Start - Mount Herbert
Finish - Python Pool
Length - 8.1km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - 108m
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Yellow Camels
Date Hiked - 16th July 2018
Best Time - April to September
Traditional Custodians - Yindjibarndi People
Directions - Following the signs from Karratha take the turn-off for Roeburne-Wittenoom Rd and follow the signs all the way to either Mount Herbert or Pythons Pool. The car park at Python Pool has some facilities and there are information boards to mark the trails in the area.
The Hike - Rated as one of the Top Trails by TrailsWA, the Camel Trail was marked on the itinerary as one to look forward to and we were treated to yet another perfect day of weather (can you ever tire of 29C and no wind?). The issue for us like many travellers trying to do this trail is how to get from the finish back to the start without doing the trail again. Luckily the Mulla Mulla Campsite hosts were happy to come out with us and collect us from Python Pool and deposit us and the field equipment at the starting point at Mount Herbert.
With that all organised we just had to make our way to Python Pool where we would leave the Landcruiser and wait to be picked up by the generous campground hosts. Our bush Uber was waiting for us but before we left Python Pool we had to sneak down and get a few shots of it in the morning light and more importantly, empty (I'll talk more about this amazing place later in the post). With the desired shots in the bag we piled into the car and headed back up towards Mount Herbert for the start of this Top Trail. The vistas you experience along Roeburne-Wittenoom Rd are breathtaking but kind of spoil what you experience on the trail. Thanking our campground hosts for their kindness, we were left to our own devices and started the mostly downhill hike back to Python Pool.
Due to some issues with our field equipment Ben decided to bust out the trail as quickly as he could so I was left to explore at my own pace, which turned out to be quite slow for the first few kilometres. While the trail starts quite close to Mount Herbert, the hike up to the summit is a short side trail. Given I was only here once I followed the sign and began the short climb to the 359m peak. The summit is marked with a short but wide cairn, a bench to enjoy the views from and a lovely series of wildflowers including a healthy example of the Honey Hakea. Even better than the wildflowers are the views, taking in the great wilderness that seems to go on forever. I'll get back to the views later on but there is something about staring out into the limitless void of this ancient landscape that really makes you stop. If you've read some of my other posts from the Pilbara then you'll know I'm in love with panoramas for capturing this part of the world and this place was clearly made for this function.
With many shots taken I headed back down the hill and rejoined the main trail to continue on with enjoying this lovely hike. The next destination was a stop at McKenzie Spring but the terrain between Mount Herbert and there is simply stunning. Even just looking at the topographical maps of this place reveal an interesting landscape full of squiggly patterns shaped by water over the aeons. Experiencing it at ground level is even better with rolling hills of golden spinifex and snappy gums, the occasional termite mound and a complex visual stitched together leading off towards the deep blue horizon. It may be called the Camel Trail but the way it snakes around everywhere had me thinking it should have a name change. To go with the spectacular scenery was a fantastic array of wildflowers that we had not previously seen at Karijini. An assortment of purple, red and yellow flowers lined the trail in a variety of species including a golf ball sized white globe hanging just off a stem with spikes attached. I assume it was the early stage of a blooming wildflower but I would love to know what it turns in to so if you know (check the photo sliders for the picture of it) then please comment or send me an email.
Arriving at McKenzie Spring after 40 minutes of gentle sauntering was a lovely surprise as I was not expecting as much water as there was. Being a very dry part of the country, water usually comes in the form of summer storms and cyclones so to have a natural spring in an open landscape like this with a creek like flow extending out from it was an unexpected delight. Photographing every angle I could I had to stop for a while to figure out where the trail goes as it isn't quite obvious you are meant to cross the rocky platform on to the other side of the creek. Finding my way eventually and taking a million photos, I continued on my way to try and catch up to Ben a little before he forgot I was out here and left. On the other side of McKenzie Creek I discovered my first group of Desert Pea in the wild after seeing a lot of them on the roadside near Karratha.
The trail from here leads back out towards views of the open plain and at one of the lookouts Ben was waiting for me. Given I had the jelly snakes and extra water made it an easy decision for him to stop so we enjoyed a little break overlooking the plains. The views here are stunning and with the shape of the landscape in the distance being a crescent shape on both sides, it made me think of it being similar to the great savannahs of Africa. I have an old wildlife documentary about Africa narrated by James Earl Jones (Darth Vader himself) and one place it shows is the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania where wildlife thrive in the middle of this crater that has been transformed into a green paradise. From a distance the views looking over the Chichester Range has this feel but we lack the elephants, giraffes, zebra and lions.
Leaving the lookout we headed along the trail which Ben remarked must have taken someone a very long time to construct as for long sections it is lined with rocks that could only have been placed there by hand. This may have been the case as the trail in a previous life was used to transport various goods between the sheep stations of the area and the port. The cameleers used McKenzie Spring as a watering hole but the route was replaced by a new path that took friendlier gradients over a hundred years ago. The hiking trail came to be as part of the 1988 Bicentennial Project that saw a multitude of trails created around the state with mixed fortunes. I've made a point of "collecting" these trails with visits to the Kattamordo HT, Margaret River HT, Jarrahdale Railway HT and the Point Possession HT being among the best (and still living). Thankfully the Camel Trails has survived and remains the premier trail in the Millstream Chichester National Park.
Never really leaving the epic views for the next couple of kilometres, this part of the trail is quite enjoyable as your gaze just wonders towards the endless horizon and back again. Soon you find yourself overlooking the edge of the "crater" and begin the descent down to the lowlands towards your finishing point at Python Pool. It was here we came across a group of girls that were out exploring while they were on placement in the Pilbara. Ben was already in the distance and I stopped for a little hello while the trail was narrow and waited for a way past. We would eventually all be at Python Pool at the same time so I hurried to catch up with Ben. The final stretch to Python Pool provides a different perspective to the views you experience up on the range as you clamber over a rocky trail through spinifex. A bushy finish greets you as the presence of the permanent watering hole in Python Pool draws closer and eventually you pop out on the trail leading from the car park to Python Pool.
Before heading down for a cooling swim (it was quite warm by this stage) we dropped off the field equipment and changed into our swimming gear. The car park was certainly a lot busier than when we arrived and heading down the path to the little oasis that is Python Pool confirmed we wouldn't be alone. It was nowhere near busy though as we took some more photos and then braved the cold water for a refreshing dip, swimming to the rock wall for a bit of a sun bake. The girls from before also had a bit of a splash (some of them) and Ben and I took turns at taking photos of each other standing under the cliff. Despite the week of hiking I think I had put on some weight (thanks to the buffet food at the accommodation in Karijini) so wasn't looking as trim I would like. Drying off a little we enjoyed a little bit of sun on a set of boulders as we soaked in how great this place was.
Final Thoughts - Being rated as the Top Trail within Millstream Chichester NP, the Camel Trail did not disappoint and was actually a lot better than I expected. The 1988 heritage trails always provide an interesting adventure and with the sweeping views, abundance of wildflowers and the gorgeous finishing point at Python Pool, this is one of the best I've experienced.
Given Millstream Chichester NP is only an hour out of Karratha, the locals there are certainly spoilt for having this on their doorstep. If I lived in the area then this would be a regular visit for me.
From start to finish, there is always something to keep your interest and with some of the most majestic landscapes in the Pilbara to take in, this experience is one you'll never forget.
Get out there and experience it!
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