Here in Western Australia, we're blessed with an overwhelming diversity of natural opulence. From the cool temperate forests of the state's south to the hot, semi-arid wilderness regions of the Pilbara and Kimberley in the north, there are so many places where we can offer our heartfelt homage to Mother Nature.
An integral part of the Australian way of life, camping is a wonderful means by which we can reconnect with our natural environment. As our urban lifestyles become increasingly complex, time out in nature is essential for our health and well-being, and enables busy families to interact in a wholistic, grass-roots kind of way. In addition, unlike many other travel options, camping is extremely affordable: all that is needed for a basic camping trip is a tent, a sleeping bag and some cooking equipment.
For adults and children, alike, the joys of building a blazing campfire, sharing a yarn with loved ones while watching the sun set, star-gazing on a clear, dark night, and listening to waves break on a nearby beach as you huddle, warm and cosy, in your sleeping-bag, are magical, memorable experiences.
The following suggestions are some of my favourite camping destinations here in Western Australia: places where family adventures and happy memories have been created. Using them as a guide, I hope that you, my readers, will also find some inspiration from them.
If you're new to the wonderful world of camping, and want to try it out somewhere not too far from Perth, Rottnest Island might be a good place to begin. The island's camping ground is a short walk from the main settlement area, and just minutes away from the beach. Simple facilities are provided for campers including lighting, gas barbecues, picnic tables and a water tap, while the toilet and shower block is located close by.
To avoid large rowdy groups, the number of campers at each site is limited to six. One large tent or two smaller ones are allowed at each site, which is approximately 50 square metres in size. In order to make your camping experience more convenient, the ferry company which you book with provides you with luggage labels and arranges for your gear to be delivered to and collected from the camping ground. For more information about this service, check out the following websites: Rottnest Fast Ferries and Rottnest Express.
During the summer, visitors need to be aware that the temperature can get very hot on the island, and there isn't a lot of shade in the camping ground. If you're camping with young children, this is especially important to remember, as smaller, cheaper tents may not offer sufficient protection from the heat.
Therefore make sure you plan your trip carefully, taking into account weather forecasts for the time that you're planning to stay. Similarly, as it can get rather windy on 'Rotto', even in the warmer weather, it's strongly recommended that campers bring adequate warm clothing and a cosy sleeping bag. While it's magical to snuggle up in your sleeping bag, listening to the wind in the trees and the waves on the beach, it's not's much fun if you are so cold that you can't sleep.
However, despite these potential pitfalls, camping on Rottnest Island is a truly wonderful experience which generations of West Australians have enjoyed. There's so much for the whole family to see and do, and by taking a few simple precautions, you'll undoubtedly enjoy an unforgettable holiday. In addition, camping on the island is a fraction of the price of other types of accommodation, and unlike other options, it's almost always possible to book a camping site, even at the last moment. Please refer to the Rottnest Island Authority's website for more information.
Located in the beautiful Beelu National Park, less than an hour's drive from the CBD, the Perth Hills Centre provides a wealth of information about our unique Western Australian environment, and is the home-base of the Department of Environment and Conservation's Nearer to Nature program.
A short stroll away from the Centre's information and gift shop, the DEC has established a wonderfully well-equipped camping ground, surrounded by the native forest: another great destination for local Perth families, who want to experience the pleasures of camping in the bush without journeying too far away. Camping here is also remarkably affordable: $9 a night for adults, $6 for concession card holders and $2 for children under 16 years of age.
For families with very young children, this camp-ground ticks all the right boxes. As well as its close proximity to the city (making short weekend visits an option), it provides all the special little extras that make a holiday memorable: clean and modern toilet and hot shower facilities, a well-appointed campers' kitchen, gas barbeques, picnic tables, and a wide range of guided, family-friendly activities.
There are also special school holiday programs. In addition, during the cooler months, it's possible to have an open camp-fire: a rare treat for city kids. However, fire-wood must be purchased from the visitors' centre and not collected from the surrounding bushland. Since bushfires are a major hazard in the area during warmer periods, be aware of and strictly adhere to all fire restrictions. Contact the information centre for more details on 08 9295 2244.
