USA Tour 2015 Day 1 – Travelling from Home to Chicago

Day One – 3rd April 2015.

A Day of Travel.

Today marked the beginning of the combined music tour to the USA that I am lucky enough to be one of the staff accompanying the ensembles. Out day started at 3:00am when staff and students met at Perth Domestic Airport for our first flight to Sydney before taking connecting flights to Fortworth, Dallas and our eventual destination of Chicago.

I have been lucky enough to a substantial amount of travel over the years, however, nothing could prepare me for the length of trip from Sydney to Dallas, clocking in at just over 16 hours it is the longest continuous flight possible in the world. It makes you appreciate the size of the world having to sit in the same position for such a long period of time. Luckily I did manage to get about four hours sleep on the plane which put me in good stead for the rest of the day.

Arriving at Fortworth International Airport was my first experience of the United States, unfortunately due to connecting flights there was not enough time to head out of the airport. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to go back to Texas sometime in the future and get to experience the fullness of a Texan lifestyle.

We arrived in Chicago and after some disruption with some delayed baggage headed to the hotel we were staying at. A number of our students were quite hungry so after checking them into their rooms we organised to take the boys who were not too tired out to experience a local American food hall nearby Portillo’s. I decided on trying the American Ribs that were there, I really enjoyed them – a great start to my American experience.

It’s been a long (around 30 hours) journey to get here but it’s all very exciting. I’m looking forward to the continued experience we’ll all have over the coming two weeks we’re away.

The tour itinerary is quite full, I am hoping to be able to keep a running diary every day on what I have experienced and gotten up to. Tomorrow we will be heading off for band workshops in the morning before a guided tour of Chicago in the afternoon, dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and an evening at the Chicago Symphony.

 

North West Trip Day Three Part Four – Weano and Hancock Gorge

We had completed the restricted part of our gorge adventure as soon as we unclipped our safety ropes at the end of the cow-tail. We found ourselves at the end of the class five category walk in Hancock Gorge – Kermit’s Pool. The landscape in this part of the gorge was very different to what we experienced in the previous gorge with the pathway being very narrow and the walls rising high above us. The rock face was very smooth and had been well worn over many wet seasons, I was again reminded as the water still freely flowed over a small water fall down into Regan’s Pool below, that I wouldn’t want to get caught in a flash flood in these gorges when it was raining (apparently a local is quoted as saying to have seen the water level rise over 10 metres in under three minutes).

As Pete packed up the rigging and prepared it for us to re-strap to our backs we were able to explore the area around Kermit’s Pool. Brendan took the time to look for a nice place to sit further up the gorge whilst Melis found a ledge to lie on and I tried to find a little bit of sun to try and warm up a bit. Unfortunately with the time of day it was by now (after 4pm) the sun had vanished from this part of the gorge due to the walls being too narrow and steep leaving us in complete shadow.

After Pete had packed up the ropes we regrouped and were briefed that although the most dangerous part of the journey had finished that we still had to take car as we continued to head back to the car park where we parked. We were told that many people having completed the restricted part had slipped on the rocks by and through the level five walk and it was possible to sprain and ankle still, we had to take our time and give the gorge the respect it still deserved. We kitted up with our ropes on our backs as we had back at the start of the day and started off towards the car. Very quickly we found ourselves again getting wet (but not too deeply) as the gorge narrowed and it was impossible to pass anyway but through a gap less than a mtre in width. This part of the gorge was know as a Spider Walk, being a specific walking style we could do through this part if we liked. Spider Walking required us to pull ourselves up out of the water and spread our legs so that one was n either side of the rock face with the water body inbetween. From this position we walked about 20 metres above the water carefully looking for good positions to place our feet. The end of the spider walk we were met with another expanse of water, this one not too deep, which we needed to travel through to continue towards the exit point.

The next phase of Hancock Gorge saw the width of the gorge open up a lot more, the rock formations changed to be a lot deeper red in colour but one thing remained, the terrain was still challenging to move over meaning care had to be taken to avoid injury. We were still in the class 5 walk meaning that experience of trail was needed and that the path was not well marked. With Pete in front of us we continued on our way having to climb over many rocks and up small cliff faces that overhung the stream running through the centre of the gorge. It was at this point we came across some tourists heading in the opposite direction, they sounded like they were from Germany, their attire was an interesting selection for the terrain with the blokes int he group wearing thongs (flip-flops for Poms) on their feet. After Pete had directed them with how far they could go down we continued on our way.

