South Australia vs Western Australia National Parks

Western Australia has some absolutely mind-blowing National Parks, and when we headed off on our Big Lap of Australia, I was very keen to see how the other states compared in what they had, and how they were run.

I’ve been critical of the way the DBCA (Department of Biodiversity and Conservation – the WA National Park management) have done some things in the past (although they do plenty of good work too), and wanted to see if other states were better, or worse.

So, onto some thoughts. Before I do though, please know this post is just written to share some differences. I’m not here to promote one state over another, or bag anyone or anything; the comments are without any prejudice, and said with no ill intent!

We love both states national parks, but wanted to share some differences that we’ve discovered, as it is quite fascinating (and ultimately the states should learn from each other, and do things better!).

Toilets at Fisherman Point
How do the National Parks in South Australia compare to those in Western Australia?

South Australia National Parks are much cheaper to camp

After visiting the Northern Territory, I returned feeling like we were getting ripped off in WA for National Park Camping and access, and South Australia has also proven this.

In WA, you get charged $11, or $15 per adult per night to camp, and then $3 or $5 per child from 6 – 16 years old. For our family, that means we pay $22 or $30 a night to camp in any of the National Parks in WA. The more expensive sites are the ones where more money has been spent, and the amenities are better, and the cheaper ones are where they’ve not been upgraded for some time.

I reckon this is expensive, especially when you have caravan parks that have far better amenities competing on a similar price range (although some are much more).

In South Australia, a huge number of camp sites are $13.50 per night, per vehicle. Yes, you read that right, not per person, but per vehicle.

The more expensive sites are $20 per night per vehicle, and then there are some that are $29.50 per night (like Memory Cove). There are some camp sites that are $28 per night for two vehicles, or $36 for even more, which is an option WA does not have. South Australia has a weird parks pass arrangement regarding camping feeds too, which makes them even cheaper again for overall cost to visit and stay.

Calm morning at Engine Point
$13.50 to camp her per night, per vehicle? You betcha!

The facilities in Western Australia are better, in general

We’ve been to a LOT of national parks in Western Australia, and they’ve been spending a bucket load of cash on the amenities. The best camp grounds in South Australia in terms of amenities are on par with average ones in WA, and some of the best camp sites in terms of amenities in WA are much nicer than what SA has.

The toilets at the camp grounds are better in WA in terms of air flow, buckets and brushes. There tends to be more picnic tables, more shelters, camp kitchens and often some surprisingly good amenities at the WA national parks.

I question whether all of this is necessary, and whether we’d be better off with less amenities and cheaper camping, but it is what it is. I’ve seen some huge transformations of camp sites in National Parks in WA that have completely wrecked the bush camping feel and turned it into a mini city, which is no good in our eyes either, so there’s a fine line to tread.

South Australia National Parks certainly don’t have rubbish facilities, but there are a lot that have none, or fairly old and dated ones.

Camp kitchens at Jarrahdene
The facilities and amenities in WA national parks are generally better than SA

South Australia has very little ranger activity

In WA you’ll see far more Rangers out and about. I’d say more often than not, you will see at least one ranger every single day in the more popular national parks, and in the big ones, you might see a handful of different rangers each day. In places like Karijini National Park, there are literally 6 + rangers that are on shift at any one time.

In South Australia, we’ve seen a ranger 3 times, in all of the travels that we’ve done. By see, we mean they arrived at camp, cleaned the toilets and stocked them with toilet paper, stuck a sign on the wall about fires and then disappeared. The only exception to this was when we stopped to chat to the ranger heading into Memory Cove, who told us they visit once a fortnight, or once a week in school holidays.

Again, perhaps this comes from less revenue from cheaper camp sites, and they employ less rangers, but there is very little activity. WA have gone down the path of having volunteer camp hosts at a heap of their sites, that get free accommodation and often a little hut or some other small perks, in return for looking after a camp ground and doing basic chores.

There’s none of this in South Australia, and whilst we couldn’t care less if the rangers are about or not, it was interesting to see the difference. In WA the Rangers are often out and about talking to people as well, and passing on information or advice, but we have had very little interaction with the rangers in South Australia!

Ranger at the Innes National Park
We’ve hardly seen any Rangers in South Australia. There seem to be way more in WA

The parks pass and camping fee arrangement in South Australia is very strange

In WA, your camping fees are totally separate to access fees, and I thought this was the norm. However, in South Australia, some of your camping fees also cover the access fees, so you don’t need to pay for the National Parks Pass.

For example, if you wanted to stay in the Ningaloo Marine Park near Exmouth, you’d pay your $11 per night per adult, plus a $12.50 entry fee for the vehicle to access the National Park. You can get an annual pass (like you can in South Australia), but it has no relationship to your camping fees.

I don’t understand why South Australia would roll their access and camping fees into one, and I’ve heard from the locals that its rocked the boat and made it a lot more expensive and awkward, but there you go.

South Australia parks pass
Some, but not all SA national parks have their parks pass rolled into the camping fee

Both WA and SA have some stunning National Parks

Honestly, there’s not been too many places in Australia that we’ve been and thought, gee, this is pretty rubbish. South Australia has some truly stunning National Parks, and we know all too well that WA does as well.

We were shocked, in fact, by the Flinders Ranges, and loved the Lincoln National Park, and the Gawler Ranges, and know that South Australia is a seriously beautiful place to visit.

Innes National Park
Both South Australia and Western Australia have incredible national parks. This is at Innes National Park

Finishing up

I’d happily return to either states National Parks (and we will), but was interested to see how the two states do things differently. I feel that WA over-develop many National Park camping areas, and spend too much money in doing so, and South Australia seems to have a less hands on approach to day to day management, facility upgrades and maybe this is a better thing overall.

I detest beautiful bush camps that are rolled into bitumen highways, with bollards and man made garbage everywhere. It destroys the beautiful area, and whilst there’s good intentions behind it, is it really the right thing to do?

We love basic national parks
We love basic, beautiful national parks, and too much development isn’t always a good experience

What do you think?

What other differences have you noticed?

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