Touring Western Australia's South West on a budget (Part 1)
Not everyone wants to (or can) spend thousands of dollars travelling Western Australia and if you have a tent, a caravan or a motor home, you can tour around quite cheaply staying at free or low cost campsites around the south west. This is what we set out to do for a couple of weeks in early summer. We wanted to stay at places that were basic bush campsites and sites that had access to fresh water for showering and swimming but we would carry our own drinking water.
Sadly for those travelling with pets, many of the sites in the south west are National Park camp grounds and pets are not permitted. Some sites also prohibit the use of generators. There are some exceptions to the 'no pets' rule so if you travel with pets please keep reading.
The choice of our first campsite was Grimwade. This is reached from the small town of Kirup or from just north of Balingup. Currently there are no fees charged for staying at Grimwade but there are no facilities and everything must be carted in and rubbish must be taken with you when you leave.
The dam at Grimwade is very fresh and un-polluted which is evidenced by the large number of frogs living there. Yes they do croak loudly almost all night long so if you are a light sleeper pick a site well away from the dam. Please do not let soap or detergents pollute this very pristine water source.
There are trails leading through the bush and plenty of places to set up camp. We only have limited information on the original settlement but as far as we know there was once a sawmill and a small town here that operated from 1910 to 1938. There are still timber plantations being worked in this area so beware of large logging vehicles on the small tracks.
The area is great for bushwalking and the Bibbulmun Track passes close by. Bird life is prolific and it is a great place to just relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the natural bush.
Although we had only planned to stay at Grimwade for one night, it turned out to be such a nice place that we ended up staying 3 nights. The next planned stop was at Cambray Siding. This should be able to be reached from Cambray Road (track would be a better name) that turns west north of Nannup. Just south of Cambray Road is a turn off (east) to Cambray Sheep Cheese. If you are into sheep cheese and rather high prices then a visit may be in order but we neither like the style of cheese or the rather steep prices.
Cambray Road went on and on through the bush. We became more and more concerned about getting down a track that we could not turn round on with the caravan on the back so when we reached a good turning area I walked on for quite some way hoping to find out where Cambray Siding was. In the end it turned out to be just a bit too far and when I got back to the car we 'chickened out'. Looking at Google Earth when we got home it turned out I didn't have too far to go to reach the turn off (north) to the siding. Never mind, this is the second time I have tried to reach the siding and failed so maybe it will be third time lucky.
The one compensation for the day so far was the drive from Balingup to Nannup. This is a hilly and winding road and was one of the most scenic roads we have travelled in the south west.
Next we tried Barrabup Pool and found that the campsite (Worker's Pool) was too small for the Jayco Swan. We stopped in at the lovely day-use area at Barrabup for lunch but were instantly put off the site by biting flies and midges. There is now a new campsite closer to the pool that we really should have checked out but as our next likely campsite was still quite some way south we headed off in somewhat of a rush.
Barrabup is a National Parks site so like most you can't take pets there.
I would have liked to try to get to Lake Jasper but after hearing about a very sandy track and having to be in 4x4 with the tyres dropped in pressure, I decided not to try it on my own.
The next possibility on the list was near Carey Brook and Grass Tree Hollow campsite. This area is probably better known as Boat Landing. This was simply too small to be worth considering. It is suited to campervans and tents. We probably should have pushed on to Snottygobble Loop campsite to see if site sizes were better but it was getting late in the day and we wanted to get to Warren River.
By the time we got to Warren River we were pretty hot and tired from the drive. The road in, known as Heart break Trail, is listed as 'NO CARAVANS' but camper trailers and wind up small vans like our Jayco are fine as long as the track is dry.
We stopped at Drafty's Camp. This is the main campsite with the most sites to choose from. There is also a very good camp kitchen, toilets and easy access to the river via steps and landings. The river was cooling and very refreshing after setting up our camp.
Currently it costs $7.70 (adult) $5.50 (concession) and $2.20 (child) per night at this camp and again as a National park site, pets are not permitted.
