by David Allan-Petale
Western Australia is sometimes known by a few funny names: Wait Awhile for its laid back pace, The Big State for its size, and Wallet Attack for its prices.
When you travel in WA each of these names can certainly ring true, but there’s a new name – The Road Trip State – that the tourism sector is hoping will catch on and inspire people to hit the road, exploring far and wide.
Taking up the challenge, my family and I just got back from a three-month road trip towing a caravan behind a four-wheel-drive. We took the slow road up to Cue in the Murchison Goldfields, seeing wildflowers in bloom along the way, before heading to the coast for a leisurely drive to Exmouth.
As chilled out as it is, as big as it is, let’s face it – WA can be expensive. To keep the costs down we constantly sought out cheap or free camping sites to help keep us in the black.
With summer and its good driving weather coming up, there are sure to be many road trips being planned and saving a few dollars here and there can take them further. Here are some places we found won’t break the bank, while showing a side of WA well worth seeing.
The Ningaloo Reef is a World Heritage-listed natural wonder, and some of the best places to see it are within the Cape Range National Park outside Exmouth.
Deep in the park, Osprey Bay has camp sites atop a cliff looking down onto a few sheltered bays with plenty of spots for swimming and watching the sun set.
Booked through the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s website, for just $22 a night per vehicle it’s a steal. But be warned, it’s long drop toilets only, no power, and you need to cart your own drinking water in, a supply of which can be accessed freely at the Ningaloo Visitors Centre in Exmouth.
Wooramel River Retreat
Blink and you’ll miss the turn, but if you catch sight of colourful flags just before the bridge over the Wooramel River, drive in and you’ll be greeted by a charming farm stay beside an ‘upside down’ ephemeral waterway.
One hundred and twenty kilometres south of Carnarvon off the North West Coastal Highway,Wooramel River Retreat costs $13 per person per night if you’re towing a caravan in, or you can pay extra and stay in an eco tent or self-contained unit.
With fire pits at each campsite and majestic views of the dry riverbed and its mature river gums, Wooramel is magic place to spend a few days.
Geraldton and Dongara
Driving north, many people choose to stop in either Geraldton or Dongara for the night to break the trip up. But if you arrive late in the day, it can be a hassle to settle down, especially if you want to get going early the next day.
To help travellers on their way, both these Mid West destinations have established 24-hour parking bays for caravans and campervans. Geraldton’s bays are right on the foreshore with a dump point, public toilets and the city’s main street within easy reach.
In Dongara, the local shire has set aside a strip of land beside the cricket oval with a dump point and easy access for long vehicles.
Long a best kept secret amongst fishers and off roaders, Lucky Bay near Port Gregory in the Mid West has been opened up with a limestone road allowing easier access to a maze of sandy camping sites.
For $15 a night you get a place in the dunes, a fire pit and newly built long drop toilets and picnic tables sheltered from the wind.
The beach is just a short walk through the dunes away, and if you’re feeling adventurous there’s four-wheel-drive tracks and beaches for fishing.
A working property that grows wheat and lupins and keeps sheep and horses, Northbrook Farmstay has a vast grassy area set aside for caravans and campervans with sweeping views of rugged hills.
There’s a camp kitchen, games room, toilets and showers, plus water and power points at a selection of sites just six kilometres from the historic town of Northampton.
We paid $25 a night for a powered site and loved the simplicity of taking afternoon strolls on tracks beside the paddocks.
Staying in each of these campsites, we were reminded that the best kind of travel is often found off the beaten path, and keeping things simple can be rewarding, especially when it comes to the budget.
Author bio – David Allan-Petale is a writer and travel blogger exploring Australia with his family. You can follow their adventures at www.double-barrelledtravel.com.