The Warlu Way – from Coral Bay to Broome
The Warlu Way unravels the mysteries of the Warlu (pronounced Wah-loo) and immerses you in Aboriginal culture, beliefs and spectacular and sparse scenery along its almost 2500 kilometre one way self-drive journey through Western Australia’s rugged Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions. There are also several side trips that could easily add another 1000 plus kilometres to your journey.
Weaving its way north from Coral Bay on Ningaloo’s southern most tip, through the stunning gorges of Karijini National Park, to the billabong oasis of Millstream-Chichester National Park through the world’s oldest and largest concentration of petro glyphs (ancient rock art) on the Burrup Peninsular and completing this remarkable journey in Broome, home of one of the world’s best beaches, the maxima pintada pearl and the gateway to the stunning Kimberley.
From the cool azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean to the rugged red pindan ranges interpretive signage guides you along this inspiring drive bringing your attention to the natural beauty and secrets of outback Australia and its rugged and unique landscape, historical, cultural and natural wonders you are about to experience.
Warlu Way draws its name from Aboriginal dreaming of the water serpent (Warlu) that emerged from the sea and meandered its way across an ancient and sacred landscape carving a path and forming rivers and pools as it moved.
Legend has it that Barrimindi, a Warlu serpent, came up out of the sea at Onslow and travelled up the route of the Fortescue River, which flowed deep underground at the time, until he got to Jindawurru (Millstream). At Nhanggangunha (Deep Reach Pool, Millstream) the Barrimindi broke the surface to look around.
Barrimindi was chasing two young boys who broke the law by killing birds at Nhanggangunha (Deep Reach Point, Millstream). Barrimindi caught the two offenders & lifted the law breakers high into the sky in a Willy willy… When they fell he swallowed and drowned them and their tribe in the biggest flood of water. Legend has it that the Barrimindi Warlu still to this day lives deep down in the pool he created.
Yinjibarndi people believe you will be harmed if you do not approach Nhanggangunha correctly. On first entering you need to take a handful of water into your mouth, spit it out and call, ‘nguru’ to announce that you are there and that you belong to and respect the land. Traditional Yinjibarndi elders do this first and they explain to the spirit who any strangers with them are, so that they too are protected.
Yinjibarndi people also warn people not to stand so close so that your shadow crosses the hole created by Barrimindi (warlu mudji) when it broke through the earth. They fear that it will disturb the Barrimindi Warlu, who may awake, see you and take you.
Experience Warlu Way – The long road ahead
Coral Bay is a small coastal hamlet community nestled on a beautiful bay protected from the Indian Ocean by the southern tip of Ningaloo Marine Park. Coral Bay sits about 50 km to the North of the tropic of Capricorn. The weather is mild, without the humidity that is often associated with tropical climates further north.
Coral Bay consists of virtually one street which you wander down to Main Beach, a classic and startling white sandy beach with natures playground accessible by all.
Ningaloo is Australia’s only fringing reef protecting one of the world’s most striking coastlines. In contrast to other coastal locations the coral starts right at the water’s edge. The reef fish and the coral are very accessible to all including small children and those less abled by age or injury.
A short 20 minute stroll north of Main Beach leads you to Point Maud, where manta rays swim, and further around the point Bateman Bay. The landing of the schooner ‘Maud’ in 1884 is the earliest recorded European activity in the Coral Bay area. Coral Bay township is located just south of what’s know as ‘Maud’s Landing’. Formal settlement began in 1968 with the establishment of a hotel, caravan park, and service station. The main shopping centre on Robinson St also has an ATM, newsagent, and internet access in the ‘Visitors Centre’ (which the tour operator booking offices like to call themselves).
The township relies solely on tourism.
|Coral Bay to Exmouth||153 km||(about 2 hours 7 minutes)|
Ningaloo Reef is about 1200 kilometres north of Perth offshore from the resort towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth. The Ningaloo Marine Park stretches for some 260 kilometres, from Amherst Point south of Coral Bay to Bundegi Reef in Exmouth Gulf around North West Cape and extends some three nautical miles out to sea. Ningaloo Reef is one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world with its closest point within 100 metres of the shore and Australia’s sole fringing reef.