A little further down the path became a little easier to navigate, this was the start of the class 4 walk in Hancock Gorge. The terrain still commanded our respect, and after a short stop for another cup of tea and refreshment we continued on our journey. Throughout this part of the gorge we saw many wonderful sights including small waterfalls and pristine waters so clear and unblemished that I am sure you would be able to drink from them without any worry of catching anything. The terrain continued to slope upwards as we headed up the gorge towards our goal and there was more and more opportunity for us to spread out a little and find our own path through the gorge with numerous opportunities for rock climbing up small ledges.

Before we knew it we came to a ladder that had been built into the side of the gorge, this was our exit point from Hancock Gorge, the beginning of the climb up to the car-park waiting above. The hike up out of the gorge was quite a steep one and had most of the group puffing for air due to the speed we did it at, it is listed as a class four walk still (so it isn’t too easy). within five minutes we were back at the top of the gorge and heading to the car park where we had started the day.

Upon reaching the car park Pete signed us off with the DEC as being out of the gorge safely and that there had been no one else spotted won there. After helping him pack up the various bits of equipment we got back into “Anzac Annie” and headed back to the base camp. As we were driving we stopped to overlook the sun setting across the Savannah, the colours of red mixed with various shades of blue and purple were quite incredible and awe inspiring.

Back at base camp we were able to get changed out of our wet gear and back into our usual clothes. We had a hot cup of tea waiting for us which enjoyed under the gas heater that is at Pete’s campsite. As we chatted about the day that had been Pete went to work preparing a slide show of the entire day’s travels through the gorges which can be watched below.

After we had enjoyed our cup of tea and reminisced on all the days adventures we were dropped back at the Eco Retreat reception area where we quickly moved off to our separate tents to have showers and try and get warm before dinner. The showers were a welcome site for both Melissa and myself, after being appropriately warmed up we headed back to the visitors centre to join mum and dad for dinner. This was followed by heading back to the tents where we all turned in for the night. Tomorrow was going to be Sunday, we had planned to head into Tom Price to attend mass, for this to occur we were going to have to be up and in the car by 6:45am.

North West Trip Day Three Part Three – Weano and Hancock Gorge

We arrived at Junction Pool within a couple of minutes of leaving the bottom of Weano Falls. This pool gets it’s name from being the pool at the junction point where three gorges meet being Hancock, Weano and Red. The tube we had been carrying throughout the day so far Pete told us we would use to cross over the pool as the temperature of the water is too cold at this time of year to be swum (he did still give us the opportunity to swim it if we so desired). Pete told us that what we were going to do is create a rope ferry system with the tube where we would pull each person across via the rope. Brendan was asked to be the rope man on the side we were currently on and after attaching it to the tube Pete jumped into the tube and paddled across to the other side (about 50 metres away). After he was safe on the other side Brendan pulled the tube back and we started to cross one by one to the bottom of the Chute at the mouth of Hancock Gorge. I was the first one to head across this time and was glad I didn’t take Pete up on the offer to swim to the far side with the water temperature being icy cold (seriously as cold as melted ice water in the bottom of eskies). After I had gotten across to the other side and Pete helped me out (the rocks being very slippery) we sent the tube back and Melissa got in. Pete asked me to be the puller of the tube on the near side so he could take some video footage of the others coming across the pool. After both Melissa and Brendan were across safely we took another short break where we had another cup of tea before commencing our ascent up what is known as the Chute.

The Chute is basically a long narrow waterfall that runs from Regan’s Pool down to Junction Pool, it is located at the end of Hancock Gorge. As the name suggests it is a very narrow passage of fast running water and rises fairly steeply (40 metres over a 20 – 30 metre distance). Similar to all the other water bodies we had encountered on the trip the rocks around the Chute were very slippery and we were instructed to take great care and help each other as we climbed, this was our free climb on the tour with no safety rope attached to us at all. When we were about three quarters of the way up the Chute Pete indicated for us to take a moment and sit down to have a look at where we had climbed. Looking back down it was amazing to see that we had already climbed up a significant way, it was also possible to see why this area was called “The Centre of the Earth” with the twisted rock formations, narrow passages and fast flowing water conjuring up images of the Jules Verne Classic “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. This truly was Karijini at its best, the beauty of the park can be experienced by all but to truly see her beauty you need to be willing to work hard for it and go to the extra efforts similar to what we had been doing throughout the course of the day. After tis 5 minute break we continued to climb up to Regan’s Pool where we would be doing a 10 metre climb up a vertical rock face followed by a cow-tail across ledges to exit the restricted parts of the gorges and rejoin Hancock Gorge at Kermit’s Pool.

