How to book WA National park camping online when its busy

We’ve seen a heap of posts over the last few weeks from people who are struggling to book WA National Parks camping online when its busy, before they get booked from under your feet. In this post, we cover exactly what you need to do to have the best chance of getting the site you want!

For those of you who aren’t in the loop, a lot of the National Park camp sites in Western Australia now require advanced online booking on the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) website.

There are still a few sites that you just arrive without booking, but the large majority of popular camp sites today need online booking prior to you arriving, and that requires a bit of prior thought and commitment!

Online booking search
DPAW’s online booking system works, but you have to know your way around it

With the current circumstances regarding overseas travel, the demand for camp sites in WA has gone crazy, and getting yourself a booking is proving to be quite tricky.

We’ve done it 4 times now, with a number of different people. The first booking was lost due to the travel bans, the second we enjoyed (at Warroora Station) and the last two are still booked, for later this year.

Osprey Bay Camping at Ningaloo
If you want a site like this in peak season, there’s a few tricks to get your booking through

Finding a site

Finding a site is simple – head here – DBCA park stay. This is the DBCA Camping site, where all national park stays are booked.

From there, select where you want to stay, and input your dates. Please note that you cannot see availability for more than 180 days from today.

Once you’ve selected a site, and dates, click on a camp site, and scroll to the bottom. From there, you can change the dates around, and see what suits.

Now, what you’ll often see is ‘There are no campgrounds found matching your search criteria. Please change your search or click here for more information’. Essentially, this means that for the filters you’ve applied, nothing is available.

Osprey Bay online booking
Start by finding the site you want to stay at, and the alternatives nearby

Fear not though; if you delete the dates, and look at the map, you can click on the camp ground of choice, by hitting ‘book now’. This will open a new tab, and on it, you’ll find the campground map, booking requirements (some sites are capped at 14 nights if a public holiday is included, or 28 nights at any other time), refund options etc.

At the bottom of the page is the sites that are available, and their dates.

180 days in advance

The DPAW site allows you to book 180 days from the day of your arrival. Please get that rock solid in your mind; its from your arrival date, not your departure date. To make it simple, go to Google, and type in ‘180 days before 27/07/21’ (substitute your arrival date), and it will tell you the day that you need to book.

Camped on the Ningaloo Coast
If you want a cracking site like this, you’ll have to plan and put the effort in

Get up just before midnight

From there, you need to get up just before midnight on your identified day (or stay up), and be ready to act fast. In an ideal world, you would be on a PC, and have two tabs open, on different monitors, and connected to a quick internet. Of course, you can do it on anything, including a phone, but its just not as easy, or as fast.

On the first tab, you’ll have this – current time now. On the second tab, you’ll have your camp site of choice open, with the dates inputted, and ready to roll (you have to type the date in, as its greyed out). The second that it ticks over midnight, you refresh the tab with the camp ground open, and hit Book now.

Now, lets pause here for a second. When we say the second, that’s exactly what we mean. The moment its 12:00:00 to 12:00:01, you should have clicked the button.

This is the only part that you have to rush. Once you’ve hit it, you have 10 minutes where that booking is locked out, and no one can touch it. Enter your details in carefully, and pay for the site. You’ll easily be able to do it in a couple of minutes, so there’s no rush.

Please note that you need your credit card, and car rego (number plate number) details to make the booking

Then, try and ignore the adrenaline, and go back to sleep (good luck!).

If you miss out, you should have an alternative option you can jump on, or you’ll have to get up the next night, and try again.

DPAW booking online
Hit the Book now button as fast as you can

Doing it as a group

If you are travelling alone, life is simple. Try and get into a camp ground with 4 or 5 different sites required at the same time, and it becomes a whole lot of entertainment. We normally do it so one person books one site, and they know what they are booking.

The issue of course is that sometimes 3 of the 5 people will get sites, and then 2 others are left looking for somewhere else. 

The more you plan prior to midnight, the better. Have a backup idea, and an online chat, and just do what you can.

Flaws, and how people cheat the system

I honestly don’t know how you can make the system better. However, there are some serious flaws in the current setup.

It’s super hard to get a site

This system favours those who are happy to get up a midnight (sometimes several nights in a row), who have access to a fast device and internet, and who are confident using technology.

If you are travelling Australia, are not great with technology, or simply can’t plan that far in advance getting a site can be almost impossible during busy times (like school holidays).

People book extra days, and arrive late

I mentioned above that its 180 days from your date of arrival. Lets say you want to arrive on the 5th of July, 2021. You won’t be able to book until its January 6th. However, if you decided to book 3 nights extra, you’d be able to book from the the 4th of January. I’m seeing a number of people book sites for nights that they aren’t going to be there, just so they get a site.

This is especially the case leading into school holidays. It’s unethical, and you shouldn’t do it, but there’s nothing stopping it from being done.

Reconn R2 Camper
Online bookings can be good, but they can be a total nightmare too

Bookings are paid for, but often vacant

Once a booking is done and paid for, there’s no guarantee that the person is actually going to arrive. I’ve seen so many people say that they’ve been to camp sites where its fully booked out, and yet there is only a handful of people actually there.

For some camp sites, you can let the caretaker know, and they will re-list it, but for many once you’ve booked, and don’t arrive, the site doesn’t get used, and others miss out on the opportunity. DPAW still take their money, and don’t have to worry about anyone there, but its a big loss to those who are screaming to get a camp site.

