Onslow is a port in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with a population of 848 in 2016. Its main trade was historically wool: there's also salt extraction and natural gas but this has never been a big mineral port like Dampier or Port Hedland. The main visitor attraction is diving and fishing off the nearby Mackerel Islands.
The town is named for Sir Alexander Onslow (1842-1908), who was Chief Justice of Western Australia but fell out with the Governor, Legislative Council and press. They tried to fob him off on some other luckless colony such as Cyprus (though South Georgia would have suited better) before hitting upon the obvious solution, to shower him with honours and pension him off.
The Tourist Office is Onslow Tourism & Progress Association on Second Avenue, tel +61 8 9184 6644.
Get in Edit
Virgin Australia fly from Perth three days a week, and Qantas once a week, taking two hours non-stop for a return fare of $600. Aviair the Pilbara regional airline doesn't fly here.
Integrity Coaches run 3 nights a week from Perth. Two services take 23 hours along the coast via Dongara, Geraldton, Carnarvon and Exmouth, and continue east to Karratha, Port Hedland and Broome. One bus a week runs inland on the Great Northern Highway via Mount Magnet and Newman to Port Hedland, where you change for the westbound coast bus, 38 hours in all. The adult fare in 2022 is $550 return.
2 Cane is the desolate spot where the bus drops off / picks up, at the layby 500 m south of the Onslow Road turn-off from the NW Coastal Highway, a mere 80 km south of town. There's a ricketty sun-shelter and that's all. You need to book your connection with Onslow Bus & Taxi on +61 429 957 767 - it's not priced into your bus ticket.
By road Onslow is 1373 km from Perth by the North West Coastal Highway, so reckon two days solid driving.
Get around Edit
The town itself is compact, but you need your own car to get around the scattered sites such as Old Onslow. Car hire is available from Avis (+61 8 9184 6604) and Europcar (+61 8 9181 3250).
Mackerel Islands Ferry runs Apr-Oct on Tuesday and Friday. It leaves Thevenard Island at 10AM for a 45 min crossing to Beadon Creek in Onslow and returns towards 2PM. This means island staff can day-trip to town for supplies, but a day-trip out from Onslow is not possible. An adult return is $120. The ferry to Direction Island is not sailing in 2022.
- Onslow Point has a lookout at the end of Second Avenue, with Sunset Beach west and Sunrise Beach east. Here or along First Avenue is a viewing point for the staircase to the moon. This is a natural effect seen on the Pilbara coast March-Oct on the full moon spring tides - water caught between the ripples on the mudflats exposed at low tide creates the image of a golden staircase towards the rising moon. Viewing times are published locally, eg by the Tourist Office.
- Goods Shed Museum, 52 Second Avenue (at Tourist Office). Apr-Dec daily 10:00-15:00. When Onslow relocated in 1925, its stone buildings were left behind but the wooden goods shed was lugged over by camel train. Also brought here were some of the old narrow-gauge railway stock; and it later acquired other artefacts, memorabilia and a large collection of shells. Adult $2.
- 1 Termite mounds stud the landscape as you drive into town. You're encouraged to pull into the viewing area, to let the termites have a good look at you. You then cross the salt lagoons that fringe Onslow, lurid lagoons and glistening white pyramids.
- 2 Wheatstone is an oil and gas facility on the coast 12 km west of town. Operated by Chevron, it extracts from four fields 225 km offshore, in 70 m of water. The gas is purified and cooled into LNG then piped to the tanker port at Karratha. Tours are available once a month May-Oct, check with the Tourist Office for dates and bookings.
- 3 Old Onslow is a ghost town, the ruins of the original settlement of 1885. It exported wool through its jetty on the Ashburton River, but this suffered repeated cyclone damage and silting. In 1924 a new jetty was built at Beadon Creek, and Onslow moved to its present site, leaving the winds to sough through the old town. The main ruins are the gaol, courthouse, police station and quarters, and cemetery. They're free to wander 24 hours.
- 4 Thevenard Island is 22 km north of Onslow, a low scrub 6 km long by 1 km wide. At its east tip are a resort hotel, airstrip, jetty and desalination plant, plus some ugly remnants of the offshore oil and gas industry which are gradually being removed. The reason to visit is the excellent coral reef, for diving, snorkelling and fishing. Thevenard is the largest of ten atolls and islets unofficially called the Mackerel Islands.
- 5 Direction Island is the second largest, lying 10 km out from Onslow. It's 1 km across, the shape of a flounder not a mackerel, and has basic cabin accommodation. In 2022 this is closed and the ferry is not running, but the island is within range of boat trips from town.
- 6 Barrow Island is 50 km out; this has given it some protection from introduced species and it's a nature reserve. Liveaboard boat trips sometimes visit for fishing, but it's beyond a day-trip. There's a large Chevron oil and gas facility and only company-authorised visitors may land. See Karratha for the Montebello Islands further northeast.
- Diving is great around the Mackerel Islands, but you need to be self-sufficient, the nearest dive shop is in Karratha.
- Onslow Rodeo is held in mid November. Dates for 2022 are tba.
- The supermarket and liquor store is at 35 Second Ave by the Tourist Office. It's open daily 8AM-5:30PM.
- The filling station is at 23 Second Ave, open daily 6AM-3PM. Don't leave town with less than half a tank.
No free-standing restaurant here, try the hotels. The filling station doubles as a cafe.
Same story, try the hotels.
- 1 Ocean view Campsite, 6 Second Ave, ☏ . Well-run astroturfed camping and caravan park north side of town. Pet-friendly.
- Beadon Bay Hotel, 22 Second Ave (100 m north of Beach Resort), ☏ . Historic building of 1924, it's more like a pub / bistro with rooms. Most visitors are here to eat, but accommodation is decent and self-contained. B&B double $180.
- 2 Onslow Beach Resort (formerly Ashburton Resort), Second Ave, corner of Third St, ☏ . Comfy resort hotel, great reviews for service and food. The rooms are spacious self-contained suites. B&B double $300.
- 3 Discovery Parks, 557 Beadon Creek Rd, ☏ . This is mostly a camp for mine workers but has motel rooms and caravan pitches for other visitors. Cabin $210, powered pitch $50.
As of March 2022 you might, just might, get a mobile signal in Onslow town from Telstra, but not from other carriers. There's no signal on the approach highways between Karratha to the east and the turn-off for Exmouth west. 5G has not rolled out in Pilbara.
Go next Edit
- Karratha is the next town east. It's industrial, but by Murujuga National Park, with an impressive collection of Aboriginal petroglyphs.
- Port Hedland is even more industrial, yet turtles nest on its beaches.
- Exmouth to the west has Ningaloo Reef and is the route to Cape Range National Park.