Some thoughts on National Parks in WA

Submitted: Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 18:03
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Discussion about the need to book campsites in Qld National Parks led us to reflect on our recent experiences camping in some national parks along the south coast of WA. Over the past month we have camped in the following NPs:

Fitzgerald River (at St Mary Inlet near Point Ann) – most sites were occupied.

Cape le Grand (le Grand Beach) where some sites were vacant, but Lucky Bay was very busy, despite the weather being wet and windy.

Cape Arid NP where we stayed in the new NP campground. There were a few vacancies there, but the more sheltered “Council” camping area seemed quite busy.

We also had a quick look at newish campgrounds in the eastern end of Fitzgerald River NP near Hopetoun, which was nearly empty, and at Stokes NP which had only a few sites occupied .

All these parks have campgrounds with individual campsites (except for Lucky Bay), toilets, showers (Cape le Grand), and camp kitchens. Some allow limited generator use, while most prohibit campfires.

At St Marys Inlet and Cape le Grande rangers called each day to collect fees, while at the other parks this was the responsibility of the camp hosts. Camp hosts are volunteers who have been given some training for their role. As well as collecting fees they also do maintenance and cleaning and assist with projects around the park. On previous trips we have found camp hosts at the Stirling Ranges, Kennedy Range and Kalbarri NPs and have been impressed by them and the work they do.

The Fitzgerald River NP is having some major work done, as proclaimed by large (but undated) signs. Access roads are being sealed (although internal roads were quite corrugated) and new campgrounds and day use areas at the eastern end have been built. WA must have quite a generous budget for its national parks but the priorities for expenditure had us puzzled and a bit concerned.

Sealed roads will undoubtedly encourage more visitors and more vehicles including caravans (as already happens at Lucky Bay). However the new campgrounds have very small sites and are marked as “car based camping”. It would be difficult to fit a camper trailer into most of those sites and caravans would certainly not fit. It is to be hoped that the delightful St Marys campground is not similarly “upgraded” once the road sealing is completed.

We were astonished to see the acres of empty car parks at the new day use area near Hopetoun and the extravagant landscaping and sculptures there. My guess is that this area could get busy over the summer holiday period, but the rest of the time..? Likewise the new picnic shelters and camp kitchens look great with abundant stainless steel (mixed with galvanised steel and aluminium (?) so look forward to quick deterioration via galvanic action). We are not against functional facilities but maybe some of the dollars spent on these day use areas could be redirected to extending the camping areas or improving park maintenance.

The overall impression we had was that the intention is to discourage overnight or longer visits – if you are not set up to camp in a tent then best come as a day visitor only. Hopefully our impressions are wrong.


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Reply By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 19:07

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 19:07
Having just returned from 3 months in the west I must agree with most of Vals comments
After 6 weeks inthe North west ie Rudall River , Milstream , Kennedy. Mt AugustusKarajini , etc we were a bit dissapointed with the parks just north of perth especially and those in the SW corner.
It was hard in some of theose parks to do anything other than drive thru on a nice tarred road. no camping, no fires if camping was allowed ,most of the dirt tracks closed off
but heaps of well maintained toilets and beaut BBQ facilites and lots and lots of new construction mainly in marine grade stainles steel reflecting the obvious high budgets WANP have available at present.
We also got the impression that day visitors were the priority at most parks.
Sure the weather was also lousey whenwe were in the sw corner but I have never seem parks so under utilised even given we covered some of the WA school holidays.
Not sure I would bother purchasing an annual parks pass again either as other than Kalbarri , Milstream and Karajini where camp hosts were in attendance we were not asked about our pass and never sighted a ranger in 3 months dispite visiting in excess of 30 parks and numerous conservation and reserves.
We were also very dissapointed at the lack of knowelge of national park camping displayed by most tourist information offices.
it was also very dissapointing after backtracking 200 km to to visit 1 park in particular where the brochure and website said campfires allowed to be met with a sign saying no fires.On cntacting the ranger we were informed that policy had changed in November 2011 yet the brochure was dated april 2012 and current web listing shows fires allowed.
A few days later a tour guide at Margaret river provided what i suspect is the true answer
appartently and out of "contriol "burn late 2011 had destroyed several properties and NP obviously changed policy to protect their posteriors.
Must say we wont we rushing back to the bottem end again I can understand the 26 th parrellell thing over there, the bestof WA is obviously above that.