We had to climb u a bit further before the gorge started to open out the area before Regan’s Pool, unfortunately named after the death of a rescuer who lost his life in a flash flood whilst trying to save a tourist who was stuck in the gorge. The location of Regan’s Pool is where they found his body. As we approached the cliff face were about to climb we saw many tourists in the unrestricted section leaning out over the edge and going past the warning signs saying to not enter the level six areas. Pete was yelling at them telling them to go back into the unrestricted section. We had it explained to us earlier in the day about the perils and dangers that Karijini presents in its gorges. After the death of Jimmy Regan it became obvious that there needed to be a grading system for walks and some level restricted as to rescue people from these gorges proves a huge risk to the rescuers (both deaths and injuries to rescuers have occurred). Unfortunately many people still ignore these signs, as a result volunteers need to put their safety on the line for strangers. On a side point, there are huge fines involved for people caught in the restricted gorges without permission from the D.E.C.

Pete needed to setup all the rigging both for the rock climb and the cow-tailing, as he did this (which took about 20 minutes) he encouraged us to go and take a look at Regan’s Pool and try and have a climb around the edge of it. The site of Regan’s Pool is a stunning circular pool with a small waterfall running into it from Kermit’s Pool and the upper regions of Hancock Gorge about 15 metres above. The stillness and clarity of the water was an incredible pale blue which look so perfect that we really didn’t want to disturb these tranquil, almost seemingly spiritual waters. Around the edge of Regan’s Pool was a small cliff face which we felt it would be possible to climb all the way, including through the waterfall, around. One by one we started off attempting to do this with Brendan leading the way followed by Melissa and myself coming up third. The climb started rather easily until about half way round when approaching the waterfall where the rocks became very slippery, after almost slipping a number of times, Brendan succumbed to gravity and fell into the pool which was icy cold, I soon followed in falling in and didn’t even get as far around as he did. Melis, on the other hand, found the way through. Watching her get up and underneath the waterfall (the gap got very tight and narrow) was an impressive effort. After she had completed the entire route she did go into the pool for a swim, it would have been a shame for all of us to go into the restricted areas and not swim in at least one of these pristine and exclusive locations.

Pete had finished the rigging for the rock climb and cow-tail out of the gorge and called us over to be breifed on exactly what was going to happen. He asked me to be the safety officer as it is the role I filled earlier in the day when we did our rock climb before abseiling down Weano Falls. We settled on the order of Brendan climbing first, followed be Melis with myself coming up last due to being the safety officer. After waiting a few minutes for Pete to climb back up and get in position we followed the procedures Pete had laid out and had Brendan prepared to climb up the 15 metre wall. He completed this in about five minutes and as he started on the cow-tail into the unrestricted parts of Hancock Gorge we prepared Melissa for her climb. Melissa got up the cliff face and onto the ledge above very quickly, she really was the best climber of the day). Once she was at the top Pete lowered the rope for me to attach myself and climb up. Going last of three of us (plus Pete before that) I had the most difficult due to the rock face and all the hand / foot holes being wet from the previous to climbers. Although I did start to lose my grip a couple of times I did managed to get to the ledge on the cliff above. From here Pete told us to cow-tail out of the restricted area of Hancock Gorge and wait for him whilst he took down all the rigging we were using for the climb and the cow-tail. I took my time on the cow-tail out stopping to look back down towards the Centre of the Earth from where we had journeyed up. The beauty of Karijini was breath taking and whilst I was appreciative of what I had experienced over the course of the day I was also a little disappointed that our journey was beginning to draw to a close.

To be continued…

North West Trip Day Three Part Two – Weano and Hancock Gorge

Day Three – Saturday 6th August

Karijini National Park – Weano and Hancock Gorges (Continued)

On the way to the Weano Recreation area Pete gave us a whole pile of background information on Karijini National Park including that it is the traditional Aboriginal Name for the area, previously it had been named by explorers as the Hammersley National Park before being returned to its original owners. We stopped at the apex at a hill and looked out over the park, there was a massive flood plain which is known as the Savannah as it is apparently very similar to the Savannah grasslands found throughout Africa. Pete also let us know that we were very lucky to have Karijini at all with it having been surveyed for mining back in the 1950’s and 1960’s before being lobbied to be turned into a National Park. Due to an above normal wet season the flora on display throughout the park had also not been seen for over 20 years with there being an abundance of green as well as a diverse array of wild flowers.

