On the must do list was finding out what it was like to join the “grey army “that travels around the camping grounds of outback Western Australia and escapes the Melbourne winter.
In May 2010 We convinced friends to join us – 4 people, two vans and plenty of open road. As non-seasoned campers the starting point was the DriveNow website to look at options for Campervan Rental in Western Australia.
Being chardonnay travellers we settled on a Mauri motor home with on board kitchen shower and toilet facilities. The planned route over 30 days was Perth to Broome via the coast and inland to Tom Price and the Pilbara region.
The DriveNow website made arrangements easy but we arrived at the Maui office in Perth for check in with some trepidation. The efficient reassuring staff provided a DVD of the on board facilities and their operation -gas /taking on water /power/and the toilet discharge.
First task was to turn right out of the Maui site onto the 6 lane Great Eastern Highway. Fortunately a generous driver sensing a novice in charge of a van gave way and we were off on the great adventure! We headed to stock up with supplies at the supermarket – A parking spot nowhere near any other cars was definitely the way to go at this early stage!
On the highway driving the van was effortless with our initial destination Crevantes on the coast 250 km north of Perth and home to the world famous Pinnacles Desert of natural limestone structures.
The Crevantes camping ground set the scene for many days to follow- connect in power /fill up with water and then join in “happy hour ” which goes on for more than the hour.
Then onto Port Dennison and Horricks. Both small fishing villages with camping grounds near the water.
The first major town is Geraldton site of the memorial to HMS Sydney with an outstanding foreshore museum. Scenic flight over the Abrolhos islands a must do.
Next stop Kalbarri 500km from Perth . Another idyllic seaside town where the pelicans come in for their morning feed and a tour into the nearby Kalbarri National park with stunning gorges.
Highway driving is easy although our travelling companions made the fatal error of pulling off the road for sight seeing and promptly became bogged after recent rain. Fortunately the grey army are passing in vast numbers and are well equipped to tow you out . But the number of dead kangaroo,sheep and cattle is evidence of the perils of driving at dusk or night.
Camping sites are all well situated with excellent facilities .The professional campers arrive with all manner of extras -outdoor areas /satellite dishes /portable washing machines etc.
Now to Denham and the world famous Monkey Mia Resort in Shark Bay where dolphins play in the shallows and boat cruises take you to see dugongs (10% of worlds population), giant turtles and dolphins. Off shore is Dirk Hartog island a peaceful retreat.
After 8 days on the road the task of emptying the toilet canister came to the top of the list, but lo and behold the canister was stuck .The frightening thought of a hot sun and maturing effluent was contemplated, however fortunately a roadside mechanic came to our rescue and fixed the problem.
Coral Bay the next site is 1150km from Perth and looks like a set from those beach movies. You snorkel within the marine park with huge fish of all colours and coral reefs and come night-time the local pub is the centre of great nightime activity and a haven for backpackers.
A short distance on is Exmouth and the Cape Range National Park where we camped right on the beach without power and water. A real back to nature experience with more swimming in the Ningaloo Marine Park. At the right time of year you can see the world’s largest whale sharks, manta rays and passing whales .Catch fish for dinner. It’s not hard to see why many travellers end up camping here for weeks.
Leaving the coast a long days drive to Tom Price in the Pilbara and home to the huge Rio Tinto uranium mine .A tour of the mine is a must do with a purpose built town an oasis in the desert.
Nearby more rough camping (as rough as it gets in a 4 star van ) in the Karijini National park with stunning views of gorges and shady swimming pools surrounded by huge red cliffs.
The red dust follows you everywhere. A trip with a 4 wheel drive operator into rough terrain is the way to go as the vehicle shudders itself to breaking point, however the views are genuinely breathtaking.
Back to civilization via Port Hedland (a place to pass through and not stop) and onto 80 mile beach 300 km south of Broome .A camping ground virtually on the beach where many grey army come for 6 months. What can only be described as monstrous beach (a cut lunch required form shore to sea ) produced a monstrous fish caught at dusk. A real lazy haven.
Then on route to Broome a roadtrain spays us with rocks and a cracked window Not bad enough to stop travelling and fortunately the insurance taken out with RACV covers the cost for a modest premium.
Finally Broome. Great weather for the last 4 weeks becomes perfect. Nothing to do except ride camels on the beach, sip cold drinks at the beach bar of the renowned Cable Beach Resort and contemplate how the “grey army” have got it so right.