Eighty Mile Beach is a place where the name really describes the location; it's just one amazingly long beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Located between Port Hedland and Broome in Western Australia, this hidden caravan park and beach are more than just a stopover on a long drive - they're a destination in their own right.
I will never forget my first glimpse of the beach. We arrived at Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park late in the afternoon and set up camp quickly, looking forward to a classic WA sunset over the beach. Unsure of what to expect, we walked over the high sand dune to be greeted by an unforgettable sight. Beach fishermen stood arrayed along the sand and women were wading out into the shallow water. And there was something else that I just couldn't make out on the sand. It didn't take long for the kids to work out what they were - "Shells!" the girls called out in delight.
In all my life I have never seen such an assortment of shells; the colours, the spirals, the patterns - and most of them unbroken. It was like being a child in a candy store. At most other beaches you are always searching for that perfect shell to take home with you - Eighty Mile Beach is full of them.
We spent hours combing the sand for the best of the best, each of them an inexpensive yet treasured gift to take home to school friends and family. We were not alone either; the beach was full of grandparents filling shopping bags to take home to the grandkids.
That first sunset on the beach seemed to go on forever. The perfect light glistened off the water, turning the wet sand into gold. Everywhere I looked was a photographer's dream in my new favourite place in Australia.
During the evening we chatted with the other campers. We shared stories and photos from our travels and above all we all discussed that breathtaking first glimpse of the beach as you came over the dunes. I was clearly not alone in my awe of this place.
Through the night we heard what we thought was rain, but it wasn't until we awoke the next morning and stepped outside our camper that we realised it was a thick sea mist. It was so heavy that water was dripping from the trees above us. Being from Canberra we're used to fog but this was something else, and it simply added to the majesty of the location. It burnt off quickly once the sun came out, and then we were ready to hit the beach again - this time we were looking to find our own patch of beach paradise.
Being quite new to beach driving we were a little apprehensive, but the shells and compact sand made a good makeshift road. It was still comforting, however, to see the odd vehicle pass by, just in case we misjudged the drive. Just a few minutes up the coast in either direction the beach becomes isolated - it's all yours. And the further you drive, the bigger the shells become. We started a competition to see who could find the biggest one; I won with an unbroken shell that was over 20cm long. It was a fun way to keep the children occupied.
Dad got in on the shell collecting competition but it didn't take long for his attention to wander. There was only one thing he was really interested in - the fishing.
It is hard to decide on Eighty Mile Beach's best feature: the shells or the fishing. The walls in the caravan park shop are plastered with shots of proud fishermen. Many show kids straining under the weight of their catch, and adults holding monster metre-long fish.
We were told that at high tide the fishing is excellent - with threadfin salmon, blue nose salmon and mulloway being the prized species. Unfortunately for us we didn't have much time to fish, but that's okay - we've got a top reason to return.
Eighty Mile Beach is also an important feeding ground for over half a million migratory shorebirds that fly in from the Arctic Circle. The oystercatchers, with their jet black and pure white feathers and bright orange beaks, were the girls' favourite. They loved watching them wading amongst the shells on the shore.
Other wildlife also visits the caravan park. We enjoyed watching a goanna wandering around just outside the camp kitchen, and then he ran away and around the park, to delight the other guests.
The tides in this part of WA are massive and Eighty Mile Beach is no exception. The long, flat beach fills quickly when the tide comes in, so it's wise to be aware of your surroundings. The winter tides have created great sand walls along the dunes that are quite remarkable. The layers of compacted sand and shells run along for metres in some areas of the beach.
Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park is the only place to stay (literally - there is nothing but the caravan park). It boasts lovely shaded and grassy spaces, both powered and unpowered. It doesn't take bookings, which means you might have to spend a night in an unpowered site before a powered one becomes available.
While you will enjoy the beach driving ensure you have enough fuel for the return trip back to camp and the trip back out to the highway, as petrol is not available. The park shop has a wide range of food items to keep you going and on some weekends takeaway meals are available, so you can take a night off cooking.
With no mobile phone reception you are forced to enjoy the peace and quiet of a truly relaxing holiday stay.
Originally our stay at Eighty Mile Beach was supposed to be two nights, but we doubled that and we would have stayed for longer had we had the time. When you visit this remarkable location allow plenty of time to wind down, fish, beachcomb and explore the beautiful expanse of this truly stunning Australian beach.
Eighty Mile Beach is 250km north of Port Hedland and 365km south of Broome.
Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park, (08) 9176 5941, www.eightymilebeach.com.au
The park has free gas barbecues, fish cleaning stations, two camp kitchens, two laundries and fresh tap water; satellite TV and internet is available in the TV room.
Source: Camper Trailer Australia #42