Our trip in “Anzac Annie” came to an end at the Weano Recreation Area car park, here we unloaded the gear we would be carrying throughout the day and got ready to go through the final preparation before descending down into Weano Gorge. Pete showed us how to strap the roping we would need throughout the day onto our backs and got Brendan to fill the tube we would need to cross some of the gorge lakes with air whilst he packed out lunches and the majority of equipment into his water proof back pack. Pete then took us through how to use all of the safety gear including the two-way radio and satellite phone incase an emergency presented itself and he was incapacitated. Upon completing this we ventured into the unrestricted sections of Weano Gorge.

The descent into Weano was steep, but rather easy with the track very well marked. We were met at the bottom by a small waterfall and running water throughout the gorge. After taking a few photos of this pristine area (Pete told us he tended to come down here to swim in the late afternoon) we turned and started to head towards the restricted area (it took another half an hour to get there). The gorge very rapidly became narrow with the walls of it rising steeply on either side of us by about 20 metres, as we continued Pete stopped us to give us some more information about the rock formation including that what we were seeing was actually ancient sea bed from millions of years ago the richness of the rock and smoothness in texture was quite incredible to behold. As we continued along the edges of gorge we were quickly met with having to get wet, we tried valiantly to avoid this as long as possible but theb Pete informed us we might as well give up as up ahead we’d have no choice.

Our journey continued through to the Handrail Pool, this pool is the end of the non-restricted section of Weano Gorge and provides quite a challenge in itself to actually get into.  The passage way here gets extremely narrow and is very slippery due to the constant running water. There has been a handrail (hence the name) attached to the gorge wall to help people safely enter into the pool area (a good five metres below the entrance) without slipping. Pete went first and instructed all of us to one at a time grab onto the pole and approach him backwards, as we reached the opening we had to swing our legs over the pole and then descend a ladder that had been carved into the rock face (simple foot holes). The Handrail Pool was a stunning spot, sitting in a more open expanse but still truly inside Weano Gorge. The level of difficulty to even get into this area (which is a level five walk) shows the great latitude that have been given to the gradings of the gorge walks. After we had all descended to the edge of the handrail pool we continued around to the danger sign marking the end of the unrestricted gorge and the beginning of the level 6 restricted gorges. We stopped and enjoyed morning tea at this point, a nice warm cup of tea, an apple and muesli bar and continued to get know each other. Due to the group being so small we were lucky enough to have Pete enough to have Pete stop and enjoy morning tea with us before he went off to prepare the ropes we would need to cowtail across the next section of gorge safely as we continued to approach the falls at the end of Weano Gorge.

It took Pete about twenty minutes to prepare all of the roping needed for us to proceed safely into the restricted gorges. To do this he taught us a climbing technique known as “cow-tailing”. Attached to our safety harnesses was a single rope that had been knotted in a way to give both ends individual control and attached to each of these ends was a safety clip designed for climbing. Pete explained to us that as we moved through the gorge and we would use these to safely move across narrow ledges by attaching ourselves to the safety ropes he had put up from climbing rings that had been secured to the gorge walls. After taking us through how exactly to cow-tail including always trying to say beneath the safety rope, having only one person at a time on a section of rope and always having one clip attached to safety rope at all times we proceeded through this first section of the restricted gorge. Pete instructed us to go first and then wait at the end of the section, he came las as he had to remove the rigging to remove the temptation of people to try and follow us into this restricted area.

We regrouped after Pete had finished removing the rigging and continued towards Weano Falls where we would be doing a 40 metre abseil down a waterfall down into “the centre of the earth” and “junction pool” where Hancock, Red and Weano Gorges all converge. On this part of the trip we came to another small gap we had to pass through which was a small waterfall. For safety reasons Pete advised us to treat it as a water slide and go through it sliding on our behinds (which we all took great delight in). At the end of this small slippery slide we were faced with the last pool before Weano Falls which we would be abseiling over and down. he gorge opened up at this point into a wider expanse, you could imagine the fast flowing water throughout here during the wet season powering over the not too distant falls and plummeting into the waters if Junction Pool below. This open space still had walls of about twenty to thirty metres towering overhead but there was a lot of sun getting in which was well received by all of us who were starting to feel the effects of having to get wet a few times so far. We were going to stop and have our lunch here but before we could eat Pete made us do a little extra work for it in the form of a small rock climb and then an 8 metre abseil to help prepare us for the large one we’d do straight after lunch.

