Newman is a BHP Billiton company town in the Pilbara mining district of Western Australia. It is characterised by red dust that attaches to everything, and there is rarely a blade of grass to be seen.
But what many travellers who may pass through don’t know, and even some of the locals, is that there are some top offroad destinations around Newman that simply shouldn’t be missed.
HICKMAN CRATER AND ROCK ART
This drive to the Hickman Meteorite Crater and Punda Rock Art is so secret, you have to use the correct password when talking to the ladies at the Visitor Centre about it.
Well not really, but they don’t advertise it very much. The information sheets and mud map are very handy, and if you zero your trip meter at each point you will have less of a chance of taking the wrong track.
This is a remote drive, so it’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going and take the right precautions for this type of travel.
Having followed the directions and turned at the Kalgan Pool sign, continue along the access road, keeping the rail line on your right. Once you turn left at the Punda Rock Hole sign, it becomes a 4WD-only track. This is evident once you reach the crossroad after approximately 13km.
From the crossroad, proceed straight ahead to reach the Punda Rock Art and left for Hickman Crater, neither are signed. The track is tight and slow going but is only 800m so if you’re nervous about driving the short track, you could walk it. The petroglyphs are amazing and plentiful, and care should be taken when climbing the rocks.
Back at the crossroad, follow the track to Hickman Crater. Here is where using your trip meter is important. There are several exploration tracks branching off that can
Hickman Crater was only discovered in 2007 when Dr Arthur Hickman, a government geologist, was browsing Google Earth. You can park within a few metres from the edge of the crater’s rim and a short walk provides fantastic views of the around 50,000-year-old impact site.
It is hard to top the track into Kalgan Pool, and what you find at the end is in the same category.
A crucial sign is missing, so when you turn on to the BHP Billiton Access Road and cross over the railway line, turn left straight away and follow that track for a couple of kilometres, past the Eagle Rock sign, until you reach the next Kalgan Pool sign just before the bridge.
Take care through the next section as the right has a lot of blind corners that make seeing oncoming traffic difficult. Watch out for cattle as well.
From the bridge it's about 24km to the pool. In some sections the corrugations and washouts are severe, but you will forget those when you reach Kalgan Creek. From here you have several water crossings, and in a couple of sections, you will drive in the creek itself.
Here the water levels can change with the seasons and if rain has occurred, so checking the depth is a very good idea. If you come across someone who has already been through, stop and ask them what the crossings are like. Allow two hours from Newman to reach the end of the track at Kalgan Pool.
The geological wonders that grace the area will leave you wide-eyed. The semi-permanent pool is overlooked by rugged cliffs and lined with brilliant ghost gums. A rope and ladder have been installed by locals to use when the water levels are higher. The pool is also home to turtles and the occasional python, and visited by cattle, dingoes and a multitude of birds.
If you are after some tough offroad driving and a challenging hike to follow, Mount Newman is the one for you. The track is moderate to difficult and the decisions you make will decide if your tow vehicle will get you to the next destination. I also suggest you do not attempt this track on your own.
Another turnoff that isn’t signposted, follow the Great Northern Highway towards Port Hedland for approximately 23.5km, and the track will be on your left with a GPS coordinate of 23° 14’ 31” S 119° 33’ 10” E. After passing under the power lines, proceed straight ahead at the first Y junction. It is a good idea to reduce your tyre pressures here as the going gets tougher.
Continue along the track down a small hill and into a gully — you will see a steep track ahead of you and a track to your left. The climb is steeper than it looks and loose, adding to the challenge. The safer option is to follow the track to the left past the dumped van, continuing up along the ridge to the left at the next Y intersection. The 4WD track continues up to a turnaround point where a 3km return hike to the summit awaits.
From my drone, I could see wheel tracks to almost the summit, but it was not something I was going to attempt without better local knowledge of the track. The walk is not for the faint-hearted or the unfit either, but I have included Mount Newman for those who live for the challenge.
Ophthalmia Dam is a popular recreation location only 16km northeast of Newman. An oasis surrounded by the rugged Ophthalmia Ranges, the body of water was formed when the Fortescue River was dammed in 1981. It's perfect for a picnic with shelters, barbecues and toilets on site, and the dam is also a popular swimming spot for locals in summer.
Follow the Great Northern Highway south towards Meekatharra before turning on to the Marble Bar Road. At Jimblebar Junction turn right and follow the signs out to the dam. The dirt road is corrugated in places, but it is an easy drive. You can park in the shade amongst the gums and enjoy watching the variety of water birds that call this place home.
There are, however, several health warnings about the dam as the water is susceptible to Naegleria Fowleri and Cyanobacteria, and Australian Encephalitis from mosquitos has been reported in the area. Don’t let this put you off though, just stay out of the water and protect yourself against mosquito bites.
WANNA MUNNA ROCK CARVINGS
The furthest away, but by no means any less spectacular, is the Wanna Munna Rock Carvings site. The setting is tranquil along Weeli Wolli Creek, with the occasional rock pool and shady ghost gum. You can spend hours wandering along the gorge viewing these ancient petroglyphs, that’s how prolific they are. This is a registered Aboriginal site, so take care not to damage anything when climbing.
Take the Great Northern Highway from Newman towards Port Hedland for 75km. The signpost has disappeared, but the turn-off is at GPS coordinate 23° 7’ 3” S 119° 8’ 2” E. From here it is a 1.5km easygoing drive.
Keep to the left and follow the left-hand track at the second junction. From the car park walk down into the creek bed and enjoy. I was just amazed by the range and quality of work.
Keep an eye out for kangaroos too, who will come down to the pools for a drink.
Accommodation options for 'vanners are limited in Newman, with the old caravan park closed until who knows when. However, here are three options that at least give you some choice.
- Oasis@Newman: Powered, unpowered and bush camping sites, clean ablutions, free laundry, suitable for big rigs, from $25 per night
- Whaleback Village Caravan Park: 12 powered sites, unpowered sites, free laundry, from $26 per night
- Newman Information Centre: Self-contained RVs, 72-hour maximum stay, $10 per van
- A permit is required to access Kalgan Pool, Hickman Crater and Punda Rock Art as you need to travel on the BHP Billiton Road. The permit is easily obtained from the Newman Visitor Centre for a gold coin donation and is valid for 30 days.
- There is a dump point at the Information Centre.