This was just a pleasant day. From the smooth pack up to the mellow close of day over a few beers in the Gassi (Carnarvon's best pub), it was a gentle day for your two holiday makers.
We were running back down the Exmouth peninsular from about 9:30am (we were in no particular hurry) and noticed things we had missed in our hurry to wash the red Pilbara dust off when we drove in. For instance, there is a RAAF base at Learmonth and we had driven up and over those long WA sand dunes for most of the way from Burkett Rd north. Funny how you miss things when you are counting down the km. The other noticeable roadside attraction all the way to Minilya (not the one near Tamworth) were the termite mounds - big suckers, probably over two metres tall most of them Haystack Calhoun round (for those who remember World Championship Wrestling). The way they weather creates shapes and faces on their surface that makes you look, you dirty chook.
Our first stop was at Coral Bay and in some ways we wish we hadn't. A beautiful bay in between Points Maud and Anderson, it had everything and more that Exmouth had to offer but each thing was side by side rather than spread over 70kms. The sand was white, the water various shades of blue and both demanded gorgeous, tall Aussie girls with Elle's figure to be undertaking mothering duties on the beach and blow me down if that wasn't that case too. Even the blokes were perfect, according to Sue, because many of them looked like me. The water is knee deep for about thirty metres, then person height for the next fifty and then drops down to five and six metres all the way out to the reef whose breakers must be a kilometre offshore. There are bushwalks, ecotours, three nice looking caravan parks, coffee shops, a small supermarket and even a shop selling sarongs (for the woman who has everything). Took some photos but not sure the camera does them justice. You know the beach in "Castaway" with Tom Hanks ... looked a lot like that, although Wilson must have been having a ball somewhere else, as I didn't see him.
Leaving Coral Bay, it wasn’t long before we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn – that imaginary line on the map which meant we were about level with Bundaberg on the east coast. We posed for suitable picture to prove we weren’t just hiding in a cupboard at McRae St.
Lunch was at Minilya - a roadhouse on one side of the river and a picnic spot on the other. It had rained the night before, so we had the unusual sight of a dry river bed and lakes of water in the picnic area. How's that work? We chomped our cheese and mustard rolls whilst Marc Hunter boomed "Night and Day" from the car stereo. Sometimes Nature and technology can hold hands.
On to Carnarvon. Funny sort of place? Sits on the Gascoyne River, which starts out with water you can see and then becomes sand from bank to bank. The water goes underground apparently and that's where they pump it from. There appears to be three channels running in from the Indian Ocean - one is a small boat harbour for, you guessed it, small boats; another is a large channel which looks to be the main one but is only for show and provides mooring for some very large yachts owned by the people in the very large houses nearby; the final one is hidden from the town and is the main channel until it becomes the Sahara River. We went to the information centre where a lovely lady in her sixties told us all the things that were not on over the weekend, or were closed or she wasn't sure of. In the end, we spoke with a young lass in the beauticians and got the jive on the best place to eat and where we might hear live music.
So it was that the Old Post Office Cafe provided us with pizza and red wine and the Gascoyne Hotel - The Gassi - the entertainment ... well there was a stage but the talent didn't turn up because his ute was in the panel beaters. So we watched people instead and managed to spend an our hour in this trivial pursuit until I went home with a backpacker ... Sue's back packs it in if she sits on bar stools for more than half an hour.
Did I say it was just a pleasant day?
Okay, so a lot of the things on the tourist agenda today were not things I might choose but it still worked out to be a good day. Slept well again last night - back in the car again - and I was up early, as usual. Once we cleared the usual morning things, we were into town to the weekly markets held outside the civic centre. Half of the market is food products, so Sue was gathering fruit and veg like young maidens gather the flowers of the fields on a spring day. The mandarins – citrus not Chinese - were the biggest I've ever seen. The other half of market was made up of the usual suspects - jewellery, craft items, cakes etc - plus a professional knife sharpener and a lovely old lady who writes poetry. An avid hater of these events, I have to admit I enjoyed moving among the various merchants and having a chat about how they produce their wares and the pride they have in their work. I didn't buy anything.
After storing Sue's purchases safely into the car, we set out for a walk across bridges, jetties and salt marshes for the mile long jetty and The Coffee Pot Railway, the small train which piggy backs it daily. The bridges and salt marshes join two islands which sit between Carnarvon and the Indian Ocean and although Sue got the distance wrong - we walked six km instead of three - the constant southerly kept the temperature down so it was pleasant walk. After half an hour or so, we reached the Mile Long Jetty, which Carnarvon people claim is the longest in Australia.
Running over the top of the jetty is the Coffee Pot Railway, a small electric motor driven engine which tows and then pushes a carriage for about eight passengers. At $3 a ride, its extra good value, as it moves along the rough rusty tracks to a point about two thirds of the way from the end of the jetty. At this point, a large barrier prevents the train and pedestrians from any further passage because about thirty metres further seaward, a seventy metre gap has been opened in the decking thanks to vandals. On the previous 28th October, just before midnight when an ultra low tide was affecting the area, morons set fire to the jetty at a point where land based or sea based fire fighting equipment couldn't reach it. This volunteer organisation, who had built a wonderful attraction from old rusty scrap lying in the bush, had its heart broken. We spoke to George, who was selling tickets and the most generous cup of tea in Australia and he reflected the pain the thoughtless work of a few had caused. The good news is that government support is helping them fight back. New decking arrives in just a few weeks. We finished our time at the One Mile with a walk through the Lighthouse Keeper's cottage and some helpful information from yet another wonderful volunteer. We walked back to town and Sue attended to the shopping whilst I read the local rag - a Pat Drummond habit I started a long time ago.
After shopping was purchased, transported and stored, the activity I had most looked forward in Carnarvon was undertaken. Not far from the caravan park, the OTC Dish stands on one of the few high spots above Carnarvon. The dish was built in the 1960's to support the NASA tracking station at Carnarvon, by providing the means to send information around the Earth at high speeds. It was an important part in the space program, particularly the Gemini and Apollo programs. Its biggest claim to fame was in the late 60's. It was this dish which received the first satellite signal to be accepted and broadcast in Australia. It was a BBC broadcast which was relayed around Australia. In the days that followed, ex-pat Poms who were interviewed in the main street of Carnarvon, became the first subjects of a program sent by satellite out of Australia.
The nearby NASA facility was shut and destroyed almost immediately the last Skylab flight splashed down. Buildings and dishes were dismantled and buried or razed to the ground in an amazing act of paranoia by NASA and the American government. So, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited about touring through the facility. Imagine my disappointment to discover it abandoned. A caretaker opens the gates to the public each morning and whilst you may climb to the main gantry on the dish, everything else is just empty buildings and old padlocks. The dish just sits there, its place in history acknowledged in tourist information whilst rusts grows and windows gradually get broken by enterprising local youths with nothing to do but improve their aim. I'm left wondering who owns it?
CAR UPDATE: 10515kms travelled; 1067.56L consumed; 10.15L/100km