The Perth Hills Centre is also a great place to introduce your kids to the pleasures of bushwalking and there are various walks right on your doorstep which are suitable for different age-groups and levels of ability. A couple of the most popular are the Weir View Walk, a 1.5km circuit that begins and ends at the Centre (a good starter walk which provides spectacular views over Mundaring Weir), and the Bibbulman Track, which passes through the Centre, and can also be followed for some distance. Bushwalking during late winter and spring is especially beautiful, as many of the endemic wildflowers are blooming at this time of the year. Maps, walking guides and information on local walks, as well as souvenirs, local crafts and snacks can be acquired at the information centre.
Since there are only twelve sites at this camping ground, bookings are essential. For more information, visit the Perth Hills Centre website.
Situated approximately 12 hours north of Perth on the pristine, World Heritage listed Shark Bay, Monkey Mia is a first-class holiday destination for the whole family. My family discovered it several years ago when our daughter was about eight years old, and madly in love with dolphins. While other little girls were infatuated with fairies, Disney princesses or the Saddle Club, our Kalindi had a major crush on these graceful mammals of the sea. Therefore, when we first heard about Monkey Mia, we knew it was somewhere we just had to visit.
Adjacent to the Francois Peron National Park, a narrow peninsula extending into the Indian Ocean, Shark Bay is a unique marine wilderness which supports a profusion of aquatic life including whales, dolphins, dugongs and loggerhead turtles. While bush camping sites exist within the park and caravan park facilities are available in the small service town of Denham, the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort is definitely the area's number one tourist attraction due to the wild dolphins which visit the secluded beach daily.
There is a selection of accommodation within the resort ranging from luxurious self-contained villas to a well-appointed caravan and camping area. On each of our three visits to Monkey Mia, my family and I camped, and found the facilities provided were more than adequate. All camping sites provide water and electricity, there are clean and strategically placed amenities blocks, a pool and hot-tub, and a wonderfully rustic camp kitchen. Of course, for the children, a playground is provided.
Although it can get rather busy during the school holidays (obviously my daughter isn't the only young dolphin lover in WA), it's a relaxed and family-friendly place which provides a wide range of activities for everyone. In addition to meeting the friendly dolphin visitors, guests can join ranger-escorted interpretive tours around the area, especially focusing on the culture and traditions of its Indigenous custodians, unique flora and fauna, and delicate ecosystem. In the evenings at the Dolphin Visitor Centre, documentaries and other nature movies are shown, and sometimes visiting dolphin researchers and marine biologists will also give lectures. In addition, many visitors enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear ocean during the warmer months, and daily cruises take visitors out onto the bay, so that they may catch a glimpse of the unique creatures which live there.
The Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort is a popular destination, which is especially busy during school holidays. Therefore, it's strongly advised that you book your accommodation well ahead of your visit. For more information please visit the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort website or to make a booking, phone 1800 653 611 (free call).
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area also maintains a very informative website. In addition to lots of interesting information, they also have a special page dedicated to environmentally-themed children's activities, including a Monkey Mia word sleuth, pelican cross-word and ecosystem colouring activity: good resources to print up for the long drive up from Perth.
Surrounded by breathtaking beaches, karri forests and lush dairy farms, it's not surprising that Margaret River has been one of Western Australia's most popular holiday destinations for generations. Only three hours drive south of Perth, it's easy to reach for a quick weekend escape, while there's enough to see and do in the area to keep the whole family happy over the school holidays. Although the stunning beaches and world-class surf are the main drawcard over summer, there is also plenty to do over the cooler winter months.
As well as being a premier bed and breakfast destination and foodies' paradise, the Margaret River region offers numerous stunning bushwalks, beach rambles and several spectacular caves, which can be seen on guided tours. The Margaret River Chocolate Factory, and Margaret River Cheese Factory are also popular with families, as well as the town's colourful Town Square Markets, which are held weekly during the warmer months and fortnightly when it's cooler. The area is also a great spot for whale-watching, and Augusta, a small town about 40km south of Margaret River is especially renowned for this pastime, as it's one of the only places where Humpback and Southern Right whales can be seen interacting.