Ningaloo Reef comprises 200 species of hard corals and 50 species of soft corals with over 520 species of fish. The reefs close proximity to the shoreline means it is easily accessible, being a diver’s and snorkeler’s paradise. The Ningaloo Reef is famous for Whale Sharks, Manta rays, Humpback whales, Dugongs, Turtles, Potato Cod and hundreds of other different fish species.
The area is very significant to the Gnulli people. The area has a long history of occupancy by Indigenous communities and traditional use of the marine environment continues. Maritime heritage, panoramic seascapes and wilderness experiences are all inherent values of Ningaloo Marine Park.
Campgrounds are located adjacent to beaches along the coast. From here, it is often a short swim out to spectacular coral gardens. Accidents have happened so visitors need to be competent swimmers to enjoy the reef areas and are reminded to read all warning signs. Recreational fishing, snorkelling, swimming, wind surfing and surfing are all popular activities for visitors to the park.
Situated on the North West Cape is Cape Range National Park, a spectacular place of rugged limestone ranges, breathtaking deep canyons and 50km of pristine beaches.
The weathered limestone range rises to 314 metres above sea level, forming the spine of the peninsula stretching up the North West Cape.
A range of walk trails provide the opportunity to study up close some of the areas mangrove species and the birds that frequent them, or wander the stony bed of an ancient river now known as Mandu Mandu Gorge. The walk along the rugged limestone alongside Yardie Creek may be rewarded with a glimpse of the rare footed black wallaby sunning themselves on the opposite side before evening provides a protective cover for them to come out and feed. Their paws are adapted to the rocky terrain and they seem to almost fly across the rocks.
Delve beneath the surface of the park and find out about the unique collection of bizarre cave-dwelling animals that lurk amidst the network of caves and tunnels amidst the limestone range. This ancient treasure trove is of immense value to both science and nature, some of these species currently unidentified and many unique to Cape Range.
Wildlife is pretty abundant in Cape Range, including kangaroos, emus,.
The park covers some 50,581 hectares and its northern boundary is just 40km from Exmouth. Wildlife is abundant with a variety of birds, emus, euros (wallaby), echidnas, goannas and corellas and red kangaroos commonly sighted. Most seek shelter during the day and the best times to view them are early morning and late afternoon. Cape Range offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors interested in the natural environment…
Over 700 caves are catalogued in the area and it is likely that many remain undiscovered. There are numerous gorges and sanctuary areas that provide a haven for wildlife and contain often rare and unusual flora. A beautiful array of wildflowers can be seen in late winter including Sturt Desert Peas and the beautiful Bird Flower.
Explore the east side of Cape Range
There are 2 unsealed but fully formed roads that run from the Minilya Exmouth Road into the Cape Range National Park. These provide spectacular scenic drives with bush walking opportunities.
Shothole Canyon Road This access road to Shot hole Canyon turns off the Minilya Exmouth Road 14km south of Exmouth. The canyon was named after the shot holes left by the explosive charge fixed to set up miniature earthquakes for seismographic studies during the oil searches in the 1950’s. The gravel road meanders over dry creek beds along the gorge floor and offers close examination of the colourful rock layers of the sheer canyon walls. At the end of the 15km road there is a picnic area and a short walking trail.
Charles Knife Canyon This scenic drive turns west off Minilya Exmouth Road 21klm south of Exmouth. The mostly gravel road follows the razor-backed ridges of the range and provides breathtaking downward views into the stark multicoloured gorges. There are several lookout points that provide fantastic photo opportunities and a marked walking trail from Thomas Carter Lookout. Conditions of walk trail depend on recent rainfall.
Caution should be taken when bushwalking in the canyon areas as walls are steep and can be dangerous due to loose surfaces. Don’t go on your own – always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Cave areas are unsafe due to oxygen deficiency – for your own safety please remain on existing walking trails. Avoid walking in the middle of the day and always carry water as there is almost no surface water in Cape Range.
Explore the west side of Cape Range
Mangrove Bay This sanctuary zone area includes a bird hide which overlooks a lagoon area. A variety of birds roost in the lagoon at high tide and many feed on small fish and other marine life in the shallow waters. Closer inspection may reveal an Osprey or Brahminy Kite perched above surveying the coastline. During the summer months many migratory birds can be observed in the area.
