Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Perth to Exmouth: Geraldton and Carnarvon

3 days and 1400km (or so) after leaving Perth, we are officially far further north than I have been in Western Australia.

We stopped overnight twice on the way up, once in Geraldton (about 450km north of Perth) and once in Carnarvon (about 500km north of Geraldton).

The 'C' is Carnarvon...
Map courtesy of Google

Three years ago, if you drove to Geraldton you had to take an inland route, the Brand Highway, and share the drive with trucks and cars alike. As of 2010 there is a coastal alternative, known as the Indian Ocean Drive, which avoids trucks and offers more enticing views. We took that option and thus passed coastal towns (Lancelin, Cervantes, Jurian Bay...) and also the Pinnacles Desert.

The Pinnacles are a collection of rock mounds of uncertain origin, incorporated within a national park and made accessible for driving or walking through.

Pinnacles desert, near Cervantes, W.A.

I will confess to being more fond of forests and water than of rocks and sand, but this collection of rocks has a certain appeal. The stop off also provided an enjoyable break from driving, and somewhere to eat the sandwiches we had bought earlier on the drive.

Upon reaching Geraldton, I was perplexed to realise that I didn't recognise it at all. I had been twice before, and expected to see at least a few familiar landmarks. It would seem that in the 12 years since I'd last visited enough had changed, or enough time had passed for my memory to fade, for me to recognise virtually nothing.

Geraldton has the feel of a large country town, with some run down areas, but mixed in with the old is quite a lot of new: new shops and cafes, a range of restaurants, a regenerated foreshore area, and the Geraldton outpost of the Western Australian museum. We visited the museum the morning after we arrived and found it well worth the 2 hours we spent there. The exhibits cover the history of Geraldton and the areas through interactive displays, many of which are very child-friendly.

We stayed at Ocean West apartments in South Geraldton, about 4km out from the main town centre and situated opposite a beach. I would have to describe them as 'fine' rather than brilliant, but they offer self-catering facilities and reasonable value for money. Certainly for one night they were quite sufficient and I suspect the larger apartments (ours was a one-bedroom) would be better value yet.

We didn't really utilise our self-catering options on this occasion though, opting for take-away for Saturday night dinner. Mr Bite was still feeling a bit unwell and a restaurant meal wasn't very appealing. We found Noodler's Noodle Bar and adjoining O'Ba-San Sushi on Marine Terrace, part of the main restaurant stretch near the foreshore.

Generally speaking I prefer sushi to noodles, but am wary of sushi on holidays unless it's made fresh. I went for the vegetarian singapore noodles without egg instead, and Mr Bite had the vegetarian egg noodles with black bean sauce. I didn't photograph the meal and I can't say it was very enjoyable - my mixture had too many noodles and far too few vegetables. Mr Bite liked his more, but he found it had too much sauce.

We purchased a more reliable lunch option before starting the drive up to Carnarvon: Subway. We have had Subway around Australia and even across Europe and it's become a bit of a running joke with us that we check the availability of Subway stores before heading to new places. It isn't the most exciting lunch meal, but has the advantage of being fresh, made to order, vegetarian / vegan if desired, and easy to buy ahead and then eat later when needed.

On this occasion, pre-bought Subway allowed us to stop at one of the roadside picnic spots on our drive, rather than be tied to one of the very few roadhouse or petrol station eateries. It's a long drive from Geraldton to Carnarvon, and there aren't a lot of fresh food options along the way!

Galena Bridge picnic spot, North West Coastal Highway

One of the nice things about the drive, though, was the experience of truly seeing Western Australia. It is such a big state - Australia is such a big country - and my previous northern experiences didn't extend beyond Geraldton and Kalbarri (the latter being a seaside town about 3 hours north of Geraldton). Although you can fly to Exmouth, I'm glad that on this occasion we took the slower approach.

As we got further north, the landscape changed in subtle ways, from dry expanses to scrubby bush, to some surprisingly green stretches. As we approached Carnarvon, things turned tropical.

Carnarvon at dusk
Carnarvon is one of Australia's main sources of tropical fruits and sun-loving vegetables, behind Queensland, and the landscape and weather were definitely Queensland-esque - but without the humidity. Whereas Geraldton had plenty of amenities but no (to me) discernible 'feel' to it, Carnarvon had relatively few amenities but a comfortable vibe.

We stayed at the local Best Western, Carnarvon Hospitality Inn, and this delivered what one might hope for in a motel: friendly staff, clean and nicely furbished rooms, quiet, and well-located.

Best Western Carnarvon

In the end, it also delivered us dinner. We walked into the main Carnarvon stretch as night was falling and found a franchise Eagle Boys Pizza store, a rundown fish and chips, and another noodle / sushi bar that, as might be expected!, didn't greatly appeal. There was also a restaurant attached to a pub, and I think some other restaurants attached to other hotels, which we didn't see. My reference to few amenities in Carnarvon should be taken literally!