Like many places in southern Australia, winter is relatively quiet in Margaret River and its surrounds, and therefore it's a great time to enjoy a relaxing family holiday. However, camping during this time can be rather chilly, so take this into account when planning your holiday. While it may not be a problem for adults or older children, little ones may not find the experience so much fun. For families who are concerned about this, caravan parks offer a wide range of other budget accommodation, so if you want to give your children a camping experience without too much austerity, this could be an option for you.
As befitting one of Western Australia's top holiday spots, there is an immense range of every type of accommodation around the Margaret River area. There are innumerable caravan and camping grounds, most offering a wide range of facilities, such as modern amenities blocks, camp kitchen, gas barbecues, playground and ample lighting. My family's favourite place is the Prevelly Park Beach Resort, which is situated just minutes walk from beautiful Prevelly Beach. Its large, shady sites are attractive, tranquil, and not too hot, even in the middle of summer. It's also extremely child-friendly, with heaps of room for kids to run around, play and ride their bikes. There's also a general store on site for all those last-minute purchases, and it's possible to have a camp-fire during the cooler months. However, since bushfires pose a major risk in this area, before lighting any fire, please consult the Department of Environment and Conservation's website, or the Resort's management.
The Exmouth region provides many wonderful family camping options, due to its proximity to the incredible World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, the only fringing coral reef in Australia. Unlike most coral reefs, which are situated some distance from the land, fringing reefs such as Ningaloo Reef begin right at the edge of the water. Located roughly on the Tropic of Capricorn, the region boasts a mild climate throughout the year, which makes it a great choice for a winter holiday. Although the local economy is largely dependent on tourists, due to its remoteness it hasn't been over-run, and fortunately still maintains its laid-back, friendly outback vibe.
My family have stayed in the area on a few occasions, and have tried out several of the different camping options which are available. Undoubtedly, Coral Bay is the most well-known of these. A small settlement situated (as its name indicates) right on the ocean, it consists of about 20 houses, a resort and a couple of caravan parks. Due to the close proximity to the beach, a wide variety of activities is available here, including outings in one of the glass-bottom coral viewing boats, snorkelling, kayaking, swimming in the crystal-clear waters or walking along the exquisite beaches.
From June to October it's possible to do some whale watching, as humpback whales take part in their annual migration along the coast. However, probably the most well-known aquatic guests to Coral Bay are the immense whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. Despite growing up to an inconceivable 14 metres, whale sharks are gentle creatures which feed on plankton and krill. They are therefore safe for humans to swim with: something that local tour operators have been quick to cash in on. Therefore, if you visit Coral Bay between March and June, which is the time when they come to the area, be sure to book in for this unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Exmouth, the largest town in the region also offers many accommodation options, including some well-equipped caravan parks and camping grounds. My family and I have enjoyed staying at the Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort, which is walking distance from the centre of town, and blessed with a lot of native bird-life including friendly cockatoos and semi-tame emus. Another advantage of staying in Exmouth township is the comprehensive range of organised tours which are available, in addition to activities which you can do independently.
Diving trips out to the reef are popular, as are excursions to swim with the whale sharks. For shell hunters and collectors, the Ningaloo Reef area is a veritable treasure trove. Several years ago my daughter and I spent a lovely morning beach-combing along an isolated beach, and discovered numerous exquisite tropical shells in almost perfect condition, including beautiful cowries, which are very rare these days. Finally, Exmouth is very close to the stunning Cape Range National Park, and bushwalkers can spend hours exploring the rugged canyons which wind throughout its ancient landscape.
