Tom Price - The Prettiest Town in the Pilbara

Tom Price was built in the 1960's to serve the large mines that were tapping into the rich mineral reserves of the region. The source of its existence doesnt sound very appealing then does it?

Images of industrial machinery and loads of dust and digging spring to mind! It doesnt sound like the type of place you'd want to take a vacation, so why is it that Tom Price is such a popular tourist stop off? What is it that attracts people in droves to this pretty far flung corner of the desert?

Why am I even writing this article? Well for a start, funnily enough, its the mines. Mining is done on a grandiose scale, with huge open pits and extremely large machinery that cannot help but impress the average visitor. People who dont come here to work in them will definitely want to take a look at them. And then, most tellingly, there is the scenery.

Situated in the Pilbara region of inland Western Australia, Tom Price is surrounded by the states most striking mountains- the Hammersley Ranges. Rising out of the generally flat Western Australian desert this collection of towering peaks, stunning gorges and multi coloured cliff faces is like one big back yard for Tom Price- a back yard that visitors just love to play in.

The Ranges are protected by Karijini National Park, the second largest Park in WA and the most starkly beautiful. The park is reached by a 50 kilometre drive from Tom Price, and most of it is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles, such is the rugged nature of the landscapes it contains.

Towering over Tom Price is the highest peak in Western Australia, Mt Nameless. In fact, at 747 metres above sea level, Tom Price is the highest town in the state. Mt Nameless is a bushwalkers paradise, with a number of demarcated trails leading to its summit.

From up there are magnificent views of the town below, the large Hammersley mining site in the distance and of course the other mountains and valleys nearby. Four wheel driving is also popular on the mountain, and again there are special views at every turn.

The town of Tom Price has been described as the 'prettiest in the Pilbara'. Its tree lined main street has a surprisingly modern feel to it, and remote as it is all the modern facilities you may need to make your stay more comfortable are available.

There's a range of accommodation from motels to camping grounds- all the choice the discerning outback traveller may require. First time visitors should definitely pop into the Visitor Centre first thing - located on central road, the friendly staff there will help you decide where to visit in Karrijini Park and there is also a free accommodation booking service.

At the Visitor centre you can find out about the many tours that operate out of the town. A popular one is the tour of the Lestok Pilbara Iron Mine Site, which gives you a chance to see the extraordinary mine pit and the industrial machinery that operate in it.

The tours depart regularly in air conditioned buses, and detailed commentary is provided by knowledgeable guides along the way. Other tours take you on 4WD adventures through Karrijini, giving you the opportunity to see the wonderland of gorges and peaks it is home to. A popular tour goes to Dales Gorge, where you can see Fortescue Falls, a spring fed waterfall that flows down a series of rocky steps into a deep pool twenty metres below it. Just a ten minute walk away is Fern Pool, a deep natural pool that is perfect for swimming and whose flat rocks banks provide ideal sunbasking space!

There are also some stunning lookouts in Karrijini that tour guides often include on a route. The most famous is the Oxer Lookout, which looks out over four gorges that converge together at what resembles an epicentre of geological activity. 100 metres below the lookout, at the base of its steep cliffs lie wide pools of water... tempting onlookers down for a swim!

Another popular lookout is found at Joffre Gorge. The gorge here has bizarrely curved walls which give it the impression of a natural amphitheatre! The water cascading down these walls is pretty impressive after a heavy rainfall.

Any time of the year is a good time to visit Tom Price, but many favour the cooler winter months when temperatures are more bearable. The second weekend of August every year a gala event called the Nameless Festival takes place, and this is a fun time to visit when you can take part in novelty games and races and enjoy sideshows, arts and crafts exhibits and some exciting fireworks.

Tom Price is located about 1500 kilometres north east of Perth, which is probably a bit too much of a drive for the average traveller.

An easier option is to fly into Paraburdoo Airport, where you can pick up a hire car from Rent New Cars and drive the 80 or so kilometres to Tom Price.

Gavin Wyatt

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