I'm a freelance writer living in Perth. Having 2 young kids with endless energy, we are always on the lookout for new outdoor activities.
Published April 14th 2014
A campground near Preston Beach, perfect for weekend escape
We were three families of 11 people, inclusive of 7 children aged 2-12 years old, and during the school holiday we were hunting for a suitable site for a weekend of camping, and found it at Yalgorup National Park. Most Perthians probably never heard of this, although they might have passed it numerous times on their way down south, as it's located just 20km south of Mandurah, in the vicinity of Preston Beach. It boasts of many lakes, including Lake Clifton with its thrombolites, but its only campground is located further south of these ancient living rocks, on the banks of Martins Tank Lake. Not surprisingly, it's called just that: Martins Tank Lake Campground.
Sunrise at Martins Tank Lake
When I used googlemaps to provide direction from Perth, it directed me to go over a lake, which of course was not possible for us mere mortals, but luckily further searches yielded a more reasonable route: Kwinana Freeway all the way until it merges with Old Coast Road south of Mandurah, and then from Old Coast Road turn right into Preston Beach Road, and right again into Preston Beach North Road. This last one is unsealed but suitable for 2WD and small caravans.
The campground is not bookable, but a caretaker was on site when we arrived. She informed us that as it was quite early in the school holiday, there were empty sites for us to choose from. Based on our group size and accommodation choice (tents, as opposed to caravans), she recommended we stayed in one of the four large sites (no 22-25) that could each fit multiple tents. She also took our payment of $10 per adult per night ($2.2 for a child between 6-16 years old).
One of the large-group sites
We duly followed the directions given to reach the recommended large sites, and three little tents and one large tent later, there's still left-over space in the middle of our campsite to ride bikes and kick a ball around. If we arrived during the height of the holiday (e.g. Easter long weekend), we would perhaps have been obliged to share this site with strangers.
Our site was equipped with two long picnic tables, which could fit our three families with space to spare. The other benefit of our chosen site is its closeness to camp facilities including the longdrop toilets and the brand new, shiny kitchen (newly refurbished in 2013).
Brand new, shiny kitchen
Last but not least, it's also close to its namesake, the Martins Tank Lake, and even our youngest member of 2 years old could walk there under his own steam. Not that we could do much with the lake. Despite its prettiness and calm reflective water, it smelled faintly of decaying matter and the information board told us that it could at times be three times as saline as seawater, hence the rainwater tank built by the Martin family in the old days. In fact, the first rule the caretaker informed us when we arrived was: "No swimming in lake. Yucky water."
So being forewarned, you should be prepared and bring your own entertainment if you plan to stay for longer than a night: Board games perhaps, playing cards, or a soccer ball. And if all else fails: bring out the tablets and other electronic gadgets. There was full signal on our mobile phones, so you can even chat with your mates back home while reclining in your sleeping bag.
When campsite-fever sets in, it's time to visit the nearest civilisation: Preston Beach is a mere 8 km away, with a public beach complete with flushing toilets and children playground, hotels with swimming pools, eateries/ cafes, and any other conveniences you might expect from a holiday town.
But where's the fun in camping if we run to the nearest restaurant whenever it's meal time, so we resolved to feed the troop with the labour of our own hands. This resolution was made easy by the new kitchen, with its gas-fired barbecues, washing up sinks (water not potable), and picnic tables.
There is also a communal fire pit just outside the kitchen, but unfortunately the summer fire ban was not yet lifted when we arrived (usually fire ban is between late October and early April). The kids who had planned to roast marshmallows were sorely disappointed, but the caretaker's hands were tied in this matter as the fire ban dates are determined by the local shire, not the Department of Parks and Wildlife (formerly Department of Environment and Conservation) who manage national parks and campgrounds within them.
Padlocked fire pit
Fire ban notwithstanding, we were not about to let such a minor matter of regulation defeat us, so we did the next best thing that was allowed: used our stove to roast the marshmallows. Later that night, surprise visitors completed our weekend experience: A couple of curious and unafraid brushtail possums tried their paws and teeth on anything that's not zipped in. To be on the safe side, we brought all food supplies with us into the tent when we retired for the night.
Roasting marshmallows on a fire ban day
The next day, we went home tired but happy. Our verdict: It's best for weekend escapes for big groups, young families, or beginner bush campers (good facilities, close to town). But if you're after a full escape from the rat race where your boss can't call or whatsapp you, then it's not nearly remote enough. There are of course plenty of more remote campgrounds in WA, for example the ones in Fitzgerald River National Park. If you want a more exciting campgrounds where you can actually play in the water, then perhaps Honeymoon Pool is more suitable for you. And if you don't like the chance of arriving and finding the camp full, you can remove the risk by booking a campsite at one of the bookable campgrounds such as ones in Lane Poole Reserve. We in WA are very lucky to have so many different choices of campgrounds, and Martins Tank Lake is definitely a respectable member of our pool of campgrounds.
I have just returned from Kalbarri Tudor caravan park and while it is a caravan park, the amenities are fantastic. They have a bouncy pillow type trampoline which thrilled the grand kids and the whole experience came up tops. But I have to say that I can't believe how many families have never, repeat never taken their kids camping. It is a wonderful way to get back to basics, rough it up, wash in a bucket, shower if there is one, otherwise use baby wipes, wake up with the galahs, eat sandwiches with a sprinkle of sand and enjoy them. Honestly mums and dads, give it a go. The kids will always remember the experience no matter where it is.