Camping in Western Australia’s National Parks
The stars of the Milky Way shine down on us like a million sparkling diamonds on a cloth of black velvet. The total silence and stillness of the night air envelope us in their soft embrace. The Aboriginal people have many stories about the stars and how they came to be there, but I am just enjoying the peace I find sitting here in my camp chair gazing up at the universe above.
We are camped in the Karijini National Park in the heart of Western Australia’s Pilbara Region, one of around 164 national parks and reserves that spread across Western Australia, from the Bungle Bungle Range (Purnululu) in the far North East Kimberley, to Cape Leeuwin in the South West corner and Eucla National Park on the South Australian border.
The WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) manages more than 27 million hectares of national, marine and conservation parks, state forests, nature and recreation reserves containing some of the most stunning natural treasures, an extensive network of camp sites and walk trails. Their location ensures you can experience coral reefs and pristine beaches, towering forests and tumbling rivers, mountain ranges and savannah, sand dunes and deserts, rugged gorges and wilderness areas and a chance to escape from the stresses of modern urban living. What better way to relax than to sleep under a canopy of stars and wake up to the sound of birdsong!
WA is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. The south-west of WA is the only recognised terrestrial biodiversity hotspot in Australia, one of only 34 in the world. Shark Bay and Purnululu have World Heritage status.
Whilst not all parks allow camping or camping is restricted to designated sites, many include well maintained walk trails. Some attract a daily visitor fee for entry, or a small camping fee, however, the most economical way is to purchase an annual or four-week holiday pass. All monies go to park maintenance of facilities and the provision of new safety equipment.
The most famous walking tracks are the 1,000 kilometre Bibbulmun Track from Armadale near Perth to Albany on the south coast, and the Cape to Cape Track, which stretches 135 kilometres between Cape Naturalist and Cape Leeuwin in the south west corner. For those who prefer peddle power, the Munda Biddi Trail
runs 320 kilometres from the Perth hills to Collie. The Dryandra Woodland near Narrogin offers a bridle path, as well as walking and cycle
City dwellers and visitors to Perth don’t have to go far to find somewhere to relax and enjoy natural environments. DEC has a number of parks within close proximity to Perth. One of these is Herdsman Lake, a significant bird breeding area only seven kilometres from the Perth CBD. The pathway encircling the lake is suitable for wheelchair users.
The State’s oldest parks, the Yanchep National Park, nestled in tuart and banksia woodland, 45 minutes north of Perth, known for its caves, boating, wildlife and walk trails. The Avon Valley National Park near Toodyay features forests and granite outcrops and the Avon River, which attracts canoeists in winter and the Avon Descent race in August.
South of Perth is the coastal dunes, lakes and tuart woodlands of the Yalgorup National Park south of Mandurah. The park is noted for the thousands of birds it supports, including migratory birds from the northern hemisphere, and the rock like structures known as thrombolites on the edge of Lake Clifton, built by micro-organisms over millions of years and one of only a few places in Western Australia where living thrombolites survive. They are very fragile; an observation walkway has been built to minimise damage from visitors.
Some of the state’s most spectacular scenery is found in the remote parts of the Kimberley Region. One of these is the rugged wilderness area, the Mitchell River National Park, which features the spectacular gorges and waterfalls of the Mitchell Plateau (Ngauwudu). Only accessible by helicopter, boat or high clearance 4WD, the track is often impassable especially during the wet season (November to May). Visitors are warned to check road conditions with local shires and to carry all provisions. Its most famous attraction is the four-tiered Mitchell Falls. Accessed only by foot or by air, the falls and the plateau are one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of Australia.
More easily accessible, although only by 4WD, is Purnululu National Park south of Kununurra near the Northern Territory border. The orange and black bee-hive like sandstone mounds of the Bungle Bungle Range which towers 300 metres over the surrounding plains is one of the most fascinating landmarks in Western Australia. There are few facilities and no accommodation, so visitors must carry all food, water and fuel however, camping here will provide a remote wilderness experience.
One of the most remote national parks in Australia is the Rudall River National Park, between the Great Sandy and Little Sandy Deserts. Covering around 1.5 million hectares, it is WA’s largest national park. A central rocky area lies between the sand ridges of these deserts. The Rudall River is a major watercourse with reliable water sources however, you should not visit the park unless you are well prepared and carry all supplies.
Further south in the Pilbara Region is the Karijini National Park, accessible via a bitumen road. It attracts thousands of visitors every year. Once inside the park, well maintained gravel roads allow access to spectacular rugged deep gorges that cut their way through the landscape, towering waterfalls, and shady pathways that are in stark contrast to the spinifex covered plains above. The Visitor Centre is a good place to get information on the walks. Great care must be taken as the gorges can be extremely hazardous. During popular tourist months mid year Ranger Talks and guided walks such as the early morning bird walk help visitors better appreciate the park.
South of Karijini is Mount Augustus (Burringurrah), a solitary rock eight kilometres long which rises 717 metres high above a stony, red sand plain of arid scrubland. It is about twice the size of Uluru (Ayers Rock). There are short and full day walks to view the rock formations, creek beds and Aboriginal rock art work. Camping is not permitted in the park however, accommodation, caravan and camping sites are available at Mount Augustus Outback Tourist Resort.