Milyering Visitor Centre Milyering, the National Park Visitor Centre is 52km from Exmouth. Here interpretive displays, audio-visual facilities and a library containing a wealth of information on the National and Marine Parks are on hand to help visitors appreciate the natural environment. National Park rangers are on site to assist with enquiries.
Mandu Mandu Gorge A 3km walk trail allows access into this dry gorge. The trail starts from the end of the Mandu Mandu track and follows the northern ridge of the gorge, offering stunning panoramic views. The trail leads down into the creek bed from where you follow the base of the gorge back to the car park.
Yardie Creek The sealed road from Exmouth through Cape Range National Park ends at Yardie Creek. Centuries of erosion have formed a spectacular multi-coloured gorge. Hidden within the safety of the gorge walls is a colony of rare black-footed rock wallabies. Yardie is the only gorge in the area with permanent water however this is salt water fed from the ocean. This interesting ecosystem has mangrove areas that provide roosting sites for many bird species while the sheltered waters are a sanctuary for many marine animals. The beginnings of the gorge are deep in the limestone range. These timid creatures seek shelter on ledges along the gorge walls resting during daylight hours, coming out to feed in the cool of the night. There is a relatively easy walking trail along the top of the northern wall of the gorge or you can join a 1 hour boat cruise through its cool depths.
Camping within the Cape Range National Park
There are in excess of 112 camping bays in the Cape Range National Park, most of which are accessible by conventional vehicle. These sites offer easy access to the coast for swimming, snorkelling, fishing and other activities. Caravans and larger vehicles are welcome however there are few facilities – no power, showers or cooking facilities. Many of the sites have toilets and picnic tables but you must be fully self-sufficient. Note: no wood fires or pets are permitted in the National Park. Due to the arid nature of the country it is essential to bring your own water. The camping bays cannot be booked and are a first come first served basis.
The town of Exmouth was officially gazetted in 1967, its role as support town for the communication base set up by Australia and the US. However the first recorded landing in the area in 1618 was by Dutch Captain Jacobz and the North West Cape and Exmouth Gulf was later named in 1818 by Australian Captain Phillip Parker King.
In early pearling history, Luggers from Broome would visit the area and during WWII the area became important for a military operation known as, “Operation Potshot”. Other industries such as fishing, pastoral, oil exploration and tourism now comprise the economic fabric of Exmouth. Check today’s fuel prices in Exmouth: ULP, Diesel, LPG.
|Exmouth to Nanutarra Roadhouse||280 km||(about 4 hours 02 minutes)|
|Nanutarra Roadhouse to Paraburdoo||272 km||(about 3 hours 27 minutes)|
|Exmouth to Paraburdoo||552 km||(about 7 hours 29 minutes)|
The original town of Onslow was proclaimed in 1883, and named after Sir Alexander Onslow the Chief Justice of WA at the time. In early settlement the town was homeport to a fleet of pearling luggers. Due to the situation of the river over the years, it was decided that the town needed to be moved to a better port. The new town of Onslow was established in 1925 and many of the buildings from the old town site were relocated to new Onslow.
Located a short 22kms off the Onslow coast are the Mackerel Islands. The islands and surrounding reef system provides a valuable link for marine life between other marine environments to the south and north. Between the Highway and Onslow be amazed as 1000’s of termite mounds stand tall to the harsh conditions of the North West.
A truly unique and uncrowded destination.
|Nanutarra Roadhouse to Onslow||return 252 km||(about 3 hours 13 minutes)|
Lying 24kms north of the Tropic of Capricorn on the sealed road linking Nanutarra Roadhouse and Tom Price, Paraburdoo. Construction of the town commenced in January 1970. Paraburdoo was named after the Aboriginal name Pirupardo, ‘piru’ means meat and ‘pardu’ means feathers, so named because of the proliferation of Corellas which frequent the area. The town offers a motel/hotel complex, hospital, a college, a variety of sporting facilities, and a well stocked shopping centre.
|Paraburdoo to Tom Price||80 km||(about 1 hour 9 minutes)|
In 1962 a huge iron ore deposit was discovered at Mt Tom Price. Following this discovery was the construction of two towns – Tom Price and Dampier, a mine, a port and a railway to carry the iron ore for export.