Finally, for the bush camping enthusiast, the region also offers a wide selection of options. Most are within the Cape Range National Park, and the facilities provided are very minimal. Due to the lack of creature comforts, this kind of holiday is therefore only suitable for the most experienced and austere campers as you have to provide everything that you'll need to survive: water, food items, bedding, shelter, cooking equipment, etc. Many die-hard campers, therefore, carry large water containers, camp showers and even portable toilets. However, camping in this way definitely keeps travel costs down, and the experience of living so close to nature is absolutely wonderful. Two good books to get hold of are A Guide to Priceless Campsites and Rest Areas in the North of Western Australia by Jan Holland and The Guide to Free Camping in the North of WA by S & S Collis. As their names suggest, both list great campsites in the north of WA, most of which are free. Please note, however, that charges (albeit minimal) apply to the campsites in the Cape Range National Park.
One of my favourite family camping destinations is the Karajini National Park, in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. Characterised by rugged mountain terrain and deep gorges, the park is situated in the Hamersley Ranges, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and covers an immense 627 442 hectares, making it the second largest in Western Australia. Although camping at Karajini National Park is a unique and unforgettable experience, if you're travelling with very small children, this may not be the best destination, since the gorges are very deep and a moment's inattention could be disastrous. Take comfort in the fact that children grow up quickly, and the gorges will still be there in another ten years or so. Older kids, however, if thoroughly briefed about safety issues, will be enthralled by this magical place.
The most notable features of Karajini National Park are its gorges, waterfalls and beautiful swimming holes. We visited in 2005, and although I can't remember the specific names of the places we visited, I have some wonderful memories of swimming in deep, shady billabongs, playing under waterfalls with my daughter, climbing down through a waterfall to reach a rock-pool far below, and wading through a gorge which was so narrow that I could touch the walls on either side. Experiencing this beautiful, ancient land, and learning a little about the sacred Dreamtime narrations which are so intimately connected with it, I can honestly say that my visit to Karajini was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
If you plan to camp at the Karajini National Park it's crucial to be aware of the dramatic climatic variations which influence it throughout the year. Summer is not a good time to camp, as it's the 'wet season' and temperatures can reach well over 40 degrees Celsius, while monsoon rains can lash the area, causing dangerous flash flooding. Tragically, over the years, many people have lost their lives in the gorges in this way. Even during the cooler tourist season (better known as the 'dry season'), lives have been lost when people have fallen down the rugged gorges. Caution needs to be exercised at all times. Without a doubt, the best time to visit Karajini is during Autumn or Spring, when the weather is neither too hot not too cold. Even though the park is situated in the tropics, winters can be freezing. Although this isn't so apparent during the day, you really feel it at night.
There are a few different camping options available at the Karajini National Park. For those who like the idea of camping but who don't want to 'rough' it too much, or who have flown up for a few days and therefore don't have their camping gear, the Karajini National Park Luxury Camp, owned by the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, is definitely the way to go. Well-designed and comfortable Deluxe Eco-tents provide all the comforts of home, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of nature. In addition, this camping ground also offers conventional campsites where you can stay in your own caravan or tent.
In addition, there is also a campsite at Dales Gorge which offers more basic facilities, but is a perfectly satisfactory bush camping experience. Although no water is available (campers need to bring their own), there are pit toilets, picnic tables and fire-pits. Naturally, the cost of camping at Dales Gorge is much less than at the Luxury Camp. Therefore, if you want to save a few dollars and don't mind 'roughing' it a bit, this may be the place for you.
In conclusion, Karajini National Park offers an absolutely awesome wilderness experience for experienced and dedicated campers. It's also a great spot to introduce sensible older children and teenagers to the wonders of bush camping. For families, it involves a long drive, so if you choose to take your kids there, ensure that the trip is done in small, easily 'digestible' stages. Make it fun. Try to break the monotony by having regular picnic stops, take short sightseeing walks, and visit local museums so that you can better understand the places which you visit. A few good books, some fun creative activities, an affordable camera and a travel journal will probably keep older kids entertained.
When travelling with children, I've always tried to emphasise that the journey is just as important as the destination. Otherwise, the incessant back-seat chorus of 'Are we there yet?' is guaranteed to drive you nutty.
The Kimberley region in the far north of Western Australia is a magnet for dedicated campers, both within Australia and internationally. Its dramatic landscape, much of it pristine wilderness, is campers' gold, although much of it is inaccessible unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and a good supply of bush camping gear. However, if like me, you only have your trusty family sedan, all is not lost, as there are still many amazing places to visit which can be reached via sealed roads.
