If you look at the map. there’s not a lot to draw the average tourist to the town of Carinda tucked away in outback New South Wales.
Unlike many of the surrounding attractions, the town, around 650km, and an eight hour direct drive, from Sydney, doesn’t have amazing birdlife or cool murals to spot, there’s not a winery in sight and the coffee shop currently opens for about two hours a week – and yet,this unlikely destination was the whole point of our recent NSW road trip.
And the reason is that back in 1983, David Bowie turned up at the Carinda Hotel in the middle of outback New South Wales with a film crew in tow and created his Let’s Dance video.
Leaning against the wall, with his hair all floppy, a guy on a double bass standing next to him, he asked us to put on our red shoes and dance the blues.
And when Bowie talks, you listen!
We first planned to go here, back in 2019. We were actually packing up the car when you know what hit, and Sydney’s first lockdown began.
Now two years later, after the second lockdown cancelled a second trip, it’s third time lucky and, a short road trip from home later, we’re finally pulling up outside the Carinda Hotel. We’ve got hundreds of km on the car odometer, thousands dead of insects on the car radiator – and excited looks on our faces.
Looks that soon turn to mild panic!
Ramshackle doesn’t quite describe our first impression of the place.
The door the pub is a slatted plastic curtain to help keep out the flies. The front stoop is full of piles of old books and there’s a lot of dust and spiders.
When we walk inside, the pub is completely empty – not a bar person, or patron, in sight.
Only two of the bar taps are live, the rest covered with paper bags to show they’re out right now.
The TV is playing an old Roger Moore film, but that’s the only sign of life. At this point, we’re wondering what the heck we’ve done.
Soon though, our host, Malcolm appears and it’s all upwards from here.
Malcolm and his son own the pub and he’s been out the back doing an order for the next day – when you’re the only place in town supplying food, beer and essential groceries like milk to the locals, that’s a bit more important than being on hand to greet the tourists.
I’d had a few ‘chats’ with Malcolm on the phone during our various cancelled trips. He’s a man of few words and I really wasn’t sure what type of room we’d booked, or even if we’d actually booked it.
No credit card was taken, no room rates were discussed – I wasn’t sure if we were paying $15 for the night or $400!
But, after a greeting of ‘ah, you’re the ones staying,’ we were shown down the corridor to a really cute, clean, tidy room. The loo and bathroom were down the corridor and we’re just 157 steps to the famous bar.
Entering Bowie Territory
Even though the pub has been through some changes over the years, the old pink front in the video is now painted brown and the red road outside that kicked up all that atmospheric dust in the opening shot is now paved – other sights bring back all the memories.
The wall particularly is instantly recognisable. Knowing that people might want to see it, the owners have kept it completely intact and the patterned yellow tiles with the brown strips above it where Bowie stood in a white shirt and trousers (practical for the dusty red outback) is just waiting for you to do the same.
There’s lots of stories about that day..
You may known how Bowie didn’t want to use actors, so he just let anyone in the pub at the time appear in the shoot. The guy in the red t-shirt and moustache walking in front of him, was actually a visiting New Zealander working on one of the local sheep farms.
You’ll also read about how the video was designed to highlight the divide between the First Nations people in Australia and the white population – and how many of the people in the video were as shocked to see someone of First Nations descent in the pub as they were a global superstar.
But if you talk to the locals, you’ll discover the legend that remains about the day is neither of those things – it’s quite how much Scotch was necked during the filming!!!
At the time Bowie arrived, the population of the town was estimated 194 people. Today it’s closer to 34 and, by about 8pm over half of them are in the pub having a chat.
It’s been closed for two days and so everyone is keen to meet up tonight – but they’re more than happy to include the blow-ins who have invited themselves in to their home.
And this is the real magic of staying at the Carinda Hotel – yes, Bowie might have brought us here, but our memories won’t be of seeing that famous striped wall, it’ll be the hours we spent sitting outside the pub, batting away the flies, and chatting to the people who make Carinda their home.
