A Survival Guide to Camping in Pemberton

A mother embarks on an adventurous four day mini camping in Pemberton trip and explores a plethora of National Parks in the South West of Western Australia with her intrepid two teenage sons in a bid to keep them off the XBOX and to keep active.  A humorous approach to her mishaps into the mundane will delight anyone who dares to read on…

Day 1 – The Arrival

The car is packed with three two person tents. One each because, as anyone who has used a two person tent knows, there is only really room for one person.  It is an ominous day with the rain well and truly settled in.  Highly unusual in this age of global warming.  Yet I remained naively optimistic and believed it to be just a passing shower as it always is with our meagre 350mm of rainfall per annum where we live.  Anyway, since when has the break of the season ever occurred in the first week of April since 1985?  Besides, I was just in the Daintree RAINforest during the WET season whilst Cyclone Nathan passed through in Queensland two weeks ago and it didn’t rain much at all.  Four hours further south of the Equator later, the rain is a lot worse than the damn rainforest.  At least by the time we arrive at 3.00pm it’s let up a little with just a steady drizzle so we are able to set up our pop up tents and blow up mattresses within about 10 minutes before the next deluge.  The tents are too small to seek sit up shelter in, so we sit in the car where we stay for the next three hours until we get really hungry.  I get wet going to open the hatch at the rear of the car and find my raincoat, three tins of soup, three plates, three spoons and a saucepan.

Camping in Pemberton

We all run to the camp kitchen where I heat up our soup.  No one else is there so there’s little point in getting any playing cards out and just getting wet.  I have little option but to give in and call it a day.  After I help the kids into their tents by holding up a golf umbrella so they don’t get wet, it is my turn to get into mine.  The sheer logistics of getting into a ‘one’ person tent in the torrential rain is learnt the hard way.  There is no cover over the door so the rain goes straight inside the tent when the flap is open.  With no way of tying back the door it is just dangling inside the tent and causing a waterfall.  Once I had made the decision to enter my tent via the waterfall, I am rewarded with the dangling tent door sticking to my back causing the waterfall to morph into rapids down my back and into my ravine.  With one foul swoop that my Grade 1 gymnastics teacher would’ve been proud of, I leap through the narrow, low opening and find refuge on my air mattress.  Gently, I remove my muddy hiking boots and then do a contortionists act to remove my wet clothes and ‘slip’ into something more comfortable.  I lay there and listen to the relentless rain, which is getting heavier and heavier, as well as the harmonious screaching possums in the neighbouring forest.  Needless to say, I do not get much sleep.  This is the first time I have ever used this tent and have no idea how it will hold up under the circumstances.  It is a similar story for the boys’ tents.  They had only been used in fine weather.  I told them that if they got wet, they weren’t to hesitate to go and sleep in the car where I kept an emergency wool blanket.  It still didn’t keep me from spending all night worrying about them though.  I manage to keep dry but only due to my efforts of sleeping with one eye open.  It is like sleeping on one of those blow up mattresses you use in a swimming pool and someone gives you a sleeping bag and a blanket and tells you that you will be in dire trouble if you allow it to touch the water during the next 8 sleeping hours. Despite going to the toilet before bedtime, it did not prevent a repeat performance at 3am. I lay there waiting for signs that the rain might be easing off just a little and made the dash.  This time I used the umbrella to protect my entry into the tent but I didn’t really have enough hands considering the door zipper was very stubborn.

