The Pilbara…home to the reddest red dirt, stunning scenery, amazing wildlife, that big Aussie sky and, of course, Red Dog. This region ticked all the boxes for us…historical towns to wander around, amazing landscapes to hike, climb and explore, friendly locals and a perfect climate for van living. Here are some of our favourite photos from our travels around this beautiful part of WA.
After our amazing time discovering the Goldfields, we found ourselves in Mount Magnet, unsure of where we were heading next. We really enjoyed our outback adventure but decided it was time to head west, back to the ocean. 340km later, we found ourselves in Geraldton, a busy port town that services the local community, sailors, north bound tourists and Grey Nomads. There was a storm passing through when we arrived so everything was a bit soggy but it was amazing to see the Indian Ocean looking so fierce. The storm had knocked the power out in the caravan park and a lot of the caravaners were grumbling and moaning about the inconvenience… as we both worked in tourism for years, we are all too familiar with the complaints and try to steer clear of the moaners at all costs, so we rugged up and took a bracing walk, leaving them to it while we enjoyed fish and chips in town.
From Geraldton, it seemed most logical to head to Exmouth and the famous Ningaloo Reef. This is a well trodden tourist route where you will find yourself in a convoy of caravans and motorhomes most of the time and you are all heading for the same destination. We found it impossible to free camp as all the free sites that we pulled into were either ridiculously full or filthy. If you want to see this part of WA, you need to grin and bear the mass tourism and expensive accommodation options. It wasn’t a highlight of our WA travels but we did find these great spots to enjoy along the way.
Hutt River Province.
Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Park.
Exploring the Goldfields of Western Australia was an amazing outback adventure, taking us far away from the famous pristine white beaches and award-winning wineries of the coastline and immersing us in red dirt, history and ghost towns.
Our Goldfields adventure started at the end of the Golden Pipeline, in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, known locally as Kal. Kal is mining past and present where you can delve into the history and adventure of the first gold discoveries or enjoy the shops, bars and restaurants of this modern, outback city. Mining may have changed enormously but Kal has certainly retained a lot of it’s charm, spirit and character, making it a great place to base yourself for a few days. We loved wandering around the town, especially Hannan Street, where a lot of the original town buildings are still in use. While the gold-rush may conjure up colourful images of adventures and fortunes, a visit to the KCGM Super Pit Lookout will give you a stark reality check on what modern day gold mining is and what, we as humans, are willing to do to the earth in pursuit of wealth.
From Kal, we headed north to Menzies, a town which boomed when gold was discovered in 1894 but that is now home to just 70 people. We parked up and had a wander down the main street, the old buildings are beautiful and the signs give lots of information about the history of the town. The Visitor Centre, located in the Lady Shenton Hotel building, provided a friendly welcome and lots of local and tourist information to help us get the most from our visit.
Our van is 2WD so we tend to stick to sealed roads but we were persuaded by Laura in Menzies Visitors Centre that the 50km journey along unsealed road to Lake Ballard was worth it and that the road was really well maintained and absolutely fine for 2WD vans. So we set off, slowly, with everything in our van rattling and shaking, with 4WDs flying past us, leaving us in clouds of red dust. It felt like the longest 50kms ever and we considered turning back on several occasions as our idea of a well maintained road was clearly different to that of the locals! However, we persevered and, almost 2 hours later, with a van full of red dust, we arrived at Lake Ballard, home to Anthony Gormley’s iconic Inside Australia exhibition. We got a perfect camping spot, overlooking the lake, opened our beers and were treated to an amazing sunset. In the morning, we set off on a hike over the salt lake to see and photograph the sculptures. There are 51 but, even after walking around for nearly 3 hours, we still only managed to see 30. The landscape is stunning and it is a beautiful place to visit. The free campsite is great with plenty of space for 2WD vans like ours and some fab little hideaway spots if you are in a 4WD.
