*written at Cape Range National Park in May
As an adult, I have not been much of a camper. Camping for me was confined to attending a music festival over a long weekend in my twenty somethings, where I would go without a shower for one day. I thought I was HARDCORE man! Now, thirty something Sarah laughs in the face of twenty something Sarah. While I have yet to graduate to ultimate camper status, that is, digging a hole to poop in, (although it’s only a matter of time) (EDIT: strike that, I have graduated to ultimate camper status since writing this, WOO!) I have definitely come a very long way very quickly.
Jason enjoys camping and so we had been on a couple of camping trips together before we embarked on this journey. Back then our criteria for a camping spot was that it was close enough to Melbourne to make the whole trip worthwhile over a long weekend and free. Pretty simple.
So with over fifty camp sites visited thus far, I have gotten to thinking, what is the ultimate camp site? To me the amenities provided are not a factor in the decision making. It is nice to have them but usually the best sites have only a drop loo at best and that is sufficient for us. But would I choose beach camping over bush camping? Bush camping is great when the weather is a bit cooler and there are some nice walks to do nearby, and a camp fire that you can sit by at night to stay warm. Stevenson’s falls near Apollo Bay and Green’s Island near Manjimup are wonderful examples of this. Anywhere that has a nice vista has also rated high on our list of top camp sites.
However when you find a campsite by the ocean when the weather is fabulous, it can’t get much better than that I think. Particularly in WA where the sunsets are spectacular. Even when the weather is poor (about three days total so far this trip), if we have an ocean view we can hole ourselves up in the trailer with the windows open and still enjoy the environment. Unless it’s windy, which it can often be when by the ocean. Wind and canvas are not friends and make for tired campers the following morning.
But when it comes to deciding on the best campsite, it doesn’t just end there. Where you decide to set up can make or break the experience of an otherwise excellent location. This is undoubtedly the most contentious decision to be made when traveling in a couple. Fortunately, the Western Australia parks and wildlife service has saved many an argument and relationship breakdown by separating spots into clear camping bays (which you have to pay for, but only $7.50 per person, or $10 if it’s really popular). This is also excellent because they are usually spread out enough that other people can’t camp right on top of you, which some people love to do regardless of the amount of space available for some reason. If I can hear you and your disgusting bodily functions with clarity, then you are too close. However which spot to take exactly can still require negotiation. Our main considerations here are whether we can get enough sunlight for the solar panel to keep everything running, whether the fridge is going to be out of the sun and stay cool, whether the trailer will actually fit, the proximity of ants nests and whether it is far away enough from any potential loud campers (bogans, families with babies and young children who start screaming at the break of dawn etc).
Our camping experience has been quite different since arriving in W.A. The Western Australian government has put a lot of money into upgrading campsites in national parks as part of their “Royalties for Regions” program and we have been enjoying the benefits in the last few weeks. One upgraded site called “Big Lagoon” in the Francois Peron National Park has a new patio type area, with BBQs and long benches with bar stools overlooking the lagoon.
It was awesome and we made our lunch and dinner down there while we stayed. The toilets at all the campsites are also spotlessly clean and free from any smell. Still long drops, but loo roll is provided and they have a bucket of some kind of cleaning agent next to the toilet, and you are required to scrub the bowl before and after use with the brush provided. There are also bins for rubbish, so we haven’t had to worry about taking it out with us and then having nowhere to dump it (we usually end up doing a sneaky public bin drop). The very popular camp sites also have camp hosts, volunteers who live on site for a month at a time and make sure that everyone is paid up and doing the right thing. The camp hosts at our current camp site at Cape Range even rake the sites after campers have left so the ground is all smooth for the next lot and keep the toilets tidy every morning. It does take the ruggedness out of the camping experience that I’ve come to expect and enjoy in Victoria, but it is nice being spaced out in your own spot and not having to deal with a smelly toilet particularly when you’re doing it for a year (I’ll never forget the toilets at Sheepyard Flat in Howqua, they almost made your eyes water!).
The other annoying but understandable point of difference we have noticed is that the Western Australian parks authority is much stricter when it comes to having a fire. If it’s a national park then fires are flat out prohibited, and at many of the other campsites we could only start a fire at a certain time in the late afternoon and firewood was provided, presumably so people don’t take it upon themselves to venture into the bush to get their own, disturbing the natural environment and habitats of many insects and animals. When I think back to Stevenson’s Falls, and other campsites we have stayed at in Victoria, people go out with their chainsaws and hack off branches from trees and collect whatever wood is strewn about the place for their fires which surely in the long term is not sustainable and is something I hadn’t really considered before.
So I guess both camping approaches have their upsides and downsides and we have really enjoyed both for what they offer, whether it’s the real bush bashing natural experience or the convenience of having things a bit more organised and ordered. I just hope that the awesome free bush campsites in Victoria don’t go the way of these WA sites as they will totally lose their charm, but feel that if people continue to disrespect these awesome free campsites it could happen, which would be a real shame.