Storm brews over success of Pilbara free campsite

Published: June 30, 2015

The massive popularity of the free camping facility in Port Hedland is making waves across the entire Pilbara region.

The Shire of Port Hedland has been allowing self-contained travellers to camp at the local racecourse for a maximum of two days since 2013, and grey nomads and other travellers have responded enthusiastically.

“All the feedback and surveys that have been received have said that they wouldn’t have stayed,”  mayor, Kelly Howlett, told the ABC. “They weren’t going to visit, they weren’t going to stay, but now they’ve actually changed their mind.”

Certainly, many caravan parks in Western Australia’s north west have earned a reputation for high charges, with some asking more than $50 per night … and many grey nomads choosing to give the area wide berth.

However, the caravan industry says that by offering free camping while caravan parks were as little as one-third full, the local Shire was acting against the interests of its community.

“I know there are parks up in the north west that are paying their local councils over $200,000 in rates,” Caravan Industry Association of WA CEO, Simon Glossop, told the ABC. “So for a council to talk about wanting to provide free or low-cost facilities, they’re using their ratepayers’ money to do that and that just isn’t ethically and morally right.”

Mr Glossop said that rather than competing with caravan parks, local governments should help reduce costs by cutting rates and join in with the industry’s promotional efforts.

The ABC reports that Port Hedland’s free campground is also being blamed for a major downturn in visitors to the neighbouring Pilbara city of Karratha.

“Our door figures at the centre alone are around 38% down on this time last year,” said Bazz Harris from the Karratha visitor centre. “And let me tell you, last year wasn’t a flash year at all.”

Mr Harris told the ABC that Karratha’s tourism was suffering from a decision to increase fees and limit the length of stay at the nearby campgrounds of Cleaverville and 40 Mile Beach, but said free camping in Port Hedland was compounding the problem.

“Our reputation as a tourism destination is in tatters, and this does nothing to actually enhance that reputation,” he said.

However, Mr Harris said offering free camping was actually a step in the right direction for a region that had neglected tourism while resources industries boomed.

“One of our caravan parks last year, I don’t know if this is common knowledge, actually closed to tourism and concentrated on FIFO (fly-in-fly-out workers),” he told the ABC. “That’s the real place of where tourism is at right now.”

  • Have you stayed at the Port Hedland racecourse? Do you think Pilbara van parks are over-priced? Comment below.
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Robyn Davies
7 years ago

We could not get any caravan park site on our travels in 2011 in Port Headland. A little forward thinking and planning is required by these “business” operators. It is a bit like investing in the sharemarket. Cover all contingencies. Provide for the bad times. The caravan parks should never turn their backs on grey nomads or anyone else travelling the country full time. Create an area for self contained RVs, provide sullage points, a dump point and allow them to use their own equipment including solar power or generator. These areas can be separate from the main park, most have spare land. Charge accordingly, if the parks offered i.e. 20 such sites @ $20 per night, they would probably cover their day to day running costs over an eight month period. Some may even stay for the wet season. For those who depend on park facilities, well, you will get charged premium rates. Overheads including insurances, hot showers, washing machines and power all have maintenance costs as well as labour costs. Councils need to review their exorbitant rates charges for these parks. Maybe high season and low season variations. Everything can be negotiated. Remember, word gets around quicker than the internet, so if the facilities are out there, it will be broadcast rapidly.

Suzanne Campbell
7 years ago
Reply to  Robyn Davies

Well put Robyn 🙂

H.Malone
7 years ago
Reply to  Robyn Davies

Well said Robin

Terry Boyce
7 years ago
Reply to  Robyn Davies

The C/P don’t complain when they are raking in the money but when they get a little competition they squeal like anything its all unfair the high fees charged by CP LIKE $57 a night plus the fuel to get there at $2 a ltr + a lot of consumers don’t have the money like $4000 in fuel and CP fees

John. Ritchie
3 years ago
Reply to  Robyn Davies

May be councils in western Australia could review the rates they charge camp grounds. During our trip around Australia we found that all other states were not as expensive . Most town’s and city’s use their show grounds , with showers, power etc. For 25to 30 per night .we are in the Pilbara region currently and Just heard that as of the 1st of June the charge for a site at parks have gone up by 10 pernight.Come on WA it wasn’t that long ago you wanted tourism.alot of the travelers we spoke to won’t be back

Pete Gladman
7 years ago

The van parks have brought this on themselves, turning away tourists because there is more money in construction workers. Now the scream foul when their big income drops and the tourists stay away. Do the motels complain when van parks put in cabins? The same thing happened in Gladstone. Most elder travellers aren’t interested in paying for all the amenities put in for workers and traveling family’s.

Trevor Pilon
7 years ago

I would suggests some of the issues relating to the reduced numbers around Karatha is the change to time frames allowed 40 mile beach and Cleaverville People use to travel as far as Queensland and victoria But now with shorter staying times = less people less people equals less money for the town. I understand caravan parks are a business and need to make profits so maybe some thought needs to go into pricing and service provided

Wendy Frank
7 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Pilon

Totally agree Trevor it costs a lot to get over there in the first place from eastern states, even from southern WA. It cost us $2000 one way from gorgeous 40 Mile Beach to Victorian Border last year.

TommyG
7 years ago

Mr Glossop says “the local Shire was acting against the interests of its community” What he really means is it’s against the interests of the caravan Parks Assn, just one section of the local community. How about asking the shopping centre near the free camp what their point of view is.
Have a look at what the Karratha visitors centre is saying. “Less visitors this year than ever before” Who wonders why? Prices that are absolutely outrageous. If the council rates are too expensive, take it up with the council, a better option than burying head in sand approach. The reason the rates are so high is probably a reflection of the prices they charge and the fact that CP’s were always full to overflowing. That used to be the case, not now.