Pete told us to get out into the sun and try and warm up as he prepared the rigging necessary for the practice rock climb and abseil, this took about 15 minutes to have ready. He then came down and asked one of to operate as the safety officer for the rock climb that was about to take place and instructed all of us how to attach the safety rope to our carabiner and the various communications that needed to take place before climbing. After doing this Pete climber to the top of the 8 metre wall and one by one we climbed to the top. Before each climb Pete would call out “Safety Officer” and I would respond “clear” for him to be able to throw down the safety rope which I would then take and attach to the climber. After doing this I would yell to Pete “ready” and he would take the slack as the climber took the position to begin to climb, once in position the climber would yell “climbing” and start to climb. It took all of us about 20 minutes to reach the top of the 8m ledge where we were able to enjoy the warm sunlight as Pete prepared the abseiling rigging for us to practice on. About ten minutes later Pete had all of the rigging ready for each of us to abseil down the cliff, he took us through the safety directions that were needed and instructed each of us clearly as to every step we needed to take as we went over the edge. I found the hardest part of the abseil was the initial walking backwards over the cliff, especially that moment where you go from being upright to 90 degrees with the ground, never the less, we all completed the 8m abseil without any hiccups.

As Pete packed up the rigging from the abseil he instructed us to start getting lunch out and ready. He had prepared for us a delicious meal which included lemon chicken and couscous, a fresh garden salad and a timtam to finish. We enjoyed another cup of tea and some cordial as we continued to get to know each other and discussed many interesting topics which were important to us. The overall vibe throughout lunch was relaxed and very enjoyable. Towards the end of lunch Pete started to get the rigging ready for our 40 metre abseil, this part of the trip was going to consist us cowtailing out one by one to the ledge of the waterfall before being rigged up to the safety lines and then going over the edge. Pete instructed us that after we had abseiled over the edge we would need to traverse across the cliff face to head directly under the flow of waterfall, not doing this could result in us getting injured if we slipped. He also told us that three quarters of the way down we would come to a slippery ledge, affectionately known as the dance floor due to its slippery nature. At this point we needed to be on the look out for the ledge to our left that we would need to traverse over to in order to complete the abseil, overshooting this ledge would result in us hanging just above the waterline and having to release ourself into the icy cold water below (something none of us overly wanted to experience).

The order for the abseil was Melissa followed by Brendan with myself third, anyone who knows me knows that whilst I wouldn’t say I am scared of heights I also an not totally fond of the idea of falling from a long way up (like 40 metres) however I have never let myself miss an opportunity to do something that will give me a great memory to look back on. All that being said, the positioning of myself in third is not something that I was too keen on as it gave me more time to think as I waited at the top for the other two to descend down the waterfall face. Melissa suggested that as she was going first to give her the camera that we had been using to take shots through the gorge to enable her to get some shots of us all coming down the gorge  from below. After much discussion this was agreed by all and Melissa started her decent to “the centre of the earth”. After Melissa was at the bottom Pete reset and prepared Brendan to head down the waterfall, whilst this preparation was happening it was possible to see Melis down below walking around and exploring the bottom of the gorge, Pete had told us to make sure we headed down to have a look at where Red Gorge joins up and really take the time to sit in the sun, get warm and enjoy the beauty of this restricted area that not many people get the privileged of seeing.

About 20 minutes later it was my turn to head down the waterfall and join up with Brendan and Melis. As I have always found with abseiling, the most difficult part is the getting started, the initial heading over the edge and point where you need to trust the rope rather than your feet I have never been able to get comfortable with. Once over the edge of the cliff and heading down the 40 metre water fall I found myself feeling quite comfortable (a little nervous still but really enjoying it). Pete instructed me, once over the edge, to head over to the get under the path of the waterfall, get wet and follow it down to the bottom. This by far I found the most exciting and amazing part of the adventure. when I was about a quarter of the way down I stopped to take in the scenery and view from my harness, just hanging there with a waterfall running over the top of me. All I can say is that there are no words to describe the beauty and magnificence of such a place, to me it made really sit yet again in wonder and awe of how great God is to have created such beauty in the world we live for us to enjoy and be inspired by. After this moment of being in awe I continued down the waterfall with quite a bit of slipping and sliding all the way (the rocks were very slippery). Three quarters of the way down I found myself on the dance floor, and I was amazed at just how slippery it was (it was impossible to keep your footing on it). Looking out behind me the other two directed me to where exactly the ledge was that I would need to traverse over to, I lowered myself to its level and pulled myself across and back onto Terra Firma. To my surprise my legs were shaking so much it took me a couple of seconds to get a stable footing again. After calling out to Pete that I was all clear I started to explore the gorge floor with Melissa whilst Pete abseiled down the waterfall to join us and continue with our journey.

