Skull Springs Road

Although it was the attraction of Skull Springs Road which had seen us travel eastward, almost completing a large circle encompassing the Gascoyne & Pilbara regions ( we were back to within a couple of hundred kms of Telfer Mine, from where we had headed south into Karlamilyi NP almost a month earlier) we didn’t have a lot of idea of what to expect other than it was an exceptionally pretty drive & with a road which was fairly rough in parts. Both were true. Mostly driving conditions were ‘average’ when compared to all the other dirt road driving we’ve done, & on a scale of 1 to 10 we reckoned the rough section in the middle probably scored a 7 (when 10 is the worst). Toward it’s southern end it was ‘billiard table smooth’ (score 1) as it passed a number of operating gold mines.

We thought the sign overstated things a little, but it helped build the excitement as we once again turned onto the dirt at the beginning of Skull Springs Road.

It wouldn’t be hard to launch into ‘flowery’ descriptions of the scenery, but I’ll spare readers that, instead hoping that the accompanying photos might suffice to inform. The road essentially runs from a little past Carawine Gorge south westward to Nullagine, a distance of approximately 140kms. We commented as we drove that it would not surprise us if there are plans afoot to seal the road as it would have to rank up there with any of Australia’s most scenic routes & is a tourist drive just waiting to be born. Of course in our view sealing the road will detract from it’s value. Grading the dirt along it’s entire length could add to it.

A rock ‘wall’.

The ‘roo sculpture – the marker for the turn off to Running Waters – hard to see when coming from the north, we missed it, but found the turn off anyway. Took the pic when we saw it on the way out.

As with much of outback Australia the main attractions centre around water, it being a rare commodity in this dry land – something I thought worthy of mention for non-Australian readers who might be forgiven for thinking that either we (Australians) have an obsession with gorges & waterholes, or that such places are commonplace with just little bits of desert separating them. I know that many years ago when growing up in England I would have found it almost incomprehensible to understand why anyone might choose to travel hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres to visit a wet hole in the ground, or to see another cliff face. These places, in the midst of outback country are special, very special. They are hubs for life, each different & often with different life to observe. Some are remote enough to have plants, animals, birds or fish unique to that single location. We (MrsTea & I) may not always have a full knowledge of what we are among in these places, but we always feel blessed to be there & as much as we can enjoy trying to familiarise ourselves with the ‘rhythm’ of the place. It probably sounds a little corny, but being able, for example, to give a name to a bird (Roger the Rainbow Bee Eater), knowing it is the same creature who is back in the same place , at the same time today as he was yesterday, because it’s a good insect catching position for the time that the sun is shining through the trees in that spot is a small way for us to be able to feel we are sharing the rhythm. And it helps us to somehow feel respectful of these ancient places where the rhythms’ have been unchanged for millennia.

There are two accessible places along Skull Springs Road made special by the presence of water. What is more special is that both, 50kms apart, are spring fed, underground water from, we believe, the same source. One, the first we came to, called Running Waters, & the second, Skull Springs which has given the road it’s name.

All we knew of Running Waters was that whilst accessible, the last few hundred metres were ‘pretty rough’ if a waterside camp was desired. We hadn’t even appreciated that it was spring fed & not ‘just’ a waterhole left in a dry creek. ’Rough’ is a relative term, what is rough to some is just ‘slightly bumpy’ to others. It turned out that the deep pristine blue/green, crystal clear, body temperature water under shady paperbark trees was a spring fed waterhole in the middle of a much larger riverbed, evidenced by a multitude of sandy channels, solid rock beds with water rounded edges & narrow tracks in & out of large well nourished paperbarks & their extensive root systems. Above head height the detritus of the last flood informed as to the unimaginable quantities of water which flow where we were driving. It was slow 1st gear low ratio driving over large rocks, tree roots & holes. Getting to a camp spot alongside the water was a challenge, but thankfully my skills in reversing the Tvan have improved quite a lot in the past year or so. The effort to get in & to secure the only spot from which I had reasonable confidence in getting back out of was rewarded by what, for us, is one of the best places we have ever camped in. MrsTea has maintained for over a decade that her favourite spot in Australia has been Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill Gorge), a truly wonderful oasis in Northern Queensland, which has now been relegated to second place. Of course comparing places is never going to have meaning other than to ourselves, & it is without doubt as much about experience as it is about place. Here at Running Waters there was one other camper who was packing to leave when we arrived. Once she had left we had the place totally to ourselves for the few days we were there. Skinny dipping multiple times a day as we pleased was as easy as two or three steps from our camp chairs, towels unnecessary to dry off as the warm breeze through the trees did a perfect job of that. Firewood was abundant thanks to the last floods & life was so good that we felt privileged to be sharing it with the birds who woke us each dawn & entertained us during the day, & not forgetting the fish (black with blue under fins) who followed us in shoals along the soft mossy-like banks of the water. MrsTea enjoyed fossicking among the variety of rocks & stones, returning to camp one day with among others a green translucent piece of rock as her prized find for the day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told her it was Jade. Now we have a burgeoning collection of rocks to find a home for, & that is before we even begin the inevitable collection of seashells once we become coastal!

