Sometimes you can get so caught up in the day-to-day grind and saving up all your annual leave for trips to far away, iconic locations that you never get around to checking out what is right on your doorstep. With a few days up our sleeve during the school holidays we decided to bite the bullet, dust the camper off and squeeze in a couple of nights away in our own backyard. For the cost of a single tank of fuel and a couple of night’s national park camping fees, it was surprising just how relaxing even a couple of days break can be.
The weather was hot, so top of the agenda was somewhere to swim, preferably with some shade. Rather than being blinkered to sites along the coast, we headed inland to Wellington National Park which contains Wellington Dam. There are two formal campsite options here; Honeymoon Pool (which is more for tents and very small campers) and the main Potters Gorge campground. This has recently undergone renovations and there are now 54 camping bays, six drop toilets and a number of gas barbecues in loops along the edge of the dam. There is also a group camping area and separate day use parking and facilities. The recent upgrade has also included installation of a black and grey water dump point and a couple of large skip bins for rubbish.
We took the scenic route down from Perth meandering through Dwellingup State Forest and Lane Poole Reserve, heading into Collie intending to check out the new Collie Art Gallery which opened in 2015. It is the first fit-for-purpose A-class gallery to be built since the Art Gallery of WA was opened in 1979. Unfortunately we arrived on a day when it was closed, so that one was left on the agenda for next time and we headed out of town towards the dam.
There were less than half a dozen other campers in Potters Gorge campground when we arrived, so we were able to get a nice spot next to the water and were anticipating a nice quiet evening. The water in the dam was deep and fresh, and the surrounding jarrah, marri and blackbutt forest provided plenty of cool shade. We spent a pleasant afternoon alternating between swimming and lounging in the shade. There was lots of birdlife; black cockatoos high in the trees, magpies serenading us and little fairy wrens flitting around the underbrush. As dusk set in we had visits from kangaroos and even spotted marron in the shallows of the dam. Regrettably, marron season wasn’t open yet, but they were a good size and would make someone a tasty dinner in the future.
4WDING THE FOREST
The next morning we decided to move on and sought some solitude on the back tracks rather than simply taking the bitumen. Turning off Coalfields Highway we found ourselves on a track, of sorts, paralleling the Lunenburg River, which eventually deposited us in Brunswick Junction. It was definitely 4WD-only and not well used, being very overgrown and with lots of washaways, suggesting it would be extremely difficult in the wet. One deep canyon almost brought our progress to a halt. Stretching from one side of the track to the other, it was too deep to scoot around the edge of and drop one wheel into without risk of rolling the camper, and the surrounding trees were too dense to allow a bypass or turn around. We eventually decided that straight in and out was the only option; however, the dip/rise was a little more than the rig could articulate, and the bottom of the drawbar scraped the edge, taking out a couple of camlock valves despite the guarding plates. Nothing was leaking though, so we continued on with a new entry on the maintenance and repair to-do list.
Heading along South West Highway we passed through the town of Harvey. After kilometres of dry, dusty paddocks the verdant green of Harvey is a stark contrast and one almost feels embarrassed to be driving through such lush abundance. The area is irrigated with water being supplied via a gravity fed pipe and channel system, sourcing water from seven dams along the Darling Scarp from Waroona in the north to Wellington Dam in the south. This supports the dairy farming, beef grazing and horticulture that the Harvey district is so famous for.
Leaving behind this little pocket of Eden, we headed out to the Forrest Highway and once we had some reception logged online to pre-book a site at Martins Tank campground in Yalgorup National Park, near Preston Beach. Bookings are essential, and even if you rock up and there are spaces, you still have to book and pay online at arrival rather than pay the camp host directly.
There are about a dozen sites that can accommodate a caravan or camper trailer, with the remainder being for tent-based camping. There are three well-maintained drop toilets (hand sanitiser and all) and a gas barbecue/camp kitchen. We secured a site with its own picnic table that overlooked Martins Tank Lake in the distance, surrounded by peppermint trees. In fact, despite being pretty much on the edge of suburbia, the only sound was the wind in the trees and the half a dozen magpies who seemed thrilled to have an audience, running through their full repertoire of warbling songs.
Leaving the camper behind, we made the short drive out to Preston Beach for a swim. Crawling through the campsite at 20km/hr we had a large kangaroo hop right in front of us on his way in for his afternoon drink at the camp kitchen. We then had to stop for a racehorse goanna sunning himself on the track. Possums are also frequent visitors, but we didn’t spot any of them this time.
There is a designated ‘swimming only’ beach, which is marked off with huge truck tyres planted in the sand. Outside of this area you can fish and there is also 4WD access to drive along the beach. Though we didn’t drive it all, apparently you can head about 20km in either direction along the soft sandy beaches to seek out your perfect location.
Suitable refreshed, we retired to camp for beer-o’clock and a game of cards. The sunset over Martins Tank Lake at the back of the campsite was stunning, with the whole surface bathed in a golden glow. We found out later that there is a path from the campground down to the edge of the lake. For those so inclined there are also some stromatolites and thrombolites nearby that you can check out.
THE LAST HURRAH
After a quiet and relaxing evening we headed back early next morning to Preston Beach for a final swim before hitting the road for the oh-so-arduous – all of one and a half hour – journey home.
In just two nights away, we had experienced forests, freshwater swimming, wildlife, 4WDing and the beach and still had time to read, laze and just generally relax. And to top it off there was no long-haul drive to get back home. This camping in your own backyard actually has a lot going for it. So next time you feel the itch to get out of suburbia, look around to see what is possible close to home – you may be pleasantly surprised.