At 747 metres, Tom Price is the highest town in WA and is nestled deep in the Hamersley Ranges. The jointly named peak known as Jurndamurneh and Mt Nameless is situated approx 4km from town and stands 1128 metres above sea level. The Aboriginal name, Jurndamurneh, means ‘wallabies live near here’.
|Tom Price to Karijini National Park||55 km||(about 53 mins)|
From the coast, Warlu Way presses east to Karijini National Park in the Hamersley Ranges. Here mighty gorges plummet deep into the earth, green waters rush through dark, narrowly spaced cliffs and often thunderous waterfalls charge over the ancient rocks. This spectacular area is also rich in Aboriginal stories and culture – close your eyes while standing deep within a gorge and it’s easy to imagine you’re listening to the whispers of spirits floating on the breeze. Warlu Way also takes in several mining towns around Karijini and tells you of the riches being mined from deep within the red, sunbaked earth.
The high plateau is dissected by deep gorges, whose pools are often cold and dark, some rarely seeing the midday sun. Highly polished rocks in the bottom stand testament to the velocity of water that has carved down their lengths before cascading out onto the plains below.
Now, they only flood after rain, and visitors are advised to not enter the gorges if there is rain in the area. Without the threat of the flood, some gorges offer tranquil pools and waterfalls surrounded by ferns and water loving plants. Frogs, dragonflies, fish, birds and the Pilbara Olive Python enjoy the cool waters. Visitors can too, after hiking down through the gorges on a series of walk trails.
Look out platforms at strategic points offer fabulous views into the gorges 100 metres below.
The Karijini Visitor Centre provides information on the park and you can meet local Aboriginal people who are employed as rangers and visitor centre staff. Aboriginal culture is represented in a series of displays inside the visitor centre as well as information on the areas natural history including geology and plant and animal habitats.
A variety of ecosystems are represented in the park including precipitous gorges, hills, ridges and plateau covered with Spinifex hummocks and scattered eucalypts. Low mulga woodlands and blankets of seasonal wildflowers bloom on lower slopes, valley plains and drainage lines.
There are two camping areas in the Park. The first, Dales gorge camping area is managed by the Dept of Environment and Conservation. It has basic facilities including gas BBQ’s, picnic tables and long drop toilets. The second, Karijini Eco Retreat is managed by Gumala Aboriginal Corporation and provides a range of camping experiences from tent sites to self contained eco tents with ensuite.
|Karijini National Park to Millstream – Chichester National Park||304 km||(about 3 hours 37 minutes)|
Next the drive returns west via the Millstream-Chichester National Park. This national park is truly an oasis in the desert. Crystal clear ponds, water lilies, palm fronds and dragon flies combine to form a fairytale world of natural wonders. The park is also home to the warlu after which the drive is named. He lives within the waters of the Fortescue River at a place called Deep Reach, or Nhanggangunha to the Yindjibarndi people.
The park’s main attractions are its significant cultural importance and the abundance of freshwater. The pools at Millstream are believed to have been created by the Warlu Serpent.
In Yinjibarndi Law it is said that in the beginning the sky was very low. When the creation spirits got up from the ground, they lifted the sky and the world out of the sea. The creation spirits are called Marrga and they still live in the rugged mountains and gullies. In the early morning, the mist over the water represents smoke from their breakfast fires.
Large freshwater bodies are unique in the arid Pilbara, and Millstream proves to be a popular spot with weary dusty travellers. The delta is a unique wetland, fed by a natural aquifer within the Fortescue River catchment. It’s large permanent water holes are shaded by cadjeputs or paperbarks (Melaleuca argentea) river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and native Millstream Palms (Livistona alfredii). Many birds live in the vegetation surrounding the pools, and others, adapted to dry conditions, out on the Spinifex plains. The park is home to more than 30 species of dragonflies and damselflies which can be seen flitting around the pools.
Millstream was once a pastoral station and the old homestead building is now a visitor centre. A walktrail takes you around Jirndawurrunha pools, and another links the homestead with Crossing Pool and Cliff Lookout. Camping areas have basic amenities including gas Bbq’s, picnic tables and biolytic or composting toilets.