The beauty and stillness of this area of the gorges was incredible, we found ourselves totally isolated with the only sound we could hear being the rushing waterfall we had just abseiled down. Melissa and I moved around and did some climbing whilst we waited (she being much more adventurous in where she went than I was). I was amazed at the complexity of the colours of the rocks and the way the sunlight continued to bring out different facets of this beauty in even the short amount of time we were there. If about another 15 minutes Pete had descended and packed up the roping that we had used, it was time for us to regroup and head toward Junction Pool where we would be crossing via tube and then start our ascent into Hancock Gorge.

To be continued…

North West Trip Day Three Part One – Weano and Hancock Gorge

Day Three – Saturday 6th August

Karijini National Park – Weano and Hancock Gorges

Saturday morning was set to be our first full day in Karijini and posed to be an exciting adventure for Melissa and me with us being booked to go through the restricted areas of Weano and Hancock Gorges with West Oz Active Tours.

We rose early and had breakfast at the Eco Retreat reception area, this was also the meeting place with our guide, Pete, and the other member of our tour, Brendan. After having taken care of all the business side of the day, including payment and the signing of forms, we headed off to Pete’s campsite in Anzac Annie, Pete’s van, to be fitted out with the various pieces of specialised equipment that we would need throughout the day to complete our adventure in safety and comfort.

After arriving at Pete’s campsite Melis was taken in to the changing tent to start being fitted out. Brendan and I waited outside and had various bits of equipment brought out to us to try on. The temperature this morning was quite cold and Pete told us that the temperature of the water in gorges was very cold making it important that we were fitted out properly to combat the cold as well as be able to move safely and comfortably. Pete kitted all of us out in this material known as “Shark Skin” a light-weight suit similar to what is used by swimmers and tri-atheletes to keep them warm an improve performance. We all were given a pair of pants and two tops (a long sleeve with a short sleeve for over the top) this was all designed to help keep our core temperatures up and prevent the onset of hypothermia. Pete then also fitted us out with thermal socks and climbing sandals as well as a climbing belt (with the appropriate rigging) and helmet. After receiving all the gear and being kitted up we headed off for the Weano Recreation Centre to start our adventure.

To be continued…

North West Trip Day Two – Port Headland to Karijini

Day Two – Friday 5th August

Port Headland – Kairijini National Park

After a refreshing sleep at my dad’s place in Port Headland Melissa and I were dropped off at the Port Headland Visitor’s Centre, the starting point for our BHP mine tour of their operations in Port Headland. Mum and Dad booked us on this tour for the morning as Dad had to finish off some of his work which would take all morning prior to us leaving for Karijini. I was looking forward to this tour and getting an inside look at one of the largest drivers of our economy here in Australia at this point in time.

We arrived at the visitors centre a little early, we used this time head on over to the Silver Carriage, an old train restaurant carriage that has been converted into a cafe. We had coffees and tea to pass the time on the back decking area enjoying each other’s company and the warm sun which we found lovely when compared to the cold winter days we had been experiencing back in Perth.

After finishing the coffees we headed back to the visitor centre and waited close to the front door to ensure we got a good seat on the bus tour (we had been told this was important). When the driver arrived I asked him where the best place to sit would be and he offered Melis and I the front seat in the drivers cab. This was brilliant as it gave us the complete view unhindered by any other person or part of the bus.

The tour was incredibly informative, the port site we toured make up half of the operations, the other half happening out on the mine sites. Throughout the Pilbara there are many iron ore mine sites, the largest being the Mt Whaleback site located at Newman. Our tour guide told us that the ore quality differs from the various mine sites from the high grade at Whaleback (the colour is a dark purple colour) through to the mustardy orange colours from the satellite mines. Apparently the Mt Whaleback ore is of such a high quality that it actually needs to be mixed with the lesser ore qualities for shipping to reach the demands of the various clients overseas. I was blown away with the size of the machinery and the size of the ore piles waiting for export. Some of the machinery located on the port site is no longer in use (this being the on site crushers). All of the crushing requirements now happen on the mine sites rather than in the port, at the moment the three crushers located on the Port site are being dismantled to make room for other machinery needed.