Day 2 – Angels and Africans in the Camp Kitchen

At 7.30am I am wide awake waiting for the rain to subside.  Those who know me well, realise that I am of no particular religious persuasion, but on this night I am basically praying for a miracle as we are going to need some breathing space to dry out the boys sleeping gear.  The sign said “No Vacancies” for the cabins last night so that’s not much help right now.  The bottom of my air mattress is saturated as is the whole floor despite the ground sheet, so I can only assume the boys’ skinny camp mattresses wouldn’t have fared so well either.  At 9am my praying worked as the weather finally eased off and we are able to regroup.  I go to rouse the boys from their slumber and am horrified to see that Last Born’s tent was basically in a gigantic lake.  Somehow, he hadn’t floated away downstream and I am amazed to learn that he managed to stay dry except for the end of his sleeping bag and it is the same story for First Born.  However, the bottom of their mattresses had to be dried out if they were to stay dry tonight.  We spend the next couple of hours moving tents.  Last Born’s tent is moved out of the puddle, First Born’s to higher ground and mine closer to the extension cord coming from the mains.  In the rush to get the tents up before the next lot of rain, I forgot to check the distance from the power point.  Camping in PembertonThe boys now set about digging a trench around their tents, a little tip they learnt at Army Cadets.  I must’ve had a bit of foresight when packing for the trip as I was expecting it to be cold so I threw in a little electric blow heater at the last minute.  My tent is going to be the power house where all the camera battery, tablet, phone and ipod charging is to take place, right after I gaffer taped everything up in a plastic housing so no one gets electrocuted.  After I finish drying Last Born’s tent with the heater, his tent is the designated drying tent.  If I manage to get one mattress dry then that would be a victory as I also packed a camp bed but the weather was too awful to set it up last night.  First born can sleep on the dried out mattress and Last Born on the camp bed.  The bottom of my air mattress can stay wet as it was now nearly lunchtime and I still haven’t eaten breakfast or had a shower.  One saving grace is that it isn’t cold at all.  The humidity was however very high and I have worked up a bit of a sweat inside my raincoat during my battle against the elements.  I barely have the energy to prepare the necessary provisions required for the ablution block but I felt disgusting.  Of course, in all the excitement of the morning I forget to bring my thongs to the shower and convince myself that I am going to be punished for this one slip up by catching tinea or some other equally nasty toe wasting fungal disease that nobody has ever heard of from an obscure Thirld World country.  I get a real insight into what it would be like if I was born without any toes.  For a start, it is really hard to balance. If I had any chance of using both hands to shampoo and condition, I am forced to put my bum on the cold wall to keep my balance on my heels, not far from where the redbacks were perving on me in this circa 1960s ablution facility.  God only knows what other poor soul has found themselves in this predicament and had to do the same thing, so I decide against it, let along attempting anything else whilst in there!  Now it was time for the one footed tango while trying to put on dry pants on a wet floor.

Camping in Pemberton“Mum, mum. Can we climb the tree now?” nagged the kids.  I am exhausted but I promised the kids they could climb Gloucester Tree in a bid to salvage what was left of the day.  As we arrived at Gloucester National Park in the afternoon, our National Park day pass was also valid for tomorrow as well.  It annoyed me a bit as two weeks ago I was in Queensland enjoying their National Parks for free!  I shouldn’t really say this but if you turn up after the government workers’ knock off time, then you can get in for free anyway.  How refreshing to see that this is the last bastion of the State not preventing you from doing something that is fun.  Sure, it’s risky but if you don’t take the risk you won’t be rewarded.  There is a big sign saying don’t climb when wet, but my big 12 and 14 boys did and they came back regaling with tales of natural wonder (I would’ve have let them do this if they were younger).  I trusted their common sense and they had good foot wear and a raincoat.  I also tell them not to try to and pass anyone and wait until everyone has descended or ascended before doing the same.  The Gloucester Tree is only 2kms from Pemberton.  It was chosen as a fire lookout in 1947, one of a network of lookouts built and used throughout the Karri forests between 1937 and 1952.  It is 61m tall and visitors can climb up the spiral ladder made from embedded steel posts to see spectacular views of the Karri forest.  There is a big sign saying do not climb the tree when it is wet, but it didn’t seem to deter any of the tourists there including my two boys.  The boys still hesitated about the risk and I tried not to worry as they decide to climb it anyway.

