AUSTRALIA'S BEST COMMERCIAL CAMPING!
We’re a fortunate bunch. Our taxes pay for the upkeep of national park camping zones.
Yep, we live in a country still egalitarian enough to allow us to doss in some of our most spectacular backdrops.
Note in the above paragraph that we said some.
Most of the best locations happen to be on other people’s property, and sometimes the door to their land is pushed open to touring campers for a small fee – whether they be remote stations or caravan parks that focus on families and amenities.
You’ll find that when banging in tent pegs or rolling out your swag in these places that greater care is taken not to overcrowd you. They will also make sure any communal amenities don’t devolve into a lawless Max Maxfree-for-all.
Oftentimes opportunities to hit the dirt in a commercial campsite will come up when you’re in our remotest reaches, doing a Big Lap, or crossing the guts of the country.
In these corner slices of paradise you’ll instantly be aware that the people on hand actually live there and will know the terrain and the secret driving and fishing spots.
We recently ran a poll on our Facebook and Instagram feeds and these are the three setups that consistently came up as reader (and staff) favourites.
HOME VALLEY STATION
Home Valley is one of those places where you pinch yourself and wonder if you’ve maybe slipped into some fantasy land. You’ll ask yourself, “Is this real, or did I create this place in my head?”
It’s almost too-sublime a place for the 4WDer and it even ticks boxes you didn’t know needed ticking. Camping and 4WDing at Home Valley is a blank canvas. Bring your imagination and your eyeballs and prepare to be blown away.
The place has got it all. Chiefly wide-open spaces, with this being one of Australia’s biggest cattle stations. It’s not some barren chunk of cow-grazed dust though, it’s a geographical marvel that’s intersected by wild rivers, the jagged peaks of the Cockburn Ranges, and more wild animals than you could shake a Boab branch at.
As it’s the size of a small European country, the driving is endless and challenging. And the camping is the best on the Gibb.
On this heritage station you’re camped in the bosom of a place with all the amenities you could ever think of, but you also have instant access to a 250,00 hectare outback oasis.
CAMPING AT HOME VALLEY?
Those wishing to unroll their swags under Kimberley stars are invited to get involved with the Gibb River Road's two most famous campgrounds.
The Homestead Camp offers powered and unpowered sites with access to the station’s amenities. The campground offers bathroom facilities with hot showers and flush toilets. You’re going to have to book if you want one of the powered sites though. In recent visits we’ve slept closer to the station, because we love the pool, we love talking to other punters, and, umm, we especially love The Dusty.
The other option here is the Pentecost River Bush Camp. For a long time this was our Kimberley home away from home. This belter of a spot is 4km from station HQ and gives a supreme vantage over the Cockburn Ranges, and is right on the doorstep of the barra-rich Pentecost. These are unpowered sites, but you can fire up the gennie between 8am and 8pm. You also have access to bathroom facilities with hot showers and flush toilets.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
A close friend of the magazine raves about Home Valley for all the above reasons, and also because he can bring his best friend ‘Prince’ with him. (Prince being his furry little blue staffie, and not the furry little purple musician.)
THE LOW DOWN?
The inside track at Home Valley is all about ‘The Dusty’. After all, this is something you won’t find in a state forest. To be honest, we can’t think of a better post-touring waterhole than The Dusty Bar & Grill, anywhere. While lots of station spreads have on-premise food options, The Dusty go the extra yards, sourcing bush tucker, native spices, kangaroo and crocodile. And, of course, their ubiquitous steaks and ribs. When we came through here in August we bagged a couple of barra and the chef was only too happy to cook them up for us. The Dusty always has the best après-touring vibe as well, with open-air movie nights and live music.
WHAT ABOUT A SLEEPING UPGRADE?
Comes a time when you might want to treat your spine, or your missus, and seek the comfort of a bed. Yes it does happen, even to the most intrepid of us.
Home Valley Station is driven by one goal – providing anyone who sets foot on their property with the ultimate outback experience. And the accommodation across the station provides options for tourers who might have a very different idea of what the ultimate outback experience is.