The companies BHP and FMG who operate out of Port Headland have invested significant dollars into infrastructure throughout the port area, most notably this is seen through their train lines throughout the yards to firstly transport the ore from the mines to the port but also to then have it stored in its piles waiting for shipping and then also its transfer onto the ships. The trains transporting the ore are operated by drivers, however, they can be controlled automatically from the central control station at the port. For safety reasons there is an alarm that goes off and has to be reset by the driver every couple of minutes. If a driver neglects to reset this alarm the central control can take control of the train and direct it in automatically. There are also sensors alongside all of the train line that detect anything obstructing the track, this technology allows the maximum amount of ore to be transported with the minimal amount of disruption which equals greater profits.

After we had finished the tour we were picked up by mum and taken to the turtle beach, this was because dad still wasn’t quite finished his work and we needed to give him an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Port Headland is a hatching ground for endangered sea turtles, it is the only urban hatching ground in Australia. Whilst we were at the look out we did manage to see a couple of these magnificent creatures out in the ocean. After picking dad up from his work we headed back to is place to have a quick lunch and then head off for Karijini National Park.

The trip to the National Park was an interesting one in itself, we estimated it’d take about two hours (we were wrong as it took us four hours). The landscape in the Pilbara is absolutely stunning, we were blown away with the diversity in flora from small semi arid scrubs to broad sweeping flood plains to, as the trip progressed, the high sweeping hills of the Hammersley Ranges.

After four hours and a quick stop for fuel (fuel places are few and far between so you do need to take them when they come along) we pulled into the Eastern Entrance for Karijini National Park. The time was just after 4pm so we decided to not waste a second and head to the visitor centre. Melissa’s and my hope was to be able to book oursleves onto a guided tour of the restricted gorges (level 6 walks) and hopefully get some time to go into a gorge or two in the afternoon. Unfortunately upon arriving at the visitor’s centre we found out that it shut at 4pm (we got there at 4:05pm). Feeling utterly disappointed that we had missed it by such a small time frame we headed for the accommodation at the Eco Resort to check-in. This is when we found that there was another 47km until the Resort and it was a rough gravel road we had to get there – this felt like another fail as the afternoon was getting late!

By 4:45pm we pulled into the Eco Resort and checked in, Melis and I noticed that there was a tour on offer which could be booked at the Eco Resort for the restricted gores with West Oz Actice Adventures. We booked ourselves onto it for the following day , all of a sudden our spirits were lifted as one of the main things we wanted to do had now been taken care of.

Instead of going straight to the accommodation we headed for the Weano Gorge Recreation Area and for Oxer Lookout, reputably one of the best lookouts at sunset in Western Australia. At Oxer lookout three of the gorges in the area, Hancock, Weano and Red Gorge all meet at the point known as the junction (at the base of the gorge is Junction Pool). We arrived there right as the sun was staring to set, the setting sun provided brought out the many different shades of red from the rock of the three gorges. We had arrived and now it felt like we were going to have a great time. All I can really say about the view is wow, words just cannot describe the magnificence and beauty. I found myself in total awe at the magnificence of creation and again thinking about how there is no such possible way that we, or creation in its full splendor could not have happened accidentally but as part of the design of a loving and powerful God.

After spending a lot of time down at Oxer Lookout we headed back to the Eco Rereat and checked out our accommodation. We had booked two Eco tents between the four of us, I was sharing with my Dad and Melis was sharing a tent with my Mum. These tents were a great blend between the basic necessities with a little bit of luxury containing a proper bed and electricity as well as an en-suite with both a toilet and shower. The toilets and showers provided much humour over the next few days with it being a common occurrence to open the toilet to find a small frog looking back up at you…always a good thing to check before doing your business.

For dinner we headed over to the Eco Retreat’s Restaurant where we enjoyed a good meal. The retreat was actually not too badly priced from a food perspective and whilst the menu was rather simple the quality of food was great and there was enough range to cater for everyone. Whilst we were having dinner we had the tour guide from West Oz Active Adventures come over and introduce himself to us, Pete. Pete filled us in on everything we needed to know about our trip the next day.

After dinner had concluded we headed back over to the tents, on our way there we were blown away by how cold it had gotten (it was super cold). It was lucky we had been warned and brought lots of warm clothes to get through the evenings.

North West Trip Day One – Perth to Port Headland

Day One – Thursday 4th August 2011.

Perth – Port Headland

On Thursday the 4th of August 2011 my fiance, Melissa Haydon, and I left Perth for a four day holiday in the North West of WA. The reason we were traveling north was to get a taste for Karijini National Park, a beautiful location in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, it had been one of Melissa’s dreams for many years to go there to walk and climb through the many gorges which exist there.

