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Published: August 18th 2006
The bus got to Port Hedland at about 11AM, where we were were picked up by the owner of Frog's Backpackers, the hostel that we'd pre-booked. Garry proved to be an extremely helpful host - I think he used to be a backpacker earlier in his life and is now trying to give back to the travelling community (he had to come from work to pick us up and show us round the hostel). There don't appear to be many people in residence but the dorms are spacious. The Internet is on an honour system, which is a first in my experience, and there's no defined check-out time because of the general lack of guests.
We had come to Port Hedland with the intention of getting a tour to Karijini National Park. Unfortunately, in the short conversation we had with Garry, he said that no-one was doing any tours to Karijini from here any more - due to a couple of accidents in the park, the government had clamped down on operators running tours into Karijini, and the subsequent spiralling insurance costs had forced everyone out of business. He mentioned that he had some camping gear we could borrow, so
visiting Karijini under our own steam might be an option. An exhaustive set of phone calls to the car rental firms in the area ensued.
Port Hedland is a mining town, in particular for iron ore, which is shipped off unprocessed to China. The ore has penetrated every corner of the place, with red dust on everything - be it buildings, cars, or seagulls. As a contrast, just outside Port Hedland is an industrial salt plant, with the mountains of product gleaming a dazzling white - we'd passed it in the coach on the way in.
Daniel arrived the following day, and the 3 of us decided that we would "do" Karijini independently. However even taking Garry's camping gear into account, we were still missing a few items, e.g. mats, sleeping bags, etc. We were discussing how exactly we could plug this gap, when a guy who'd been sitting near us joined in the conversation.
This was Alan, an itinerant graphic designer who roams up and down the west coast cold-calling on businesses and picking up their custom for print jobs, logo design, etc. There's no competition, so in theory there's a large market out there. As
a frequent camper himself, he could sympathise with our predicament and, being of a sociable nature and possessing a car, he offered to give us a lift to South Hedland, where we would apparently find a greater selection of outdoor stores.
Daniel and I had already exhausted the possibilities of all the ops (= opportunities = charity) stores in the area, with a duvet being our meagre haul, but Alan's offer of a lift meant that we could widen our net. There had clearly been a run on mats, as we only found 2 in the whole of South Hedland (after visiting about 7 shops).
Garry was a star again the next day, as he volunteered his partner to give me a lift to the airport to pick up the hire car. It's a Ford Falcon XT sedan that feels plush compared with the smaller vehicles that I'd generally been renting up until now, but the CD player won't play MP3s, which has rendered useless my 2 burned CDs of Italo music. Despite the size of the car, it was a real squeeze to get all our gear in - and that was before we'd even bought provisions.
A trip to Coles soon filled in all the gaps that were left, though none of the bottleshops were open yet so we set off to Karijini with our fingers crossed that we'd find beer along the way.
When we returned to Frog's, it was significantly fuller than when we'd left, both due to new arrivals and the return of some people who were doing fly in/fly out jobs in the mines. Garry seemed pleased that we'd had a good time and generously gave us a dorm to ourselves. Alan was still at the hostel, having picked up more work than he'd expected.
Friday night in Port Hedland seems to centre on The Pier Hotel. I'd been told by one of the backpackers that it was a must-visit, and by Garry's partner that it should be avoided, though she subsequently amended this opinion to say that it should be avoided at closing time. I went along with Elena and Alan and the place was banging, playing some stonking tunes that wouldn't have been out of place
on my MP3 player. There were 2 bars at either end of the dancefloor, which (sad to say) appeared to be divided up on racial lines - Aborigines at one bar, whites at the other.
A few beers and some chat later, the lights went on and the place prepared to empty out. Alan mentioned that a large drunken Australian guy standing nearby had said that he wanted to fight the 2 of us outside. I suggested that we decline with thanks, but fortunately the guy got distracted by something else and we were able to leave unmolested.
Next on the Port Hedland Friday night crawl was Bruno's, a pizza cafe close to the hostel that is the only place still serving booze after the bars close. We shared a bottle of wine that Alan claimed was at a bargain price, due it having been in the Bruno's cellar so long that it had gone from being regarded as run of the mill to being popular in the eyes of the cognoscenti.
A 3:30AM bedtime was never going to be happily followed by a 6AM rise, but I had to clean the car to remove all the
tell-tale signs of Karijini and return it to the Hertz office by 8AM. This done, I caught a taxi back to the hostel and we then checked out.
The coach was over an hour late arriving in Port Hedland, during which time we discovered that Greyhound's central information centre was rubbish - the latest information they were able to give us was that it had been 30 minutes late at Overlander (i.e. over 12 hours ago). However it did eventually turn up, the 3 of us piled on, and we were on our way to Broome.
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