As we intended to move on to the nearby Big Brook Arboretum campsite before starting to explore the area a bit more, we only stopped at Drafty's for 2 nights. There is a loop trail (for the very fit) that goes for about 11 kilometres. For the more physically challenged (like us) there is a nice walk along the river.
The weather was warming up so we were very grateful for the proximity to Warren River and the chance to hop in and cool down once the afternoon temperature started to go up.
Sadly the Arboretum campsite is a little distance away from the swimming and picnic area at Big Brook Dam. This means a quick drive in the car if you want to have a swim. This we did at least a couple of times as the weather was really heating up.
The campsite is free form with no official sites. You simply pick a spot you like and set up. Fees are the same as Warren River but the main difference is that dogs are permitted on a lead, although they are not allowed at the beach area by the dam.
The trees in this area are truly splendid. There are even some Californian redwood giants to add a bit of drama to the bush setting.
The day use picnic and swimming area is very nice but there were a few too many flies in residence to be able to enjoy much of a picnic. We just sat in the water and managed to keep them at bay.
There are some fish in the dam and you can go fishing there if you get a special freshwater license. While swimming we did spot a nice sized trout so for those who enjoy a bit of fly fishing this dam has an added attraction.
While we had the car unhooked from the van we took the chance to look around at some other local attractions. These included the Gloucester tree and The Cascades. The Gloucester Tree was once used as a fire look out. Today you can, if fit enough, climb the tree and get quite a good view from the top. It is probably best to do this on less windy days as the tree can sway a bit.
The cascades are probably best seen after some decent rains but at least they were still flowing while we were there and it was quite a nice walk through the bush. Again there is a loop trail here that you can complete if you have the energy. We just stuck to the trail by the water.
Since the hot weather was showing no signs of letting up we decided to head west towards the coast. Along the way we stopped off at Sue's Bridge. This is another National Park run campsite where, surprisingly, dogs are permitted.
The bridge is the highest timber bridge in the south west at 17.5 metres. It was completed in 1966 and was upgraded in 1995. It is named after Sue Morrison, wife of forestry officer Ian Morrison who worked in the area in the 1950s.
The river was very low and only just running so after setting up camp we unhooked the car and took off for the lovely little sea-side town of Augusta. This is a drive of around 50 kilometres (one way) but was worth it for the lovely swim at Flinders Bay. The only thing that rather spoiled the time at Flinders was about a million flies that were all determined to land on every part of us. Even though the wind was blowing quite nicely, the flies would not give up and go away.
After the swim we drove round to the estuary by the Colour Patch store (temporarily closed due to a management change) to just sit and enjoy the view from under a shady tree until the heat of the afternoon started to abate.
This has to be one of my all time favourite places. The only thing that was missing was a boat and the chance to get out and do a bit of fishing. Our intended final stop was Conto campsite near the coast but as it was still the weekend we hung on one more night at Sue's Bridge to give the sites at Conto a chance to clear a bit.
This meant we had another day to kill before moving on so the following day we headed north to Busselton. Busselton is the largest town in the south west corner but hasn't (as yet) been spoiled by over development.
It was turning out to be quite a heat-wave so after lunch in town we headed out along to Cape Naturaliste to Bunker Bay. This is a really magic spot with crystal clear water, white sand and a lovely bay area with little seaweed.
There is a small beach-front cafe here but we had brought our own refreshments and lunch so didn't have a chance to try it out.
The water was just amazing and we were quite reluctant to finally have to get out and move on. Eventually we have to wave goodbye to the whiting that had been swimming round our feet and get to our next stop at Eagle Bay.
Eagle Bay is another good place to stop and have a dip in the ocean. Since the day was still so hot, we did just that. From Eagle Bay you can take a short coastal drive to Castle Rock and several other nice little places in the Meelup regional park. There are good swimming bays and shaded picnic areas with seats and tables.
When the day finally started to cool down it was time to make the 60 kilometre drive back to Sue's Bridge to spend our final night before moving on to Conto. The peace and quiet of the night was shattered at various intervals by squabbling possums which to us seemed to sound a lot more like Tasmanian devils!
Then it was on to Conto where this latest blog entry will continue in South West on a budget Part 2.