- For the national park in Queensland, see Carnarvon National Park
Carnarvon is a town in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, with a population in 2016 of 4426. Once a port for the shipping of livestock, it's now a fruit & veg growing area and has a small fishing industry. It's the last town of any size before heading north into arid country towards Exmouth and Port Hedland, so for travellers it's a good overnight stop and chance to stock up.
The town stands at the mouth of the Gascoyne River. The Inggarda Aboriginal people called this area Kuwinywardu, meaning "neck of water".
The TIC, downtown at 21 Robinson St, is open M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa 9AM to noon. In April 2021 Carnarvon was badly damaged by Cyclone Seroja, which swept away the historic jetty, but all the hotels and facilities described here were back in business by 2022.
His friends called him Twitters
The town of Carnarvon is named for Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert (1831-1890), 4th Earl of Carnarvon, but "Twitters" to his chums for his nervous tics. He campaigned to make jails even more harsh and degrading, he was horrified at working men getting the vote, and his system of government for South Africa was opposed by every faction within that country and led to the Zulu and First Boer Wars.
His son the 5th Earl of Carnarvon financed the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.
Rex Airlines flies twice M-F and once Sa Su from Perth, either direct (2 hr 15 min) or via Shark Bay / Monkey Mia (3 hr). The return flights are direct with no Carnarvon to Shark Bay service. Neither Qantas nor Virgin Australia (the former Southwest) fly here.
By road, you approach on the NW Coastal Highway, and know you're close when you see the OTC Dish pointing into space.
Integrity Coaches run twice a week from Perth (12 hours) via Geraldton, and continue north towards Exmouth (4 hours) and Broome. TransWA buses don't run this far north.
The town's sights are a little way out, within range of a hot dusty hike, but think about the coming back and then hire a car. Avis and Budget have rental offices here.
Gascoyne Taxis (+61 477 757 977) and Carnarvon Taxis (+61 8 9941 1499) are both sound and reliable.
- The Fascine is the name of the promenade along Olivia Terrace. A footbridge crosses from its north end to Whitlock and Babbage islands.
- 1 OTC Dish (Space & Technology Museum), Mahony Ave, ☏ . Daily 10AM-2PM. The prominent OTC - Overseas Telecoms Centre - tracked the Gemini and Apollo space missions, as did Parkes NSW (the one featured in the film "The Dish".) It closed in 1987 and was going to be demolished, until finding a new role as a museum. It's all a bit hoaky and Heath-Robinson: the "Apollo Simulator" feels like the inside of a badly-maintained lift, and the "Planetarium" is an inflated canopy. But the staff know their stuff and it really recaptures the 1960s / 70s space era. Adult $18, conc $12, child $10.
- 2 Pelican Point is a nature reserve at the south tip of Babbage Island. The road to the island starts at the north side of town, crosses the channel bridge to the foot of One Mile Jetty, then swings south. You can also short-cut across the footbridge, which was once a tramway. The Point has sand hills and windy beaches for kite-surfing.
- 3 One Mile Jetty on Babbage Island was wrecked in 2021 by Cyclone Seroja, but had been derelict for years before. The sea off Carnarvon is shallow, so they had to build a very long jetty to moor ships to export livestock. The stock was brought to the jetty by narrow-gauge railway, then sent down a race to the ship; later the railway was extended down the jetty. Improved roads in the late 20th century meant that stock went south by truck, but the jetty was kept on as a tourist attraction, with the little "Coffee Pot Train" rumbling down its length. But it fell derelict, and now seems unlikely to be repaired. You may still be able to look in on the Railway Museum and the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage at the foot of the jetty, but hours are uncertain.
- See Red Bluff for Point Quobba, "The Blowholes", the memorial to HMAS Sydney, Red Bluff and the surf resort of Gnaraloo. This road north is a dead-end with no onward route to Exmouth.
- Look up at the night sky especially if you come from a cold northern country where the skies are a smear of city light pollution and sleet. The moon and band of the Milky Way will be familiar but the constellations won't be. Check online beforehand what's likely to be in view and where: probably one of the giant planets, perhaps the International Space Station whirling west to east - look up times on Spot The Station.
