Karratha — a one-trick pony mining town, which is little more than a turnstile for high- visibility work wear.

That is the long-held stereotype that Karratha Visitor Centre general manager Bazz Harris is working anxiously to dismiss.

“I guess it’s all about changing people’s perception of what they think Karratha is, to what it actually is, ” Mr Harris said.

“And nine times out of 10, you can change people’s perception. They come in and they think prices are going to be high, there’s not going to be a lot of accommodation and there’s not a lot to see and do. Then they walk away and go ‘Wow, I can’t believe we’ve missed it. We’ve driven past it and never really given it the time of day’. That’s the most rewarding part of what we do, changing people’s perception.

“Normally, we’re a stepping stone to camels on Cable Beach or whale sharks in Exmouth, so a lot of people come and get some fuel and sort of bypass us totally. But if we can get them to actually stay a day or two, we can give them an endless array of things to do.

“Karratha is an unexpectedly worthwhile experience and an eye-opener. The city is looking at tourism seriously for the first time in a decade.”

Mr Harris said the “stunning” Millstream-Chichester National Park was an untapped tourism hero, while cultural tours exploring the area’s indigenous background were growing in depth. He said richly significant Burrup Peninsula rock art, which he was staggered was not heritage listed, was a powerful attraction, while jewels in the local tourism crown were Deep Gorge and Hearson’s Cove in Dampier.

“You can go swimming at high tide, walk for kilometres at low tide, there are blue crabs and mud crabs and an array of sea life, ” he said.

An early morning helicopter flight with HNZ out of Karratha, over the Burrup Peninsula, unveils the immediate region’s beautiful blue waters and coastline out to the North West Shelf in just a 15-minute ride. It gives a vastly different perspective of the rugged red surrounds and glistens everywhere you look under the morning’s rising sun.

Abstract formations frame the naturally formed bays and the flight aboard a six-seat, single- engine AS350 Squirrel also offers a commanding overview of Karratha’s established mining infrastructure. Helicopter pilot Peter Ryan has been flying commercially for 25 years all around Australia in many different forms of the job, from oil-rig transfers to search-and- rescue missions.

“We do a 15-minute scenic flight which covers half the Burrup and also Karratha, ” Mr Ryan said.

“There is Angel Island up to Legendre Island and looking over to Parker Point. It’s quite beautiful, the islands are spectacular and have their own character with the prolific red rock and the iron ore which is very, very evident in the area here. With the red of the iron ore, the blue of the water and the white beaches, it’s such a great contrast, especially after it has rained because then you get the green islands as well.

“It’s not a tropical area, it’s very dry and WA is just one big sandbar, but it is quite beautiful.”

While the view from the air is magic, a boat trip out on the water with Discovery Cruising is every bit as rewarding, especially when attached to the storytelling of former soldier Brad Beaumont, who served in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994. His take on life is nothing if not eclectic.

“The biggest memory you get is thank f... we live in Australia, ” Mr Beaumont said before diverting the conversation to Phantom and Tarzan comics.

We head out on a short trip to the waters where explorer William Dampier parked the Roebuck in his 1688 visit, when he headed for land in an unsuccessful bid to find food, wood and water. We anchor early for a barbecue breakfast while we dangle a fishing line, a pursuit quickly rewarded with a tasty Spanish flag (of the fish variety).

Mr Beaumont later dives into the pristine waters to provide a feed of fresh oysters.

“When I got out of the army, I left as a major ... I thought ‘I’ve had a great career, I don’t want to ruin it by staying too long and become one of those dinosaurs’, ” he said. “So I went and became a rigger and I sort of enjoyed it but it wasn’t for me. I wanted to start my own business, so I started a wine business selling my father-in-law’s wines out of a shed in the backyard but there wasn’t a lot of money in it. So I looked afar and saw we had a tourist industry of some boats here but not a lot.”

Mr Beaumont ultimately developed his business into a marine school, teaching skippers, navigation and radio courses as well as running his own boats.

“We do fishing charters, overnight charters, day cruises and even drop people off on islands, ” he said. “I’ve got all the gear aboard, where we can leave them camping overnight, and I do school excursions, looking after kids and teaching them about the Pilbara.”

Later we stop at one of the area’s 38 shacks, where we catch a beautiful queenfish off the wind- protected beach bay and watch black-tipped reef sharks scour the shoreline above a well-camouflaged flounder and among many baitfish. There is barely a soul in sight, adding to the brilliant ambience. A climb up rocks at Pirate’s Cove, near to where a plaque marks Dampier’s first land arrival, also reveals Aboriginal rock art.

And Mr Beaumont’s local knowledge is exemplary.

“Here we are in Dampier’s archipelago with some 42 islands and 150 beaches — some of the most beautiful waters in the world, ” he said. “There is also some of the best fishing with marlin and sailfish. Basically, these islands have their own beauty.

“There are no trees but there is spinifex and we’ve just had some rain so everything is going to go beautifully green and it’s coming (on) to be absolutely wonderful around wintertime.

“I suppose the best thing about it is that you can pick a beach, any day, in a storm or whatever, and it will be calm. We’re lucky we’re not a coastal town where we have to rely on the weather. We can come out in bad weather and have a great day. The extent of all that is that we dive and snorkel and we can show people some beautiful coral, chip off a few oysters and see some wonderful fish life.

“There are a couple of caves we can dive in under and have a beer inside, it’s really wonderful with all these different things we can do. One of the greatest things here is that it is still remote and you can be the only people on a beach all day long, even though we’ve got the biggest boating fraternity in Australia. If someone pulls up on an 80m beach where you are, you think ‘Bugger, crowded again’.

“We’re spoilt like that but I’d like to see more tourism here where you can stop, hear your heart and feel the blood pulse through your veins. It’s a place with rustic colours and beautiful sunsets where everyone is forced to relax.”


© The West Australian

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