Suzanne Campbell
7 years ago

Port Hedlands gain is Karratha’s loss. It is simply supply and demand. I don’t want a caravan park (regardless of where it is) and wouldn’t stay in an area where In was forced to.
Tried it in Broome. Would NEVER go back

Jules
7 years ago

Port Hedland and Karratha didn’t want to cater for caravanners way back in 2007 now the mining has waned vanners will not stay if prices are too high….plenty of places north and south as well as free camping spots…

SueW
7 years ago

We are on our way to Port Hedland and we heard of this site – we would have just bought groceries & fuel and kept going normally, but we will stop and see/spend in this town – if only all Shire Councils woke up to this!

Colin McLean
7 years ago

I think that the van parks are charging too much. A lot of them have built lots of cabins on van sites and are having trouble renting them. They then increase site fees to compensate.

John Christopher
7 years ago

Karratha has more problems as a tourist destination than just the exorbitant rates charged by the parks, but the price of WA is a major obstacle We won’t free camp, so we are cutting our time in WA short by 2/3rd because EVERYTHING in WA is pretty-much double the price of the east coast. The distance doesn’t wash with us. They are closer to Asia, where most things come from these days, and have enough ports to take on supplies without them being shipped from Sydney or Melbourne. They just got used to cashed-up miners paying through the nose and cannot adjust their pricing models to the new cash-strapped pensioner customer model. We are

John Christopher
7 years ago

Karratha has more problems as a tourist destination than just the exorbitant rates charged by the parks, but the price of WA is a major obstacle We won’t free camp, so we are cutting our time in WA short by 2/3rd because EVERYTHING in WA is pretty-much double the price of the east coast. The distance doesn’t wash with us. They are closer to Asia, where most things come from these days, and have enough ports to take on supplies without them being shipped from Sydney or Melbourne. They just got used to cashed-up miners paying through the nose and cannot adjust their pricing models to the new cash-strapped pensioner customer model. We are heading back east before we bankrupt ourselves!

Rob Jones
7 years ago

When the parks are full to overflowing they turn you away and really couldn’t care what happens to you now the boom is over they want you back; well I say tough if you’re finding figures are down; can’t have it both ways. We owned a motel in the South West and in the tight times we dropped our prices; it’s as easy as that. 100% of 30 bucks is better than 0% of 40 or 50 bucks.

Darryl
7 years ago

There seems to be a common theme here, that if you don’t deliver service at the reasonable price with a smile, then we the customer will go elsewhere. Congrats to the Port Hedland council maybe they can be an example to a lot of other councils on the west coast. Doing good business with smile, makes & creates good friendships & friends return year after year…… You guys are the best gossips around, the word soon gets out when something is good!

ben
7 years ago

Was thinking of going up there, but not now, How greedy can council & c/parks get?

Philby
7 years ago

When your customers have had a decrease in income due to record low interest rates it makes sense to trim the fat In this case the fat is the high price of caravan parks especially in WA. Port Headland and others had it so good when a rubbish caravan park could charge what it likes due to mining business the one opposite the airport was a classic.
The East Coast still offers the best value parks on the coast and inland but at the same time great freedom camps. My decreased income stretches much further when fuel costs and parks on the east coast are compared to WA. Did it once never again, it ain’t that good.

RD
7 years ago

Once one tries free or low cost camping one does try to avoid caravan parks and anything above $40 is too much for us, prefer to support small town caravan parks without the bells & whistles! Mr Glossop you should try it! Many grey nomads head to the north to get away from cold, wet winters and to come so far for 28 days is putting so many people off. Bring back the 3 month stay and support the local communities.

Greg
7 years ago
Reply to  RD

In August 13 we bypassed Hedland totally this trip because of lack of caravan parks at a reasonable price. They only have themselves to blame if business is a little poor now!

Philby
7 years ago

Filled up with diesel yesterday at Boggabilla just out of Goondiwindi price $1.26 with Coles docket, how does that compare with WA. Camped in Millmerran showgrounds with power and water close to town, $20/ night.
Aahhh the east coast is easy.

Hans Durich
7 years ago

we were there a couple of years ago. We will never come back, the entire North is just one big ripoff. Karratha$450 for a $200 tyre, Port Headland $ 135/ hour for AC repairs. $45-50 for gas refill, not to mention the price of fuel.
No thank you. We are pensioners, not bloody mining magnates. Hans

Ian Earle
7 years ago
Reply to  Hans Durich

Re your comment Hans i was caught in Kananara with broken wheel studs. $289 to fix three of them the other three were fixed in Broome same job $99

Ian Earle
7 years ago

Re port headland we just went past it as we didnt know it existed and went to another free camp. If i had know there was a free camp in port headland i would have stopped for a couple of days done some sight seeing and spent some money. Far to long caravan parks have been charging maximum prices while not upgrading their amenities squeezing us in between permanent residents and not listening to our needs. Well done Port Hedadland

James Flaherty
7 years ago

Interesting to note that the NT can be a bit rich as well, three of us were up there a few weeks ago and my mate went to get a oil change on his Chevrolet Silverado at the new Performax agent in Darwin he was supplying his own oil and was quoted $175 per Hour that on top of expected to pay $50 per night in the Caravan Park.

H.Malone
7 years ago

I am astounded these councils don’t get it, the mining boom is over, the grey nomad and other travelling boom is increasing, adjust your prices and the sites you provide e.g free or low cost sites & caravan parks with affordable rates accordingly or fold, the cheaper they are the longer they stay, seems like common sense to me.

Wayne H
7 years ago

Maybe the caravan parks should look at the McDonald’s model of business big turnover at reasonable costs makes for good profit and a healthy business just look at the turn around of KMart now run buy an Ex CEO of McDonald’s Australia.

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