How Can You Explore the Pilbara’s Underwater World?

The Pilbara of WA is unique in Australia. For a start, it’s remote. Its ancient topography and colours could happily be found on Mars with its ochre and chocolate coloured ramparts stretching skyward over subtle straw coloured spinifex plains intersected by vibrantly green gum creeks. Yet the Pilbara for all its apparent barren nothingness, hides a treasure-trove of wonderful vistas, deeply scarred landforms that reveal amazing waterholes, and equally spectacular beaches.

Karratha Beautiful Coastline
The Pilbara’s Stunning Coastline (image Courtesy Natalie Callanan)

Diving in the Pilbara is rarely mentioned in any diving guidebooks and inwesternaustralia has spoken with avid divers who didn’t even know there were wonderful diving opportunities to be had there. It’s in the Pilbara’s “Capital”, Karratha that we find the only diving operation available in this part of the world, Pilbara Dive And Tours, operates coastal and offshore dives, training courses, tours both local and international, and has a pop up shop open throughout March in Karratha.

Natalie Callanan first clapped eyes, from her airplane’s window seat, on the part of the magnificent WA coastline she was about to call home, not expecting she would be the only provider of diving expeditions in the region just over a year later.

What 5 words would you use to describe your part of the Pilbara?

Unique, different, spectacular, colourful & diverse

What makes your part of the Pilbara so unique?

Karratha is a great location to live and explore the Pilbara from. Karratha itself has many facilities such as a shopping centre with a variety of stores, medical centres, a hospital and other necessary services. In our spare time we often go exploring (this usually involves a car trip, a walk and a swim).

Within a 40 min drive you can visit historical towns such as Cossack, Roebourne and Dampier. Further afield ruggedly beautiful national parks await, such as Murujuga, Millstream/Chichester and the spectacular gorges at Karijini. More often than not we head out to one of many beaches to relax, swim, picnic or snorkel and every chance we get we adventure out on the waters of the Dampier Archipelago to dive and snorkel the pristine reefs that surround the islands.

What brought you to the Pilbara and what were your first impressions of it?

Originally from Queensland, I moved to the Pilbara 3 years ago.

The landscape from the plane was so different to other parts of Australia I had been. When you fly into Karratha you can see the coastline and some of the islands in the Dampier Archipelago out of the window and if you look through the windows on the opposite side of the plane you see salt pans surrounded by red dirt, railway lines with trains carrying iron ore that seem to go on forever and the red boulders and yellow spinifex of the Burrup peninsula. The colour contrasts are amazing.

Why did you start Pilbara Dive and Tours?

Before relocating to Karratha I researched the area and discovered the Dampier Archipelago with its 42 islands lay just off the coast. I imagined weekend trips diving around these islands. Unfortunately, soon after my arrival here I learnt that there were no dive companies and no way to get out and do some diving unless you owned your own boat or knew someone with a boat.

I really wanted to go and explore the fringing reefs that surround the archipelagos islands so I decided that once a month I would charter a boat and organise day trips for certified divers to dive in the archipelago. This is how Pilbara Dive and Tours began. After a few months I realised there was a need for diver training so I went and did my instructor training and examinations. Since then the business has really taken off. My weekends are now spent teaching new divers, conducting various dive courses or leading charters in the Dampier Archipelago.

What expeditions do you run and what can your customers experience when they go out on expeditions with you?

Our expeditions offer a variety of diving – from shore diving to boat diving. We cater from beginner divers to experienced divers. We have a large selection of dive sites to chose from so our customers can experience shallow reef diving, to deep and wreck dives amongst the islands in the Dampier Archipelago.

Natalie in her element (Pic Courtesy Natalie Callanan)
Natalie in her element (Image Courtesy Natalie Callanan)

We run dive trips in the Dampier Archipelago aboard the Blue Marlin or we can show you some amazing shore diving sites right from the beaches at Cleaverville or Point Samson.

Describe where you go diving and what the underwater world there is like?

One of my favourite dive sites in the Dampier Archipelago is near Malus Island. Here you get to dive amongst mountains of coral. There are plenty of overhangs and ledges that make good hiding places for turtles, crayfish & resting reef sharks. Schools of fish swim around and above you and if you take it slow you will discover many species of nudibranchs and numerous other sea creatures.

Colours in Coral (Image courtesy Natalie Callanan)
Colourful Nudibranch, just one of many stunning underwater creatures (Image courtesy Natalie Callanan)

What is there to do in your part of the Pilbara?

Where to start? Karratha is the perfect place to begin many an adventurous journey. From exploring the islands of the Dampier Archipelago to driving, hiking and swimming your way through the inland gorges of Millstream and Karijini National Parks. The Burrup Peninsula which is approximately a 15min drive from the centre of Karratha displays thousands of aboriginal petroglyphs. Some of which are estimated to be 30,000 years old. A 30 to 40 min drive in the other direction will take you to the historical town of Cossack and the seaside township of Point Samson.

What is the Pilbara like in the dry season (May to October) and the wet season (November to April) and what is the diving like in both?

The dry season in the Pilbara is perfect for both land and water activities. During the cooler months the water clears and allows for better visibility. We see similar marine life all year round and we even hear humpback whales singing while we are diving.

The wet season in the Pilbara is over the summer months. The water warms quickly from the winter temps of 21 to 23 degrees to 28 degrees plus. This rise in sea temperature causes algae to grow in the warm sea water which drops the visibility slightly. When the rains start the water runoff from the land and islands can cause the visibility to worsen. But that doesn’t deter us. Once the visibility was quite low and this caused it to be darker than it usually would be and we found several creatures that usually only come out at night. The low light conditions had tricked them into thinking its night time so that’s a bonus for us.

Pilbara Dive and Tours Pop Up shops has all the gear you need. (Pic Courtesy Natalie Callanan)
Pilbara Dive and Tours Pop Up shop has all the gear you need (Image Courtesy Natalie Callanan)

To get more local insight into what bucket list experiences can be had in the Pilbara go down and meet Natalie at the pop up shop, open until the end of March (Wednesday to Saturday, 9am to 2pm at 18 Hedland Place, Karratha), where you can chat with her about the amazing opportunities for diving and snorkelling along with other delights of the Pilbara and whilst you’re there check out the range of dive and snorkel equipment in store.

Visit www.pilbaradiveandtours.com.au for more information.

And for more info on the unique and stunning Dampier Archipelago go to;