Free Camping on The Far West Coast of South Australia, and the area in general, is popular with visitors seeking stunning beaches, secluded fishing and surfing spots and pretty coastal towns. The coast is characterised by its remote location and pristine natural environment where the semi-arid Nullarbor Plain meets the Great Australian Bight.
The coast sees a large influx of visitors during the peak summer months and holiday periods many like to enjoy the free camping option. People come from all over South Australia and beyond to enjoy the isolated and pristine landscape. However, this intense human activity on the fragile natural environment can have a detrimental impact. Free camping is popular on the Far West Coast and around Ceduna, however, there are many ways that campers and travellers can be more conscious of their impact on the environment. This article will outline the impact free camping can have and how you can do your bit to help preserve this beautiful part of Australia.
About the landscape of the Far West Coast
The Far West Coast is a unique place in South Australia. It’s dominated by the Nullarbor Plain’s meeting with the Southern Ocean along the Great Australian Bight. This incredible natural landscape is home to pristine seawater, sandy beaches, rugged sea cliffs, coastal shrubland and a variety of wildlife both on land and in the sea. All these offerings delight the visitors to the area including those who are free camping inclined.
The Great Australian Bight is one of the most biodiverse environments in Australia. It’s estimated that around 85 per cent of the species in the waters off the coast are not found anywhere else in the world. The Southern Ocean also provides an important area for the Southern Right Whales and the Australia sea lion, both of which are listed as endangered species.
The Nullarbor Plain that stretches across the Far West Coast west of Ceduna is also an incredibly special landscape. Despite its semi-arid climate, it’s home to thriving wildlife populations such as insects, spiders, birds and mammals. The limited vegetation that exists on the plain such as saltbush and bluebush scrub is vital for the preservation of this ecosystem.
It’s this stunning natural beauty that draws visitors to Ceduna and the Far West Coast. The chance to see some of Australia’s most impressive geography is what characterises South Australia’s tourism industry. The downside is that this influx of visitors, particularly those free camping, means there is often a strain on the existing infrastructure, which can hinder the ongoing preservation of the natural environment of the Far West Coast.
Camping infrastructure on the Far West Coast
Camping is a popular pastime in South Australia, free camping in coastal regions especially, and is one of the main ways that people experience the Far West Coast. Going to sleep to the sound of waves crashing and waking up to a secluded white sand beach is the ideal dream vacation for many Australians. However, free camping here is not like some other parts of Australia and there is usually very limited, if any, infrastructure.
This area of South Australia is characterised by small towns and large expanses of coast with very few human inhabitants. Many of the beaches are remote and fragile places and often see very few people for much of the year. This means that there is not enough infrastructure to cope with the sudden influx of crowds and free camping that occurs in the popular summer months and school holidays.
These isolated beaches along the Far West Coast do not have the facilities that people are used to in the cities and elsewhere throughout Australia. There are often no rubbish bins, toilets or shelters because many of these beaches and roadside stops do not come under any designated council area. This means that there are no jobs to cover the maintenance and clean-up of the environment like you would expect in a council area. The Ceduna Council covers the area around the town, but from Penong and further west, the coast and settlements are outside any designated council areas.
Any infrastructure that you do find at some of these beaches outside of town is often built and maintained by volunteering locals which they have done so they can enjoy these areas without damaging the environment. The people who live in the region care very deeply about preserving this precious area and often spend some of their spare time protecting the coast. These are the same people who you may know have thwarted the attempts of major oil companies from drilling in the Great Australian Bight. Thank goodness this pristine area has locals such as this, people passionate about ensuring that these places remain for all of us and our children and their children.
With this in mind, opting to go free camping on the coast is not an environmentally responsible choice. There is almost no camping infrastructure on many of these beaches, meaning that going to the toilet, making fires, clearing shrubs for tent pitches and leaving rubbish all has a detrimental effect on the natural environment.
Staying at accommodation on the Far West Coast
If you want to be conscious of the environment during your trip along the Far West Coast, it’s best not to opt for free camping but instead to stay in designated camping areas and caravan parks in the main towns. These official accommodation areas are built with all the facilities you need, including waste removal, toilets, bins, shelter, RV dumps and potable water. They are made to accommodate campers and travellers in a proper manner so that the impact on the more secluded and pristine environments along the coast can be preserved.
You can find caravan parks and roadhouses in the main settlements and towns along the Eyre Highway including Ceduna, Penong and Fowlers Bay. You can still be near the beach at these places but at least you will also have all the necessary facilities at the same time and minimise your environmental impact.
