Carnarvon and Onslow, W Australia - Middle of the road

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December 2nd 2018
Published: January 27th 2019
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We left Kalbarri on another sunny day with the temperature starting at 33°C and rising eventually to 41°C. We were in our element! I chatted briefly with the owner of the accommodation and he told me that he had recently toured Scotland with his wife and couldn't wait to go again, they loved it so much. The grass is always greener, huh?

Australasia is full of creatures that don't feature much, if at all, anywhere else on the planet. I'm thinking of koalas, kangaroos, wombats, etc, though there'll be plenty of other things that aren't quite so symbolic, I'm sure. Last time we visited Australia we were there for two months and the only time we saw a kangaroo was in a wildlife park, so not quite the same as in the wild. Our mission on this visit was to see a wild kangaroo and our eyes were constantly scanning our surroundings for them. There must have been plenty about as there were lots of dead ones by the side of the roads where they had fallen victim to the traffic but we really wanted to see one that was alive and hopping. Anyhoo, just as we were leaving Kalbarri, driving along the deserted Ajana-Kalbarri road, a small hopping thing jumped in front of us! We really wanted it to be a kangaroo but we decided in the end that it was a wallaby and I'd seen one of those up close and personal once before, though Steve hadn't so that was something. Just as we'd recovered from that excitement we had to do a quick swerve to avoid an extremely large reptile that was ambling down the side of the road. I can quite see why there is so much roadkill. We were the only vehicle on an otherwise deserted road for miles around and it seemed as though the wildlife was subject to some law of fatal attraction when it came to big moving metal things on wheels that would kill them.

We eventually joined Route 1 again, now calling itself the North West Coastal Highway. There was some farmland, growing what looked like some sort of cereal crop, but nothing much else. Distances between towns and other places of interest were quite long in this part of Australia, with the west coast being much less developed than the east. This had limited our choice of places to stay and we'd made absolutely certain that we knew where all the roadhouses (petrol stations) were en route because running out of petrol on these empty roads would be no fun at all. We made sure to top up with fuel before we commenced any journey, even if what we had in the tank should see us safely there, and we'd filled the boot of the car with lemonade bottles of water that would do for the car and us, in extremis. So, there was no real reason for us to stop at the Billabong Roadhouse but it was just too iconic to drive past and it was convenient for a rest stop. It didn't have a great deal going for it, to be honest, but I bought a beermat/coaster type thing that came with a built-in bottle opener that was extremely useful during the rest of our travels. Our journey to Carnarvon took us about five hours in total. The road was fast and empty and all we had to do was steer. We didn't need to be too precise with that even, as we travelled many, many miles without another vehicle in sight so a bit of sloppy road positioning was never a problem.

Did you know that when those of us of a certain age were watching the first man walk on the moon we were seeing those images courtesy of a small town in Australia that just happened to have a satellite dish-thingy big enough to beam the signals to the rest of the world? No? Me neither. But Steve, who is a big film buff, had once seen a film about it and knew that the small Australian town that played such a key role in this event just happened to be Carnarvon! We arrived on a Sunday so the museum was closed but it would reopen the following the day. We checked in to the Best Western Hospitality Inn and our room (no 22) came with a sea view and furniture that looked so dated it might have belonged to the same era as the moon landing! The hotel had a restaurant but it was really expensive so we drove around the harbour and eventually got fish and chips which we ate on the seafront, feeding the leftovers to the seagulls.

When we eventually made it to the Space Museum it was really quite interesting. They had a capsule simulator which we clambered into to lie on our backs with our legs raised up to experience the sounds and some of the sights the astronauts saw and we moved on to spend some time fiddling around with the interactive displays and reading the information. It was a well-presented museum and proved popular with other visitors to the town, perhaps because it was the only thing of interest there. I'd chatted with a young German who worked at the hotel. He'd been there about three months and said it was really, REALLY quiet and he couldn't wait for Christmas when he was going to escape to the bright lights of Sydney for the holidays. Before leaving the town we called in to the Tourist Information facility. Australia has these everywhere, even in the most unexpected places, and they provide high quality guides, postcards, maps and souvenirs and they never failed to impress me. We also called in to the Woolworths supermarket, which was enormous, and restocked our mobile pantry and got some detergent in readiness for A BIG WASH which was becoming overdue. All set, we headed off on the next leg of our journey up the coast.