From there we drive to The Cascades on the other side of town but still part of Gloucester National Park.  It starts to rain again which was annoying as I wanted to practice my slow exposures with the water flowing over the rocks.  The boys took off as they always do and I found out later that they were walking all over the railway track that the Pemberton Tramway uses.  They saw it and got a great photo.  I, on the other hand, miss the opportunity to get run over by a train and take the 40 minute circuit walk.  The boys then get a taste for climbing big trees and wanted to beat their personal best of 61m at Gloucester Tree and ascend the 75m Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree just 15 minutes drive from town in the Warren National Park.  It starts to drizzle and the boys make it to the first platform but got worried about the weather and assessed the risk again.

Camping in PembertonThis time they decide not to go ahead with it which I was glad about.  They asked for my opinion and I gave it, but it’s also important for them to assess the risk and to make their own judgements.  However, it did mean that they nagged me senseless everyday to go back there, but the weather was always too atrocious.  I want to move onto to Beedelup Falls but it is getting late so we head back to Pemberton instead.  Back at the campsite I rifle through the back of car to get the ingredients for tuna pasta and take it to the camp kitchen as it is raining again so I couldn’t really cook it up at the tent site.  While I am cooking a couple in their 60s strike up a conversation with me.  “How are you fairing over there? We’re just a few bays over from you” said the lady.  I felt bad about not recognising our effective neighbours now, seeing as the other campers between us now got smart and shot through to somewhere a bit sunnier.  “Well yes it’s a bit miserable but were managing to stay dry and hopefully tomorrow will be better” I replied positively and politely.  “We think you are very brave with taking two teenage boys camping on your own so we figured you might need to take the edge off by sharing our bottle of wine.  My name’s Libby and this is my husband Allen” offered Libby.  The next thing I knew we were telling each other our life’s story, sharing food and playing games like we were long lost family.  I never expected to find angels in the Pemberton Caravan Park camp kitchen.  Before too long the camp kitchen filled to the brim.  There was a wedding party with people attending from all over the country having a pre wedding BBQ and also a bunch of Africans cooking.  Everyone was in a jovial and friendly mood.  Everyone is enjoying a great Aussie tradition all crammed into the camp kitchen sheltering from the rain. A far cry from the mood in the kitchen last night.  I am tempted to stay and sleep in the camp kitchen rather than face the persistent, relentless and totally unreasonable rain again.  Just a mere several hours ago I had feelings of despair but I went to bed in the inclement weather on a warm fuzzy high.  Even in the rain, camping can be wonderful.  It brought everyone to the same primitive plane of conscience and resurrected my faith in humanity.

Day 3 – OMG, God is a Bro’