The benefit of staying in a place like Ceduna instead of free camping means that you can also explore the coast and more secluded beaches on day trips. Day trips can minimise your impact as you can simply visit for the day and return at night carrying everything back with you. However, even on day trips you should remember to leave no trace but footprints and respect the animals that call the area home.
Environmental impacts of free camping
There are numerous environmental impacts of free camping and visiting secluded beaches without proper facilities. However, you can help immensely by being informed about these impacts and knowing how to be more responsible and conscious during your visit. These are the most common impacts that Ceduna and the Far West Coast suffer from free camping:
Destroying of coastal shrubs
The unique coastal landscape along the Far West Coast is characterised by old and fragile shrubs. Although these shrubs might seem insignificant to you, the limited rainfall on the coast keeps these bushes small and they are still an essential part of the ecosystem. These plants are often destroyed by vehicles trying to park along the beaches and people removing them to make fires and clear an area for free camping. The impact this has can be far-reaching.
When a single camper removes a shrub from the miniature forest along the coast, it leaves a bare patch of sand behind. The extreme winds that often strike the coast rip the bare sand left behind through the surrounding foliage which damages some of the roots of the remaining shrubs. This leaves much of the area fragile and many of the shrubs do not grow back. Over time, the effects of that single shrub being removed are felt across the whole immediate area. This also has impacts for the birds and wildlife, as these shrubs are some of the only trees and nature along the semi-arid landscape. You should consider this impact that a single camper can have the next time you plan to park up and go free camping along the coast.
It will help to keep in mind that those tiny little insignificant trees that tickle your ankles have probably taken the better part of a century or two to grow that tall in the environment with challenging winds and rainfall, and destruction of trees in these miniature forests will take a very long time to recover. Too much of this by too many people will ensure that they never have the chance.
Toilet paper and defecation
Another major impact on the environment is from people using the bush to defecate, especially those free camping as they are in the same area over time. These remote sections of the coast and many of the beaches do not have proper toilet facilities which means visitors, whether travelling the highway or free camping along the roadside, in the bush or at the beach often find any spot to go to the toilet. Toilet paper is one of the biggest contributors to waste and rubbish left behind along the pristine beaches in the Far West Coast. Although you may think that a small bit of toilet paper will simply break down, it’s more complicated than that.
Toilet paper left outside in nature can take anywhere from one to three years to decompose and breakdown properly. This is often impacted by the weather conditions and how much water is available to help the decomposing cycle. The Far West Coast has very little rainfall which along with the semi-arid, sandy earth, means that toilet paper takes even longer to break down.
This is why it’s so important that you carry all of your rubbish, including toilet paper, back with you when you’ve been free camping or if you’re travelling or visiting an area by day. Otherwise, the pristine area along the coast ends up littered with toilet paper, with some even ending up in the sea as well. The idea of littered beaches is not what people come to visit the Far West Coast for, as it’s so well known for its unspoiled coastline. It’s everyone’s duty to try and keep it this way.
Rubbish and waste
Following on from toilet paper, there is also a large amount of rubbish and waste that is produced by people free camping along the coast. There are often no rubbish bins outside of towns or at any remote beaches. Many of these spots do not fall under a certain council area and therefore, there are no services paid to clean up or maintain waste removal infrastructure for these places. Any rubbish that is left behind eventually ends up in the pristine ocean, where it causes harm to a lot of the marine life.
In the popular holiday months, it’s also common to find any of the bins that are at some of the beaches completely overflowing. This doesn’t mean that you can simply leave rubbish in plastic bags next to the bin, this is still littering as it still eventually ends up strewn across the landscape. Animals often rip through plastic bags to find scraps and any rubbish that is left will be blown into the shrubs and eventually into the water.
If you brought it all with you in the first place, no matter if you’re free camping or visiting by day, it doesn’t take much work to carry it all back out with you. There are more rubbish bins in Ceduna where you can dispose of your waste properly or opt to stay in the caravan parks and other accommodations available which have the appropriate amenities.
The coastal area around Ceduna and the Nullarbor is home to a variety of unique animals and marine life. The influx of human activity during the warmer months and school holidays, means that a lot of these animals are disturbed by noise and encroachments on their habitat by visitors who prefer free camping.
