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Western Australia – A destination of a lifetime

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When Australia’s grey nomads load up their caravans and motorhomes ready for their big trip, they do so dreaming of discovering this country’s stunning scenery, its rich history, and of finding both friendship and adventure. And Western Australia delivers it, writes The Grey Nomads co-owner and author Cindy Gough.

It is well known in the travelling greys’ circles that Western Australia will  deliver on all of these ingredients, and quite a few more. It is a massive state. It covers some 2.5million square kilometres – one third of the land mass of Australia – and boasts everything from stunning white sandy beaches and incredible waterfalls to dry, dusty desert and remote, rugged rock formations.

When you throw in some superbly scenic drives, magnificent camping opportunities and a unique sense of  camaraderie, then it is easy to see why the state is near top of most grey nomads’ Big Lap itinerary.

A few places really get the grey nomad pulse racing, like the northern city of Broome. Situated on the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, this is viewed by many to be the ultimate grey nomad destination. Originally founded in the 1880s as a pearling port, Broome has grown and changed but – for most visitors – it still retains a magical something. The beauty of Cable Beach, the camaraderie of the van parks and camping areas, the Staircase to the Moon festival, and the wonderful winter warmth are just some of the features that  lures thousands of grey nomads here each year.

Some grey nomads now claim the place is overly commercialised and too busy but, for most, it is simply the ultimate place to spend the cooler winter months. The dry season climate is close to unbeatable. Travellers who have spent time in Broome in June, July or August normally vow to never spend another day of those months anywhere near Perth, Melbourne, Sydney or even Brisbane.

The recent decision by Woodside Petroleum to shelve plans for a massive gas hub on the Dampier Peninsula means that the area north of Broome will remain unspoilt for some time to come. The 200-kilometre road all the way up to Cape  Leveque is still dirt and is sandy in parts but there some ridiculously beautiful beaches and superb camping and fishing spots along the coastline. Many grey nomads choose to leave the van in town and put the tent in the 4WD … and discover it’s well worth the effort!

In a state with the size and beauty of WA, it is all but impossible for grey nomads to decide in advance where they would like to spend most of their time. Different things appeal to different people. Nonetheless, the Kimberley with its fantastic gorges, magnificent swimming holes, saltwater crocodiles, and superb fishing is a true highlight for most. No angler who has landed the near mythical barramundi fighting fish and cooked it on a campfire while camping on the River Ord will ever be persuaded that this isn’t heaven on earth.

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GreyNomadOrdRiverOf course, there are countless hours of outback driving along the way but sharing a real adventure like this forges a special bond between travellers lucky  enough to experience it.

Whenever grey nomads gather around campfires in WA’s free camping areas, or under caravan awnings at national parks or caravan parks, lasting friendships are formed.

It’s not all gorges and dirt roads, however. In the right season, grey nomads discover carpets of colourful wildflowers all down the west coast and, of course, the gorgeous beaches and glorious Indian Ocean are always there.It’s enough to take the breath away from even the most experienced travellers.

The area around Exmouth on WA’s Coral Coast is another grey nomad favourite. It’s not hard to understand why. The climate is beautiful, box jellyfish don’t come this far south and the swimming, diving and fishing around are just unbelievable. The attractions of Cape Range National Park and the iconic Ningaloo Reef are just down the road, and the sunsets are spectacular.

Some people are now beginning to compare Ningaloo Reef favourably with the Great Barrier Reef and its ace in the hole is its accessibility. There is no need to take a long boat ride to snorkel over the reef. Visitors simply take a short swim off the beach and are instantly in a world filled with intricate coloured coral, spectacular tropical fish, stingrays and turtles.

While camping spots in the national park are limited and are hard to find in peak times, Exmouth has a number of excellent van parks for travellers.

The north doesn’t have a monopoly in magnificence in WA however. South of Perth, the state’s southwest corner hosts the treasures of the Margaret River wine region and the majesty of the giant Karri forests. And further east, the white sandy beaches and bright turquoise waters of the Esperance region mean there are always plenty of grey nomads about.

Esperance itself boasts a stunning 38-kilometre scenic drive that follows the local coastline and then loops back into town.

The white sands of the beaches here are the stuff of legend and there are many excellent places to drink in the stunning scenery including Blue Haven, Twilight Cove, Salmon Bay, and Observatory Point.

There are some excellent caravan parks to choose from in the town of Esperance. Further afield, of course,  home of Australia’s most iconic national parks offer great camping opportunities – including Cape Le Grand, Cape Arid and Stokes.

Cape Le Grand 40km east of Esperance is probably the most popular and is well worth visiting for several days – or weeks – if possible. As well as its trademark stunning beaches, the park boasts stark granite outcrops and swamps.  Travellers fit enough to climb the 262-metre Frenchman’s Peak will be rewarded with stunning views of the Archipelago of the Recherche. Bushwalking is popular in the park and the trail which winds from Le Grand Beach through Hellfire Bay and Thistle Cove and then and on to Lucky Bay is spectacular with dramatic views over the rocky coastline at every turn.

All this, and we haven’t even began to scratch the surface off what Western Australia has to offer the experience-hungry traveller. Is it any wonder that the number of grey nomads continues to spiral to record levels year after year after year?

“In a state with the size and beauty of WA, it is all but impossible for grey nomads to decide in advance where they would like to spend most of their time.”

