Coastal camping, WA

Gwen O'Toole — 2 January 2018
How four WA shires banded together to preserve the great Aussie RV coastal dream

While more and more coastal caravan parks are being turned into commercial developments, four shires in Western Australia have gone to great lengths to preserve a chunk of the WA coastline for future generations to enjoy coastal camping.

This stretch, along the Coral Coast in the Mid West of Western Australia, is a three-hour drive north of Perth, an area which sees many RVs pass through via the Brand Highway (particularly during wildflower season) or along the Indian Ocean Drive, meandering through Nambung National Park to see the famous Pinnacles desert.

There are plenty of walking and cycling trails and local residents day trip to the area for 4WD adventures, fishing, bird watching, snorkelling, surfing on giant white sand dunes and swimming in Ellendale Pool, a natural watering hole along the Greenough River.

If this 340km of pristine coastline existed anywhere else in Australia, the area might be prime real estate for coastal condos and high rises, but the local towns here have made it a priority to retain the coast specifically for the self-drive leisure tourism market, and preserve freedom camping, right on the beach at popular spots such as Cliff Head, or low cost camping at Sandy Cape.


Spearheaded by Nicole Nelson, Acting Director Planning, Community and Infrastructure, at the Shire of Irwin, the $2.5 million Coastal Nodes Project included short stay campsites, which are among 200 campsites in the Mid West, including those at Sandy Cape in the Shire of Dandaragan, Milligan Island in the Shire of Coorow, Cliff Head in the Shire of Irwin and Lucky Bay in the Shire of Northampton.

When the shires first teamed up with support from the Mid West Development Commission and Tourism Western Australia to seek funding from ‘Royalties for Regions’ (a government initiative enhancing regional development), the goal was to simply put a serious refresh on the area’s much-loved coastal campsites. This was in order to attract both the self-drive tourism market and fishing and aquatic day-trippers, and open up the region from as far south as the Indian Ocean Drive to the north at Lucky Bay, south of Kalbarri. 

The local governments, which share the region’s boundaries, then decided to join forces to make the area a self-drive drawcard with a shared commitment to refreshing camping and campground infrastructure.

The project was extended to include not only refreshing the sites and facilities, and planting native species of vegetation, but also the rehabilitation of old access tracks and entry points off the main road to ‘open up’ the Mid West coast and increase access.

Now complete, the ‘Coastal Nodes Project’ is expected to attract an additional 4,700 people annually to the coastal region and bring an additional $585,000. But, like any new project, it brought with it its own set of challenges, explains Nicole Nelson.

“Some local governments received enquiries from residents who were concerned about opening up their favourite fishing and camping spots to the nation, but each site is well separated from the next, so there’s lots of privacy and lots of sites on offer,” she says.

“This project is also quite rare in that four local governments in two development boundaries have worked together in one development. It did mean regular meetings were not always possible in person, so there were constant emails, and regular phone conferences being sent to the team to ensure everyone was on track.” 

Nelson also adds that the locations proved to be tricky to redevelop as they were without both water or power and had limited accessibility – meaning everything needed to be carted in, “Products were specifically designed to ensure protection from the elements to ensure they were low maintenance, because the infrastructure needed to be able to stand up to the harsh coastal conditions of wind, salt and rust, and withstand the test of time,” says Nelson. 


The project is one of six priorities identified within the Mid West Tourism Development Strategy 2015-2025, which focuses on increasing accommodation capacity from camping through to resorts, and opening up day-use sites – places previously overlooked or under-developed. 

She says other priorities include opening up the Abrolhos Islands to visitors and the Kalbarri National Park iconic skywalk, which is currently underway.


So far, Nicole says, they have received overwhelmingly positive feedback. 

“The response has been extremely positive with users doing all our marketing for us on social media, including drone footage of the locations placed on YouTube. 

“All sites are being well utilised and users are supporting the participating local governments by purchasing their supplies from the nearby towns of Kalbarri, Northampton, Dongara, Port Denison, Leeman, Green Head and Jurien Bay.” 

She says the collaboration allowed the local governments to develop great working relationships, so they can look for ways in which they can include the whole Mid West region, working alongside the Mid West Development Commission and Tourism WA to attract visitors and create economic benefits to the region. 

As the Project Manager, the Shire of Irwin has had representatives speak at several tourism and local government conferences in a bid to inspire other regions to work together to achieve similar great results.

“Following our start up, Tourism WA took the idea to local governments in the South West of the state who also developed 11 campsites across six local governments,” she says. 

“We are proud to have led this project, it’s great to identify a need, but to successfully see the project to completion is another thing. 

“It has taken us several years of careful planning, talking to the right people and collaboration, and we’re now seeing the benefits through visitors’ positive feedback. 

“To make a difference we needed the entire region to be RV-friendly, not just one town, and are confident the RV market will travel from the other side of Australia to support the region and travel the beautiful coastline.”


The concept is one Tourism Western Australia was quick to support. 

“Western Australian beaches are regularly voted among the best in the world, and with good reason,” says Tourism Western Australia’s CEO Steve Wood. 

“Along its 12,500km of coastline, you’ll find some of the most stunning World Heritage scenery, once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, and endless opportunities for beach holiday memories.

“Camping in WA is a great way to immerse yourself in the world-renowned natural wonders and diversity of Western Australia’s coast.” 

For the Shire of Irwin, the campaign has shown how with a bit of collaboration – and a lot of hard work – coastal parks needn’t be resigned to redevelopment, and how big thinking from small towns is opening up entire new areas to the RV market.

The full destination piece appears in Caravan World #570 2017. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month! 


test_coastal camping WA rv camping caostal


Sarah Henderson