Autumn in the Margaret River region means sunny days and clear skies – the perfect weather for pitching a tent and camping close to nature. And with the summer fire ban lifted, it also means campers can get cosy with a campfire after dark and take on the time-honoured tradition of toasting a few marshmallows. Trevor Paddenburg spent a night under the stars at Big Valley Campsite, set in a hidden valley on a working sheep farm a 10-minute drive south-east of Margaret River, to compile these top 10 tips for campers and caravanning enthusiasts planning a visit to the region.
1. Location, location, location
There’s no point roughing it if you’re not going to wake up somewhere spectacular. From Busselton in the north to Augusta in the south, there are camping grounds across the region with a lot to offer, from sand-between-your-toes beachfront locations to shady spots by a river or nestled below a forest canopy. At Big Valley Campsite, the property sprawls across 650 acres so there is plenty of wide open space, and the main camp ground sits atop a shady quartz ridge overlooking a scenic valley cut by a babbling brook – a very pleasant sight when you clamber out of your sleeping bag and emerge from the tent for a morning cuppa.
2. Nurture in nature
Fancy living longer, feeling better, reducing stress levels and getting more creative? Then pitch a tent and head for the great outdoors, says nature based tourism expert David Newsome.
The associate professor at WA’s Murdoch University, who has pored over years of evidence-based scientific research, says there is no doubt “the great outdoors is good for us”.
“There is an accumulating data set of scientific papers that indicate there are a suite of psychological and physiological benefits, even social benefits, from being out in nature. They indicate increased self-esteem, improved mood, and reduced anger and frustration,” he said.
It’s another reason Big Valley is a good base for exploring the region, with its groves of peppermint, tuart and gum trees that bring nature to your doorstep. There’s even an ancient fig tree perfect for the kids to climb.
3. Why not a working farm?
Big Valley ticks the box here – it doubles as a working sheep farm with 2000 animals roaming the surrounding paddocks. Every afternoon, owner Kevin Silvethorne grabs a bucket of lupins and campers can hand feed a mob of sheep. “The kids get a real kick out of it and even the adults love it,” he says. Visit during June to see young lambs being born, July to see the sheep being tailed, or in October to watch the shearers clip wool from the animals’ coats. The paddock to plate philosophy thrives here too, with lamb and eggs from the farm on sale for campers.
4. Cute critters
Animal encounters are a highlight of camping in the Margaret River region. Kangaroos are common, as are ubiquitous birds including kookaburras, magpies and vivid blue fairy wrens. If you’re close to the coast, expect to see pods of dolphins frolicking in the turquoise waters. Out at Big Valley Campsite, the resident emu is a big bit, as are the two tame goats, about 70 chickens and big family of guinea pigs that youngsters can handle and hang out with. Luckily, one animal the campsite is free from is mosquitos.
5. A place for your pet
Speaking of animals, there’s no need for the family pet to miss out on a Margaret River vacation. The region’s national parks are off-limits to dogs and cats, but they are permitted at many recreational sites and some campsites including Big Valley also cater for pets. However, they must be on a lead at all times, droppings must be picked up and excessive barking is banned. When checking in, ask for the list of wineries and breweries nearby that are also pet-friendly.
6. Spread your wings
Camping is a fun and cost effective accommodation option, but make sure you get out and about during the day to see the rest of what the region has to offer. Big Valley Campsite is a good base because it’s a short drive from Margaret River and its many wineries, breweries and restaurants. If you’re taking a wine or beer tour, many operators will pick up and drop off from the campsite.
Feeling active? Tap into the world-class mountain biking, bush walking, caving, canoeing and abseiling also on offer across the region.
7. Cuddle around a camp fire
It’s nicknamed “bush TV”, and camping just isn’t the same without a cheerful campfire crackling away once the sun goes down. Due to the dry conditions and risk of bushfire, there is a strict fire ban around Margaret River from the months of December to March. This year, the fire ban is due to be lifted mid-March. Big Valley has two communal fire pits and firewood is provided for free. Or you can have your own camp fire, but you’ll need to bring your own portable fire pit and either bring or purchase firewood.
8. All the mod cons
It’s great to go bush but that doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it. While bush camping locations with minimal infrastructure are available across the region, most campsites are fully equipped with all the mod cons. Big Valley is no exception, featuring caravan sites with power and water, powered and unpowered tent sites, large campsites for motor homes and big rigs, hot showers, clean flushing toilets and several camp kitchens (which resemble rustic shearing sheds) fully equipped with gas barbecues, fridges, burners, microwaves, kettle, toaster, television and laundry and washing up facilities. Or, you can stay in real style by “glamping” or glamour camping in luxury tents. Big Valley has teamed up with Wild Goose Camping to offer a glamping experience in a canvas bell tent, with everything provided. All you need to do is arrive and relax.
9. Get the family feel
It’s almost like staying with family at Big Valley Campsite, where patriarch Kevin Silverthorne, 66, and his wife Shelley run the campground and farm with the help of their daughter Kylie, 34. In fact, the farm has been in the family since 1948 and, after Kevin and Shelley bought the property from his parents in 1977, they decided to add the campsite, diversifying into tourism. “I love the sheep and I also love meeting and chatting to our visitors,” Kevin says. Big Valley is now a welcome home – for a night or two or sometimes weeks at a time – for families down from Perth for a long weekend, interstate visitors, foreign travelers and adventurers towing caravans or camping trailers. With three separate camping areas, the campsite is never booked out, even on the busiest long weekends, and families with children can camp together while couples have a more private option.
10. The price is right
Camping and caravanning is certainly the most affordable way to experience the Margaret River region, saving you a packet of cash to spend on other goodies and activities. Rates are reasonable across the region including at Big Valley, with powered caravan sites for two people priced at $35 or unpowered sites for $28 a night. Children under two are free and each child over two years is an additional $5 a night.