Millstream Wetlands Walk
Start - Millstream Homestead
Length - 500m (Loop)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - Flat
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Time - 30 mins
Signed - Information Board Only
Date Hiked - 15th July 2018
Best Time - April to October
Directions - Located an hours drive south of Karratha, the Millstream portion of the Millstream Chichester National Park is located on the south side of Roebourne-Wittenoom Rd with clearly marked signs showing you the turnoff. Take Millstream Rd until you reach the entrance signs for Kanjenjie-Millstream Rd and then follow this road until you reach the car park for the Millstream Homestead. The trail starts at the homestead and can be done in either direction.
The Hike - With our time at Karijini sadly coming to an end, our trip was far from over with a few days in Millstream Chichester National Park on the cards to round off our Pilbara adventures. Leaving Karijini we had one last stop on the way out, a visit to Hamersley Gorge. Being on the way between Karijini and Millstream we figured it was easier to do on a travel day but was in for a disappointing shock when we arrived.
We had heard from the rangers that the famous Spa Pool was closed due to too many accidents but when we arrived it seemed everything but the walk down to the gorge was closed off. Accidents happen, I get it but sometimes people are just cavalier with their own safety trying to get a cool photo or to a place they are capable of getting to. It was sad not to be able to experience the last gorge walk of our trip in it's full glory but the rangers have requested funding for better facilities to make it safer to reach Spa Pool. I had a good chuckle after visiting here when the Explore Parks WA Facebook account shared a picture of Spa Pool, clearly the people running the socials aren't in the loop when it comes to park closures and proper etiquette (they often share videos and photos of drone shots from places where you need a permit that the casual tourist does not have). With the disappointment of Hamersley Gorge behind us we moved on to what lies ahead at Millstream Chichester National Park, a couple of hours drive away.
Reaching the turnoff for Millstream was a relief after a long stretch of corrugated gravel roads that were much worse than when we drove down them a week prior. Driving on the entrance road to Millstream you would be forgiven in thinking that a great national park couldn't possibly exist in a place so flat and lifeless but hidden away from the main road is an oasis waiting to be explored. Arriving at the homestead was a real eye opener with the green lawn, palm trees and rustic old building at odds with the natural landscapes we had just experienced in the past week. We would be staying at the volunteer run Mulla Mulla Camp (for workers and school groups) located behind the rangers station but first we had to locate one of the rangers. They were out doing work around the park and weren't responding to the UHF channel so we decided to go exploring and check out the nearby Wetlands Walk that started from the homestead.
Even from the homestead you wouldn't think of finding what awaits you on the other side of the lawn but as we wandered down towards the thick forest of palm trees, snappy gums, silver cadjeput forest and reeds it became clear that this was no ordinary place. The homestead exists because Millstream was once a pastoral station from 1865 to 1964 before it became a national park in 1970 (the homestead was a tavern between 1975 & 1986 before being converted to the visitor centre). The wetlands have been somewhat preserved from their time as the local recreation spot for the residents of the homestead but the planting of non-natives like the date palm, Indian water fern and stinking passion vine has had a strong effect on the landscape. Crossing the stream we were wowed by the large collection of date and cotton palms that have taken over the place. It's an impressive sight to behold and the piles of fallen fronds brought back bad memories of having to deal with my own 35yo date palm at home. While a little unnatural, it isn't too far off the mark with the native Millstream palm being the local around here but overshadowed by the much taller non-natives. This local variety is featured quite heavily in another walk within the park and is a surreal spectacle to behold.
The gentle walk continues as you meander around the palm trees and towards the cadjeput forest, a large paperbark like tree with a white trunk and eucalypt type leaves. There are some massive examples here thriving in the wetlands but the effect of the stinking passion vine is quite apparent as thick masses of it strangle the forest floor and climb up the trunks. Arriving at Jirndawurrunha Pool, a culturally significant place for the Yindjibarndi people (swimming is not allowed), there are a couple of benches for you to sit and relax on while you take everything in. One thing I had been looking forward to was seeing the Indian water fern (even though it is a weed) but as luck would have it, a group of students from a high school in Perth had been here a week prior as part of the Bush Rangers program to remove weeds in the area. Piles of them were stacked up on the side of the pool but they didn't get them all and the lily pond effect was still there to a much lesser degree.
The finish of the trail takes you over a couple of small bridges were the streams flow away from the pool and towards the Fortescue River. Popping out of the wetlands area and back onto the grassed area you come across the old water tank and windmill, a staple of all outback station photographs. Unfortunately a lot of the windmill fan blades are now missing so it doesn't have the full effect but it still looks pretty cool. We finished the walk with a wander around the homestead checking out the old buildings and learning about what life was like on the old station thanks to the excellent experience found within the homestead. With the daytime walk finished we eventually caught up with the ranger and were able to check into camp but we weren't done yet.
Staying 100m from the homestead made it easy to explore the area during golden hour and so we did just that with an afternoon walk around the wetlands and homestead to get the place bathed in the gold and purple light of sunset and dusk. Blessed with an amazing sunset, the change was incredible as the glow from the fading sun lit up the forest in a multitude of amazing hues. With the cooler air of the late afternoon making for a more pleasant experience, we had a lot of fun wandering around the wetlands and taking plenty of photos of the epic scenery around us. There was something other worldly about the place as the silhouetted palm trees in the distance contrasted against the warm glow bouncing off the small hills to the west. Another right time, right place moment for me and I think the photos do it justice somewhat. With the sun now below the horizon we headed back to the homestead to photograph it in the fading purple light of dusk. I can imagine living here while it was still a working station would have been amazing during the cooler months of winter, getting to experience that every night. What an amazing place and it's a shame people often forget about Millstream when planning their Karijini trips.
With Ben having received a taste of astrophotography during our time at Karijini photographing Mount Bruce, I thought it would be fun to try it here with palm trees and the Homestead in the foreground (what else were we going to do?). Walking back down to the homestead we spooked a few of the local kangaroos before reaching the grassed area and trying to capture the Milky Way from different angles. At one point I had kangaroos munching on the grass only a few metres away as I was setting up shots of the core of the Milky Way at a cool old building surrounded by palm tress. It was one of those moments where you realise how lucky you are instantly and just stop to soak it all in. As I didn't have my proper tripod I was relying on a flimsy adjustable rubber one that did not make for sharp images but it still did the job. We spent a good deal of time walking around trying different locations and with a few silhouettes in the bag I decided to do some light painting on the trees, homestead and an old piece of farming equipment nearby. I'm quite pleased with the results with a few shooting stars (or satellites) passing through the shots but would obviously had liked it more with a stable tripod and perhaps a lower ISO setting. With the core of the Milky Way ascending into the night sky we packed up our things and went back to the camp very pleased with our afternoon and night spent exploring the Millstream homestead and wetlands.
Final Thoughts - I knew Millstream Chichester National Park was one of those horribly underrated places in Western Australia but visiting for myself made that quite apparent. Even the short little introduction we had with the park had us in awe and that was the shortest trail on offer.
While it was a bit of a shock to see such an unnatural scene within the Pilbara (palm trees, grass and buildings), this forms some of the history of the area for good or bad. There are efforts to rid the place of the invasive species that have taken over and from what I've read the date palms are under control compared to the vast numbers there used to be.
I thoroughly recommend staying here at least a couple of nights and experiencing the park at a more relaxed pace with visits to various spots at different times of the day. The Miliyanha Campsite is a short walk from the homestead and wetlands so being able to wander around at dusk and sunrise is a fantastic opportunity.
A great first day in the bag at Millstream and another amazing day to remember forever.
Get out there and experience it!
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