From Lake Ballard, we headed back to Menzies and spent a whole day cleaning red dust out of the van. After a quick drive around Kookynie and lunch at Niagra Dam the following day, we made our way to Gwalia, the mining town which was virtually abandoned overnight in December 1963 when the Sons of Gwalia Ltd mine closed. We found this place fascinating. You feel almost like you can transport yourself back to the mining boom and get a real glimpse into the history by wandering around the abandoned homes and businesses of the ghost town and taking a tour around the brilliantly laid out museum and Hoover House. You get all of this and free 72hour parking for self-contained RVs in the museum car park, which sits on a hill, looking down over the ghost town on one side and the 24hr operation of the St Barbara Ltd open cut mine on the other. Leaving Gwalia, we passed through Leonora but kept driving as we wanted to put some miles between us and the storm that was closing in on the area. The cross winds were blowing us all over the place and even the road trains were slowing down. As dusk approached, we pulled off the highway and into the town of Leinster, a modern day mining town, established in 1976 by Agnew Mining to support it’s workers at the gold and nickel mines. Today, the nickel operation is part of the BHP Billiton Group and, wandering around the town, you get the feeling that BHP Billiton owns and runs the whole show. It is a bizarre place, an oasis of greenery in the red dirt and a great insight into the lives of the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workers of today. There is a very touching memorial garden, commemorating and remembering the victims of mining accidents in the area. I couldn’t help wondering though, as we wandered around this town, if it will be the Gwalia of the future as the mining industry declines and faces an uncertain future.
From here, we headed West, passing through Sandstone, a very popular spot for holidaying prospectors, and on to Mount Magnet where we received a warm welcome from the caravan park manager, his family and their Meet & Greet cat, Scratch. They also have 2 dogs, 3 other cats and an emu. As a town, Mount Magnet didn’t inspire us, sad to say it felt like a town very much on the decline but it was a convenient overnight stop at the end of our journey through the Goldfields.
Top Tips for Travelling in The Goldfields.
Visit the local cemeteries. A wander around the cemeteries is a history lesson in itself…after the first gold discoveries, people flocked to the area in their thousands, hoping to find gold, some made their fortunes but the headstones show you that it was tough going out here in those days, lives were often too short and endings tragic.
Take advantage of the free RV camping options available in Kal, Lake Ballard, Niagra Dam and Gwalia.
If you are heading North, stock up in Kal as this is the last big shopping centre you will see for a while.
Be very cautious of 1080 bait if you are travelling with your pets. The bait, hidden in pieces of meat, is spread in bushland to kill foxes and feral cats. It will kill your pet if they eat it. Look out for signs advising that bait is used in the area and check with the Visitor Centre and caravan park. We got Bobby a bait muzzle from the pet shop in Kal. He wasn’t very impressed with it to begin with but he got used to it and we always use it if we are in an area where we have any concerns about bait.
The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail is a popular 600km tourist drive, following the route of the historic water pipeline, along the Great Eastern Highway from Mundaring to Kalgoorlie. The pipeline was completed in 1903 and it is the longest freshwater pipeline in the world, an engineering feat which provides vital water supplies to over 100,000 people. Most of the tourist brochures recommend taking around 3 days to drive this route but we took a more laid back 9 day trip, which is about the same time as it can take one drop of water to make it’s way along the pipeline from Mundaring Wier to Kalgoorlie.
Our first overnight stop was the free 24hr RV park at the Memorial Gardens in Meckering. The original town was destroyed in 1968 when it was hit by a 40 second earthquake which measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. An amazing effort has been made by the community to document the events of the earthquake and there are plenty of information bays and signs marking where buildings once stood in the original town. We really enjoyed walking around, reading the various plaques and then we continued along the side of the railway line out to the cemetery, before heading back into town and letting Bobby have a run in the oval. On arrival, Meckering looks like a tiny town that provides nothing more than a convenient place to overnight but, looks can be deceiving, and it is definitely worth taking the time to explore the area.