At the luxury end of the scale you’ll find the renowned Grass Castles on Bindoola Creek. Then there are the Guesthouse Rooms that act as a bush getaway for couples and families. Then there’s the safari-style Eco Tents, that are pitched to those seeking an intimate natural retreat.
The walking, fishing, boating, and tagalong driving tours have given the place an enduring rep for touring road-dogs. In August we tried something a little different though, and completed a circuit on four legs rather than four wheels. We rhythmically bobbed across one of Australia’s best vistas, laughed (none of us at the magazine are great horsemen, to say the least), and took in the guided commentary.
(08) 9161 4322
BIG4 MACDONNELL RANGE HOLIDAY PARK
As you notch up ever more trips across, around and straight up the guts of the country, you develop a keen sense of the places where you actually want to stay.
They become personal Stations of the Cross that draw you back into their fold every time you pass through.
The BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park has become a mainstay of our Central Australian adventures in recent years. It’s an oasis of comfort and convenience, we’ve found it’s an ideal choice for a basecamp while exploring the wilds of the Red Centre.
The vibe is so peaceful that it can be hard to believe you’re just a few kilometres drive from the mod cons of Alice Springs.
The campground itself is well laid out with a backdrop of rusty hued hills cloaked with natural vegetation and thrumming with native birdlife.
The facilities are many, well appointed and spotless. So much so, that we’ve found ourselves staying an extra day or two on our last couple of visits just to chill out and reset before hitting the highways once again.
CAMPING AT BIG4 MACDONNELL RANGE
The opposite of roughing it. The flat, shady sites are the type that longtime wanderers fantasise about setting up a camper, pitching a tent or rolling out a swag upon.
Unpowered sites sleep up to ten people and are equipped with protective shade cloth carpet for your camp setup, plus individual taps.
Grassy powered sites with individual sullage and water are also available, as well as some with concrete annexe slabs depending on your preference, and extra long 20m sites with drive-through access for longer vehicles.
Powered sites with their own ensuites are available for those looking to step up the comfort factor with private washroom facilities.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
It’s right there in the name of the park… the mighty MacDonnell Range! The West MacDonnell National Park extends due west of Alice Springs, with access via Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive. Ormiston Gorge is always a highlight and Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge are absolutely worth a visit too and are the perfect watery elixir on a hot day.
The East Macs are a little lesser known, but allow for some equally superb sightseeing. Trephina Gorge’s sheer quartzite cliffs and swaying river red gums afford unforgettable photographic opportunities.
THE LOW DOWN
Where BIG4 MacDonnell Range really shines is in its abundance of facilities. Feeling a little ragged after a rough couple of days in the saddle? Never fear, the park has everything you need on hand to rest up, recharge the batteries and tackle the surrounding scenic delights.
Been craving a refreshing dip or a lazy poolside morning to help clear the cobwebs? Well, you’re in luck. Not only is the park equipped with a 20m lap pool, there are another two heated swimming pools to choose from, plus a separate toddler’s pool and a 31m waterslide that will have the kids champing at the bit.
Talking of the kiddies, there are also pedal go-karts and games rooms available, a playground, bike hire, TV room, two jumping pillows, BMX track and a basketball court to keep them occupied. They won’t ever want to leave!
Just last year the park installed two slick new camp kitchens and upgraded their existing facilities for a total of six perfectly appointed cooking stations.
Kitchens are equipped with electric cooktops and gas barbeques, microwaves, convection ovens, fridges, appliances, ample stainless steel bench top space, washing up sinks, USB charging ports and big screen TVs.
It’s worth noting that the park offers gas bottle swaps and refills, has an onsite convenience store, bike maintenance facilities, sewage dump point, storage facilities and even a herb garden by the camp kitchens.
WHAT ABOUT A SLEEPING UPGRADE?
If you’re thinking of treating yourself, you’re barking up the right tree.
Clean and tidy basic rooms and cabins are available for those simply craving a night in a normal bed and air conditioning. The ensuite, studio and superior ensuite cabinsoffer private bathrooms, open plan living spaces and various sleeping configurations.