The coastline is home to many resident and migratory shorebirds such as Oystercatchers, red-capped and hooded plovers who live on the beaches. For example, the tiny, red-necked stint travels up to 25, 000km every year from the Arctic to spend the summer feeding on the beaches of the Far West Coast. These shorebird populations are declining quickly due to predators like dogs and foxes, as well as loss of habitat and disturbances from human activity. Free camping brings vehicles and pets along to these beaches disturbing these birds and interrupting their breeding and roosting. It’s important to be aware of the wildlife and nature that calls the coast home, they deserve to be treated with respect.
Leave no trace principles
Anyone who is free camping and any traveller or visitor to the outdoors should abide by the basic Leave No Trace principles. These seven principles were first developed in the US for backcountry hikers but have since been recognised around the world for being the expectations of anyone visiting natural environments. The basic idea here is to leave no trace of your visit except footprints. Whatever you take to the beach or roadside stop, you should take back with you, including any rubbish that you might produce.
The seven principles can be applied to any location that you find yourself in and include:
• Plan ahead and prepare
• Travel and camp on durable and designated surfaces
• Dispose of waste properly
• Leave what you find
• Minimise campfire impacts
• Respect wildlife
• Be considerate of other visitors
Take nothing but photos and memories. Leave nothing but footprints.
Responsible travel tips for free camping on the Far West Coast
If you are planning to visit any of the spots off the Eyre Highway on the Far West Coast, you should always be conscious of your impact and make sure that you carry everything back out with you. Whether you’re free camping or visiting a beach on a day trip from accommodation in Ceduna, it’s everyone’s duty to look after the pristine environment along the Far West Coast.
Here are some responsible and environmentally conscious tips you should know before exploring the remote and pristine environment around Ceduna.
Respect wildlife and nature
• Feeding animals any of your food that they are not used to eating can harm them, so refrain from interacting with any of the wildlife.
• Wild animals should remain wild for the preservation of the natural ecosystem that has existed for generations, so try not to disturb or harass them. You should simply observe and appreciate from a distance.
• Do not remove any natural objects, eggs, nests or plants, including coastal shrubs from the environment.
• Do not clear any nature away for parking or free camping purposes.
• Keep to defined tracks and roads and do not veer off-track, as you can disturb wildlife and ruin foliage.
• Keep your dogs or other animals under control and away from any wildlife, including nesting birds.
• Watch where you walk and do not step on eggs, nests, holes or burrows along the shoreline.
• Limit noise and any other loud disturbances in remote locations, there may not be people around but you’re likely still disrupting wildlife.
• Familiarise yourself with any limits or rules on fishing.
• Carry all your fishing litter and waste home with you.
• Always refuel your boat on land and never discharge wastes, oil or sewage into the marine environment.
• Fire restrictions are in place usually from November 1 until April 15 each year.
• Bring liquid fuel and gas stoves for cooking instead of trying to start fires.
• Do not uproot any shrubs or break any branches for firewood along the coast.
Rubbish and waste
• You should assume that wherever you go along the Far West Coast that there won’t be any waste removal or toilet facilities, this way you can be prepared to carry everything back with you.
• Take all your rubbish home with you, including toilet paper.
• Carry a rubbish bag or your own bin so you can collect any rubbish or waste during your visit.
• If there are bins provided and they are already full, do not leave your rubbish next to the bin. Any rubbish outside of the bin is littering, so if the bin is full you should carry your rubbish back with you.
• If you are travelling to remote areas along the coast, carry a small, self-contained port-a-potty for the times when you need to go to the toilet.
• If you must go to the toilet in the bush, use biodegradable toilet paper which breaks down quicker than regular paper, although it still takes a bit of time to do so. Ultimately, take rubbish bags with you and bag your used toilet paper to dispose of properly without littering.
Respect local rules and regulations
• The Eyre Highway is a major road passing through small towns. Drive carefully and follow the speed limits and keep an eye out for animals crossing.
• Camp only in designated areas or stay in caravan parks where there are appropriate facilities.
• Always be considerate of other travellers, locals and animals.
• Follow any local rules and regulations concerning camping, fishing, swimming and driving, including any official signs that give instructions.
What can you do to help
And when it’s all said and done the best way to protect this pristine environment is to lessen the number of people free camping. The best thing that you can do to assure that you’re not part of the problem is to book in to stay with an accommodation provider. Now that you have the information to do the right thing, and if you’re one of the people who now choose to do so by booking into paid accommodation where there are facilities provided for you, those who care very deeply about this area thank you in advance.
Ceduna Online does not promote free camping due to the environmental impact caused by human influx to remote areas for the purpose of free camping.