The big issue of the day was the scary experience one of the women had had earlier hitting a pig on the road into town (we saw the pig, they were seriously lucky, it was huge!).
This is closely followed by much chat about who owned the two chickens currently clucking their way around the terrace of the pub.
And, we’ll remember the adorable town dog Susie, who loves to chase cars; who tries to herd chickens and can beg for a chip like the best of them.
We started with ear scritches and then progressed, at one point early the next morning after I suggested that maybe she shouldn’t be on the table, to her climbing off it and sitting fully on my lap – and considering she’s not tiny, that wasn’t the easiest situation to get out of.
Frankly, I’m lucky I’m not now living on a chair in Carinda main street!
The people who appeared in the video have mostly long gone, but those who grew up on the town remember the day it happened.
Most of them were at school and only found out about their famous visitor when they got home and their parents filled them in. Some didn’t even believe it until the video eventually came out a few months later.
Sitting outside the pub, listening to people talk about how the town they knew had changed from that day – it once had a cinema, a hardware store and more than one pub – and how, when lockdown forced the pub to close, they weren’t sure what they were going to do ‘because we’re not a town without the pub’ – makes you realise that while Bowie might have put the Carinda Hotel on the map, it’s been the soul of this town for a long, long time.
And if visiting Bowie fans can help keep it going, I say we all need to put on our red shoes, and get driving to help them out.
Useful Facts About Staying at the Carinda Hotel
Now I admit, when we first started researching this trip, we found very little information about staying at the Carinda Hotel, and so, to help make it a bit easier for anyone who is wondering about visiting, here’s what you might want to know…
What Are the Rooms Like at the Carinda Hotel?
I could find absolutely no pictures online of them and so I really wasn’t sure, but, the answer is small and basic but clean and comfortable.
There are six rooms in the pub itself, all located along a corridor at the back of the pub.
There’s a few diferent type of decor and some are a bit more done up than others.
We checked out the super cute double room below which had a bed, cupboard, light and aircon – and also, the room opposite which slept five.
This had three slightly mismatched beds in the front room, but two newer ones in the back.
Other rooms we glimpsed seemed to have a similar kind of set up – a bed or two, a small bedside table and maybe a bigger cupboard if you were lucky.
All the rooms had airconditioning – although, we just used the fan we travel with to create white noise and that kept us cool enough – and we were there in March.
There’s also a cabin room outside the pub which is a bit bigger, but there were people staying in those when we were there so we couldn’t check things out.
Most people staying in the hotel are those working in the local area. They just get the odd tourist coming through.
Are the Rooms En-Suite?
No. The bathroom is down the hall.
I admit, this was the bit I didn’t like as, I don’t do shared bathrooms – ever!
I was expecting it though and had made my peace.
However, the door to the pub accomodation wasn’t closed and I was a bit nervous about what might creep in over night (this is Australia), so I had to rely on my cast-iron bladder skills until it got a bit lighter…Mr Differentville did go for a nocturnal wander and a) came back without meeting a snake, spider or serial killer and b) said the lights were on so you weren’t totally stumbling around in the dark.
Note – if you book the cabin, it’s outside the pub and you will have to go into the pub to use the loo and shower, so make sure you take a torch and put your shoes on!
The shower room itself was communal and at a distant glance it looked clean, but, as the only woman staying in the pub, I decided ignorance was bliss on a closer look.
Again. Mr Differentville, took one for the team and said it was okay. The hot water took a while to kick in, and the shower mat was a bit squishy, but otherwise all good.
Bring your own towel and toiletries though. They aren’t provided.
NB: Mr Differentville has corrected me here. He says he did see some towels in the communal kitchen that looked like they were for guest use so, I might be wrong about that, so maybe double check when you book if you’re travelling light.
How Much Does It Cost to Stay at the Carinda Hotel?
A twin or double room in the pub cost $55 when we were there, and the cabin was $65.