We were now heading for Onslow, which meant we had to travel some distance off course to reach it but it was the only place conveniently situated to break our journey. Back on Route 1 initially, the road was really quiet but easy to drive and we just 'steered' for miles. We passed many dried up river beds and saw, sadly, lots of fresh kangaroo road-kill and one desiccated cow carcass. As a result we saw many more carrion crows and an eagle feasting on the bodies. Lots of road signs warned us drivers of the likelihood of wandering roos, cattle, sheep, emus and the like but, in the end, I decided to drive as though there was no possibility of something the size of a car suddenly appearing in front of me and just hoped my reactions would be quick enough if it did, otherwise our journey would be very slow and very long. This strategy worked well on the whole, even though my feet were never anywhere near the pedals during our 'steering' times and I'm glad to say our reactions were sufficiently quick that we didn't contribute to any more road-kill during our time in Australia, though the few near misses we had (mainly birds) didn't do much for our blood pressure!

We knew our journey today would take us across the Tropic of Capricorn. Australia doesn't have many faults in my book but one thing it could improve on would be more timely signage for upcoming points of interest. We found ourselves crossing the Tropic before realising we were anywhere near it so we had to do a quick reverse to get back to it. Given we were the only thing on the road we could wobble about a bit going backwards down the middle of the road. I'm not absolutely sure what the Tropic of Capricorn is but thought it a bit like the Equator, which is a significant thing to cross, and I seemed to recall that cruise-liners used to (possibly still do?) have 'Crossing the Equator' parties. Well, someone had also had a bit of a party at the Tropic of Capricorn crossing because the sign was pockmarked with bullet holes! We shot a photo or two instead ...

The terrain gradually became hillier, rockier and red in colour. In some places it also became wider and at one point we drove down the runway of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, not because we went off route or anything, but because the road widened to act as a landing strip for the RFDS plane should it be needed in the area. We drove through another National Park (these were everywhere - it seemed as though if there was a significant amount of uninhabited land it was just designated a National Park!) and, just after Exmouth, we turned off Route 1 to travel the 50 miles or so to Onslow.

Onslow is an industrial area with a significant salt production from vast salt lakes and a more recent gas industry. The roads are being improved to better cope with the increased traffic and they were busy working on a 15 mile stretch of it using tons of red earth for the road surface. We had to slowly follow diggers, rollers, trucks and, sadly for us, huge water spraying lorries which soaked the earth for it to set hard in the heat. Unfortunately, we also got drenched. For mile after dusty, wet mile we slowly dodged all the flying bits of hardcore thrown up by the lorries and we tried to drop back far enough to evade the deluges of water pouring from the lorries but that was hard to do when sandwiched between those and the heavy compactors following behind in greatly reduced visibility. Let me think - get wet or get flattened? We thought one guy waved us towards the right at one point but that was into a waterlogged gully so we ignored him. I think we were expected to move over though as, several miles later, a man at the other end had to remove some cones so that we could exit that bit of road. We became coated in a fine layer of the red stuff which got everywhere. Other than gazillions of termite mounds (enterprisingly the area was called 'Termite Town'), there wasn't much to see to pass the time so it was just a case of grin and bear it.

We eventually arrived in Onslow billowing a trail of red dust behind us. We located the Onslow Sun Chalets but couldn't locate anyone near Reception to check us in. The place looked deserted but we finally found the owner, Shelley, checking the water quality of the swimming pool, helped by Bella, the ancient labrador. The chalet we had booked had recently had plumbing problems, she said, and she was happy for us to switch chalets if we wanted but she thought the problems were solved. We decided to stick with Chalet 15, as it fronted on to the beach. 'Chalet' was a bit of an over-statement as it turned out, because the lodgings were more of a Butlin's-style affair than anything else, but it came with everything we needed and the lovely sea view so it was fine. It was as we sat on our patio enjoying the sea view with a beer that we noticed the red sand seemed to be 'crusting' on the car and we had to quickly wash it down in the near dark before it set like concrete.

We easily explored Onslow on foot during our time there. It has a population of only 860 but the gas company is pouring money in to it and has built a new hospital and school so I'm sure it will grow. The 'Onslow Improvement Plan' was on display on the town noticeboard and a mural showed the history of the place, including its prawn fishing background and its WW2 connections when the British used it as a base for A Bomb testing on a nearby island. The town had a couple of hotels that served pricey meals if you couldn't be bothered to prepare something yourself in the chalet or wanted a bit of company. It had a small supermarket where many of the local Aborigine people gathered, a petrol station where the fuel cost another 20 cents more than previously, a Tourist Info place that was shut because we were out of season and a general store where I managed to buy a couple of postcards.

I was feeling quite tired at this stage of our travelling and needed the time to chill out and relax. The beach was lovely and deserted so we had it to ourselves. White parrots flew around the trees and chattered to us together with some small, sparrow-like birds but that was it really, apart from an occasional visit from Bella. The most taxing things I did were several loads of washing and a bit of mopping up when we discovered that the plumbing issues associated with our chalet hadn't been resolved when the shower water ran into the lounge. All in all, it was just what we needed, when we needed it, if only it had been a bit closer to our main route!


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