About 1000km north of Perth are the ancient, mineral-rich highlands of the Pilbara, an area that includes Mount Meharry, at 1249m the highest point in WA. The world’s richest surface deposits of iron ore were developed here in the 1950s and rich discoveries of ore, crude oil, natural gas and salt continue to be made as private railroads cart the booty to the coast for export to the hungry markets in Japan and China. As a result, company towns such as Tom Price and Newman abound, offering little to travellers except mine tours and overpriced accommodation. While the Pilbara is unquestionably the economic powerhouse of the state (and indeed the nation), the unquenchable growth of the mining industries has had knock-on effects throughout the region. Chronic housing shortages plague many towns, Karratha and Port Hedland in particular, and hotels and hostels are increasingly bought up by companies desperate to house their staff. Surrounding the huge open-cast mine sites are vast, arid pastoral stations, recovering from or surrendering to overgrazing. In the middle of all this environmental chaos Karijini National Park serenely remains, safeguarding some of Australia’s most spectacular and timeless natural scenery. Up the coast, Cossack and Port Samson offer respite from the relentless heat and mining mentality.

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