Camped at Running Waters

The ‘noodle’ facilitates longer dips these days.
MrsTea has no need for a noodle!

The view from our ‘living room’
And looking to our left.
Paperbark bark
There was one spot in the water where it was a little warmer, & a slight swirl on the surface indicated that water was gently flowing up from below, but there were also several other small springs close by making constantly running streams, like this one, running into the main pool.


Can you identify the fish?


‘Confident’ about getting back out of this little piece of heaven may have been a slight exaggeration. I did worry about it a little, knowing turning around was going to be a challenge, but knowing others had managed it before me helped. As it turned out I did what I am good at doing – worrying without need. If anything getting out was easier than getting in. This often seems to be the way – it makes a difference psychologically to know what is ahead – obvious in hindsight, but something I really should learn to remember! As it is MrsTea used our phone to film our drive out. It really isn’t as dramatic as I had imagined it might be but may be of interest to some who would like to see a bit more of the place or to hear the Patrol & Tvan squeaking & groaning it’s way over the rocks. You can see the video online at       What is perhaps more dramatic is the difference between the country down by the water & the country we emerge into which surrounds it. These special places are never obvious until you are in them & we often wonder just what we might be passing without ever knowing it’s there. Australia is a country we think still holds many secrets.

Skull Springs was described by ‘Scruffy’ (back at the Veteran’s Retreat) as ‘mind-blowing’. His directions to find the place were spot on.

The road marker at the turn off to Skull Springs

We had intended to possibly spend a few days there, but although intriguing, we found it hard to find a suitable camping spot. Plenty of space for single vehicles, but for us towing a trailer (total 9.8 metres long) the only suitable spots were not especially attractive for a longer term camp, & it felt too early in the day to set up for an overnighter.

Instead we wandered for a couple of hours around what could be described as quite an incredible natural maze where we lost & found ourselves on numerous occasions. Unfortunately for anyone reading this we had left the vehicle parked outside of the springs, just going in for a quick look to determine whether it was wise to take the vehicle in & did not take a camera with us. By the time we had discovered the nature of the place we had understood that ‘mind-blowing’ as well as meaning ‘awesome’ also meant ‘confusing & disorienting’. A forest which essentially is one huge spring covering an area too large to estimate. Under the trees were numerous (hundreds? more?) small creeks flowing, often joining, often separating. Multiple water sources coming to the surface from below. Progress through the forest involved long walks along creeks to find narrow sections where the water (again blue/green & crystal clear, but this time cold) was narrow enough to jump over, only to find yet another just metres or less away. The only reference point being a central vehicle track through the forest, itself frequently cut by running water, & mostly too wide or deep to cross on foot, kept us from becoming lost forever in the forest, fairytale style. A few moments of disoriented anxiety were dispelled by the magical nature of the experience.

Back on Skull Springs Road we revelled in the changing scenery, eventually reaching the tiny town of Nullagine where we stopped for lunch before continuing back to Marble Bar via another 112kms of good dirt road through Pilbara spinifex hills. It’s hard to tire of the scenery in these parts. Again we topped up our water & fuel whilst in town, before continuing a short way north to overnight in an unexpectedly pleasant camp spot at Doolena Gorge.

Doolena Gorge

Next day was a short drive, back onto the highway (to Port Hedland) for a few kms, before turning right onto what turned out to be an exceptionally good sandy road – a short cut back to the North West Coastal highway via the abandoned town of Goldsworthy. Except as yet (as I write) we haven’t reached either Goldsworthy, nor the highway. In search of a comfortable place to stop for a day or two, somewhere I could catch up with the ‘backlog’ of writing blog posts without distraction we came across the perfect spot. A short distance before Goldsworthy, & perhaps 20km from the highway the track crosses the DeGrey River. Yet another wide but dry river, this with a concrete causeway. Passable most of the year but clearly not when the river is in full flow, as evidence in the trees shows water levels reach several metres above the causeway. On either side of the causeway, along the higher annually flooded banks was something we haven’t seen for a while …… green grass (!) in among a ‘grove’ of Paperbarks. Nearby Mulyie Station generously allows free camping here. Those familiar with outback desert travel will appreciate the luxurious nature of a shady spot WITHOUT dust! It has been a perfect spot for the ‘blogging office’. Tonight will be our 3rd here, (& we are still clean!) with intention to leave tomorrow.

Yes! Real green grass & no dust. Just the place to catch up on a few blog posts – ready to upload when we find a signal.
Tree with a hole – hard to work out how it managed this?
Did I mention the lack of dust? 🙂 After 3 nights here we were so grateful we walked to the front gates of the station this morning & left the owners a thank you note.

Apologies once again for multiple posts on the same day. It’s just how it is when travelling with very sporadic phone signals. Gotta use’em whilst you got’em.

3 thoughts on “Skull Springs Road

  1. Next video we expect to see Mrs Tea doing the driving and you doing the videoing Cuppa.
    That’s not a reflection on either the videoing or the driving, both are excellent.
    Wish I was there instead of here.

  2. Got to love those Tvans – follow you anywhere you choose to go!
    Excellent camera work Mrs Tea ☺

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