- Golf: Carnarvon GC is south edge of town off HMAS Sydney II Memorial Drive. Parkland? Greens? Hell no, this is authentic WA dirt.
- Carnarvon Speedway has clay-track races about once a month Feb-Aug. It's 1 km east of the Dish.
- Gassy Dash is a motor rally held around April along the dried-up bed of the Gascoyne River - the next is 28 Apr - 1 May 2022. Originally it was a white-water boat race held in Sept/Oct, but the volume and timing of the river flows were too variable for a scheduled sports event, whereas when that river's dry, it's reliably ever-so-dry. So nowadays the Dash is a race along sand and grit, involving two days each of some 200 km, for cars and for motorbikes. Main base for The Dash is the small town of Gascoyne Junction, but accommodation in Carnarvon will be sold out while it's on.
- Woolworths is the main store, corner of Robinson and Alexander, open daily 7AM-8PM.
- Growers' Market is held behind the Visitor Centre on Saturday 8-11:30AM.
- Fuel: Amphol filling station is open 24 hours, at the junction of Hwy 1 and Robinson St. Don't leave town with less than half a tank. North, your next chance is 140 km away at Minilya by the turn-off for Exmouth. South it's 200 km to Hamelin Pool at the Shark Bay / Monkey Mia turn-off.
- Gascoyne Bakery Cafe by the Visitor Centre is open M-Sa 6AM-3PM.
- West Coast Fish & Chips is a takeaway within the central shopping mall, open W-Su 11:30AM-2PM, 4-8PM.
- Chicken Treat at 72 Robinson St is not the fastest of fast food.
- 1 Mar e Sol, 131 Harbour Rd, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-7:30PM. Pleasant harbour-side bistro, dog-friendly.
- 2 A Taste of Thai by fon, 17 Hubble St, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-7:30PM. Excellent Thai food; fon is the owner / chef.
- 3 Bumbak's, 449 North River Rd, ☏ . Daily 9AM-4PM. This tropical fruit plantation has a highly-recommended farm shop and cafe - the mango smoothies and ice creams are famous. Plantation tours are sometimes available.
There isn't a stand-alone bar, head for the hotels and restaurants.
Bottlemart (Al's Liquor Store) is at 435 Robinson St and open daily 10AM-8PM.
Make sure to have ample drinking water. There's a free water faucet at the Information Bay on Hwy 1, 50 m south of the junction with Robinson St.
- 1 Hospitality Inn, 6 West St, ☏ . Good motel, clean and spacious, with on-site restaurant. Double (room only) $160.
- 2 Carnarvon Hotel, 121 Olivia Terrace, ☏ . Decent mid-price hotel. Most people just come for the food, which gets so-so reviews. Double (room only) $120.
- Backpackers Inn further along Olivia Terrace didn't open in 2021/22.
- 3 Carnarvon Motel, 34 David Brand Drive, ☏ . Clean friendly well-run place. Double (room only) $150.
- 4 Port Hotel-Motel, 35 Robinson St, ☏ . Eating place with rooms in town centre.
- 5 Coral Coast Tourist Park, 108 Robinson St, ☏ . Clean welcoming place at edge of town. Cabin $300.
- The junction of Hwy 1 and Robinson St into town has a cluster of caravan parks, including Wintersun (below), Big4 Plantation and Capricorn. A little closer to town are Carnarvon Caravan Park, Norwesta, Outback Oasis and Gateway Motel.
- 6 Wintersun Caravan Park, 546 Robinson Street, ☏ . Park with chalets and camping / caravan pitches, clean and dog-friendly. Cabin $110, hook-up $50.
As of Jan 2022, Carnarvon has 4G from Telstra, and if you're lucky from Optus, but there's no signal from Vodafone. Telstra cover extends north up the highway to Minilya (the turn-off for Exmouth), but to the south is dead. 5G has not reached this area.
- Geraldton is 480 km south, a solid day's drive. Stop overnight somewhere in this area before attempting to reach Perth.
- Kennedy Range is a National Park 200 km east, accessed via Gascoyne Junction.
- Red Bluff and Gnarlaroo is a surf destination up a side-road north. You'll need to be self-sufficient.
- Exmouth is 365 km north. Fill up at Minilya roadhouse just before the turn-off from Highway 1, fuel is sparse and pricey from there on.