Situated on Roebuck Bay, Broome is the regional centre of the western Kimberley district and is a thriving town of approximately 15 000 permanent residents, although during the tourist season the population can swell to thousands more. While the pearling industry brought wealth to the town during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these days it is tourism which brings in the dollars. Therefore, the town is well-endowed with tourist facilities, including caravan parks, camping grounds and other types of accommodation.
Since Broome is situated in the tropics, it's important to note that camping is really only an option (for all but the most stalwart travellers) during the 'dry season', which extends from approximately late April until October. Although the 'wet season', which falls during the summer months is incredibly beautiful, it's definitely not the time to go for a relaxing family camping trip, as it's very hot and rains constantly.
My favourite place to camp in Broome is at the Cable Beach Caravan Park, which is just a stone's
throw from the breathtakingly beautiful Cable Beach. The park is very large in size, and provides all the amenities which one generally expects in a popular caravan park: a camp kitchen, clean amenity blocks, a pool, kiosk (with internet access), barbecues and children's playground. Since many of its patrons are longer term visitors (mostly 'grey nomads'), during the tourist season, it also had a unique and friendly village atmosphere, which I really appreciated. During my last visit, someone held regular yoga classes, while creative guests often established little impromptu market stalls near their caravan sites. However, a final comment about this caravan park is that, since it is very popular, I would strongly recommend booking well ahead of your arrival to avoid disappointment. They can be contacted on 08 9192 2066 or 08 9192 1997, or by email at [email protected]
For the visitor, Cable Beach boasts a wide range of family-friendly places to see and activities to do. The beach itself is stunning, and I've enjoyed many beautiful long walks along its wide golden expanse during the early mornings and late afternoons. The colours are exquisite, and the turquoise of the ocean contrasts dramatically with the yellow sand of the beach, and red pindan soil further inland. Shell-hunting is also another pleasurable pastime to be had here, and one that even the littlest kids will enjoy participating in.
Also popular with tourists are camel treks along Cable Beach. Once again, the most popular times are morning as the sun rises, or early evening as it sets. Broome Crocodile Park, which was established by the late Broome environmentalist and local personality, Malcolm Douglas, is also a great place to dally a few hours and learn about these immense and ferocious reptiles. In Broome itself, there is also much to see and do, including an interesting museum, Chinatown, lots of galleries, and a few regular markets.
As mentioned earlier, there are innumerable other wonderful places to camp throughout the Kimberly region: way too many to mention in a short article like this. To keep down expenses, for self-sufficient campers, there are many very good free camping spots scattered around the region. To locate these, I strongly recommend The Guide to Free Camping in the north of WA by S and S Collis and A Guide to Priceless Campsites and Rest Areas in the North of Western Australia by Jan Holland, which can both be purchased on-line. However, if you camp close to beaches, rivers and waterholes in the far north, always beware of ferocious salt-water crocodiles.
In conclusion, there are so many wonderful camping spots here in Western Australia. Those which I've mentioned here are simply the tip of the iceberg. Other places which spring to mind are the Great Southern region (the national parks from Albany to Esperance), the Goldfields, and Wave Rock. As a parent, in this article I've mainly focused on child-friendly spots which I've travelled to with my own family.
We only have a small two-wheel drive car, but there are a lot more adventure possibilities for four-wheel drive owners: the Canning Stock Route, the Gun-barrel Highway and the Gibb River Road. With this type of off-road travel you'll need to carry all your own equipment, so you'll need to invest in a variety of specialised camping gear. In addition, before embarking on off-road or outback touring, it's a good idea to speak to an expert at your local camping retailer and / or the RAC. In addition, if you love nature, a great idea is to purchase national park membership, as many of these places also have fabulous camping areas.
For those of you who are new to camping or have very small children, perhaps first try out spots such as Rottnest Island or the Perth Hills Centre. Although they're so close to the City, you feel as though you're miles away, and both destinations are extremely family-friendly, with lots to keep everyone entertained.