The mention of Marble Bar conjures up images of blazing heat and dry dusty plains. However, the town and the region aren’t totally like this mental image.
The title ‘Australia’s Hottest Town’ was earnt by having the longest run of consecutive days over 37.8°C (100°F) recorded. This was a run of 161 days in early 1924, a record that still holds true. Meanwhile, Oodnadatta holds the actual single highest recorded temperature of 50.7°C in 1960.
A visit to the region in the middle of the year will more likely be met with beautiful days of high 20’s with overnight lows of around 11°C. This is exactly how we found it during our trip there.
We had beautiful weather on our trip to Marble Bar in Western Australia.
Getting to the Marble Bar Region
There are numerous ways to approach Marble Bar which is about 200km south-east of Port Hedland, snuggled amongst rugged red hills. We came in on a dirt road called the Boreline Road which leaves the Great Northern Highway about halfway between Pardoo and the turnoff to the Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park.
This was a very straight run across flat spinifex and low mulga plains heading to Shay Gap which is nestled in rough hills.
You can get to Marble Bar from a few different directions.
Passing by Shay Gap
Shay Gap was a closed mining town of more than 1000 in its short life of 22 years but it ultimately closed in 1994 when the iron ore deposit was no longer viable and the town was sold off. Now some concrete pads are all that is to be found.
You’ll pass by the now-closed town of Shay Gap along the way.
Finding a place to camp for the night
The road twists and winds through the range before exiting onto the open plain again. Soon, there is a hard cement causeway that crosses the wide De Grey River bed. You then follow a track to the right on the northern side and soon you can find comfortable campsites on the shingle banks above a long pool of cool clear water.
Such is the simple beauty of the spot, you will be tempted, as we were, to stay longer, light a campfire, watch the birdlife come in to drink, and enjoy the quiet.
Passing by the De Grey River, we had to stay to enjoy the scenery.
From the river, the road continues across the plain with a range of hills ahead. As the road passes through the hills, a turn off to Coppin’s Gap is encountered. This track crosses low rough hills and open country before a rough track leads into to the actual Gap.
There is a small camping area at the end and a path that leads down to a waterhole framed by steep red cliffs. This is a rough track that needs to be driven with care especially if you’re towing as we were. Genuine off-road campers are recommended.
Take a dip in the cool waters, and enjoy the scenery at Coppin’s Gap.
The town of Marble Bar
After returning to the main Shays Gap – Marble Bar Road, it’s not long before you encounter the bitumen road from Pardoo. Then it’s a quick smooth run into Marble Bar. The town is named after a bar in the nearby Coongan River which was thought to be marble but was later found to be jasper.
Once a bustling town of about 5000 people at the peak of the gold rush days, it is now home to about 170. There is a regular stream of tourists and avid prospectors that pass through though.
Learn more about Australia’s hottest town at the Marble Bar Museum.
What to visit in Marble Bar
There are a number of heritage places to visit in the town including an interesting display in the Museum. Nearby attractions include The Marble Bar and Chinaman Pool on the river, the secret Corunna Downs Airfield and the Comet Gold Mine. The official Marble Bar website has lots of detailed information that can be gleaned if you want more details.
Fuel and accommodation
The petrol station and the RSL Park are busy places with tourists fuelling up or taking a break before exploring further. There is a caravan park in town which you could use as a base to explore. Or as we did, you can travel to some of the further attractions to camp.
The Meentheena Retreat offers camping along the Nullagine River.
Meentheena Veterans Retreat
We headed east from Marble Bar on the Ripon Hills Road. This is a well-maintained bitumen road that carries lots of traffic from the numerous mines spread across this region. After about 75km there is a small sign and track on the right-hand side of the road.
Following the track finds you at the central camp for Meentheena Veterans Retreat. This is a remote retreat where veterans of the defence forces and civilian services such as police, fire and ambulance can come and relax.
Exploring the Meentheena Veterans Retreat.
Camping at Meentheena Veterans Retreat
Even if you aren’t a veteran you will still be welcomed and you can camp there in exchange for a donation. Camping is either in the main area or down on the Nullagine River at the paperbarks. Here there are sit-on kayaks available to paddle as well.
There are also a number of enjoyable 4WD tracks that you can drive to take you to the waterholes, ruins and amazing stromatolite fossils. The camp hosts and some of the other active members readily offer advice and information about the area which helps make your stay enjoyable.
Our campsite at the Meentheena Retreat.
Travelling to Carawine Gorge
Then you’ll be back to the Rippon Hills Road to head further inland where you’ll reach a road junction. Ahead to the east, a dirt road leads into the Great Sandy Desert. Then onto the Telfer Gold Mine and the Gary Junction Road. Taking the right turn south on the bitumen, the road heads towards the Woodie Woodie mine.
A view of the idyllic Carawine Gorge.
A signposted turnoff on the right leads into Carawine Gorge on the Oakover River. This magnificent camping spot is on private station country that the owners have allowed public access to. A good dirt road leads to the camping area. But, be warned that this is an area with very deep shingle banks that can trap the unwary. Access via the tracks to the right just before the shingle is a much easier option. Needless to say, you’ll need to drop your tyre pressures.
Fishing, canoeing, birdwatching and soaking up the sun and the environment are among the choices to spend your time here. This is a favourite with the locals so the holiday period can get busy.
Carawine Gorge is a great place to camp, which is why it gets busy in peak season.
Heading south onto the Skull Springs Road
When you head back out onto the bitumen, head south to Skull Springs Road. This is a drive full of dramatic scenery changes. It starts with flat open sections of road with occasional bulldust patches and corrugations. It then suddenly changes as the road crosses through rough rocky hills with swooping changes of direction and height. Then you’ll be back out onto flat plains surrounded by the Pilbara red hills.
Continuing on our trip, we took Skull Springs Road.
There are tracks darting off everywhere and occasionally there are signs of small-scale mines in operation or a caravan out in the bush where people are prospecting.
This area is highly popular with amateurs and professionals alike, with gold and gemstones the prize. Running Waters and Skull Springs are the favourite camping picnic spots to the south of the road with the latter turnoff marked by a skull on a star picket.
You’ll pass by the red rocky hills as you traverse this dirt road.
Stopping at Nullagine for fuel and supplies
Eventually, the road leads you to the small town of Nullagine. Here you can pick up fuel and basic supplies at the General Store if you need to stock up. There’s a pleasant park you can visit across the road if you need to stop for a break. And of course, the ubiquitous pub is there as well for refreshments and meals.
From Nullagine you can turn north back towards Marble Bar. Or as we did, head south through an ever-changing Pilbara landscape to Newman and Karajini National Park.
If your caravan or camper is built for tough corrugated roads, you’ll be ready for this trip.
Is this trip suitable for my camper or caravan?
If your vehicle and camper/caravan rig is set up for travelling for extended periods on rough and corrugated roads and you travel at realistic speeds with tyre pressures adjusted to the conditions then you’ll find this an intriguing and worthwhile area to explore. If you’re interested in prospecting, pay a visit or contact the Mining Registrar Office in Marble Bar.
Would you take a trip to ‘Australia’s hottest town’?
About the writer...
Born and bred in Adelaide I escaped to the bush after finishing teachers college and have basically been there ever since.