WORDS BY STEVE COLLINS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEGAN STACE
Want to go 4WDing these school holidays but don’t like the idea of battling the crowds? Well you’re in luck, because we’ve got a cracking beach escape fit for the whole family, and it’s only a half-day drive south of Perth.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]250KM OF THE BEST CROWD-FREE 4WD BEACHES ON THE WA SOUTH COAST[/blockquote]
We’re talking about the Fitzgerald coast, of course. From Munglinup to Bremer Bay, the adventure way! This trek offers some of the clearest waters in WA. Rocky headland climbs, dune driving, beach fishing, sand boarding, snorkeling, a heap of wildlife, plus secluded campsites so far away from the crowds you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of the Caribbean.
You can do as much or as little of this trek as you like, but for the full dose of 4WD action, you’re best off doing the whole trek from Munglinup to Bremer Bay.
KICKING OFF FROM MUNGLINUP
The first leg of this trek is a short 8km dune drive that winds towards Munglinup Beach. Turn in from the South Coast Hwy via Springdale Rd then head south on Washpool Rd. It follows a nearby farm fence before opening up into the back of the dunes. Several access points dot this drive where you can drop down into several small bays for a fish or a swim.
Continuing west you’ll pop out onto Munglinup Beach Rd just north of the Munglinup Beach campground. This one’s easily accessible if you’ve got a camper in tow via a mildly corrugated dirt road. It’s protected by a dune so there’s no need to worry about the weather and it’s only a short stroll to the water. Fees are $10 per night, payable to the caretaker.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]AIR DOWN, LOCK IN THE HUBS AND FOLLOW THE TRACK TO THE EVEN SOFTER BEACH[/blockquote]
4WD access to Munglinup Beach is via the extremely soft track west off Munglinup Beach Rd about 3km north of camp. Air down, lock in the hubs and follow it down past the Oldfield River where you enter the Lake Shaster Nature Reserve and onto the even softer beach. The trick is to air right down to around 14psi from the get go and keep momentum up, and only head out if you’ve got a sat phone and adequate recovery gear.
Like a tropical island oasis, you can choose between swimming in the pristine clear waters of the beach or the calm lagoon-like waters of the Oldfield River inlet. For a truly strange experience, lay in the shallows of the river inlet and wait for the tiny fish to nibble at your skin.
The further west you head towards Hopetoun, the more spoilt you are for choice when it comes to campsites, fishing spots and lookouts. The well maintained gravel Southern Ocean Rd runs right along the coast behind the dune system, with occasional access points where you can dart down to the beach. Many of these trails lead down to limestone shelves which are perfect for fishing. Some even have rock pools ideal for a swimming, you’ll just need to be aware of the tides.
While the early part of this trek isn’t dog-friendly, one cracking camp your four-legged friend is welcome is at Mason Bay, about half way between Munglinup and Hopetoun. It’s right on the water and yet another fruitful fishing spot. If you’ve got a boat and keen to hit the water, the nearby Starvation Boat Harbour is the perfect place to drop it in.
Rolling into Hopetoun doesn’t mean the adventure is over. In fact, it’s just getting started! Grab a pie from the bakery, top up the tanks then get ready to lock the hubs back in because there are a handful of 4WD tracks, campsites, and 25km of pristine beaches to explore south west of town. If you need water, there’s a tap in the park.
Heading west along Hamersley Dr, your first camping option is Four Mile Beach and campground. This one is popular with travellers because it’s easily accessible and has amenities, so if you want to escape the crowds, you’re going to have to go in a little further. Continue west past the Wheejarup Range to Hamersley Inlet and setup camp there.
FITZGERALD RIVER NATIONAL PARK
On the doorsteps of the old goldfields near Ravensthorpe, the Fitzgerald River National Park, at 330,000 hectares, is one of the largest in WA.
Here you can explore the Hamersley sand dunes in your 4WD. The kids can grab their boogie board and carve up the slopes. You can also climb Mt Barren, paddle along the Phillips River or walk the Hakea Trail to the breathtaking Quoin Head. It’s a scenic viewpoint for whale watching which frequent the coast between June to October.
Secluded crowd-free campsites are what we promised, and the best ones along the Fitzgerald Coast are right here at Bremer Bay.
Leaving from Hamersley Inlet, you’ll need to dart back up to the South Coast Hwy via the Hamersley Rd before you can drop back into the park via Quiss Rd, where you’ll head back toward the coast closer to Bremer Bay.
Point Ann is an awesome day trip if you’ve got the time, particularly if you’ve got kids. Go down to the beach and check out the cave at the end. You’ll have to be careful with youngens’, but it’s an awe-inspiring sight well worth a look.
The waves are a little rough for launching a boat here, but the surfing isn’t half bad. The nearby St Mary campground is a popular spot at this end of the Fitzgerald River NP, but for a quiet camp, keep going to Bremer Bay via the Gordon Inlet Rd.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]YOU’RE SO FAR FROM THE CROWDS YOU’LL FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN THE CARIBBEAN![/blockquote]
If you only have time to camp in one spot, make it here at Dillon Bay. Particularly if you’ve got your dog along for the ride. There are a maze of tracks behind the dunes and a few very scenic hill climbs along the cliff tops over the water.
The beach itself has a few soft pockets, but for the most part it’s fairly firm, particularly at low tide. There’s a fishing shack at one end with a notoriously steep and sandy exit behind it. Most long wheel base 4WDs should climb this first go, providing you’ve got enough momentum and your tyre pressures are low. But short wheel base trucks will need to take extra care; there is a real risk of rolling it here if you get it wrong.
The fishing is awesome, as you’d expect, particularly at dawn or dusk. Whack a pillie on a gang hook and cast into the gutters at high tide for your best chance at catching salmon.
All in all, if you’re looking for a family-friendly destination where you don’t need to share tent pegs with other campers, then why not check out the Fitzgerald Coast for yourself? These haven’t been hailed some of Australia’s best beaches for no reason.
This slice of paradise is just five and a half hours (530km) south east of Perth via the Newdegate-Ravensthorpe Rd, or two hours (180km) west of Esperance via the South Coast Hwy.
A site at the Munglinup Beach campground costs $10 per night.
Campsites within the Fitzgerald River National Park include Four Mile Beach Campground – Hamersley Inlet and St Mary campground. These sites cost $7.50pp/night, plus a vehicle entry fee of $12. These sites have basic amenities only.
Free-camping is available at Dillon Bay, south of Bremer Bay. There are no amenities. Take the Dillon Bay Rd south from Borden-Bremer Bay Rd.
WHAT TO TAKE:
You’ll need to be self-sufficient for most of this trek. Make sure you have decent off-road tyres, a recovery kit, traction aids like MaxTrax, a first aid kit and enough food and water to last your stay. If you’ve got the kids in tow, it’s well worth packing the sat phone because snakes have been spotted in this area.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
FUEL & SUPPLIES:
Supplies and fuel are available from Bremer Bay, Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun.
This trip is rated C, with A meaning only suited to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modification and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. These tracks aren’t overly technical and don’t require a high level of modification, but the sand is extremely soft in parts.
TRIP TIME OF YEAR:
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Dogs are not permitted in the Fitzgerald River NP or the Lake Shaster Nature Reserve. Dogs are permitted at Masons Bay and Dillon Bay. Vehicle access and camping permits are required for the Fitzgerald River NP. Total fire bans are also in place between November and April.
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