180 days in advance is a long time

A lot of people don’t know what they are doing next weekend, let alone 180 days in advance. It takes a fair bit of planning to get this rolling, especially if you are going with a group of people. 

How have you gone booking DBCA sites?

We’ve been fairly successful so far booking these sites, using the above techniques (and in school holidays). I have missed one site once, but grabbed our alternative a few seconds later. My friends and family have also been reasonably successful, but not always.

How have you gone, and what do you think about it all? Let us know below!

Warroora Station Camping
Warroora Station, and the rest of the Ningaloo Reef can be so frustrating to get a booking in

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  1. Hey KB,

    We are also not happy with the current arrangement, although being able to book something and know you have a spot is nice, especially with young kids.

    The fact that so many sites are vacant is shocking though, and I really believe DPAW don’t care, as they still get the money and don’t have to manage the people.

    We are on the road full time now, and booking weeks in advance is not something that we want to do, but there are occasions where we’ve had no choice.

    I feel that maybe half online booking and half first in best dressed would be the most suitable option, but its a hard one to get it set up in a way that is fair and easy

    We are in South Australia now, and some of their camp sites incorporate the national parks entry fee, whilst it appears others do not. How’s that for even more confusing, and if you have paid for a parks pass, you are effectively paying again each time you pay for a site with it included.

    WA isn’t the only place to have issues!

    All the best

  2. The online booking discriminates against those who are not up with technology, people who’s work is eratic and are unable to book in firm dates and it is on a level dictating when you can go away. As a family that would go camping nearly once a month, most of our trips were spure of the moment and in all types of weather. We have not been able to do this for some time now as the majority of places we used to go to, are now all online. Unfortunately Dpaw do not care about the anguish this has caused families, seems the whole arrangement is about money. On the occasion we have gotten in somewhere, the amount of vacant spots that were booked, was so dissapointing. There is no flexibility, and more people miss out. What happened to just sending someone earlier to hold a spot during peak times. Going in a big group of families has been impossible because of the online booking as well. They should scrub it and get care takers to do the job.

  3. Hey Simon,

    With the way the camping niche has gone over the last few months, DPAW will be kept very busy for a while yet.

    I agree they certainly need an overhaul, and I can’t see why its so hard to do. They make a lot of money from the camp sites!

    All the best

  4. Aaron,

    Good write up! I would encourage everybody to boycott DPAW until they realise they are there to maximize the usage of the sites, rather than to maximize their revenue! It would certainly make it easier for me to find a site. 😉

    It shouldn’t be hard:
    – proper online refund system.
    – proper system to change/emend dates.
    – no show and you lose your whole booking!
    – on-site rangers to allow people to use spare sites after a certain time of day.
    – bookings allowed from a reasonable hour (say 10am wa time).


  5. Hey Sharon,

    Always a good way to wake up worn out the next morning! The empty sites really frustrate me, and I have no doubt people are booking more than they need just to get a spot. I certainly agree cancelling should be easier, and the caretakers should be able to pass on sites to others if they haven’t arrived.

    As I said though, I don’t think the DBCA actually care; they still get get paid, and don’t have to deal with as many people. Almost a win win in their books, no?!

    Have a great day

  6. Sharon Price says:

    Hi I have done the midnight booking many times for our favorite spot in cape range national park. Got to be on the ball a shame there are always vacant spots when there and it’s so hard to book. I hope they can come up with a better system to cancel so it encourages people to cancel if they can’t make it to free up sites for those who can and are available

  7. Hey Greg,

    Yep, their system is average at best in that regard. I often wonder if they don’t really care, as they still make money and don’t have to worry about dealing with people camping in those spots!

    All the best

  8. Greg S Finch says:

    I think dpaw needs a
    much stronger automated refund system so that people can easily cancel. Calling deep or is not always a good experience. I also think that regular no show offenders should have their registration on a no booking list for a while. It’s very frustrating to see a fully booked camp and empty sites for the whole time you there

  9. Hey Anne,

    You should have received an email. You can either reply to that, or call the number. There’s no way of doing it online

    All the best

  10. Anne Walford says:

    I can’t find anywhere to alter my booking?

  11. Hey Em,

    If you contact the local DPAW office, they’ll be able to adjust it for you. You’ll lose the fee for the nights booked, but it does give others an opportunity to re-book.

    If you’ve booked in Exmouth for example, ring the Exmouth DPAW office and they’ll sort it out for you

    All the best

  12. Thanks for the comprehensive advice!

    Do you / anyone out there have advice about amending your booking? E.g. if I book for 5 nights, but get stuck and can only be there for the last 3 nights.

    Can you just advise DPAW/the visitors centre (and forfeit any missed nights fees of course), but retain the remainder of the booking?

  13. Hi Emily,

    You are welcome. Yes, Midnight WA time

    All the best

  14. EMily Radcliffe says:

    Thanks for this info Rob, its great! Is it midnight WA time that the bookings open? Cheers

  15. Hey Rob,

    I haven’t heard of anything changing. It’s possibly they’ve put a delay in as the site was getting hammered, but we haven’t had to book anything since writing this.

    All the best

  16. Rob Connor says:

    Was doing ok until they have staggered the booking times to between 12.00 to 12.05 have been updateing ever 3 seconds however the sites available have all gone with no blue icon, last night there were 5 sites available all had gone by 12.04.30sec while i was updating every 3 seconds from 12.00