From Meckering, we continued along the Great Eastern Highway to Kellerberrin, another interesting Wheatbelt town worth stopping at. We stayed at the shire run Kellerberrin Caravan Park. It was a small park with good, clean facilities and very welcoming caretakers. Throughout our travels, we generally found the shire run caravan parks to be welcoming, pet friendly, clean and good value for money and we found ourselves opting for these rather than the expensive private parks wherever possible. We parked up next to a lovely guy, a photographer, who was travelling with his beautiful 16 year old dingo, Suzy. Unfortunately, Bobby was way too boisterous and energetic for the old girl and it was clear that a dog-dingo friendship was not going to happen. Sometimes you don’t particularly like the people you pitch up next to and sometimes your dog doesn’t like his new canine neighbours, that’s just life and you have to roll with it! We did a fantastic walk which took us from the caravan park, past the cemetery and golf course, up to the Kellerberrin Hill Lookout which gives you great views over the town and surrounding land and then down past the sports ground into town,where there was a good selection of local shops, including a butcher where Bobby was treated to some lamb flaps and a bone. We ended up staying here for 3 nights as we really liked the caravan park and the walks up Kellerberrin Hill. It was also an opportunity to do some van housework, catch up on our laundry and have a rest from driving.
Leaving Kellerberrin, we took a slight detour to Mukinbudin, where we stayed a night in the shire run caravan park. This caravan park has private ensuite bathrooms, which may not sound like much, but, believe me, after 4 weeks of sharing communal ablutions with fellow travellers, it felt like pure luxury to have your own space! Mukinbudin has a 4.7km recreational walk which takes you through the town and around the golf course. The walk is well signed, dog friendly and even has exercise stations along the route to encourage visitors and locals to be more active.
Rejoining the Great Eastern Highway, our next overnight stop was the free 24hr RV park at Southern Cross. It is situated out of town, right next to the highway, so it isn’t the prettiest or quietest of spots but we had it all to ourselves and we were able to walk Bobby along the path next to the Golden Pipeline. We set off early the next morning, had a quick mooch around Southern Cross and headed for Coolgardie. However, less than an hour down the road, we came across the free campground at Boorabbin and realised that that was the reason we had the Southern Cross RV park all to ourselves…while we had spent the night with road trains whizzing past us, everyone else had been enjoying the peace and beauty just down the road at Boorabbin! It was too good to just look and leave, so we found ourselves a lovely spot to set up camp and were settled in by 10am. It felt like we were in the middle of the bush, Ali got a campfire going in the evening and we just chilled. It is obviously a popular and well-known stop as lots of campers, trailers and caravans started to arrive late afternoon but there was plenty of space for everyone. We were a bit unnerved when our neighbour fired up his chainsaw, thinking we had a madman in camp but, he was just cutting firewood for his campfire! The campground is on the edge of Boorabbin National Park so do exercise caution if travelling with your pets as there is 1080 bait around.
After 2 nights at Boorabbin, we arrived in Bobby’s hometown, Kalgoorlie…and that deserves a post all of it’s own.
Following the Golden Pipeline to Kalgoorlie takes you on a journey through beautiful, constantly changing landscapes and fascinating little towns that are full of history and character. Having travelled the route, we are left completely in awe of C.Y. O’Connor, the engineer who designed the pipeline and brought life-saving water to the Goldfields.
After a disappointing visit to Esperance, we retraced our route along the South Coast Highway to Ravensthorpe and then we started to head inland to discover some of WA’s Wheatbelt. Our first stop was the famous Wave Rock, a spectacular granite formation over 15m high and thought to be in excess of 2,700 million years old. On arrival, we were really pleased to find out that the whole area around the rock is dog friendly. We paid a small fee for park entry and parking and then were able to walk the various trails around the rock with Bobby. It is a beautiful spot, the Wave Rock is very impressive and you can understand why it is such a well photographed attraction.
From Wave Rock, we made our way to the tiny town of Karlgarin, where we spent two nights at the beautiful and peaceful Tressie’s Museum and Caravan Park. The caravan park owners are really friendly, the facilities are modern and clean and the views across the farmland are stunning. The museum is full of memorabilia, pioneer farming machinery and gramophones. The owners run a daily tour which is a must if you are staying at the park or just passing through the town. It was a very relaxing couple of days, mooching around, playing Scrabble, baking scones and chatting to fellow travellers.
Leaving Karlgarin, we drove part of the Tin Horse Highway to Kulin, the most friendly of all the RV Friendly towns we visited on our travels. It has a free 72 hour RV park, with toilets and hot showers, right in the centre of the town. We loved staying here as the facilities were excellent, all the locals that we met were friendly and made travellers feel very welcome and there were great places to walk Bobby, including a nature trail around the golf course and the sports oval where he was able to run off lead. If you stay in Kulin, make sure you get fish & chips from Kulin Woolshed Cafe, directly opposite the RV park. They were so good!