Sunsets are spectacular when viewed from Cliff Lookout.
|Millstream to Karratha||146 km||(about 1 hour 57 mins)|
The name ‘Karratha’, which originated from a pastoral station, comes from the Aboriginal word meaning ‘good country’ or ‘soft earth’. The town came into being in the late 1960’s due to the tremendous growth of the iron ore industry, the need for a new regional centre and the lack of further available land in Dampier. Karratha now sprawls almost 10km in an east – west direction.
Held on the first weekend in August every year, the FeNaClNG Festival gets its name from the chemical symbols of the three main commodities produced in the region – iron ore, salt and natural gas. Check today’s fuel prices in Karratha: ULP, Diesel, LPG.
|Karratha to Dampier return||42 km||(about 24 minutes each way)|
|Karratha to Roebourne||40 km||(about 37 minutes)|
Dampier was built to accommodate employees and their families by Hamersley Iron in the 1960’s. The town of Dampier takes its name from the Dampier Archipelago which was named after the English buccaneer/explorer William Dampier who first visited the area in 1688. The first specimen of the distinctive, Sturt’s Desert Pea (Willdampia Formosa), was collected by William Dampier on East Lewis Island, in the Dampier Archipelago.
The Dampier Archipelago comprises of 42 islands, islets and rocks lying within a 45km radius from the towns of Dampier and Point Samson. Many of the islands resemble the rugged Burrup Peninsula, with coastal cliffs and red rock piles, dissected from the blue waters by green mangroves and white sandy beaches, ideal for swimming and snorkelling or just lazing the day away.
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The drive returns to the coast at Karratha – gateway to the Dampier Archipelago and the Burrup Peninsula. The waters surrounding the archipelago are regarded as the most bio-diverse in the state and both the islands and the neighbouring peninsula are home to the world’s largest collection of indigenous art. Thousands upon thousands of ancient engravings adorn the rocks here, etched here by Aboriginal people some 20,000 years ago.
The Burrup Peninsula is a small landmass with a large range of habitats, a diverse array of wildflowers and wildlife, and an ancient outdoor art gallery. It is situated about five kilometres north-east of the town of Dampier. The Burrup Peninsula is one of the most prolific indigenous art sites in the world. It is believed that Aboriginal occupation of the Pilbara dates back more than 40 000 years.
Thirty per cent of all plants and animals that occur in the Pilbara are found on the peninsula-an amazing statistic for a relatively small area. At least 23 plant species found here either have restricted distribution or are poorly known. Plants such as the native fig are more typical of the wetter Kimberley region, but here they grow in humid, fire-protected pockets and creek beds. Mammals include the northern quoll, Rothschild’s rock-wallaby, echidna, euro, common rock rat and delicate mouse.
Shady valleys contain temporary pools and provide interesting wildlife homes. The Pilbara olive python lives amongst the rock piles and evidence of rock wallabies can be seen beneath overhanging rocks, where they frequently shelter from the heat.
The Yapurrara people, who once inhabited the peninsula and the adjacent islands of the Dampier Archipelago, left a rich cultural heritage. The Burrup contains one of the most prolific sites for prehistoric rock art in the world.
The Dampier Archipelago comprises 42 islands, islets and rocks lying within a 45 kilometre radius from the town of Dampier. Twenty-five of these islands are incorporated into reserves for the conservation of flora and fauna.
The islands were formed 6000 -8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded coastal valleys, leaving hills and ridges exposed as islands. Many of the islands resemble the rugged Burrup Peninsula, with coastal cliffs and steep-sided rock piles separated by alleys, sand plain and beaches.
The relative isolation of the islands has shielded them fro the effects of the introduced flora and fauna that have devastated the mainland. They support plant and animal populations which are close to their natural state and allow for the conservation of native species which are vulnerable to feral predators. Quarantine relies on the visual inspection of material transported from the mainland and the destruction or removal of problem plants, animals and materials before they reach the islands.
There are over 30 species of terrestrial reptiles, including the gazetted rare Pilbara Olive Python . Green loggerhead flat back and hawksbill turtles use the beaches for nesting, along with over 25 species of birds. These include the fairy and bridled terns, which are only present in the Archipelago during their breeding season.
