I was told before leaving Perth that Karratha was like an ordinary working class “new suburb” plonked straight on an unattractive mud flat.
How unkind, I thought. It was my job to prove them wrong, to discover the beauty of Karratha. Indeed, the flight from Perth – which takes about two and a quarter hours – is a spectacular one offering amazing views of the landscape, mostly due to the absence of cloud for most of the trip.
For a fair distance you travel over massive salt pans. Actually, the area was looking quite good, due to the massive amount of rain associated with the two most recent cyclones. As you fly over the town, it looks spectacular from the air, as you fly close over the coastal estuaries and mud flats. Yes, mud flats.
The town itself was planned and constructed in the late 60s to meet the accommodation needs of Hamersley Iron, with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a self-supporting city of 30,000. The populaton is currently about 10,000.
My friends were right. Karratha is very unatttactive. There is no shopping centre per se except for the one which could exist in virtually any Australian town, although this one is particularly unatttactive, although I did manage to pick up a couple of cheap shirts. The price of food and coffee, however, was outrageous. $3.70 for a flat white is unacceptable, but also unavoidable.
And although it’s plonked on a mud flat, you can’t actually see the ocean from town since there is a great bloody mound of rocks separating the two. Yes, I know they’re three billion years old and they contain fossilised evidence of the earliest known life… but.. it would be nice to see the coast.. except it’s a several kilometres from Karratha to the coast with the mud flats separating the two!
Part of the location issue may be its fear of cyclones, as they come through regularly, and the hope that a great pile of rocks might help protect the town, but I’m told it does make for an oppresive, enclosed environment for much of the year.
It would have been great to travel around the area, which is apparently gorgeous, but my work commitments were strong, and aside from a short trip to Dampier (the drive is spectacular) this wasn’t a holiday at all, but a working visit.
If I’d had time to holiday, it would have been great to go out to the nearby archipelago. But that’s also how many of the visitors to the area would also perceive of the town due to the strong culture of “fly in, fly out”. But it may also be the ethic of the locals too, as when I asked several where they go to swim, they said, “the pool”.