We (Emu and Skye from @emu_escape) began our anti-clockwise Aussie Lap in October, living the dream in our Troopy “Tracy”. We started a Facebook group for our friends and family and have been giving them weekly updates. Much to their amusement we spent almost two months driving within only eight hours of home – Perth.
With our overall plan being to see the whole of Australia within one year, we’ve underestimated the amount of wonderful places our country has to offer. Spending this amount of time in just the south coast of WA has made us realise that our geography classes didn’t quite prepare us for exploring places we hadn’t heard about.
With Emu being one of those obsessed surf rats, he already knew the names of the surf breaks he wanted to see and had a rough map of these dotted down. Myself, being the tag along leg rope, was given the job of using Google maps, Wikicamps, other travellers’ blogs and most importantly, ‘secret spot’ details from locals, to find spots to camp each night and plan the weekly food shops.
When we picture ourselves living in paradise, EJ imagines 4-wheel driving down a rough track, coming over a sand dune and finding barrelling waves, then surfing for six hours straight, having a beer and doing it all again the next day.
I imagine turquoise glassy water, going for a snorkel, reading a good book and having a G&T in hand by 5pm… okay I’ll admit, maybe also throw in some phone reception for the ‘gram and editing my photos.
Although our dreams sound different, there are a few specifications that we do both agree on when looking for paradise. A legally free or cheap protected campsite, freshly caught fish for dinner, and occasionally other people to share stories with. You might think with all of these conditions we wouldn’t often find the ideal, but read on! We found the spot that has it all!
West Cape Howe National Park
West Cape Howe NP is situated between Denmark and Albany, and is only a short drive to each for any resupplies. There are some designated campgrounds, some farming properties, a primary school that sits on prime real estate with ocean views, and some really epic beaches.
The famous Bibbulmun walking track which traverses 1000km between Albany and Perth crosses through here, and you can also get to the southernmost point of Western Australia at Torbay Head.
I had vaguely heard about this spot before, but truthfully had no idea where it was, or what to expect. After spending some time at the caravan park in Denmark with friends, we heard about the renowned surf break at Golden Gates Beach, and that there are a few more surf spots ‘down some 4WD tracks’. Ears pricked up at that. Emu’s reaction was to pack up and head straight there so off we went. And it was here we came across the Cape and fell in love.
We’ve now made it across the border to South Oz, but we still talk about West Cape Howe daily, as well as telling other people we meet to check it out on their way west.
Cosy Corner: Free! The spot for families and making friends
Yes, you read correctly. This camp spot is completely and more importantly, legally FREE! Thank You to the city of Albany for having a spot like this, accessible for everyone. When you first turn down into West Cape Howe, you can stop at a cute little café on the right called Cosy Corner Café (the name speaks for itself) and on the left, a dirt road (2WD, caravan and trailer accessible) leads you down to the Cosy Corner Campsite.
There are many designated spots spread out in the campground right on the beach. Some are closer to the ocean than others, and these are our pick, but the ones out the back have some views and are bigger, so really anywhere is good! There are some drop-down toilets that get cleaned often, a designated dump spot for your portaloos and in peak times there is a camp host to help out. There is no running water or electricity so this spot is for the self-sufficient set-ups.
Families and friends
We camped next to a lovely couple from Slovenia who were travelling Australia with their one-year-old baby girl, Ida. They had never camped before, had never been in the Aussie outback and had a baby with them! That’s gutsy! We couldn’t believe how brave they were and have kept in touch with them since.
On the other hand, they couldn’t believe what our country has to offer, which was really cool to hear how others appreciate things we take for granted. The Cosy Corner bay itself is nice and protected and you can go for a lovely walk along the beach. When we were there it actually had some little waves for long boarding and for those, like myself, looking at getting some practice in.
Four-Wheel Driving, Surfing and Fishing
We are by no means “fishermen”. When we first started throwing a line in, it was because the weather or surf wasn’t great. One afternoon down by the boat harbour west of Cosy Corner, the wind had picked up and we decided to throw a line in. Within a few minutes we both had bites and had caught salmon for dinner!
Some of our fishing friends have told us that Australian salmon isn’t the best eating fish, but it was so awesome to catch them ourselves, cook them with fresh ingredients and have them for dinner all within a couple of hours. We are now pretty obsessed with fishing and are learning more tricks, but as our first catch of the trip, this was a pretty special occasion.
For those looking for some off-road adventure, there are heaps of 4WD tracks around the whole Cape, taking you from the easily accessible side on the west to the east. We spent a whole day tackling tracks and looking for surf.
The locals have put some rubber mats down in the tricky sections and everything seemed to be going fine, but as our whole life for the next year is basically tied up in Troopy Tracy, we decided to turn around at one track that looked a bit too prickly for us.
On our way back to camp, we hit some extra soft sand and had our first bogging (I hope Emu isn’t reading this). But we let down the tyres a bit more and got out fine – we guess it’s all a part of the adventure.
Shelley Beach: my idea of paradise found
At the southern end of the cape, on the top of the granite cliffs there is a viewing platform that overlooks a beach below. Up here you can watch hang gliders and paragliders jumping off launch platforms into the air and see them float around in the breeze. A little red gravel road (again, accessible by 2WD) winds down from the cliff, taking you to the most magical slice of life called Shelley Beach.
You need a park permit to get into this half of the cape so if you are planning on doing any, or all of WA, you should look at getting an annual ‘all-parks pass’ ($45 if you are with the RAC, $90 if not) which gets you into all of the national parks we have stopped at.
Down by the beach there is a little campground nestled just off the sand that costs $8 a night per person. There are only a handful of designated spots and we heard a story that at Easter time they somehow managed to fit in 90 caravans, tents, cars and vans down here. Maybe avoid Easter!
We were obviously here at the right time and it was just the two of us for three nights straight! Again, you need to be self-sufficient with water and take your rubbish with you, but there is one lovely old timber drop toilet up the path and there is even some phone coverage (get the thumb working again). There is a little fresh water creek that runs onto the beach which we used to wash our dishes, and by the light of the full moon we watched dolphins catching waves in the crystal blue water.
The reason we fell in love with this national park is because it basically ticks off paradise for everyone. Whether you’re like Emu and want to surf, 4WD and fish, you can, and if you’re like me and want to spend the day feeling like you’re on an island in Fiji, you can. Or, if you’re like our Slovenian friends and want a protected and free campsite for your family, then West Cape Howe is for you too, and should be added to your (never-ending) list of places to explore.
Where to stay on the way
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Check out our parks in Australia, browse stories from our community of travelling contributors, and start planning your next epic Australian road trip or camping adventure. And remember, download the CamperMate app before you go, to find everything you need when you’re on the road.