Take a De­tour

It boasts an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of rock carv­ings and sits along­side an idyl­lic is­land chain, yet the Bur­rup Penin­sula re­mains vir­tu­ally un­known.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - NEWS - Words DAN F STA­PLE­TON

The Bur­rup Penin­sula is home to an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of rock art.

Drive west from Port Hed­land along the sparsely pop­u­lated coast and within three hours you’ll reach Kar­ratha, a min­ing set­tle­ment known as the ‘pow­er­house of the Pil­bara’. More than just a pit stop, Kar­ratha is also a gate­way to the en­chant­ing Mu­ru­juga, or Bur­rup Penin­sula, which pro­trudes 20 kilo­me­tres into the In­dian Ocean and is home to some of the na­tion’s most cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant out­door art­works. The Mu­ru­juga art — scat­tered across a cap­ti­vat­ing land­scape of rich red rocks — forms part of the largest lo­calised col­lec­tion of rock carv­ings, or pet­ro­glyphs, in Aus­tralia, and pos­si­bly the world.

“It il­lus­trates the en­tire hu­man his­tory of Abo­rig­i­nal Aus­tralia,” says Jo McDon­ald, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Rock Art Re­search and Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Western Aus­tralia. “This art shows changes in the way peo­ple have lived through deep time.”

Although much of the Na­tional Her­itage-listed penin­sula is part of Mu­ru­juga Na­tional Park, which is owned by Mu­ru­juga Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion and op­er­ated by the state gov­ern­ment, the pet­ro­glyphs are rarely visited by non-Indige­nous Aus­tralians, who think of the re­gion as purely min­ing coun­try. “When de­ci­sions were made in the 1960s to place an in­dus­trial port and a gas plant here, plan­ners didn’t know about the rock art and other cul­tural sites,” says McDon­ald.

At present, vis­i­tors can wan­der through the park on path­ways, or book a guided tour from lo­cal op­er­a­tors such as Ngur­rangga Tours. A board­walk be­ing built this year at Deep Gorge within the park will al­low in­creased up-close ac­cess.

In ge­o­log­i­cal terms, the Bur­rup Penin­sula is ac­tu­ally an is­land joined to the main­land by a cause­way. It’s con­sid­ered part of the Dampier Archipelago, a chain of 42 small is­lands and islets that — like the pet­ro­glyphs — re­ceive hardly any vis­i­tors. The sole town on the penin­sula, Dampier, is home to a min­ing-in­dus­try har­bour and is also the start­ing point for boat tours of the archipelago.

“We have about 150 beaches and some of the most pris­tine swim­ming wa­ter in the coun­try,” says Brad Beau­mont, owner of Dis­cov­ery Cruis­ing. “It’s a habi­tat for dol­phins, manta rays and dugongs. The colour pal­ette here is some­thing you won’t see any­where else: you have the red hills, green spinifex when it rains, beau­ti­fully white beaches and cobalt blue wa­ters.”

He con­cedes that the min­ing in­dus­try in the Pil­bara sits awk­wardly with eco-tourism. “But we’re very lucky, be­cause the in­dus­try only con­sists of iron ore and gas,” he says. “None of that ac­tiv­ity pro­duces toxic waste that would af­fect the ocean. All in­dus­try has some im­pact, of course, but in our case it hasn’t af­fected the am­bi­ence of the area.”

GET­TING THERE TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT TO KAR­RATHA, VISIT WWW.VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

Amaz­ing colours of the Bur­rup Penin­sula. ABOVE RIGHT An­cient Indige­nous rock carv­ings at Mu­ru­juga Na­tional Park.

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