Pilbara salt flats a secret oasis

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Tom ZaunmayrPilbara News
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VideoTake a walk on the salt flats of Nickol Bay and you may be surprised to find how full of life they are.

For the most part, salt flats can seem like a barren wasteland, too harsh for life to find a way.

The salt flats of the Pilbara coast are different, however.

On the right tide, they come to life.

A red-capped plover feeding at high tide on the Nickol Bay salt flats.
Camera IconA red-capped plover feeding at high tide on the Nickol Bay salt flats. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

I am standing on the crusted surface of Nickol Bay, a two-minute four-wheel-drive trip from behind the caravan park on Bottom Road.

It is 12.30pm and 50m in front of me is the water’s edge, creeping beyond the mangroves towards Karratha.

Today is different.

Karratha salt flats at high tide.
Camera IconKarratha salt flats at high tide. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

A 5.6m tide has me standing in shin-deep water within 10 minutes of arriving.

The tide races in across the flats, tentacles reaching out beyond the high-water mark where it finds ways through tyre ruts.

By 1pm, the water has reached the edge of the flats and a perfect stillness sets over the bay. If it were not for the thin line of mangroves in the distance you could not tell where water ends and sky begins.

An osprey perched on driftwood on the salt flats in front of Nickol Bay, Karratha.
Camera IconAn osprey perched on driftwood on the salt flats in front of Nickol Bay, Karratha. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

It is a glass-off — 30cm of water as far as the eye can see perfectly reflects the sky above.

The bay is littered with driftwood, which soon becomes perches for ospreys.

Thousands of wading birds gather to feed, and watching them fly together en masse is a spectacular sight.

High tide on the salt flats in front of Karratha.
Camera IconHigh tide on the salt flats in front of Karratha. Credit: Pictures: Tom Zaunmayr, Tom Zaunmayr

For those more interested in machines, it is also a perfect place to watch the comings and goings from Karratha airport.

Planes come in to land seemingly metres above your head, and you can watch the helicopters hovering above.

Here, on the salt flats of Nickol Bay, and indeed across the rest of the Pilbara coast, the natural world shows even a wasteland can shine.

An osprey perched on driftwood on the salt flats in front of Nickol Bay, Karratha.
Camera IconAn osprey perched on driftwood on the salt flats in front of Nickol Bay, Karratha. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

Ask people in the Pilbara what they think of the salt flats and most will have little to say.

That is a great shame given the beauty which rolls with the tide. Those who take the time to look will be treated to nature at its best, for even in the starkest locations, life finds a way.

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