Despite the remote location, the food and drink prices were pretty good too.
We paid $6.50 for a schooner of lager and our meals of pie and chips were a bargain at $4.00 for the pie and $3.00 for chips.
Some of the locals were tucking into roast pork and veggies at $17 – we’d have done the same, but they had the last two.
You’ll also find other pub favourites like Schnitzels, Steaks and Fish and Chips to choose from.
Admittedly, veggies and vegans are probably going to be on the chips.
Is it Noisy?
This is one of the main reasons we rarely stay in country pubs. We worry about what we might be letting ourselves in for if it turns out there’s a sing along until 4am under your room!
However, at the Carinda Hotel, the rooms are not over the pub itself, and while we were worried about noise from the bar, it wasn’t an issue.
Most people were sat outside the pub to drink, the only noise inside the bar when we were there was from the TV – and it closes pretty early anyway as most people have early starts.
Is There Internet?
We had no signal from when we left the town of Warren on the way to Carinda until we got about 10km outside the town of Walgett on the way to our next stop about 20 hours later.
When we asked if the pub had a router we could tag onto, the locals laughed!
Apparently, they got 4G in the area at Xmas, but no-one is really using it.
They all had signal on their phones though, so, if you need to stay in touch when you’re in Carinda, get a Telstra Sim.
We are on Optus and found the coverage on much of our trip to be pretty much non-existent once you get 10km either side of a main town.
What Should you Take With You?
I’ve already mentioned that it’s a good idea to take towel and toiletries with you.
Or, if the idea of having a shower in the communal bathroom gives you the heebie jeebies, maybe swap those for some wet wipes.
Pack insect repellant – I didnt and got bitten to bits sitting outside the pub.
A basic breakfast of toast, cereal and milk is included in your room rate, but if you want anything fancy like plant-milks, or gluten-free breads then you’re going to want to bring those.
There’s a communal kitchen area with a fridge to store milk if you need it.
How to Book the Carinda Hotel
You won’t find it on any of the booking sites, and even though they have a website, that doesn’t take online bookings.
The best way to do is therefore to call the pub and book in. It’s (02) 6823 2218
If you get Malcolm, don’t worry that he’s a man of few words and seems like he’s going to forget everything you said in five minutes. He just doesn’t talk much.
Your booking will be safe. Your room will be ready and you can pay by cash or card at the bar when you order your first schooner!
He did ask me to give him a call the day before just to confirm I was still coming, which I did. If you’d like some extra reassurance, do the same. He can also give you a heads up on the roads.
Top Tips for Enjoying Your Stay
Take your pics early
I took a couple of pics when we first arrived, thinking I’d take some more later – and then got wrapped up with chatting.
No worries, I thought, I’ll take some in the morning, but, you can’t actually get in the pub itself from the rooms – and Malcolm had gone out when we left and so, I didn’t get a second chance.
This is why there is not a picture of me leaning against the famous wall!
Do all your posing against the wall ASAP so you don’t forget.
Head out to the bar and chat
We arrived at the hotel at about 3.45 – and were out at the bar by 4.30.
Arriving early meant we could get a seat outside where the people were and join in a few conversations.
Once lots of locals arrive, people tend to divide more into groups and chat amongst themselves and so, if you miss out on the first bit, you’ll miss out on breaking in to the chats and you might not enjoy it as much as we did.
Don’t expect people to hang around super late
Well, not in the week anyway. Most of the people we met worked in farming and so they start early and finish early. Most of the bar had cleared out by about 8pm the night we were there.
Don’t be THAT person
This is a friendly, but down to earth outback town and pub – don’t expect six different types of wine from local vineyards and cold brew coffee with beans ground by nuns with your breakfast.
Just let all that go for a day and enjoy where you are for what it is, where it is – a really cool old pub with an amazing place in music history.
