Down by the old Millstream
We were heading to Karratha after camping for a week at Karijini National Park (that’s another story) when we stopped at Tom Price to get a permit to travel on the Rio Tinto mining road from the Tourist Information Centre.
We were towing a caravan and while the road was dusty it was well maintained.
This private road is a mining lease and travellers are required to adhere to conditions as specified under the permit, such as an 80kmph speed limit, lights on and being prepared to be stopped for random breathalyser/radar tests.
You need to be careful as heavy rail/mining maintenance vehicles use the road.
There are steep grades and sharp curves but as long as you are sensible you should find it a good drive.
The rail link from Dampier/Karratha to Tom Price runs parallel to the road where you see some very long trains – an incredible sight as they seem to stretch for miles.
Roads in the park are suitable for two-wheel vehicles only in dry weather and may be impassable after heavy rain.
Our stopover was at Millstream Chichester National Park some 210km from Tom Price and 140km from Karratha.
The Millstream wetlands is one of few places in the Pilbara where water flows all year round, with permanent pools fed by springs that draw water from the underground aquifer within porous dolomite rock.
Millstream Chichester NP is a 200,000ha park surrounding the Fortescue River with rugged gorges, tropical rock pools, meandering watercourses and waterlily wetlands. Stretching from the Hamersley Range foothills and Fortescue Valley in the south to the Chichester Range escarpment in the north, it is of great Aboriginal significance.
It is the sacred heartland of the Yindjibarndi people who still gather here as the traditional custodians.
Millstream palms blanket the wetlands and are found in few other places in the Pilbara. The road in is dotted with spinifex and gums and does not prepare the visitor for what awaits.
Millstream was named by the explorer Francis Gregory. Pastoralists occupied the country from 1865 until 1967, when it became a national park to protect the Millstream aquifer within the catchment.
Perhaps odd, but a tavern was built in 1920. It operated on and off in the 1900s but is now the Homestead Visitor Centre which offers interpretive walk trails. These are a great resource to learn more about its inhabitants and the diversity of the wetlands, woodlands and arid rocky plains and ranges.
The bird life is amazing. In one day you might see Rainbow bee-eaters, sacred kingfisher, blue-winged kookaburras, bustards and spinifex pigeons. The Euros (hills kangaroos) roam the camp and surrounding areas.
In mid-winter (June-August) spectacular wildflowers are abundant including the Sturt desert pea, mulla mulla, cassias and wattles, along with hibiscus, bluebells and desert yam.
The Homestead Visitor Centre is open daily but not staffed. Rangers patrol the park and during the dry season, April to October, campground hosts are a wealth of information and assist with collection of camp fees and maintaining the facilities.
Camping can be booked online and during the peak season it is advisable to book early. Millstream camp areas are at Milyanha close to the Old Homestead. They are generator friendly and suitable for all vehicles large and small, and have bush toilets and camp kitchen with hot water. Stargazers, the strictly non-generator sites, are mainly suitable for smaller vehicles with bush toilets and gas.
Solid fuel fires are not permitted under any circumstances. Both campgrounds have barbecue facilities. Fresh water is available at the Homestead and Miliyanha campground but it is untreated and there’s a phone card telephone.
We stayed at the Milyanha where the facilities were spotless and modern. Park fees are a day entry fee plus your camping fee.
Details can be obtained from the parks website and do offer concession for seniors.
Swimming is not permitted at Jirndawurrunha Pool or surrounding streams because the sites have deep cultural significance. There are day areas at the Old Millstream Homestead and Deep Reach Pool on the Fortescue River where swimming is permitted. Walking trails vary from 300m to the 18km heritage camel trail.
Not far from Millstream and back on to the main Karratha road there is another turnoff, still part of the Millstream Chichester NP, which is a spectacular journey along a dirt, well-graded road high up on Chichester Range.
Looking down, you expect to see dinosaurs roaming in the valley. Further on is Python Pool nestled at the base of a seasonal waterfall.
No camping is permitted here but the day picnic area has a bush toilet.
The trip is highly recommended.