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Follow Up By: Member - eighty matey - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 20:29

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 20:29
Hi Howard, John and Val,

when we travel we're not allowed to visit NPs because we travel with our dog.

I was wondering if either of you have contacted National Parks in WA (DEA I think).

I'm sure they would appreciate feedback your experience with their Parks.

Just a thought,

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 20:30

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 20:30
"Not sure I would bother purchasing an annual parks pass again either as other than Kalbarri , Milstream and Karajini where camp hosts were in attendance we were not asked about our pass and never sighted a ranger in 3 months dispite visiting in excess of 30 parks and numerous conservation and reserves."

It's all about honesty and integrity Howard. Same as in other states. Either a park pass or pay into the honesty box each time. We have not been asked to show a pass in any state that has required one.


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Follow Up By: Derek Jones - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 22:40

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 22:40
Many of WA's NPs have had no fires rules for many years.

The reasons for this rule are many and varied. The two biggies would be our weather with fire danger often present even on our lower south coast particularly in the warmer months and to deter people from collecting firewood in NP areas and ruining the homes of the little critters.

The Margaret River Fire and no burning in WA's parks are two separate issued. Margaret River was a poorly planned and managed control burn held in November which escaped when the weather blew up.

In my opinion DEC's management of areas where people recreate is sadly lacking. Their answer is to often lock out people and make access difficult to gain.
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Follow Up By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 16:48

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 16:48
My comment about the annual pass was a bit tongue in cheekas that it would not have been value at $80 if we had only paid day use fee when asked.
I can assure you we deposited the necesary envelopes (with cash)at any honesty boxes as required .
interestingly we found many of the parks did not have honesty boxes but had signs saying rangers would collect fees yet as also stated we didnt see a single ranger on our trip dispite being in camp around 3pm most afternoons and not leaving until about 9am or later each morning .
it was also most interesting that many of the southern parks didnt require day passes but charged fees to visit attactions such as caves.
we also encountered 2 types of deposit envelopes one which covered camping only and the other which requested pass number or payment of day use fee as well as camping component.
this seems to indicate they have different policies re day use fee.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 17:01

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 17:01
Hi Howard and thanks for clarifying what i thought. I was concerned that ambiguity could lead some to read "no need to pay because you won't get caught" - not a good look on the internet.

In common with most other states that charge entry fees, the majority of parks don't charge an entry fee, but most of the high profile ones do. We don't always come out in front with a holiday or annual pass, but the convenience of not having to find the right coins and stop to fill in the envelopes (unless camping) is another factor in favour of the pass.


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Reply By: pop2jocem - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 23:24

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 23:24
A few issues thrown together by some which seem to reflect worse than need be. Sure DEC (Dept of Environment and Conservation formerly CALM) can lift their game in some areas but on the whole, when you consider the area of land in under their management I don't think they do such a bad job. When you look at some of the tourist facilities provided I think they stack up reasonably well when compared to some other states.
I would firstly ask you to consider that their first responsibility is the management of these areas so that future generations can enjoy them. In my opinion the provision of camping areas for extended stays is not really part of what the DEC is there for.
Mention has been made that many tracks are closed to any but management vehicles. This is done in a majority of the parks in the SW of WA because of the huge amount of damage being inflicted by the die back disease (phytophthora cinnamomi). Fitzgerald NP is being devastated by this fungal disease. Many plant species are being threatened with extinction because of the eases with which the spoors can be spread by vehicular traffic.
Our bush is ravaged by wildfires almost every summer despite controlled burning. Unfortunately some of these have become uncontrolled.
I could go on about this for a whole raft of other issues but I think you get the idea.
No I don't currently or have ever worked for DEC (formerly CALM) or any affiliated body.
I guess if your opinion is that what they do provide is not to your liking there are plenty of caravan parks in the region and you can avail yourself of the "day visitor" facilities.
Finally yeah "honour boxes" are just that.

