Carnarvon is a town in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. 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 TIC, downtown at 21 Robinson St, is open 9-5 Mon-Fri, to noon Sat.
You'll 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 north towards Exmouth (4 hours) and Broome, and south to Geraldton (6 hours) and Perth (12 hours). 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.
- OTC Dish (Space & Technology Museum), Mahony Ave. 10 am to 2 pm. The prominent OTC - Overseas Telecoms Centre - is one of several that tracked the Gemini and Apollo space missions. (Along with 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" just 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.
Babbage Island and One Mile Jetty ought to be a top attraction, but nowadays it's derelict and forlorn. 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 C meant that stock went south by road instead; but the jetty was kept on as a tourist attraction, with the little "Coffee Pot Train" rumbling down its length. Nowadays alas the jetty is unsafe, closed to public access, and at risk of being lost, and mangroves are beginning to choke up the estuary. You may still be able to look in on the Railway Museum and the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage, but hours are uncertain.
Reach Babbage Island by car along the eponymous drive, 5 km, and you'll see the museum to your right as soon as you cross the bridge and bump across the tracks. Or walk 3 km via the disused railway bridge and track bed. Continuing on down to the south tip of the island there are sand hills, and windy beaches for kite-surfing.
Bumbak's at 449 North River Rd, north of town, is a tropical fruit plantation with a highly-recommended farm shop - the mango smoothies & ice creams are especially famous. Plantation tours sometimes available, depending on season.
Gwoonwardu Mia Aboriginal Cultural Centre has permanently closed.
Kickstarters Gascoyne Dash or "Gassy Dash" is an annual desert motor rally held in March / April along the dried-up bed of the Gascoyne River. 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. The next Dash starts on Thurs 29 March 2018. Main base for The Dash is the small town of Gascoyne Junction, but accommodation in Carnarvon will be sold out while it's on.
Some 12 km north of the river bridge at the N end of Carnarvon, a dirt road branches west off Hwy 1 to Point Quobba, "The Blowholes", a cairn memorial to HMAS Sydney, Red Bluff and Gnaraloo, famous for surfing. This road is a dead-end with no onward route to Exmouth: there's a gate north of Gnaraloo and the tracks beyond are just for farm use.
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.
- Hospitality Inn (Best Western), 6 West St, ☎ . Good motel with on-site restaurant.
- Wintersun Caravan and Tourist Park, 546 Robinson Street (Off North West Coastal Hwy), ☎ .
Geraldton is 480 km south, a solid day's drive. Stop overnight somewhere in this area before attempting to reach Perth.
Exmouth is 365 km north. Fill up at Miniliya roadhouse just before the turn-off from Highway 1, fuel is sparse and pricey from here on.