Feeling very relaxed after our stay in Kulin, we visited Yeerakine Rock to see the Anzac statue and then spent the evening at Gorge Rock campsite.
From Gorge Rock, we drove to Corrigin to visit Man’s Best Friend Cemetery. A dog cemetery established in 1974, now with over 80 headstones, paying tribute to some very loved pets. Of course, we cried our way around it!
Then the rain started and we drove through several soggy, grey towns including Brockton, Pingelly and Cuballing, before pulling into Narrogin for the night. The welcome at Narrogin Caravan Park was fantastic, the caretakers are doing a great job to keep the park clean and tidy and we were given a $10 voucher from the shire to spend in town…needless to say, we spent it in the bottleshop! The caravan park is within walking distance of Narrogin town centre, where there are plenty of shops, banks, etc. and it is opposite Foxes Lair, a dog friendly bushland reserve with clearly marked trails.
Despite having lived in Perth for 3 years, the Southern Wheatbelt was an area that we knew almost nothing about before we set off on our travels. Our journey from Wave Rock to Narrogin was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip around WA, taking us through amazing scenery and really friendly towns where travellers are welcomed and encouraged to stay.
The last few weeks before we moved into our van were busy and we were tired! We were packing, preparing, selling, farewelling and celebrating so when we, finally, set off we didn’t get any further than a caravan park in Perth for the first few days. We sat there, drinking a bottle of bubbles, not more than a few kilometres from where we had lived, but feeling a sense of freedom that is almost impossible to put into words.
After a few days of rest and catching up on sleep, we set off down the Albany Highway and enjoyed a night at The Porongurup Range Tourist Park. The Porongurup National Park is stunning, with some amazing walking trails. Of course, you cannot take your pets into any National Parks in Australia but The Porongurup Range Tourist Park is one of the very few we have come across during our travels that does allow you to leave your well behaved pets in the caravan park while you go off and enjoy the National Park and there were a couple of dogs tethered to caravans while their owners were off site. Our Bobby is, however, not one of those well behaved dogs so we just enjoyed the scenery from a distance.
From there, we continued South to Albany and then joined the South Coast Highway, heading East to Esperance. Our next overnight stop was Cheynes Beach Caravan Park. This is where we found out that, although caravan parks may advertise as being dog friendly, some are stricter than others about which dogs are welcome in their park. Cheynes Beach Caravan Park only allows small to medium sized dogs but Bobby most definitely falls into the large dog category. It was almost dusk by the time we got there and it is the only caravan park in the area so, of course, we had to stay there so I told them we had a medium size dog with us. Thankfully they let us stay the night but we had to body block Bobby each time we walked by reception with him! The caravan park is surrounded by National Park but there is an amazing dog friendly beach just outside the caravan park. Miles and miles of white sand and we had it all to ourselves. Bobby just ran and ran, smiling, wagging his tail and enjoying freedom that he never had in the city.
Continuing along the South Coast Highway, we decided it was time to try some free camping so we spent the next night at the old Fitzgerald townsite. It was a great experience for our first free camp, apart from the swarm of mosquitoes that tried to feast on me when I went outside to turn the gas on. We spent the rest of the evening inside the van!
The following day, we arrived in Esperance, a well know holiday destination in WA, famous for it’s beautiful white beaches. When somewhere is this famous, you tend to have fairly high expectations and, unfortunately, we were really disappointed. You cannot deny that the beaches are stunning but the town doesn’t live up to the hype….an unhelpful Visitors Centre, too many fast food restaurants and overpriced, packed caravan parks. Our original plan had been to spend a good few days in the town but we made a quick exit and headed North to Gibson Soak where there is a large, free RV park next to the hotel. If you are in a self-contained vehicle and want somewhere to stay close to Esperance then this is a great option.
And that was it…only 4 days after leaving Perth, we had done our trip along the South Coast Highway to Esperance. So what did we learn in those first few days of van life?
