt Road, tel: (08) 9144 4600. It is open from April to September from 8.30 am - 5.00 pm on weekdays and 9.00 am - 2.00 pm on weekends. From October to March it is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm weekdays and from 10.00 am - 1.00 pm on weekends.


Useful Websites

Karratha's official website can be found at http://www.karrathavisitorcentre.com.au.

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