This morning is essentially a repeat performance of yesterday morning.  The boys’ tents were surrounded by a medieval moat, thanks to their trench digging efforts yesterday.  The boys and I still managed to remain dry but the ends of their sleeping bags and mattresses were wet again so we spend the morning drying all the gear.  Whilst eating breakfast at the camp kitchen, I met God.  I didn’t recognise him at first with wearing a beanie and tracksuit pants and busy emptying the bins.  He seeks shelter in the kitchen also.  I actually start chatting to him about the weather, which is most unlike me with being a natural introvert.  However, in an act of desperation I ask him, “Do you know what the forecast for next few days is because I don’t have internet access on my phone?  We’re the only suckers in the whole park who are in a tent.”  Even God has problems as he was complaining to me he can’t Skype his family back in New Zealand because the internet is down all over town.  “Where are you camped then?” God asked.  “Bay 68,” I replied.  “Oh that’s no good, wait a minute, I think budget cabin number eight is free.  If it is, are you interested in taking it as a free upgrade?”.  I thought, does a possum screach in the forest every night as I nodded profusely.  OMG, God is disguised as a Bro’.  “Just wait a minute and I’ll go and find out” God said as he hurried off into the foggy mist.  I gave up waiting for God to reappear and just as we were heading back to the tent, God yelled out, “it’s vacant until Tuesday so move in and don’t tell anyone”.  Our fortunes have changed and we are in cabin number eight quicker than you can say “dry sleeping bags”.  Although it takes us even longer to get organised that it did yesterday.  We had to dismantle the tents and wipe them down to get excess moisture off, which is no easy feat in the heavy precipitation, before dragging them inside and drying them one at a time on the lino floor using old towel to soak up the water.  There was no bathroom in the budget cabin to do this.  We have 3 days of drying so one tent per day should have it covered by the time we pack to leave.  Once again, after my monotonous battle against mother nature, I am beat and it’s still raining.  Yesterday, Allen and Libby said the local bakery is a great place to hole up in this weather.  They are right, a huge under cover area, nice and cosy warm and bulging at the seams with other campers seeking shelter and something to do.  Camping in PembertonAfter we have our greasy fill of pies it is time to head down the Pemberton train station to catch the Pemberton Tramways tour which departs at 2pm.  Our guide /driver gave us a safety lecture, because after all we do live in a Nanny State.  None of us have any common sense as to when not to stand in a moving carriage when it is going 1km/hr or a mother’s survival guideCamping in Pembertonwhen not to stick your head out the side, so we aren’t allowed to do any of this even when it is safe, despite the kids climbing a big arse tree completely unharmed just yesterday.  He also educated us all on the history of the town and gave us interesting facts about the forest.  It gets a little boring in the end, but I loved passing all of the quaint weatherboard logger cabins, going past the timber mill and back over The Cascades and as far as the Warren River and basically enjoying the majestic and enchanted Karri forest.  We also had the opportunity to get out of the tram at The Casades and all the little kids and big ones got the chance to toot the train horn.

Karri is WA’s tallest tree and one of the tallest hardwood trees in the world. The tree reaches its peak height within a hundred years.  They begin their old growth phase at the ages of 100-150 years and survive to an average of 300 years old. The majority of old growth karri trees found in Western Australia are less than 200 years old.  To sustain these old growth forests all stages of development must be managed.  This is done by varying rotation ages and timber harvesting.  The rotation age is set at 100 years but has recently been modified. Fifty percent of all karri forests regenerated after 1990 must be grown to maturity.  There are over 55,000 hectares of old growth karri forests in conservation reserves which are excluded from harvesting.  Sadly it was only recently as the beginning of the 21st century (2001) before the Western Australian State Government finally ended logging in all old-growth forests including these karri forests.Camping in Pemberton

 I treated the boys a break to my home cooked crappy ‘easy’ meals by taking them to dinner at the Pemberton Pub.  So at about 7pm we drove down there to what is a very welcoming atmosphere.   The fire is roaring, drinks are being poured, families are eating and friends are trying to talk above the noise of the crowd.  Apparently, it is National Sibling Day and my two boys are oblivious and have had no qualms in both dressing like the Bobbsie Twins in their red checkered fleecy shirts.  Camping in PembertonThe irony of looking like little Lumber Jacks in a town renown for timber logging is lost on them.  Since our cabin is ‘budget’ we still need to use the communal ablutions but we are closer to another block which had escaped my attention previously down in cattle class.  These were 5 star luxury compared to the other one, with funky tiles and a flick master tap to boot.  Best of all, any shower stall which has a minimum of three hooks is five star in my book.  I prepare to commence my Mr Bean ritual of getting ready to have a shower.  Wear thongs to prevent disgusting fungal growths which take years to disappear and never, I repeat never, let any part of your actual foot touch the floor.  Go to end shower stall so you don’t have to see everyone else’s pubes float past.  Stake your claim by putting your stuff in the stall and then go to the toilet first.  Go back to chosen stall and hang toiletry bag from hook number 1, get out your shampoo and conditioner and put them within arm’s reach of shower recess, then unzip top section and gently place spectacles in it.  Retrieve from the shower ‘bag’ PJs or day’s clothes and hang on hook number 2 first, get out underwear and hang on hook number 2 last (hook number 2 is the furtherest from the water source for obvious reasons.  On hook number 3, place your towel.  Undress and place all garments except smelly underwear into designated shower bag.  Unzip empty section of toiletry bag and place dirty knickers in it and quickly zip up again, lest they work their way out again on your journey back to the cabin.  Turn on tap, wait for hot water to kick in and then step into the recess.  If there are no water restrictions then stay in there for several hours until caretaker comes knocking.  I live in a place where there are constant restrictions and where the pressure is gravity fed, meaning I have to run around the shower just to get wet.  This is total luxury.  When completing ablutions, reach into shower bag for an old material placemat obtained from most opportunity shops.  Place it on wet floor, the site where you will be getting dressed.  Do not touch the floor with any part of your body.  After toweling off most excess moisture off your body in recess, step onto placemat (it’s not called a placemat for nothing) and then dry your feet.  Gently put on your underwear, being careful not to get them wet, it’s not a good look trying to put on wet undies.  This is now where your One Thonged Shower Tango skills come in handy but the placemat is definitely designed to make life easier if you should lose your balance if you’re old like me.  Repeat previous step with outer pants and continue with top wear.  Retrieve shampoo and conditioner and dry with towel before placing back in toilet bag.  Wrap wet hair with towel.  Find specs and put back on.  Mop shower stall with provided mop and bucket to make presentable for next person.  Put on raincoat and walk back to cabin in the rain.  Get rotten with a bottle of port to help you sleep.