MEET WA TRAVELLERS & CHARACTERS

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Queenslanders Barbara and Darryl Walker are like most grey nomads …  they absolutely love Western Australia.

The veteran caravanners, who travel for up to eight months at a time, have no hesitation in listing their journey along the state’s iconic Gibb River Road as their most memorable adventure to date.

The former cattle route that stretches almost 660 kilometres through the Kimberley region of WA’s remote north-west is 4WD recommended and takes in stunning attractions such as Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Bell Gorge and the King Leopald Ranges.

Barbara and Darryl, both 55, love to take adventures off the bitumen in WA and   elsewhere, and they bought their Billabong GottaGo caravan specifically because of its off-road capability.

“The builder of the van assured us that they had just put six vans down the Gibb River Road and would guarantee it for off-road pursuits,” said Darryl. “That comment settled all our queries, and we were able to make some changes to the layout of the van to suit our needs.”

The rig has two solar panels on the roof and three batteries in the boot, giving Barbara and Darryl the ability to stay out in the wilds of remote areas such as WA’s Kimberley for days, if not weeks, at a time.

“We prefer to camp in bush camps or free camps as it helps with our finances and some spots are just absolutely gorgeous,” said Darryl.“They do not have to be overly scenic but just the foliage and the animal life around them keep us in awe.”

While the towns of Western Australia are, of course, well serviced with great caravan parks, the sheer scale of the state and the remoteness of some of its most iconic attractions mean that the state is well suited to self-contained independent travellers like Barbara and Darryl. The couple says there are other
advantages, too.

“We have found that when bush camping or free camping, people are so willing to strike up a conversation and join you for nibbles at 4pm,” they said. “In the van parks people tend to be wary of mixing with others … it sounds strange but that is what we have found.”

There are however downsides to travelling in truly remote regions of Western Australia. Like most grey nomads who love to venture into the wilds, Barbara and Darryl find missing contact with family and friends at home to be the biggest of them all. They say their children and their families are always close to their hearts.

“We miss the grandchildren greatly when travelling but, when in range, we are able to Skype them and ‘see’ them at the same time,” said Darryl. “Going into areas where reception is not possible makes it difficult … but not unbearable.”

So, has this well-travelled couple seen all there is to see in WA?

“We have come to realise that there are just too many places to see and we will be very lucky if we get to see them,” said Darryl. “We will do more trips to fill in the missing parts and will continue to travel as long as our health stays with us and we have someone who will care for our home.”

It seems then that for Barbara and Darryl – as for so many thousands of other grey nomads – the adventure continues!

CARAVANNING CONTINUES TO RISE IN POPULARITY

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Australian’s are continuing their passion to travel the open road with the caravan and RV manufacturing industry recording a record run of sales for the third year in a row.

Figures from RVM Australia, the peak body for Australia’s RV manufacturing industry, showed total production of 20,708 caravans and RVs for last year. The annual production was within five per cent of the 30-year record achieved in 2011.

RVM Australia CEO David Duncan said the industry’s continuing strength was built on a healthy demand across the spectrum of locally built RVs, especially for traditional caravans, “This is the third massive year in a row – 29 per cent above the level reached in 2009 – and early signs for 2013 suggest we can expect another boom year in 2013,” he said.

“There seems to be no end to the demand for well-built, wellequipped, good-value RVs designed and built in Australia for Australian conditions. Clearly, people want the relaxing, economical and sociable holidays that RVs make possible, with these boom years achieving more than four times the output we had in the mid-1990s.

“Traditional caravans continue to grow in popularity, with 54.6 per cent of the total, followed by pop-tops at 24.3 per cent and camper trailers at 13.8 per cent, while motorised units of all types account for 5 per cent.”

Mr Duncan said Australia’s RV and caravan industry was investing in its own success, with several RVM Australia members expanding their factories and upgrading their production equipment.

“We are seeing a constant evolution in production, with computer aided design becoming the norm for a growing number of manufacturers,” he said.

“This is the third massive year in a row – 29 per cent above the level reached in 2009… 

MEET THE AUTHORS

Cindy and Jeremy Gough are the authors of the Grey Nomad’s Guidebook published by Pan Macmillan. They also founded the www.thegreynomads.com.au website as a way of encouraging ‘wannabe’ grey nomads to hit the open road, and of helping those already out there to get the most out of their adventure.

The website is full of information about how to prepare for the Big Lap, great destinations, fantastic places to camp, grey nomad etiquette, and of stories from the characters of the road who are already out there living the dream. The site’s forum boasts a helpful and knowledgeable membership of more than 5,000, and the grey nomads ‘Facebook’ page (www.facebook.com/thegreynomads1) which has an equally enthusiastic and fast-growing growing following.

You can also follow the grey nomads on Twitter (twitter.com/TheGreyNomads1), and via its free fortnightly e-newsletter, the Grey Nomad Times (thegreynomads.com.au/newsletter-signup), which has a cult following of close to 6,000 subscribers.

Cindy and Jeremy are avid travellers and have spent years camping their way around Australia, “We love camping in this country are get enormous  satisfaction from helping others to discover and enjoy the grey nomad way of life,” said Cindy. “From the spectacular scenery to the special camaraderie of the road, there is simply nothing quite like Australia’s open road and the feeling of freedom it brings.

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