Francois Peron National Park covers 52,500 hectares at the northern extreme of the Peron Peninsula in the Shark Bay World Heritage area. Formerly a pastoral station, it is home to many rare and endangered species. Project Eden is attempting to bring back endangered wildlife through eradication of feral animals and re-introduction of native species. A 4WD will allow you to visit Peron’s coastline which is a dramatic contrast of red cliffs, blue water and white beaches. From the cliffs you may see bottlenose dolphins, dugongs, green and loggerhead turtles and large manta rays. Also visit the dolphins at Monkey Mia, Shell Beach made up of millions of tiny white shells and the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool.
From here you can drive further north to Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Marine Park in the North-West Cape Peninsula. The Ningaloo Reef which stretches 260 kilometres along the coast and covers 5,000 square kilometres, is the jewel of WA’s Coral Coast. It is one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world, home to 250 species of coral and 500 species of fish, and a prime conservation and sanctuary area, as well as one of Australia’s great nature based tourism locations. It is also one of the few places where you can swim with the world’s biggest fish, the Whale Shark which visits Ningaloo Reef from late March until July each year following the mass spawning of coral.
In the central wheatbelt near Narrogin is the Dryandra Woodland, one of the largest remaining woodland areas in the wheatbelt. There are seven walk trails suitable for all levels of fitness, ranging from one to 13 kilometres and a 27 kilometre trail for horse riders. Dryandra’s woodlands of white-barked wandoo, powderbark, brown mallet and thickets of rock sheoak are a prime habitat for birds and native animals. DEC’s Western Shield project, “Return to Dryandra”, is re-introducing endangered species to the wild through breeding programs.
In the Warren Area which centres around Pemberton in the South West, visitors can explore towering karri forests, walk along tumbling rivers and discover exquisite wildflowers in the understorey of the Beedelup, Gloucester, Warren and Shannon National Parks. Climbing Gloucester Tree and Bicentennial Tree will give you a birds’ eye view, 60 metres above the ground. The pristine beauty, D’Entrecasteaux National Park, features spectacular coastal cliffs, beaches, rivers, lakes and heath lands and the Yeagarup Dune, a huge moving inland sand dune.
Further along the south coast is the Walpole Nornalup National Park. The vast landscape of the Walpole Wilderness Area is an important component of the biodiversity hotspot. Old jarrah, karri and tingle forests surround granite peaks, rivers, coastal heath, wetlands and inlets, overlooking sandy beaches, sheer coastal cliffs and the Southern Ocean. The Valley of Giants is the most popular destination for visitors to the area. A boardwalk meanders along the forest floor beneath towering tingle “giants”, whilst a 38 metes high Tree Top Walk takes you through the forest canopy.
North of Albany the towering peaks of the Stirling Ranges National Park rise dramatically from the surrounding coastal farmland, spreading over 64 kilometres and providing some of the best mountain walking in WA. Over 15,000 plant species grow in the park. A scenic drive along gravel roads takes you through the park, and well-marked tracks provide plenty for bushwalkers, wildflower and bird enthusiasts to explore. The 1,095-metre climb to the top of Stirling’s tallest peak, Bluff Knoll, rewards you with spectacular 360-degree views from the south coast to the north and across the length of the ranges. A boardwalk around the carpark area enables wheelchair access so that everyone can enjoy the views.
East of Esperance on the south east coast is the Cape Le Grand National Park and Cape Arid National Park characterised by wild coastal scenery, white sandy pristine beaches and rugged granite peaks. Cape Arid National Park includes south-western and more arid vegetation types, providing a broad array of bird habitats supporting more than 160 bird species, making it an important park for bird conservation.
The most south eastern park is Eucla National Park on the edge of the Great Australian Bight. Highlights include the vast Delisser Sandhills and awesome coastal views from the limestone cliffs at Wilson Bluff.
Western Australia’s National Parks spread from desert sands to coastal corals. By visiting them you are sure to be immersed in the natural beauty of this vast State.
When travelling in remote areas, you need to be totally self sufficient – food, water, fuel, essential spare mechanical parts, tyres, first aid kit. Make sure you give someone details of your route and the expected date of your return.
A high clearance 4WD is recommended for parks in remote areas as tracks may become impassable, especially during the wet season (November to May in the North West), so visitors are warned to check road conditions with local shires first.
Depending on the remoteness of the park, walks can take from 30 minutes to all day, even overnight. It is important to research before you go. Many of them are only recommended for the physically fit.
Contact local Visitor Information Centres or DEC offices for updated information. Some parks provide Camp Hosts to assist visitors during busy periods.
General hints for safe bush walking
Walk in groups of two or more; wear comfortable stout walking shoes, thick woollen socks, a hat. Carry sufficient water for your journey. Put your supplies in a small backpack to give you more freedom with your hands. Take a small first aid kit, insect repellant and matches. Take a map of the area and a compass. Inform someone of your intentions and your proposed time of return. Dress for the weather – temperatures can get extremely hot during summer. Be on the lookout for snakes and in the North West, crocodiles.
Minimum Impact Code
Protect native plants and animals. Keep to the tracks. Use existing camp sites, a stove for cooking, if you must use a fire, keep it small. Remove your rubbish. Do not pollute streams or rivers. Show consideration for others. Many areas hold Aboriginal significance, which must be respected.
Travellers to remote areas are advised to attend one of DEC’s Bushcraft Courses. The course provides a basic understanding of the skills required to survive in the outback, and how to prevent a mishap becoming a disaster.
Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia, Parts 1, 2 & 3, by Eddy Wajon (Wajon Publishing Company) is available at Tourist Bureaus and book stores
Roads and Tracks Western Australia map book – Quality Publishing Australia
Detailed Topographic Maps produced by the Australian Surveying & Land Information Group are available from The Department of Land Information at Landgate.
You can read the author’s bio here.