Pilbara region, Western Australia, things to do: Six of the best attractions

KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK

If you need only one reason to get yourself to the distant, dusty Pilbara then this is surely it. Just one of Karijini's gorges would be a major tourist site if it were somewhere more accessible, but here you have a whole collision of vast chasms whose cliff faces are banded with swirling purple, white and orange minerals. The two-kilometre meander along the cliff edge at Dales Gorge is a ripper at sunset. Scramble into the gorges and you'll find small pools where fern-lined streams tumble over ink-black or rust-red rock, and waterfalls gush during the wet season. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

MILLSTREAM-CHICHESTER NATIONAL PARK

Spectacular late afternoon view over Pyramid Hill, from the Millstream-Chichester National Park tra15-sixbest-Pilbara
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

Hills banded with colour, flat-topped escarpments that look like sandcastles, wetlands dotted with waterlilies, and plains chequered red and green like a giant chess board create the striking landscapes of this national park. In winter, wildflowers erupt. Where gorges crack open, oases of paperbarks and unexpected palm trees provide respite for flying foxes, kingfishers and kookaburras. The silence and emptiness is magnificent. Small wonder permanent pools along the Fortescue River are sacred to the Yinjibarndi people. Find out more on interpretive walks at the Homestead Visitor Centre, housed in a former sheep station. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

KARRATHA

The view looking west over the Karratha townsite, from the TV Hill Lookout tra15-sixbest-Pilbara
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

This regional centre makes for a good base from which to explore the northern Pilbara, while its air-conditioned shopping malls provide respite from the heat. Follow the Yaburara Heritage Trail out from the centre of town into the hills beyond, where it winds through scenic piles of rock shaded by coolabah trees and leads you to remarkable rock art. Twenty minutes out of town on the North-West Coastal Highway, Miaree Pool is an unexpectedly leafy waterhole in the Maitland River. It has spectacular views of the surrounding ranges and is perfect for shady picnicking, fishing and swimming. See karrathaiscalling.com.au

BURRUP PENINSULA

Couple fishing off the beach at Hearson Cove, located near Dampier tra15-sixbest-Pilbara
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Hearson Cove. Photo: Tourism Western Australia

Murujuga National Park doesn't just preserve Australia's greatest concentration of rock art, but probably its oldest, dating back at least 50,000 years. The 10,000 works of art include depictions of emus, turtles and the Tasmanian tigers that once roamed here, as well as stylised animal tracks. If you want a swim, head to Hearsons Cove, which also provides the Staircase to the Moon, an optical illusion created by moonlight reflecting off low-tide mudflats. For an utter contrast, hit Dampier for a look at its gigantic port and gas-storage facilities at the North West Shelf Visitor Centre. See karrathaiscalling.com.au

DAMPIER ARCHIPELAGO

Aerial view of the Dampier Archipelago<br /> tra15-sixbest-Pilbara
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

This fleet of 42 worn-down islands and rocky outcrops, where turquoise sea and orange rock meet, is a place for fishing, boating, or finding a beach or camping spot all to yourself – though you may have to share it with rock wallabies and nesting turtles. The outer islands have superb diving on reefs that shelter over 600 varieties of fish, or you can snorkel off blinding white beaches (such as Whaler's Bay) with sand so fine it squeaks underfoot. The colours of the water, which range from peacock blue to parrot green, are simply stunning. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

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PORT HEDLAND

Cargill Salt Flats, located near Port Hedland tra15-sixbest-Pilbara
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Don't ignore the modern, industrial side to the Pilbara, one of the powerhouses of the Australian economy. Port Hedland is a remarkable, Mad Max set of looming salt hills, gargantuan machines and a tangle of conveyor belts and cranes. Massive iron-ore trains clank into town from the outback, and even more massive ships sail into the harbour almost at arm's length from passers-by in the street. Marapikurrinya Park gets you a good view onto the action, or you can take tours of the port site and salt works to learn more about our massive export business. See visitporthedland.com.au

Brian Johnston travelled at his own expense.

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