June/July 2014

Karratha, Australia

By Tom DiNardo

Karratha, or “good country” in the local indigenous tongue, is the fastest growing city in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The town was established in 1969 after Hamersley Iron – now a subsidiary of Rio Tinto – purchased the land, in partnership with the state government, to provide more housing for the iron ore ports in nearby Dampier. Since then, the town has flourished thanks to Hamersley Iron and Woodside’s North West Shelf project. The current population is around 20,000 in town, with a fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) population that fluctuates between 3,000 and 5,000. If you’re in Karratha on business, take some time to explore North West Australia and enjoy the local culture. The rugged outback beckons with beautiful national parks, snorkelling and fishing, and thousand-year-old aboriginal artefacts. If you prefer to stay downtown, Karratha boasts the largest shopping centre in the region. Either way, make sure to pack for warm weather. Even in the winter, the temperature rarely drops into the single digits.

Where to stay 
Courtesy of The Ranges Karratha

Located downtown, ibis Styles Karratha is ideal for professionals in town on business. The hotel has a bar, restaurant, outdoor swimming pool and barbecue area, with rooms starting at $210. The luxurious Karratha International Hotel is located minutes from the commercial district with rates beginning at $220. The hotel includes three restaurants, meeting rooms available for guests and an outdoor pool surrounded by tropical gardens.

For an interesting alternative, The Ranges Karratha is a four-star resort only 1.5 kilometres from the central business district, with 41 one-bedroom, ranchinspired apartments starting at around $260. Each apartment is equipped with a king-size bed, kitchen, living area, bathroom and private balcony. The neighbouring gardens and large pool are serene spots to unwind after a long day.

Where to dine 
Barramundi Courtesy of Kurman Communications
Courtesy of Kurman Communications
 Tip 1

Australia’s North West region is known for its succulent seafood. Rock lobsters, prawns, marron (large crayfish), trout and barramundi are all caught off the coast. If you are the more adventurous type, you could try the crocodile, kangaroo or emu served at many restaurants in the area.

Etcetera Restaurant is one of three dining options in the Karratha International Hotel. Open six nights a week, its main dishes range in price from $20 to $40 and are complemented by an extensive wine list and dessert menu. The restaurant, accustomed to serving business travellers, can cater to groups as large as 60 people; bookings are recommended.

Blanche Bar features a tapas menu with small dishes priced at around $8 and offers a warm, friendly environment. For those who prefer something more substantial than tapas, larger dishes are also available. Try the Mediterranean paella with chicken and seafood that serves two for $60. The surf & turf with lamb cutlets and local barramundi sells for $47.

The restaurant scene in Karratha is improving, but niche options can still be lacking. So if you’re in neighbouring Point Samson, a 56-kilometre (km) drive from Karratha, take a client to Tata’s Restaurant. There you will find local seafood dishes like the Samson Reef with salmon, oysters, prawns and baby squid for $65 or interesting twists on classics like the Vietnamese chicken salad for $20.

Where to explore
Staircase to the Moon, Roebuck Bay, Broome
Courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

If you are a nature nut, you’re in luck: hiking, fishing and snorkelling are all within driving distance of Karratha. For those interested in local history, walk on the Jaburara Heritage Trail for a selfguided tour of the area. The walk covers Karratha’s past and you will meander by aboriginal rock engravings and artefacts at various sites along the way. It also offers lookouts of Karratha and the surrounding region. The hike does include some steep hill climbs and will take roughly three hours to complete, so an elevated fitness level is recommended. The Dampier Archipelago, off the coast of Dampier, a 20- minute drive from Karratha, comprises 42 picturesque islands, 25 of which are part of the Dampier Archipelago Marine Park. Keep an eye out for dugong and bottlenose dolphins; these mammals are usually spotted around the archipelago, which is also a gathering place for humpback whales between July and September. Turtles use the beaches to nest from September to April, and 26 different species of seabirds can be spotted throughout the islands. Gorgeous reefs around the islands make for great snorkelling and diving spots.

Tip 2An hour and a half drive south from Karratha will bring you to Millstream- Chichester National Park – a tropical oasis in the middle of the desert with gorges and natural pools. Keep driving south and you’ll reach the Karijini National Park. Here, 100-metre chasms and waterfalls invite explorers. If you’re in Karratha between March and October, head to Hearsons Cove to see the Staircase to the Moon. This natural phenomenon is caused by the rising of the full moon reflected off the mudflats at low tide on certain nights during the Australian winter, creating the optical illusion of stairs leading to the low-hanging moon.

 Karijini_National_Park_West_Australia  Dampier_archipelago_West_Australia
Karijini National Park Courtesy of Tourism Western Australia Karijini National Park Courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

How to get there Airplane-icon

Luckily, Karratha has a local commercial airport that is roughly 15 km from downtown. Flying from North America can take anywhere between 30 to 50 hours and can cost as little as $2,500 round trip, although you’ll have to deal with two or three layovers each way. If you have time to spare, consider making Perth your flight destination and take a few days to drive the 16 hours along the coral coast of West Australia to Karratha.


Getting around

Taxi-iconThe Pilbara region can be difficult to navigate without access to a car. There is a community bus service that runs between towns but it is only available four days a week; taxi services are known to be unreliable. Your best bet is to rent a car during your stay. Karratha Airport has cars available for hire from familiar rental agencies such as Hertz, Avis and Alamo. 

Tip 3

Who to contact 

Icon_Canada_flag Consulate of Canada, Perth | Tel: 61 (8) 9322-7930
(Office hours: by appointment only)
Icon_US_flag U.S. Consulate General, Perth | Tel: 61 (8) 6144-5100
(8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.) Email: usrsaustralia@state.gov
Icon_Hospital Nickol Bay Hospital | Millstream Road, Karratha WA 6714, 61 (8) 9143-2333
Emergency Contact | Fire/Police/Ambulance 000

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