Back to the Best Western it was, to a choice of crackers and cereal or their local on-site restaurant known as Sails.

We went for Sails and this turned out well, as we both ordered and enjoyed the vegetable ratatouille. It came atop eggplant, with cheese (mine removed) and Turkish bread. The ratatouille sauce may not have been vegan (I didn't inquire about any dairy additives) but it was certainly enjoyable.

The next day we checked out fruit plantations, mostly banana but with some mangoes and paw-paws too.

We saw lots of bananas growing, something that I found more enjoyable than I probably should have, given that I rarely eat bananas fresh.

Sadly, we weren't actually able to buy any fresh fruit. Apparently we were in between the main growing seasons, but I would still have expected to find at least one or two local stalls. Instead, we bought some jams and dried fruit from Bumbak's, one of plantations in the area.

Dried mango ginger curls, fruit salad honey (we still haven't figured out exactly what that is; the ingredient list is vague), pawpaw & ginger jam, banana jam, and mango & ginger jam:

Before leaving Carnarvon, we visited the satellite earth station that facilitated the tracking of Halley's Comet in 1987. The station was built in 1966 and also played a role in the lead up to the moon landing in 1969, and was the link for Australia's first satellite television broadcast.

The site closed after 1987 so there isn't a lot to see, but you can drive up to the disk.

And from there, on to Exmouth! More on that in another post...


  1. Subway is the only fast-food I will eat.. although it's everywhere in the states. I don't even really consider it fast-food in the traditional sense. :P

    1. Me too :) I'm glad I'm not the only one!

  2. Replies
    1. It has felt a bit like that - such a new experience for me!

  3. Hope you are having a good time, it certainly looks like it! Subway sounds like a better decision than roadhouse options, food choices can be so limited in remote places of Australia.

    1. Absolutely, it does get hard out of major cities. But then every now and then there is an unexpected wonderful food find, and it's almost made better by being so far from the main centres!

  4. Wow that is a long drive - I have seen very little of WA and seeing your road trip makes me feel overwhelmed at how big it is - I have avoided subway partly because I got cross at them not giving me enough grated carrot no matter how much I asked but I can imagine it is a godsend in remote Australia. Look forward to hearing about exmouth

    1. I get cross at the price of a veggie sub being the same as one with cheese and tuna, but then I get cross about those sorts of things at so many sandwich places! I'm sure I subsidise a lot of people's meals with my 'all salad, no meat' orders.

  5. Oh, that is a really long drive. I'm not good on long road trips - I get so restless. Great that you were able to take the more scenic route and bypass all those trucks that make a road trip so much more unpleasant. What beautiful scenery - it's unlike anything you'd see anywhere else in the world. Looking forward to seeing what else you discover xx

    1. Trucks and road trips really don't mix do they? I get restless in the car too but fortunately we stop quite often! I'm hopeless on planes so always remind myself that at least a car is better than that (albeit takes longer for the same distance...).

  6. I love a car trip, but S doesn't really enjoy them. I need to work on him because it really is the only way to see this gigantic country of ours. Sounds like a great trip Kari!

    1. We were actually the opposite...I was wary of the drive but Mr Bite was keen. I'm glad he convinced me so perhaps you can use my conversion to sway S :D

  7. What a great road trip! I need to try harder to convince Andy that we should drive further than Cairns in the north and Bowen in the south. There's something that I love about (most) Australian small towns, especially when they have something cool like fruit orchards!

    I wonder if "fruit salad honey" is just honey made (be bees) from pollen from a range of different sources? I know the local honey people here sell "iron bark honey" and things like that which are specifically from a particular pollen. Maybe fruit salad is a mishmash?

    1. That would make sense actually as the vague ingredient list would suggest that. I'm looking forward to seeing if it actually tastes any different!

      Queensland is particularly good for road trips I think, as you have so many things like fruit orchards and rainforests all up the coast. Hopefully you can convince Andy to make an adventure of it one day :)

  8. Oh how wonderful! I'm terrible at actually getting away, except for spur-of-the-moment trips to Melbourne. One day I dream of going to the Bungle Bungles :)

    P.S. Yes, restaurants don't seem to understand that some of us genuinely love vegetables :)

    1. It's odd isn't it? That and also not wanting cheese / sauce smothering everything.

      I think if left to my own devices, my only trips away would be those combined with work things, with bigger trips at spread out long intervals. I really haven't grasped this whole 'use your annual leave thing each year' system. There are some advantages to living with someone with a different set of personality traits though, and thus we go on holidays more regularly :)

    2. Oh yes, I had a complete shock the other day when I actually looked at my pay slip and realised that, you know, there's annual leave. It's quite hilarious, though, because there's no way in hell I could actually take it right now, an yet now is when I need it. Ah well. Dreams are good.

    3. Dreams are very good. I hope some of them get to come true soon though xo

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