Day 4 – D ‘Entrecastreaux National Park

We all have a well-deserved sleep in which I did not feel guilty about at all after the last two nights.  Allen & Libby are leaving today so I went over to say good bye.  They were really worried about us when they noticed all but one tent remaining at the site (as I had to stagger the exodus due to drying logistics).  I thought they might be concerned because that’s the sort of people they are, so I thought I’d explain myself and say good bye.  I bid them a safe journey back home and there were hugs all round.  Unfortunately, it was still very bleak and inhospitable outside.  Our only options for the days’ entertainment are to spend more money and consume more calories at the Bakery or a café somewhere, just go driving or stay in the cabin.  Our new neighbours are a large family in a caravan and they were all crammed in under the outdoor shelter.  We could hear a rather heated argument taking place within the family.  I surmised it was nothing but the symptoms of cabin fever which is very contagious so I made a decision to get the hell out of there and fulfill my burning desire to go to Windy Harbour via D ‘Entrecasteaux National Park.  I knocked up some peanut butter sandwiches, juice boxes and a some snacks and off we go.  Camping in PembertonYou see, I really did have a ‘burning’ desire to take this journey as I wanted to see for myself the devastating effects of the State’s most significant bushfire last summer.  In February about 80,000 hectares were burnt after a lightning strike.  The fire perimeter was a massive 240km long and most of the drive from Northcliffe, 30km from Pemberton, to Windy Harbour there was evidence of this.  Luckily, no one was killed but we could see how terrifyingly close it got to the town and to other homes nestled in the forest.  All residents and holiday makers who hadn’t already left were told to evacuate to the beach but fortunately the little hamlet was saved.  There is nothing more to Windy Harbour other than several beach shacks and a camp ground, not even a shop and I guess that’s why everyone likes it here.  Anyway, Camping in PembertonWindy Harbour really lived up to its name today.  D ‘Entrecasteaux Point was just a 6km drive away so we decided to have our picnic lunch there…….in the car, because of the….you guessed it!
The fire here had reached the southern end of Terra Australis and on the drive back it was fascinating to see the beautiful hand of nature in the regenerative powers of the Australian bush after a devastating bushfire merely two months ago.  Once we ate, it was time to move onto Beedelup Falls in Beedelup National Park via a detour to the Heartbreak Trail in the Warren National Park on the Karri Explorer Route.  Camping in PembertonThis one way track is not far from the Bicentennial Tree off the Old Vasse Road and it has to be by far the most scenic and beautiful in the whole area.  My photos didn’t really do it justice.  Beedelup Falls were actually falling after all this rain so it presented itself as an opportunity for me to practice my slow exposures.  The boys ran off exploring somewhere so I was able to take my time setting up the shot.  I actually had to set up on the suspension bridge which is not exactly a stable environment to even be bothering about putting a tripod on. But I figured if I was really careful to bridge would not swing at all.  After half an hour of running off the bridge to shelter out of another shower, running back onto the bridge, waiting for the bridge to stop swinging, putting on all my filters, running back off the bridge to stop my camera and lens from getting wet, back onto the bridge, working up a sweat, experimenting with multiple exposures to get the right effect.  Just as I pressed the shutter for a slow exposure time my double trouble boys leapt out of nowhere and began jumping up and down on the end of the suspension bridge.  Me and my tripod nearly fell through the gap into the Beedelup River and my National Geographic award winning shot was ruined, totally ruined.