Slow down! We definitely rushed the first part of our trip. We were too focused on getting to Esperance rather than enjoying the journey. Take time to explore places that you pass, some of them will end up being more interesting than the destination you are heading for!
Don’t assume that a dog friendly caravan park will welcome all dogs. If you are travelling with a large dog, it may be worth phoning ahead to find out if you and your pet will be welcome.
Top tourist spots are going to be busy, expensive and probably a little disappointing.
Free camping is amazing and it doesn’t take long to get used to not having daily hot showers.
Emptying your van toilet in the dump point in the middle of a town starts to feel normal.
Deciding to give up our jobs and go off travelling in a campervan was a rollercoaster ride. Van life preparation took over our lives, from the first few ‘if only’ conversations shared between the two of us over a bottle of red, to the scary ‘we’re leaving’ announcements made to employers and friends, followed by the odd ‘this is just too difficult’ and ‘are we crazy?’ meltdowns, the endless ‘to do’ lists, through to that amazing day, months down the line, when we finally handed back the keys to our home and drove off into the wilderness…well, actually, we drove down the street and went for a sleep in the car park as we were exhausted! When we were younger, we would have packed our rucksacks at the drop of a hat and been on our way the very next day but it definitely required more planning and organising as fortysomethings with fortysomething responsibilities. If you are thinking about hitting the road, here are our tops tips on preparing for van life.
Get Your Van ASAP.
The more time you have to get to know your van before you set off, the better. We got our van, Molly, in September but didn’t start travelling in her full time until April the following year. This meant we were able to do some practice weekends away and get a feel for how we would live in her and what sort of stuff we would need to have with us. It also gave us time to do some modifications to the inside to make it right for us and our animals.
Learn How Your Van Works.
If you aren’t familiar with the workings of a campervan, get a professional to show you, it will save you a lot of time and frustration once you are travelling. We went to our local caravan sales yard and had a lesson that covered pretty much everything we needed to know about the workings of our van, including what hoses to connect where at caravan parks, how to fill our water tank, changing gas bottles, cleaning out the toilet cassette (the worst thing about van life!), what we can run off our house battery and how to set up our awning.
Kit Out Your Van Wisely.
No matter what size of rig you get, it will be smaller than where you currently live so you are going to need to downsize…a lot! You need to embrace minimalism but also know what you can and can’t live without. For me, the coffee machine was the essential that had to be fitted in no matter what. Be practical in your choices about what to carry with you. Luckily, Ali is very handy and practical when it comes to van maintenance, DIY, etc so she insisted that we made room to carry an air compressor, a small generator and a basic tool kit. Things that I probably would never have thought about but that have come in very handy so far! You can almost definitely cut back on the amount of clothes, shoes, towels, linen, food and kitchen equipment that you are thinking you will need.
What To Do With The Rest Of Your Stuff.
So what do you do with all the stuff that you aren’t taking in the van? We are moving to Europe at the end of the year so we have put some furniture, personal belongings and paperwork into storage with a company in Perth. They will then ship it for us when we are ready. Storage can be expensive and is normally charged by volume so, if you are going to do this, try to only store the minimum, the stuff that is really precious or essential.
We sold or gave away the rest of our belongings. We found Gumtree and the local Buy&Sell pages on Facebook were good for selling larger items, especially furniture. We did a Swap Mart and a couple of Garage Sales to get rid of the smaller stuff and gave the rest of it to a couple of charities that we support. It will take much longer than you think to get rid of stuff though so be pro-active and start advertising as soon as you can.
Keeping In Touch.
Mobile phone reception in Western Australia ranges from excellent to non-existent so we had to be prepared to be out of contact at times and advise family, friends, etc. that this would be the case. Telstra provides the best coverage at present. Apart from some bigger towns and Telstra Hot Spots, we have not found anywhere that provides free, reliable wifi so we have a Telstra prepaid dongle so that we can access the internet, Skype, etc. It is definitely worth checking out what the mobile phone and wifi coverage is going to be like in the areas that you plan to travel to and think about how you will keep in touch with people.
