Explore Karratha in a Day

Located 550 kilometres north of Exmouth on Western Australia’s coastline, Karratha is the centre of the Pilbara, a place of ancient landscapes, vast mineral deposits and, around the town, home to the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi People.  

About 23,000 people live here, but many others pass through. It’s on the road from Exmouth to Broome, another eight hours’ drive away, and is surrounded by unbelievable beauty. It’s the perfect base for exploring Karijini National Park, Millstream-Chichester National Park, Dampier Archipelago and the Point Samson Peninsula. But if you’re only staying overnight, some of those adventures may be out of reach. Still, there is lots to see and do, whether you’re driving through from Exmouth and Ningaloo or flying here as a first stop on your exploration of Australia’s northwest coast. 


Get Your Bearings in Karratha 

When you first arrive and pick up your rental car, head to the rocky hills behind the town. Here, you’ll find the Yaburara Heritage Trail, a three-and-a-half-kilometre walk over rugged ground starting at the Karratha Visitors Centre. It’s not a loop though, so you may want to park on Dampier Road and take on two of the shorter trails. Along the Rotary Trail, you’ll find an Aboriginal artefact scatter, an important Talu (ceremonial) site related to the flying fox, known as Warramurangka, several petroglyphs (engravings) on a ridge, and flat rocks by a creek that were used as grinding stones. You’ll also see kangaroo petroglyphs on the approach to the Rotary Lookout, where you’ll get an excellent view of the western end of Karratha. 

If you want to see the whole town, park at the Karratha Leisureplex, down the road, and walk up the hill to the lookout known as Double View. In the 360-degree panorama you’ll see the town, mud flats, Nikol Bay, the Burrup Peninsula, and the Chichester Range. 

It looks great from up here, and if you want to get an even higher vantage point, Helispirit recently began operating scenic flights over Karratha and the Dampier Archipelago. The contrast between the red earth, white sand beaches and blue water is even more dramatic when witnessed from above. 


A Burrup Peninsula Pilgrimage 

Jump in your rental car and drive 35 kilometres from Karratha to the Burrup Peninsula, home to Murujuga National Park. First Nations People have lived here for more than 50,000 years and it is where you can find what is thought to be the largest concentration of ancient rock engravings anywhere in the world.  

Some of the petroglyphs here are estimated to be 40,000 years old, and the depictions are diverse. There are human forms, marine animals, birds and what are thought to be extinct animals. Look closely and you might see one that looks like a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). The best place to see them is Ngajarli (Deep Gorge). If you want to know more about the art and their stories, Traditional Custodians lead the 90-minute Murujuga Rock Art & Culture Experience 

Another of the peninsula’s features are the piled red boulders that are formed by the breakdown of the parent material – a fine-grained granite and gabbro – that has then oxidised to give it the rusty hue. Distinct species live in these rocks, like the native rock fig and Rothschild’s rock-wallaby.  

There are beaches and bays all around the Burrup Peninsula, but one of the most popular is Hearsons Cove. Surrounded by rugged hills, it’s a great spot for a swim at high tide. When the tide goes out, walk along tidal flats to the turtle islands.  


Push on to Point Samson 

Whether you decide to spend a few hours here during your day in Karratha or stop off as you travel further north, this former pastoral port has plenty to recommend it. If you’ve ever seen the movie Red Dog, this region might be familiar. In fact, not far off the highway is the real Red Dog’s grave. 

Stop at the ghost town of Cossack, where the heritage trail takes in the beautifully restored bluestone buildings that once held Customs House (now a cafe), post office, police barracks and courthouse, where there’s now a museum. There’s also a heritage driving trail that takes in old Afghan camps, Chinese market gardens, tram remains and the Jarman Island Lighthouse. 

Hire some snorkel gear from Port Samson Adventure Rentals, so you can get in the water. Jump in at Honeymoon Cove, where there’s a strip of reef that runs the length of the beach.

When it’s time for lunch, this village has a great reputation for excellent fish and chips. Try Samson Beach Tavern, with its view of the water and all sorts of seafood dishes. 

Point Samson is also a great place to see the Staircase to the Moon, an optical illusion that occurs during a full moon that makes it appear as though the exposed tidal flats actually create steps to this celestial body. 


To enjoy your day around Karratha and further on, hire a rental car to get on the road.