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Follow Up By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 17:43

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 17:43
I would agree wholeheartedly that the facilities provided by WANP are as good if not better than any other state . they have by far the best toilet blocks/BBQ facilities not to mention miles of walkways with stainleess steel posts and guidewires.

my main complaint was the inconsistency in how things worked re camping/reservations/fires etc.and the lack of information available.
I wont even go into the farce of prebooking at places like Cape Range and Steep Point.
other than to say after turning up at 7am and getting a site to find that the next night there were 4 additional vehicles in the campground without official sites and other campgrounds supposedly booked out had heaps of vacant spots.
and dont ask the local DEC office they tell you to ring the ranger who doesnt answer because he is always out grading roads or counting lizards .
I spents lots of hours on DEC website before the trip researching parks and facilities yet when we got on the ground there were closures /changes/ further restrictions that were not reflected in their publicly available info and after following up ,in most cases the changes had been in place since prior to the publishing of the public info.
a perfect example would have to be at Mundaring where we were looking to camp at the hills centre(showers available) but when we got there it was closed because of long term construction of some new water supply infastructure associated with nearby weir.
we had stopped at the local tourist info office which is a whole 5 km away and had been given brouchures showing this and other local parks but no info re closures-what gives??
same for fires at Yalgorup NP- tourist office at Mandurah is handing out NP leaflets showing fires allowed. this is in August 2012 when we find out later no fires policy at this park has been in place since Oct/nov 2011
the whole intention of the trip was to visit( read camp in and explore) as many as possible of WA's national parks.
being forced into caravan parks when the advertised NP facilities are no longer available isnt a trip highlight.
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Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 19:36

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 19:36
Yeah, fair comment about the out of date literature, I would imagine by the time the rangers report a change like you have mentioned regarding no fires and someone in the office actually does something about issuing new info brochures there is a fair time lag. It looks to me that a bit more of the budget could be diverted away from infrastructure and put more into extra staffing. Maybe they need a few more camp hosts to free the rangers time and a closer check on handed out info. I guess it all comes down to available funding and how it is allocated.

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Follow Up By: Member - John Baas (WA) - Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 at 21:52

Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 at 21:52
As a long standing environmental campaigner, I'd like to also add a comment re DEC. My experience is that, at the operational level (and here I include rangers to scientists) you couldn't find a more committed bunch of talented people. Believe me they do care.

The problem lies with the politicians who ask them to work miracles on 'buggerall' budgets. I know I'm showing my colours but the current Min. Env. (the Hon. Bill Marmion) wouldn't know how to spell his title (but he's got an edge on his predessor who not only couldn't spell same, but was so wet behind the ears it was enough to turn you to either tears of depair, or on a good day, to laughter).

He's the (second) worst in a decade. But only just as there hasn't been a serious politician in front of the environmental portfolios in that decade, that decade also includes ALP governments. (just to show I can be even-handed) :-).

So...please support the DEC front line; they're doing their level best.

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Reply By: rocco2010 - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 03:21

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 03:21

Pop makes some valid points. DEC is a favourite whipping boy in WA, mostly because most city people hav little idea about what they do and the media concentrates on the bad news.

They have a huge task to manage an incredibly diverse range of parks and reserves from the Kimberly to the south coast and from the west coast out into the deserts.

Many are incredibly fragile and in grave danger if people are allowed unlimited access. Fitzgerald River was ravaged by a big fire a few years ago an has problems with dieback and the Stirling range national park has similar problems.

The situation is aggravated by the huge growth in the last few years in the number of people who want to get a way from it all and visit the more remote places. Thats the problem for the the likes of DEC. Do you have open slather, try to control the numbers or cut off access altogether . I guess the answer is somewhere in between.

Its worth remembering that not every camper is a caring type. There are lots of places in WA where camping is banned because the few became the many and they trashed the place.

As for honesty
boxes, well that is up the individual but I think it is a bit cheeky to camp somewhere and use the facilities provided, even if its only a long drop, and not pay if asked.



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Reply By: mfewster - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 07:57

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 07:57
We will be in that part of the world next year. Thanks J & V for a really informative thread.
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Reply By: get outmore - Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 at 21:59

Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 at 21:59
for all those who love bagging out DEC for closing areas off .

theyve actually opened up far more areas that were previously unaccessable.
alot of it isnt widely known or publicised but there is an increasing amount of stations coming under DEC control which were private property

Just one example is the western side of the Kennady ranges is now accessable where as before no access was permitted

and theres alot of station land NE of perth out from Perenjori now,

some of the well known stations are Jaurdi and mt elvire but theres alot more of em than that
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Follow Up By: Candace S. - Saturday, Oct 13, 2012 at 03:05

Saturday, Oct 13, 2012 at 03:05
How do I find out which areas (in particular, former station lands) are now accessible?
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