Our camper trailer set up at Cliff Head campsite

Free Camping at Cliff Head

I love a winter beach holiday and Cliff Head was the perfect location for a quick trip. What a great spot! We were impressed with the quality of the location and the camping sites.

Well done to the Shire of Irwin who provides the free camp. You are allowed to stay for up to 72 hours and the shire often send rangers around to check that everyone is following the rules.

This post proves that you don’t need a lot to enjoy a fun camping trip with your family. What we found on this trip is that the simple things are often the best.

We found the camp using Wikicamps. Our only criteria was a free camp somewhere that rain wasn’t forecast with a toilet. The great thing about Wikicamps is the ability to see what the weather is doing at each location as well as the comments from other travellers. We skipped past a bunch of the other free camps along this stretch of coast because of the comments and decided on Cliff Head.

How to Get to Cliff Head

Cliff Head is approximately 50km south of Dongara. It took us about 3 and a half hours to get there from Perth. We drove down the Brand highway and turned at Gingin-Brook Rd, past Willowbrook Farm and then on to Indian Ocean drive.

Gingin Brook Rd is the most efficient way to cross from the Brand Highway to Indian Ocean Drive when heading north because the road angles north. All the other crossroads head back south which I see as an inefficient way to travel.

You are spoiled for choice along Indian Ocean Drive. There are so many options for a family camping trip although I believe Cliff Head is the best free camping option.

Back to Basics Camping

Our 2 nights at Cliff Head was all of my favourite things about camping rolled into one.

A cleared site with a couple of drop toilets, we camped 50 metres away from the beach.

The beach was covered in seaweed. Not the best for swimming but perfect for winter beach combing.

Em splashing in the water while Rick sits on a pile of seaweed

We had everything we needed with us so all we had to do for the next 2 days was explore the local area. The charm of the spot is that there is not that much to do except enjoy the great outdoors and have some quiet time.

Sandy Cape Recreation Area also offers great back to basics camping but it is a low cost campground, not completely free. It is still a great option though, if you are looking for an old fashioned family camping trip.

Beach Combing

On the first day we turned right from our camp and walked along the beach. Em discovered cuttlefish and we made a game of Frisbee throwing them back into the ocean.

Along the sand we discovered all sorts coral pieces and sea sponges, shells and seaweed. The coral was all different colours, red, purple and orange. We were excited by drift wood, seashells and some weird skull or bone structure which creeped us out. And there was mounds and mounds of seaweed to jump around on.

Secret Doors and Trails

As we continued our walk we reached the Cliff Head (what I assume it was named after). A jumble of rocks along the beach with nooks and crannies to explore. The tide was up so we walked along a path through some rocks, ducking under branches. It felt like we had walked through a secret door. When we came out the other side, we were back on the beach on the other side of the Cliff Head.

Em walking down the beach about to disappear behind the Cliff Head
Em is about to disappear and follow one of the secret paths behind the rocks.

Just the rocks remain
Where did she go?

Imaginary Fort

The sun was starting to set so we started to head back. On the way we stumbled upon a previously built fort, perfect for engaging the imagination of kids. It was basically a big sand castle with a huge moat built around it. There was a rope attached to one of the sides that you could use to haul yourself up the side. Em enjoyed jumping from the edge to the centre. We returned here quite a few times over the next day or two. So. Much. Fun.

Em jumping in the air

So Much to Explore

The next day, we exerted ourselves and turned left down the beach to discover what was in the other direction. The beach was chocabloc full of seaweed and it was difficult to get through. We ended up walking back from the beach and following a four wheel drive track that went past the cliffs and rocks on that side.

We found heaps of great spots to camp (no toilets though so you would have to be self contained) and heaps more nooks and crannies to explore. Em was searching for rock fairies and when she got tired of walking we found a rock in the sun. We sat contentedly in the sunshine. Rick said to me, ‘Shall we head back?’ and I said, ‘Nah, not yet. I’m quite happy sitting here.’ So we sat in the winter sun for a while longer before heading back to camp.

Time to Relax

Once back at camp, we read books and relaxed. Because there was nothing much to do, we didn’t feel guilty about not doing anything. In the afternoon, a few wispy clouds started rolling in. We watched with anticipation as it became an incredible sunset.

A beautiful orange sunset at Cliff Head

We ate an early dinner and made some new friends. Em was over the moon when another family came by who had a little girl for her to play with. As the sun set we lit a fire with the firewood that had been kindly stacked at our camp. Em had her first try of toasted marshmallows and wasn’t a fan. She happily ate them from the packet though and I enjoyed a trip back to my childhood with gooey marshmallow goodness on the end of a stick.

Em and I toasting marshmallows in the fire on the end of a stick

The bright night stars and milky way topped a stellar day.

Winter Camping is Cold

As soon as the sun went down, the chill came out. Not long after sunset, we huddled together in the camper under extra blankets, reading books until we fell asleep to the sound of the waves coming to shore. When Em woke to go to the toilet in the middle of the night (oh joy of camping!), we wrapped her in blankets and took a few extra moments to look at the bright night sky.

I loved this trip for all its simplicity. The best thing about not going into a town was not having to do anything, not having to try and ‘see the sights’. It was a simple time that left us free to explore and play. It felt like an adventure to walk left and then walk right just to discover. We didn’t feel guilty about sitting back and reading a book.

There was no need to rush and pack up on the day we were homeward bound as we were not constrained by a 10am check out. We packed up leisurely, Em got to play again with her friend and we had another relaxing walk along the beach.

The trip left me with a hankering for more remote camping. I love seeing local small towns but just hanging out in nature with my family is hard to top. I highly recommend Cliff Head as a stop along the Indian Ocean Drive, or even as a complete destination on its own.

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