There’s a trend on the rise in RV travel circles: station stays. An increasing number of caravan and camper trailer owners want to venture off the beaten track to experience the ‘real Australia’. With most of us living in urban centres, it seems we have a thirst to see what life is like for people living in remote outback regions.
Right across the country rural properties cover huge areas, some as small as a couple of hundred acres, others whose acreage runs into the millions. Many of these properties are opening their gates to tourism, some offering nothing more than self-sufficient bush camping on pristine private land, others offer accommodation of all varieties and invite guests to join in on day-to-day farming activities – mustering, checking bores and fences, picking crops, feeding animals, shearing and more. Many station stays are pet-friendly, so you are welcome to take your four-legged family member along.
Visiting a working station is one of the best ways to unlock pristine parts of rugged Western Australia, so it’s little wonder some of Australia’s best Station Stays are found in the West. Here’s our pick of the best of them.
Located around 65km south of Port Hedland off the Great Northern Highway, Indee Station is one of those places where you feel right at home within minutes of your arrival. Owned and operated by Colin and Betty Brierly, this 400,000-acre cattle station has a range of cottages and cabins, some with ensuites, others with shared facilities, and nearby are a number of well spread out unpowered campsites, where generators are allowed.
Here you’ll find genuine hospitality, including a complimentary spread of nibblies each afternoon at the homestead for happy hour. Guests are invited to bring their own drinks and take the opportunity to chat to the owners, station workers and fellow travellers. Evening meals are available or there are free barbeque and communal kitchen facilities. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a lead.
As well as having the option of taking in some of the normal station activities, guests are invited to head out on the well-marked station trail (suitable to 2WD vehicles) and with a mud map supplied by your hosts, check out local sights including an air crash memorial, a walking trail along the river bank and the wonderful Red Rock, a huge granite outcrop with a series of permanent fresh water pools and a range of Aboriginal rock art. The petroglyphs here are found both around the base of the rock and on the rocky slopes where an estimated 100 or more ancient engravings are scattered across this large colourful outcrop.
Around your campsite near the homestead the birdlife is vibrant and you’ll also be joined by station chickens, geese and even a few cattle. In late winter and early spring, the Indee Station floral emblem, the colourful Sturts Desert Pea, can be seen everywhere.
EMU CREEK STATION
Situated off the North West Coastal highway around 300km north of Carnarvon, Emu Creek Station (previously Nyang Station – nearly 500,000 acres) is steeped in Australian wool history and is now run as a cattle station by Darryl and Joyce Penny. The station is accessible to all vehicles.
One of the first things you see on arrival here is the historic Nyang Shearing Shed built back in 1912. Visitors are welcome to wander around the old structure and yards to check out the workings inside and read the information boards detailing the background of the property and a few yarns from the early days, like how the owner would use the resident carpet snake to deal with travelling salesmen who would call in and annoy him!
Accommodation includes spacious B&B homestead guest rooms or shady, level and grassy unpowered campsites along the banks of nearby Emu Creek – accessible to all size RVs. Toilets, hot showers and laundry facilities are available at the homestead at no additional charge. The beautiful 2km-long freshwater river pool here is ideal for swimming, fishing or canoeing. Canoes and kayaks are available to hire. Campfires are allowed and wood is supplied free of charge.
Warm friendly country hospitality is also a feature of your stay here and when you’ve had enough of camp cooking you have the option of sharing home cooked meals with the family for a reasonable rate at the homestead. Another bonus is the morning and afternoon Devonshire teas; a pot of tea with lovely homemade scones served on the homestead veranda. This is also a pet friendly station, but they must be fully restrained at all times.
Emu Creek is also an operational weather station recording and dispatching information to the weather bureau every day. Visitors are welcome to observe this interesting activity during their stay.
BARN HILL STATION
As far as an outback station stay, this one is different from most you will find around the country. For a start it is situated right on the Kimberley Coast overlooking the Indian Ocean. Located just 40km across beautiful Roebuck Bay from Broome (or 128km by road), Barn Hill was originally an outstation on the 430,000-acre Thangoo Brahman cattle property which stretches for 80km along this lovely coastline.
Still part of Thangoo, Barn Hill Beach Side Station Stay, owned and operated by Janice Bell and her family, is these days a well-run destination for visitors with many powered and unpowered caravan and camping sites available, some of them shady. In addition there are several self-contained chalets with shared amenities. Generators are allowed in unpowered areas, with some time restrictions. Access is suitable for all vehicles.
The picturesque beaches are lined with vivid red pindan sand cliffs and feature miles of colourful pinnacle-like sandstone columns, turrets and towers of various shapes and sizes, as well as ancient blowholes and caves. There’s even a small section of mini ‘beehive’ shapes not unlike those found at the Bungle Bungles in the east of the Kimberley. This wonderful scenic coastline looks particularly vibrant in the late afternoon light right before sunset – a photographer’s delight.
Speaking of sunsets, here at Barn Hill Station they are simply delightful; the cliff tops near the campsites are wonderful spots at happy hour so sit with a drink in hand and watch the fiery red ball slowly sinking into the Indian Ocean.
Ningaloo Station is a 125,000-acre pastoral lease 150km south of Exmouth on WA’s Coral Coast, connected to the Cape Range NP in the north by Yardie Creek. It has been managed by the Lefroy family since 1934, and is a slice of paradise where fully self-sufficient campers and caravanners can while away days or weeks on almost deserted beaches as waves break on Ningaloo Reef just metres from the shore. Here, red desert hills and bluffs roll up to brilliant turquoise water in breathtaking contrast. This is where the outback meets coral reef, and it will surely rate as one of the most beautiful places you have ever set up camp.
But all that beauty isn’t easy to get to. It’s 4WD access only via an unmarked turnoff from Manilya-Exmouth Rd. The track is corrugated in places and you’ll need to drive on soft sand to find camp, so this station stay is restricted to those with a capable offroad caravan and towing vehicle. Remember to reduce tyre pressure to 20psi on the gravel and 15psi on the sand. For off-road travellers, getting to Ningaloo Station is part of the fun, and the absence of crowds once you arrive makes it all worthwhile.
Unlike other stations on this list, there are no services available at Ningaloo whatsoever, so take all food, water, fuel and equipment with you, and don’t forget the air compressor. You’ll need your own porta potti, too. Eco toilets are available for hire at the homestead.
The Lefroy family are rightfully protective of this slice of outback paradise, so guests are encouraged to be respectful and follow the few rules in order to enjoy this very special part of the world.