Go sit outside the pub before you leave
We went to take some last minute outdoor shots with a brighter sky and then decided to sit with a last minute cup of tea and enjoy the peace of the place before we left. Just watch you don’t get trapped on your chair by Susie demanding cuddles!
How Do you Get to Carinda?
There’s no major airport and, while you might be able to get a bus to nearby Walgett, it’s still nearly an hour’s drive from there.
If you’re coming from Sydney, it’s about an eight hour drive – which you might not want to do direct.
We made a road trip of it and stayed a couple of nights in Bathurst and a couple of nights in Dubbo. If you have a less time, just break your journey in Dubbo.
When timing your trip, remember, you should never drive in country/outback Australia in the dark or close to dawn or dusk.
While you can encounter animals on the road at any time of day here, these are the most likely times and you do not want to be hitting a roo (or a pig) in a Toyota Camry!
Do You Need a 4WD to Reach Carinda?
No – we did it in a Holden Vectra!
We came in to Carinda from Dubbo and, after a quick call with Malcolm to check the best way in, he told us to take the Carinda Road up from Warren (it’s the one that goes through Mount Foster).
We were a bit nervous as it looked a bit rough on google maps, but it is paved the whole way – if a bit bumpy in places.
It is a narrow road and, if you encounter someone coming the other way, one of you will have to pull over to the side, but otherwise, this is the best way to get there from Dubbo.
I don’t recall seeing any gas on the way, so make sure you fuel up before you leave Warren if you’re getting near empty. There is a small gas station in Carinda if you get really stuck, but you wouldn’t want to run out between the two.
Warren was also the last chance to grab lunch or a snack en route. When we were there lots of things were closed, but we got a decent ham sandwich at the One One Seven Bakery. You can also stock up at the IGA or the Spar.
On our way out of Carinda, we were heading up to Lightning Ridge and so headed out a different road – Cumberdoon Way – toward Walgett.
We had been expecting a section of this to be unpaved as, when we first researched the trip, it showed a 23km unsealed section on this road on Google maps – but I’m pleased to tell you, that is now sealed and so we got to Walgett suspension intact (Lightning Ridge was not so kind, but that’s a story for another post).
In both cases, if you haven’t followed my internet tip and got a Telstra SIM get your maps loaded before you leave. It’s a straight road most of the way, but you wouldn’t want to miss the one turn you do need to make!
However, do be more cautious and check with Malcolm, or the local tourist information offices in Dubbo or Lightning Ridge, if you’re travelling to Carinda after heavy rain.
Both roads did have floodways on them and so you’ll need to check that the road is open and you’re not going to get stuck.
And don’t assume that even if it’s raining in Sydney (or even in Dubbo) your trip is off. We were actually travelling at a time when Sydney had had near constant rain and much of NSW was flooded – and the rivers in nearby Walgett were very high, but, it was totally dry in Carinda.
Is There Anything Else Bowie in Town?
The pub is the main draw, but the town embraces its Bowie link.
Outside of town, by the local swimming pool, you’lll find the red shoes fence. There’s also Ziggy Stardust style lightning bolts and red show signs on a few buildings in town.
Every year in October, over the long weekend, the town has a Bowie Festival called Let’s Dance Carinda.
This sees various Bowie tribute bands, look-a-like competitions. Bowie trivia – and a few other more country pursuits like sheep dog jumping.
The beer flows in the pub, there’s extra camping and caravan sites put up in town and a great time is had by all apparently.
It hasn’t run for the last couple of years, but here’s hoping for 2022 and beyond. You can sign up to find out about tickets and dates on the Let’s Dance Carinda website.
We’ve added it to our bucket list – I wonder if Susie will remember me if I ever get there?
So, there you have it. Our guide to 24 hours at the Carinda Hotel.
If you’re interested in some more Bowie in Australia facts check out our post on all the Bowie sights that you’ll find in Sydney – there’s more than you think.
If you do have any other questions though, please feel free to ask in the comments. Or, let us know if you’ve been there and have anything else to add.