Camping in Pemberton

  I ran as fast as one can on a suspension bridge (not a good idea, but I was really angry and was not thinking or running straight).  The boys cut for it as they knew what was coming.  Seeing as they are now faster than me I had the only disciplining tool left at my disposal, my voice.  I am glad no one else was there to hear screaching mother in the forest.  Back in the car park, I had calmed down enough to allow them back in the car for lift back into Pemberton.  However, I reneged on my promise to take them to the free wifi at a local café.  Damn, I wonder what is happening on FB.  Instead, I tortured them by stopping every 100m on the way back on Channeybearup Road to take scenic pictures of the strawberry field rows and vineyards.  In the end, I relented and took them to a café without wifi as I was hankering for a hot chocolate after swinging like Indiana Jones off that bridge.  By happenstance I noticed at the end of the Pemberton Pub there was this lovely café which is advertised very little went unnoticed by me on the crowded Saturday night.  I am going to need something a bit stronger back at the park though.Camping in Pemberton

Day 5 – Boys Beat PB by Climbing 75m Up a Tree.

Finally, on our last day the weather has eased, it is still drizzling though but I take kids back to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree again and they go all the way up this time despite the rain.  This tree was never used as a look out, but was pegged for tourists in Australia’s bicenntenial year in 1988.  It is also the only climbable tree that rewards non height fearing visitors with a 360-degree view of old growth Karri forest.  We weren’t that far from Yeagarup Dunes which is something else on my bucket list and for once, it looked like the rain might hold off all afternoon and the sun is peeping out every now and again and I might get some good pictures there.  The track to the Yeagarup Lake is suitable for 2WD. However, the 1.5km trip into the dunes is 4WD.  My car is a 4WD SUV but it was advised that I let the pressure down to a certain level before embarking on the track.  I have no idea what I am doing so I just decided I would walk in seeing at it wasn’t raining.  As it turned out, the sand track was quite compacted due to the rain and well used wheel ruts so I could’ve have made it in on the tracks without reducing the tyre pressure and parked up before the dunes actually rise up.  But it was still nice to walk there and across the sweeping dunes which were quite impressive but not as steep as I was expecting.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time there and didn’t get back into town until about 2pm.

Camping in Pemberton

Camping in Pemberton






We eat a quick lunch at the bakery again and then head to the Lavender and Berry Farm for a hot chocolate and the free wifi of course.  This is the first time I have had any contact with the outside world so after a quick post on FB to let everyone know we are surviving the ‘camping’ trip, it seemed like I’d been gone for weeks.  After we left there, I take the boys for a drive to see Big Brook Dam and then took the scenic route back via Channeybearup Road because it’s my favourite.  Back at the caravan park, I wanted to take the boys on a walking trail called Rainbow Trail which accessible from the back of the park.  There was only an hour of day light left so we walk as far as we can before having to turn back.  It follows the Lefroy Brook and also takes in part of the Bibbulmun Track which is one of the world’s great long distance walk trails, meandering 1000km from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills, to Albany on the south coast, winding through the heart of the scenic South West of Western Australia.




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