Although there was a little bit of Shark Bay that I hadn't seen – a homestead with hot artesian wells, apparently – I was in the mood to drive, so I set off down the peninsula, back past Hamelin, and onto the highway again. I took a left turn to head north, and after watching the kilometres slip by I soon arrived in Carnarvon, a very pretty little town on the coast.
My traveller's conditioning can sniff out the tourist bureau anywhere, and it wasn't long before I had an armful of goodies and leaflets, all telling me how easy it would be to spend all my money on so-and-so's wonderful glass-bottomed boat tour, before dining at the most wonderful seafood restaurant 'in the southern hemisphere'. Nothing's ever the biggest, best, fastest, loudest or whatever 'in Australia' – no, it's always 'in the southern hemisphere'. Sometimes I wonder if the Australians are aware of Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.
But what clinched my somewhat hurried departure from Carnarvon was the huge banana as you come into town. It's massive, maybe 20 feet high, but they've thoughtfully planted trees round its base, so unless you're right next to it, it just looks like a huge yellow phallus, which presumably isn't what the designers intended. Carnarvon is the banana-growing capital of Australia, hence the phallus, but really, this Australian obsession with massive models and statues is quite bizarre. I've seen looming lobsters, massive miners, bulbous bananas, big beefburgers and a huge Ned Kelly... will it never end? I suppose if you have a big country, you feel obliged to build massive statues, but sometimes it's hard not to laugh.
Beyond the Suburbs
One of the most impressive sights in Carnarvon is the tracking station just outside town, even though it was closed to visitors when I visited. The tracking station consists of a big radio dish on a hill, pointing straight up at the sky, and the local tourist office's literature proudly claims that this dish was used to track the Apollo and Gemini spacecraft, as well as being the dish that beamed Australia's first ever live satellite TV programme. Irritatingly, the first claim turns out to be untrue, as the NASA antenna that was used to track manned spacecraft is no longer with us; that antenna was part of the NASA Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) Tracking Station, which has now been bulldozed. Instead, the dish that the tourist office falsely claims to be the MSFN antenna is actually one of two antennae from the OTC Earth Station, which was used to talk to a communications satellite in geo-stationary orbit over the Indian Ocean1.
Despite this disappointment, the tracking station is still an atmospheric spot, but it wasn't enough to stop me from leaving town and heading up the coast to the famous Carnarvon blowholes. I've seen blowholes before, and I've always been disappointed, but these were supposed to be really good, and bloody hell, were they ever! Imagine serious sea, a great big hole, and water being whooshed 20m (60 ft) into the air; you can hear the water coming before it hits, and steam shoots out (well, it's just spray, but it looks like steam) before this massive jet spurts up into the sky. All around, smaller holes spray sea water like some supernatural reticulation2 system, while the ground shakes under your feet. It makes you feel incredibly humble, like all the best natural wonders.
I spent the night 500m down the coast from the blowholes in a campsite, over 70km from the nearest civilisation. Well, perhaps 'campsite' is being kind; I camped on a sand dune with no amenities, but that's exactly what I wanted. No water; no phones; no screaming kids; nowhere to spend money – perfect. The dunny was a hole in the ground with a tin shed tacked round it, à la Glastonbury, and the campsite itself was on a gorgeous little beach, though with a wicked undertow that would make swimming suicidal. But the best thing of all was the price: at just A$1 per night, it was much appreciated by my slowly dissolving funds.
1 Many thanks to Terence Kierans, who contacted me with the real story behind the antenna at Carnarvon. Terence was an Operations Supervisor during some of the Apollo missions, and he worked at the NASA MSFN Tracking Station from 1965 to 1970, so he should know!
2 Reticulation is the name given to automatic watering systems normally found in gardens and greenhouses; everyone's garden in Australia has a reticulation system, so the word has passed into normal usage here.