The villas and deluxe villas are a touch pricier but luxuriously comfortable. Separate bedrooms are provided with king and queen size beds, as well as additional configurations depending on your needs.
Each villa is equipped with reverse cycle split system air conditioning and a self-contained kitchen boasting full size fridge, dishwasher, coffee machine, iPod dock and loads more.
Brendan Heenan’s Sunday morning pancake cook-up at the park has become a hit amongst outback travellers. Not only is it a tiptop feed, but an opportunity to get to know your nomadic neighbours.
Each Tuesday evening local astronomer Andrew Fitzgerald guides visitors on a fascinating journey through Central Australia’s breathtaking night sky, aided by the park’s 275mm telescope.
On Thursday nights local photographer and singer Barry Skipsey presents ‘The Red Centre Show’, a slide show of some 400 images of Central Australia, set to a performance of classic Aussie songs.
Wine and cheese nights are held on the hill overlooking the park every Friday while guests watch the sunset blaze across the range; and the park’s resident didgeo expert, Andrew Langford, performs shows each Saturday.
Morning fitness classes are also provided, as well as movie and games nights plus additional school holiday activities and challenges to keep the young’uns entertained.
(08) 8952 6111
LAKE ARGYLE RESORT
Those familiar with this magazine know that we’re very familiar with Lake Argyle Resort. When it comes to the best of the East Kimberley we’ve been crashing at the caravan park here since time immemorial.
Why? Because as bossman Carlisle says: “I didn’t drive for a week non-stop to camp at the second-best spot in the East Kimberley.”
It makes sense, you’ve done all you could to take on the trip of a lifetime to the Kimberley’s most idyllic wonder, hell, you may as well experience the best of it.
Yep, the Kimberley’s far east is dominated by the Ord River delta, and the successful damming thereof, into the stunning, almost Martian-looking reservoir of Lake Argyle.
CAMPING AT LAKE ARGYLE?
Drive just 20 minutes off the Victoria Highway, and at the end of a sealed road you’ll find yourself smack bang in the middle of Lake Argyle Caravan and Camping Park.
In short, the 5ha camping area is flanked by hills and shaded from the harsh western sun that can make other campsites in the Kimberley an ordeal in the afternoons. Plus, you also have direct access to the restaurant and bar.
The 100 sites here are next level. It’s one of those rare destinations on earth where high exotica meets head-on with convenience.
The most valuable insider tip here is to book in advance. Especially during the winter season, because it’s not a secret anymore. They only take a limited number of bookings, and after these spots have been allocated, all powered sites are on a first come first served scenario.
BRING YOUR BINOCULARS
For this writer, the biggest takeaway from my first time camped here was the birdlife. I’m no twitcher but everywhere you look you’ll find some stunning technicolour creature going about its business. The entire Ord region is unbeatable in this regard.
There is an onsite restaurant, bar/beer garden and shop with basic supplies such as bread, milk, ice, bait, gas and fuel. A range of souvenirs is available from the shop as well as coffee, cold drinks, ice creams and snacks.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
The lake itself. It’s not just a photo opp, it’s a fully immersive experience.
There are 70 mountain islands jutting up from this lake, the result of an ambitious scheme that saw the Ord’s floodwaters diverted here for irrigation. It was not only a win for farmers, but also for tourers and thrillseekers
WHAT ABOUT A SLEEPING UPGRADE?
Options here are varied and all spectacular. Here are just three of them…
Lake View Grand Villas: Sprawling new 4-bedroom villas overlooking the lake.
Lake View Villas: One and two bedroom units overlooking the lake.
Studios and Cabins: Private, air-conditioned bungalows.
The Sharpe Family has been exploring their backyard since the dam was built 50 years ago. They set up Lake Argyle Tours to share their experiences, and have honed these tours in the decades since. The tours are all killer, no filler. You want a lunch tour or sunset tour? Or perhaps a float plane or a chopper is more your style? On our last trip we got our heart rates up with a canoe trip.
(08) 9168 7777