The strategic location of Carnarvon on Western Australia’s north western coast – as well as the surrounding area’s stunning beauty – make it a natural stopping point for road-weary grey nomads.
And, few of those travellers who break the long journey along the North West Coastal Highway here are disappointed. While there is no free camping within the Shire of Carnarvon, there are no shortage of great caravan parks and other paid camping options.
Sitting 900 kilometres north of Perth and 350 kilometres south of Exmouth, Carnarvon began life as a port and supply depot for the surrounding pastoral industry. Despite its low annual rainfall, the town is known as the fruit bowl of Western Australia, and supplies 70% of the state’s winter vegetable requirements. Fishing is also a big industry here.
The first-time visitor, however, is initially struck by the extraordinary width of the main street, Robinson Street. What is reputed to be Australia’s widest street was created back in the late 19th century with enough room to allow a double team of camels pulling massive drays full of wool to turn around.
Another startling phenomenon is the river that runs upside down! While the Gascoyne River flows visibly after heavy rains, its waters generally move in underground reserves protected from evaporation by the sand.
This is the only point on the Australian coastline where the desert reaches out into the sea, so the mouth of the Gascoyne River is a 300-kilometre tongue of sand which acts as a huge water storage system. The town and the surrounding plantations get their water supplies from bores.
The Space and Technology Museum, located 10 kilometres south of town, celebrates the role Carnarvon played in the manned space program. It was commissioned in 1964 and was the last station to communicate with space capsules leaving the earth’s orbit, and the last to make contact before the return splashdown.
The ‘One Mile Jetty’, which was built in 1904 and actually measures 1493 metres, is also well worth a look. The wooden jetty though has some structural defects that will require major work to repair. It will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Nearby, as part of the town’s Historic Precinct are the Shearing Hall of Fame, the Carnarvon Tramway and the Lighthouse Keepers Cottage Museum. Outside of town, the ‘blowholes’, 70 kilometres or so to the north are a popular tourist attraction.
As the swell from the Indian Ocean crashes through the rocks, the spray can reach a height of 20 metres. Also, to the north is Lake Macleod, a massive coastal salt lake, and the natural beauty of the sprawling Quobba Station.
For those looking to explore inland, the magnificent Kennedy Range is 150 kilometres to the east, and Mount Augustus national park is 450 kilometres away … but don’t rush off! Carnarvon is a lot, lot more than a staging post for a trip to the rugged interior.