My Dad has been working as a contractor to the state government in the medical field for the past eight months. The nature of his job means that he is based up in Port Headland throughout the weeks. My mum flies back and forward regularly between Perth and Port Headland to both spend time with my Dad and also look after my nephew in Perth two days a week. Our trip came into fruition after a conversation I had with my mum where she said that she wanted to go and visit Karijini whilst they were based up in the Pilbara region, I mentioned that Melissa also really wanted to visit the National Park and the rest was all a matter of working out available times for the four of us to embark on our journey. After sifting through many dates we managed to find time we were all free from the 4th of August to the 98th of August, it would mean I wold have to renegotiate my teaching loads for the Friday and Monday either side of the weekend but I figured it was worth it to have this experience and share it with my fiance and also my parents.

After teaching in the morning of the 4th of August out at Aquinas College my mum and I were picked up by Melissa’s family and taken to the domestic airport to catch our 2:10 flight on QF1114 to Port Headland. Melissa and I were sitting separate from my mum, this worked really well as it gave us the two hour flight duration to talk about various details for our upcoming wedding (the trip was made pretty comfortable thanks to being given an exit row aisle).

On our descent into Port Headland I was blown away to see the size of all of the mining operations happening up here. Out in gauge roads of the harbour were 29 iron ore carriers waiting to gain access to the port to be loaded with iron ore for export to China, India and various other places around the world. It is said that the mining in Western Australia and Queensland is what is providing the Australian economy with a sense of stability throughout this global economic unstable time, however, words cannot describe the extent and size of the operations (which port wise is still being expanded further top maximise export potential).

Upon landing at Port Headland airport we were greeted by my dad and a nice warm 28 degree day (a pleasant change from the cold winter days in Perth). It was an interesting experience being in Port Headland with virtually every person you see wearing a work reflective shirt for mine site safety (it really was a sea of orange and yellow). Another interesting site were all the mine site safety fitted 4-wheel drives (all with only one person in it).

Dad wanted to give us the grand tour of the area so we left the airport and headed for the town of South Headland, the main living area of the town. I was not aware that Headland is divided into two distinct parts being Port Headland and South Headland. The reaosn this came about was due to a need for more land. Port Headland naturally is an island which has very limited land available for development, and most of it is owned by BHP. The site of South Headland was formed from the need for more land for residential living and commercial uses. There is a distance of between 20 – 25km between Port and South Headlands, this distance was worked out based on the location of South being the first strip of land that doesn’t flood during the wet season.

We went into South Headland and were shown the various landmarks (it really was very minimal). He really wanted to show us the brand new hospital which was just opened earlier in the year up here – it is currently the newest hospital in the state of Western Australia. After having viewed South Headland we proceeded back onto the main road to head for Port Headland.

As we approached Port Headland we started to see the extent of the mining operations in the region. Port Headland is one of the two major ports used to export the mineral resources of the North West (the other being Karatha). Before we got into the town of Port Headland we were confronted with the Dampier Salt Company’s Port Headland operations. Dampier Salt is largest exporter of salt in world with the majority of it heading over seas for industrial uses including use on roads in Europe during the winter. 24 hours a day the salt pile is continually added to from the thousands of hectares of salt pans which is refined from pumping seas water into massive pens to be dried over a period of three years.

The BHP port site is an incredible thing to behold, it dominates the entire Port Headland landscape. As we approached the town we saw the size of the machinery, iron ore storage piles and the out of commissioned crushers (all crushing now takes place on the mine sites rather than in the Port area). Mum and Dad have booked us into a mine tour of the BHP site tomorrow so we will look forward to learning more about all the operations of BHP in the Pilbara tomorrow.

After an extensive tour of the town (took all of 10 minutes really) we went back to Dad’s place he is staying in up here, a nice 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house. After having refreshed we went to the Port Headland Yacht Club for dinner.

The Yacht Club building is a rather new structure which replaced the older one earlier this year. A lot of the funds to construct this were a joint venture between BHP and FMG, the two big mining companies invested into the town. Aparently there was a short fall in the money and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest donated a million dollars of his own money to have the yacht club completed. Dinner was really nice, the menu wasn’t extensive but it was all reasonably priced (as were the bar drinks). The view from the yacht club is very pleasant, the majority of the seating is actually outside and overlooks the mouth of the port harbour.

At the conclusion of dinner we headed back to the house and prepared for the next days activities including the mine tour and leaving for Karijini.

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