Panigale Around Australia 2016: Day 13 – Fortescue to De Grey River

Day 13: Update posted the next day – Odometer 52930km. It didn’t occur to me that there’d be a Wi-Fi hotspot out in a place where there’s absolutely no mobile reception until I checked the local info board this morning. Despite this, I did enjoy the feeling of isolation, camping out in whoop whoop. Here’s a photo from yesterday, on the way to the industrial city of Port Hedland. What a lovely change of scenery away from the white sandy beaches, into the barrenness of a red-dusted landscape. 8:40am here at the moment, with an ambient temperature of 27°C. I’ll be in for a very warm one by the time I get to Broome later today!

On the way to Port Hedland, on the North West Coastal Highway.

After staying two consecutive nights in backpacker hostels, I was glad to have spent overnight in a tent underneath clear skies and mild ambient warmth. When I’m feeling in the moment, a hostel can be one of the best places to stay. Some good friends have been made in this way. On the other hand, many consecutive days on the long road can be both exhausting and tedious. The last thing that is wanted is a full-on interaction with a person.

Periodic isolation and temporary separation away from people is needed, at least in my case. I can be very open and talkative in particular social environments, but I am naturally an introverted person. When I’m feeling less than ideal, I crave to dwell amongst only within my own thoughts. After a meditative-like moment, everything becomes clearer in my head, and I am ready to tackle the world once again. Every single person has their own little world where they take a break from their lives, whether it be in the form of leisure or a dedicated religious experience. To me, tents are symbolic of attainable rejuvenation in the progress of one’s journey. On the open road, my tent is my temple of peace; my own personal retreat wherever I go.

In an unexpected twist from my usual camping ideals, I had met up with two French backpackers as mentioned in my previous blog for Day 12. I was actually glad that we had decided to camp in the same vicinity because it had given me a renewed purpose for the trip that I had momentarily forgotten. Just hearing about the awesome experiences of those backpackers had reminded me that I was missing something crucial from my journey so far.

So much of my effort had been dedicated to covering long distances to the point where I had been overlooking one important aspect: Enjoyment. You can partially blame my sickness for that, but it was something that I had subconsciously moved to the side. This simple conversation with my new friends was a moment of great realisation for me. A crazy round trip of Australia on an extraordinary bike in backbreaking time will mean absolutely nothing if I didn’t personally enjoy the actual journey.

Tents and luggage packed up, ready for the next destination.

The great thing about chats with other travellers is that nobody moves on from one without getting something out of it. Whilst I was inspired to enjoy and savour the moments of my journey, one of the French backpackers were also inspired to buy a motorcycle as soon as possible so that he can travel around Australia too. He’s previously thought about buying a motorcycle here to be able to ride around in cities, but it didn’t occur to him until this very moment that riding around Australia could be even possible. Basically, in his words, he looked at me and my bike’s setup and exclaimed, “F*** it! If this guy can tour around Australia on a Panigale, I have no excuse!”.

Literally the very next day, he bought a motorcycle and, later on after I had finished my trip and returned to Sydney, he eventually met up with me on his bike, then travelled back to Western Australia to conclude his time in Australia. I’ll talk more about these little things later on after I have finished the recount for my trip, but it is bloody interesting how simple ideas can turn that inconspicuous spark into a burning desire.

Waving goodbye to my new friends until next time we meet again, I made my way towards Karratha. The original aim for the day was to make it to Broome, but it looked to be a massive stretch at a distance of over 800km, so my stop for tonight later was rescheduled to De Grey River campground, which is another hour past Port Hedland.

Karratha is a major town on the coastal edge of the Pilbara region, and the local economy thrives in various mining sectors. The urban area sits on reclaimed land that has, in recent decades, been partially redeveloped, and is continually growing as a major population centre of the semi-arid Pilbara region.

A major gripe about my trip was that it’s been lacking in proper food. I needed any piece of decent seafood to fill me up. Luckily, FIFO Fish ‘n Chips was the first shop of its kind that I had approached in Karratha, because the food was absolute bliss. Flanked by a Sushi store, presumably run by the same owner as employees scrambled back and forth between the two counters, service was as friendly as you’d expect from a regional town that relies on its goodwill to maintain its local customer base. There was a deal going on for a fish ‘n chips for $10. For what I had paid, it was brilliant value for such large portions yet holds its own in quality and taste. I highly recommend a visit to this place if you’re craving a deep fried meal.

After visiting Karratha, my next destination was Port Hedland. But the ride was hot. In fact, too hot. Although the temperature is relatively high, being in the 30’s, the severe lack of natural shade and the exposure of extreme solar radiance made this part of the trip a particularly difficult one because I hate being in extreme heat. However, I managed to find one tree where I could take a short break from the direct heat. Oh Winter, why can’t you be a little cooler?

The Lonely Tree.

Port Hedland is a rather interesting place, being the largest industrial district of this part of Western Australia. A fully equipped port city that, throughout its history, has supported and is still sustaining a massive mining industry, its population consists of a great proportion of fly-in fly-out workers. The street scene here is rather akin to a post-apocalyptic setting, with dusty utes and road trains outnumbering passenger vehicles, and people clad in hi-vis work suits.

Port Hedland is so different and unique that street photographers would enjoy capturing the various sights in display, such as the ocean-side port, industrial container stacks and mining fields across the sprawling red-dusted outback, all of which I have not captured at all in my camera. If you do go there yourself, I urge you to try and take more photos than I have.

The Woolies at Port Hedland had one thing that I’ve never seen in any other supermarket so far: loaves of bread, stored and sold out of freezers. Sounds like a very logical idea when temperatures exceed 30°C during the Winter season.

As stated earlier, I planned on staying the night at a free campground in De Grey. For the first time, it was going to be a night without any mobile reception. The campground is situated in an extremely isolated area, but the presence of dozens of grey nomads and their caravans helped liven up the camp atmosphere.

So, no, there wasn’t any reception out here, but it was a great thing. There’s a particular peace that comes with such isolation and being completely disconnected from the world. Solitary confinement from the norms of urban conveniences and connections are difficult to come by in the age of social media. Make it a special occasion when such an opportunity hits you. Lie down in your tent and think of it as nature’s alternative to a water-filled sensory deprivation tank. Immerse in your thoughts, and embrace the quietness. Eyes closed to call it a night void of any electronic disruptions, I am feeling right at home in my own temple of peace.

A pensive moment.


Basic Statistics for the day:

  • Route: Fortescue campground, Karratha, Port Hedland, De Grey River campground
  • Total distance: 510km
  • Range of temperature: 21°C to 33°C

Expenses for the day:


General map route: