Eighty Mile Beach

Our first stop this morning was the historic coastal town of Cossack, just a short distance north of Karratha. Although Cossack is now essentially a ghost town, home to only nine residents, in the late 1800s and early 1900s it was a thriving community supporting the pearl diving and gold mining industries. It had a very busy port. There was also a leper colony on an island just a short distance offshore. Eventually a jetty was built elsewhere and the industries either folded or moved further up the coast. The town was dissolved in 1910. Some of the buildings, notable for their use of local bluestone, have now been restored.

What was also unusual about Cossack was that, apart from the places where we had stayed overnight, Cossack was actually the first town we had driven through in over a week. The rest of our time we were driving hundreds of kilometres daily through vast natural landscapes where nobody lived.

We drove north for just over 200km, heading for Port Hedland. The road was often as straight as an arrow and the landscape on both sides of the road was flat all the way to the horizon. We passed through some places were fires had recently left everything charred black, but it appeared that such fires caused minimal damage and probably threatened no property as there was very little to burn.

Approaching Port Hedland massive road trains, often hauling four trailers, became more and more frequent. The straight roads allowed us to see if anything was coming towards us from a long way away, so we could usually get past them without having to wait too long.

Driving into Port Hedland, the road trains were a common sight. So too were railway lines with long lines of railway carriages waiting on sidings. Large cranes and heavy machinery could be seen down near the docks. We passed Rio Tinto’s salt operation, where a steady stream of pure white salt spilled from an elevated conveyor belt onto a steadily growing conical white mound that resembled a mini Mt Fuji covered in snow.

We found a cafe that was open and sat down to eat lunch at an outside table. From there we watched a large ship making its way down the narrow channel from the docks to the sea, assisted by a couple of pilot boats. We walked down to the water’s edge. There were a couple of large ships at anchor in the channel, but we couldn’t see any activity on board. Out on the horizon we could see quite a few ships. I assume most of them were awaiting their turn to enter the port in order to load up their cargo of iron ore or other mineral exports. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to wait around to see other ships coming or going as we still had a long drive ahead of us.

Before leaving Port Hedland, we called in at a supermarket and stocked up with a few things for dinner, as we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to get a meal at our next destination. The liquor store was closed, but thankfully we were able to get a couple of cold bottles of wine at Pardoo Roadhouse an hour down the road. Shortly after leaving there we passed six large brolgas just by the side of the road. Thankfully they didn’t disappear into the scrub as we drove past, so we got a really good look at them, although I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a shot.

Two hours north of Port Hedland, we left the highway and drove 9km on a dirt road to our lodgings for the night – cabins at the Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park. On either side of this short stretch of road were wallabies. A couple hopped across the road in front of our car, and one came very, very close to a collision but luckily we managed to avoid hitting it.

The cabins were a pleasant surprise. We had expected something very basic, but they’re actually quite homely and well furnished, and we have much more at our disposal than we had anticipated. But the best surprise of all awaited us when we wandered over to the beach.

The fact that we could see a viewing platform had been erected, presumably for the sunset, was a good sign. From there we had our first look at Eighty Mile Beach, which appears to be aptly named. The beach appears to go on and on forever no matter which way we looked. The tide was out and there was a vast stretch of sand running the entire length of the beach. At the high water mark a treasure trove of sea shells of all shapes and sizes had been deposited. We didn’t have to wait too long to see the sunset. Like most of the Indian Ocean sunsets we’ve seen on this trip, it was quite breathtaking. Long after the sun had disappeared, the sky and the beach were still bathed in a golden light, which eventually became a reddish glow that lingered on and on. Not too far offshore, a pod of dolphins broke the surface again and again and again. Rod and Cornie had walked out of sight down the beach. Marg walked out to the shallows, looking for shells. I was busy trying to record the memories with my camera. What a special way to end the day.

If you look closely you can see a dolphin in this shot.

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