A number of marine mammals are frequently sighted in the waters surrounding the islands including dugongs, bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales as they make their way to temperate and subtropical waters to mate and give birth. Information about whale watching for both their protection and yours is available from the DEC Karratha Office, (08) 9182 2000.
Early Aboriginal occupation by the Yapurrara people is evident in the forms of rock etchings, middens, fish traps and hunting hides. Introduced disease, exploitation and violent confrontation with settlers reduced the group’s numbers. Some descendents remain, but care of the country has been taken over by surrounding language groups.
The Dampier Archipelago including the Burrup Peninsula has been placed on the National Heritage List, to continue to protect the Aboriginal and European cultural diversity.
Swimming and snorkelling and diving are popular past times, and fishing can be carried out in all but the sanctuary zones.
Established in 1866, Roebourne is the oldest town in the North West. Named after Sir John Septimus Roe it was the administrative capital for the North West, while Cossack was the port. The nearest towns at the time were Geraldton to the south and Darwin to the North.
The original Roebourne was built on the land which falls within the boundaries of Ngarluma country, a language group that inhabited ‘flood country’ from the Maitland River in the West to the Peewah River in the East, an area approximately 6,400 square kilometres. There are differing dialects within this language group, with the most dominant in Roebourne today being Yindjibarndi.
|Roebourne to Port Hedland||202 kms||(about 2 hours 28 mins)|
Point Samson was built in 1910 as a shipping port with facilities to handle bigger vessels than was possible at nearby Cossack. Point Samson was named after Michael Samson, second officer aboard the ship ‘Tien Tsin’ (the original name for nearby Cossack) which sailed into the area in 1863. For many years it was misspelt ‘Sampson’, but the error was eventually corrected by the government in 1918.
This tranquil seaside town is a delight. The beautiful sandy beaches of Point Samson are protected by fringing coral reefs, offering safe swimming and snorkelling all year round. A large commercial fishing fleet still operates out of the town.
|Port Hedland to Eight Mile Beach||337 km||(about 4 hours 57 minutes)|
|Port Hedland to Broome||612 km||(about 7 hours 38 minutes)|
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50 Km north of Port Hedland turn right and drive 152km from Great Northern highway to Marble Bar. Marble Bar is a unique example of a pioneering outback town established in the gold rush days of the late 1800’s. The Marble Bar is an immense band of Jasper which spans the Coongan River 5kms from town. It was this bar which pioneers mistook for ‘marble’ that gave rise to the towns unmistakeable name.
Also famous for its Guinness Book of Records entry stating, ‘‘Temperature reached 37.8C on 160 consecutive days, October 1923 to April 1924”, the nickname of ‘Australia’s hottest town’ has stuck. Set in a rugged landscape, where gorges cut into hill ranges and form oasis like water holes with sheer ancient rock faces, the road to Marble Bar is sealed, however there is no better way to see the pristine wilderness around Marble Bar than by 4WD.
From here it travels along the coast to Eighty Mile Beach, the end destination for millions of birds who travel across the world with their mysterious autopilots set on Eighty Mile Beach shores. Finally, Warlu Way reaches the resort town of Broome – a once remote and rollicking outpost which is today renowned for its glorious beaches, tourism, pearl farming and meeting of diverse cultures.
Founded in the late 1880’s as a pearling port, Broome now boasts a multicultural population of the many nationalities lured here by the promise of finding their fortunes. Koepanger, Malay, Chinese, European and Aboriginal cultures have all blended to create a captivatingly friendly and flamboyant personality that is the heart and soul of Broome.
The famous Cable Beach got its name from a telegraph cable that was laid between Broome and Java in 1889. Roebuck Bay is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse bays in the world, home to thousands of migratory birds who flock here to feast on the food rich tidal flats.
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References and helpful links:
Warlu Way Map – http://www.warluway.com.au/map/default.aspx
Warlu Way – http://www.warluway.com.au
The Gascoyne – http://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com
The Pilbara – http://www.pilbaracoast.com
Exmouth – http://www.australiascoralcoast.com
Dept Environment & Conservation including Karijini National Park & Millstream National Park – http://www.dec.wa.gov.au
Burrup Peninsular – http://www.burrup.org.au
Australia’s North West – http://www.australiasnorthwest.com