The Pilbara - Millstream Chichester National Park

Getting there

Leaving Hamersley Gorge, we followed the wide gravel roads of the Pilbara westward across the rolling spinifex covered hills, the blue silhouette of the Hamersley Range in the distance to the south, until eventually we reached the Millstream-Chichester National Park. This is a very different part of the Pilbara and our plan was to spend a couple of nights at Millstream, a spring-fed oasis surrounded by an arid spinifex savannah landscape, and do a bit of walking.

However, sadly the region was still recovering from the severe cyclonic floods of the past summer that swept through as the Fortescue River broke its banks. Trees were uprooted, debris spread over large areas and tracks and infrastructure washed away. A sign said that neither the Homestead nor Murlamunyjunha Track was completely open, so we decided to stay only one night.


The road to Millstream

Parallelling the Hamersley Range

Homestead Track

That evening, the grazing euros watched us as we set out to see what we could of the Homestead Track, following it through the paperbarks and date palms (planted when Millstream was an active cattle station) of the springs area. Despite a big clean-up effort by the park staff, the flood damage was still very obvious.

Millstream Homestead at sunset

Euro enjoying it supper

Trees uprooted by the recent flash flooding

Stream arising from the Millstream Spring

However, the crystal clear streams still sprang up out of their subterranean aquifers and Jirndawarrunha Pool (a sacred site for the local aboriginal people) was still a tranquil place in the late evening light, with its reflections and water-lilies.

Evening reflections in Jirndawarrunha ....

... a sacred pool for the local aboriginal people

Beauty and destruction side by side; such is the nature of this place. It is a dynamic habitat and there will always be cyclones and floods, destruction and regrowth. Our initial disappointment was probably selfish, but we quickly realised that it was a chance to appreciate the resilience of nature (when we humans don’t meddle that is!).

Yet another euro watching

Evening light at Millstream

Murlamunyjunha Track

It was another cold Pilbara night, but we were up early - the plan being to see how far we could get on the Murlamunyjunha Track before it was blocked by flood damage. We set off from the Millstream Homestead, heading north along the course of the spring-fed creek; the track followed the edge of lush green reeds beneath the shady canopy and tall flaking trunks of a narrow grove of paperbarks that grew in this moist oasis.

Lilypads on the spring-fed water of Millstream

The track was still muddy from the recent rain (while we were getting a few showers at Karajini to the east, Millstream was getting a 100mm dump) – it was the first time that we had walked in mud in this part of the world and it magnified the impact of debris and damage from the recent cyclone-induced flooding. Most smaller trees and bushes were either ripped out or had a definite downstream tilt. Despite the damage, it was a pleasantly lush setting.

Path through the paperbark grove

Crossing the open spinifex hills

Grey-fanned Livistona palms

After a while, the track emerged from the paperbarks to traverse some low hills clad with seeding spinifex, low grey acacias spotted with large golden balls of blossom, and the odd white-blossomed eucalypt. A couple of grazing euros watched us pass by from the hillside. We then re-entered the densely treed bed of Millstream Creek once again to walk beneath a canopy of the grey-fanned Livistona palms endemic to this region. There was less flood damage here and it was fascinating to walk beneath this rich vegetation in such a dry region.

The muddy track led us on and into the course of the Fortescue River - a sandy bed beneath steep rocky walls, populated by vine-clad trees. It was here that we expected the track to finish, but instead found a series of newly placed pink pickets that guided us over the wide and eroded bed of the Fortescue, past waterholes and massive trees with root systems exposed where the sandy soil had been ripped away by floodwaters.

The braided sandy bed of the Fortescue River

The pickets led us to a muddy stream where a group of workers had just laid the first part of a new log bridge – we jumped the channel and crossed the bridge to reach the other side and Crossing Pool. As of today, the Murlamunyjunha Track was open again. Sadly though, the once clear waters of Crossing Pool had turned to a muddy brown colour as the heavy rain of a few days ago washed the silt deposited by the floods into it.

This was not enough to discourage a flock of hundreds of corellas, who treated us to a display of noisy precision flying as they swept in for their morning tree-top squabble and drink from the waterhole. On the return journey, we found that the log bridge had been extended to now cross both channels of the river – no jumping needed, we could walk all the way back to Millstream Homestead.

Flood-damaged section of the track under repair

Crossing Pool - made murky by floodwaters

The corella precision flying team

Incoming corellas

It had been a pleasant surprise to be able to complete this walk and it was worth doing, as the stroll through the riparian forest of the Fortescue and spring-fed oasis of Millstream Creek offers a very different picture of the landscapes of the Pilbara. It was a good way to farewell this diverse and beautiful region.

View over the Fortescue River

Doing the whole walk meant a late departure and a very long day – we were headed to Exmouth, over 500km away, first on the Millstream-Panowannica Road, our last stretch of unsealed road on this trip, and then a long run down the highway into the increasingly flatter and treeless terrain approaching Northwest Cape. Still, it wasn’t the landscapes that interested us here – Exmouth is the entry point to Ningaloo – a long fringing line of coral reef and home to an incredible diversity of marine life. It was time to swap walking sandals and broad-rimmed hats for flippers, mask and snorkel.