We recommend getting a two way radio installed in your vehicle. Thankfully, we have not needed ours yet but it is a comfort knowing that we have it, especially on the long drives between towns in the north of Western Australia, where there is no phone reception at all. All the road train drivers are on Channel 40 so it’s worth tuning into this when you are driving. The banter between them can be very funny, as long as you don’t mind excessive use of the F word and, on a serious note, listening to them will alert you to any dangers or problems nearby, such as debris on the road or a road train with an oversized load that you are going to have to make way for.
Start To Put A Basic Itinerary Together.
For us, campervan life is all about freedom and being able to go wherever we want but it helps to have a rough idea of where you are heading and what you want to see or else you can end up drifting from place to place, without seeing the best of them. Reading guidebooks, looking at maps and watching travel programmes were all part of the planning fun for us.
Apart from places that really interest you, other things to consider when planning your itinerary include:
Weather. If you are travelling somewhere with extreme temperatures, like Western Australia, think about how you would cope with scorching heat, endless days of rain or freezing cold nights and plan your trip around what you, and your pets, will be comfortable with.
Public Holidays and School Holidays. Popular campsites and caravan parks will be booked out in holiday periods so it’s worth planning ahead and either booking your site well in advance or planning to be in a quieter, less popular, spot during these times.
Time. How much time have you got for your trip and how do you want to spend that time? How many hours a day are you comfortable driving? How much time do you want to have in each place? We initially planned on doing the lap around Australia but, after a bit of research, realised that, for us, it would be too much driving each day and wouldn’t give us enough time to explore places so we opted for a slower placed trip around Western Australia.
Budget. Don’t worry, we aren’t suggesting that you pull out your spreadsheets and plan every penny but your budget will have a big influence on your trip. Do you want to pay $30-$50 every night to stay in private caravan parks with power, hot water, showers, BBQs, etc. or are you happy to consider cheaper options such as shire run caravan parks, stations, farm stays and free camps? Be realistic about how much money you have for your trip and how you want to spend it.
Pets. We love travelling with our pets but it does mean that we are restricted in where we go. Plan ahead to make sure that the places you want to visit and the caravan parks you want to stay at are pet-friendly. The biggest factor for us is that pets are not allowed into National Parks in Western Australia, so that crossed a lot of WA’s ‘top spots’ off our itinerary straight away.
Planning is part of the adventure, so enjoy it. You will most definitely have stressful moments and you won’t get everything right first time but that is all part of a traveller’s life…it sure beats another week in the office!
After 3 years of living in Perth, we gave up our jobs and our home, put our stuff into storage, bought a campervan and set out on a 6 month trip to see as much of Western Australia as we can before we return to live in Europe in November 2016.
This isn’t our first experience of van life. Over 10 years ago, we did amazing trips around Australia and New Zealand in rented vans and we also had a great time driving around the Highlands of Scotland in an old VW pop top van a few years back. We love the freedom of van life, we can go wherever we want but we always have our comfy bed and well stocked kitchen to go to after a day on the road. The main difference with our current trip compared to our previous ones is that, this time, we have brought our pets, Tiger and Bobby, along for the ride.
So, what sort of travellers are we?
We are pretty laid-back, we tend to take each day as it comes and not plan too much in advance.
We take our time and don’t rack up much more than 200kms driving a day.
We try to find the route less travelled rather than following the main tourist drags.
We love to be on the coast but also enjoy going inland to discover the ‘Outback’.
We love walking, hiking and running so we are always looking for interesting tracks and paths.
We are foodies and love cooking up amazing, mainly vegetarian, meals in the van.
We like the quiet life and spend most of our evenings sitting around our campfire, reading our Kindles or playing Scrabble.
We enjoy photography. Ali gets a bit fancy with her Canon EOS and various lenses and I snap away with my old iPhone 4.
We have no idea who will read our blog but we think it will appeal to:
Our family and friends around the world.
Fellow fortysomethings, who might be feeling like we were, trapped by society’s expectations of what we should be doing at our age. We hope to inspire you to take the plunge, give up the 9-5 grind and follow your dreams.
Animal lovers who want to follow the adventures of a travelling cat and dog and anyone thinking about travelling with pets.
Fellow van dwellers or anyone who dreams of living in a van.
Foodies. We will share our favourite recipes with you along the way and hopefully show that you can cook up some pretty awesome meals in a tiny van kitchen.