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First camping trip in 2020

February 07, 2020 — BarryK

I have been away for about five days, on the South Coast of Western Australia, at the Benwenerup campground. The South Coast is a great place to be in the summer, as the weather is mild, quite changeable actually -- over the days that I was there, a couple of days it was quite hot, I think mid-30s, a couple of nights were quite cool, one morning there was a drizzle of rain, most days there was a cool breeze coming from the south.

Anyway, the campsite. It is run by DPAW:

This post is a mini-review of the campsite and the experience of staying there.

I went there just after the school holidays, as these coastal campsites can get crowded during holidays. There are 14 bays, some of which are large enough to take a group with 3 or 4 RVs. When I arrived, only 3 bays were occupied, 2 were caravans and one was a campervan -- the latter was a young foreign couple, who departed early the next morning. The other two were elderly couples -- yes, grey nomads!

I found a nice spot, with adequate shade but still with a nice aspect to get sun for my solar panel:


The cost is $7 per person (concession price, AU dollars), but there was also a $8 fee to get into the Stokes National Park (again, concession price). I booked in for five days, and paid the site host, Phil. Phil is another grey nomad, travelling solo. There are people who volunteer as site-hosts at DPAW campgrounds. In Phil's case, he decided that he wanted to do something useful in his retirement, so became a DPAW volunteer. he explained that the site-hosts only stay for one month at a site, then move on. In his case, he volunteers on the South Coast during the summer, then heads north in the winter.

Phil has a caravan, pretty well decked out, with TV dish, solar power, etc. Ditto for the other grey nomads that I met there. One thing of note: everyone was very friendly. One caravan left the next day, leaving just one -- and I met them at the waterfront, fishing.

Which gets to the big question: what do people do there? Very little, apart from fishing. I chatted with the couple who were fishing, and they commented that most visitors just stay one night. If they come with kids, they realise there is not much to entertain the kids, so they move on.

Yes, there are no walking trails, and the campground is on an inlet, cutoff from the ocean by a sandbar, and the water is murky-looking:


...what is causing that froth? It was there every day, all along the shore. One information poster did say that there is some pollution from farmland. Even though the location is inside Stokes National Park, tributaries flow from further afield.

I asked the couple, who seemed to know a lot about the place, about whether I could swim in it. They commented that no one does, kids don't either. Well, I did, once, but kept my head above water.

The ocean is not far away, but there is no road to it, apparently not even a 4wd track. There is a "day use area" about 1.7km toward the ocean from the campsite, that one can drive to, but then the walk to the ocean, along the edge of the inlet, is about an hour. The couple had done the walk on an earlier visit.

I did not want to walk one hour each way, just for a swim in the ocean.

First night there, I had a very pleasant surprise -- there is a phone signal (Telstra), quite a strong one, 3 bars on my phone. Yay, I was online that night!:


Another pleasant surprise, the next day I discovered the camp kitchens, two of them. Rainwater and gas barbecue and stove. And, the gas was free. By stove, I mean just a ring burner -- at one of the camp kitchens, the flame kept going out due to the strong breeze, but the other is more sheltered and stayed lit.

The photo shows sink at one end, gas barbecue in the middle, and ring-burner on the right:


This is the first outing for my Coleman 4P Instant-up Dark-room vestibule tent, that I posted about awhile back:

...yes, quite satisfactory. "Instant up" is misleading though, as that only applies to the inner skin. The "dark room" outer fly skin takes awhile longer to erect, and there are poles for the front vestibule, and pegs are required really, the time to put it up is not much less than any other 4-person tent.

I did like the experience of the "dark room". Having windows on both inner and outer skins gave a lot of flexibility to control the amount of light entering and ventilation. On the couple of hot days, the feeling was that it was doing a good job of keeping the interior a bit cooler than an ordinary tent.

Now for some bad news: my cheap MPPT solar regulator, purchased from China via eBay, turned out to be a disaster. I posted about it here:

...yes, unlike some others from China, that profess to be MPPT but are actually only PWM, this one is genuine MPPT. That is the good news. This camping trip was the first test in the field. At first, it looked good. I took the Atem Power "250 watt" solar panel on this trip, with the panels wired in series, so putting out a nominal 24 volts.

That Atem Power panel is another story, another cheap product from China:

...anyway, 157 watts is OK for this trip, and the panel is very light so easy to lift.

The MPPT regulator takes care to feed the correct voltage and current into the battery, and at first it was doing a very good job. Lead acid batteries have 3 stages required to charge them properly. The second stage, when the battery is about 80% full (if I recall rightly) is a boost charge at a higher voltage, then it drops down to a lower-voltage float charge.

Anyway,sometime in the afternoon, I measured the battery voltage, and it was 16.55 volts!!!!!

That is really bad, and I immediately disconnected the charger. On subsequent days, I only charged the battery for a few hours, while the charging voltage stayed at a reasonable level, so never fully charged it.

Update on that MPPT charger -- do not buy it!

EDIT 2020-04-16:
Rereading this blog post, I see there is something that needs further explanation. A "12v" solar panel actually puts out 16-18v at the peak power point, and 20-22v open-circuit. Thus, wiring two of these panels in series, the open-circuit voltage will be 40-44v. The MPPT regulator must be specified to withstand this voltage. The Chinese MPPT regulator that I used is rated at 50v maximum into the PV input.

So, if the specifications can be believed, it can handle two panels in series. This is an important point, because some of them can't. There is one MPPT regulator I know of that is specified for maximum input voltage of 25v, limiting it to a "12v" panel -- but you can wire panels in parallel, but of course that will increase the current and maybe require heavier-gauge wire.

Anyway, back onto the campsite experience, do I recommend it? Yes, for a very short stay, or longer if you like fishing.

After leaving Benwenerup, I visited Quagi Beach. This is close-by. Drive back to the highway, drive several kilometres toward Esperance, then turn south onto a corrugated road, then drive 10 kilometres -- be warned, it is very corrugated!

Ah, lovely ocean, lovely beach. The campsite has no amenities, only a toilet, no camp kitchen. Cost is $15 per site, no pensioner discount. This is great for a couple or family. Personally, I loved this place. I didn't stay overnight, just long enough for a swim and walk along the beach.

Note also, no phone signal. I think that this is because the Telstra phone signal is beamed along the highway, and Quagi Beach is further away from the highway than Benwenerup. So that avenue of evening entertainment is out -- but then, it is supposed to be a camping experience. I was going to say, people can chat around the campfire at night, but both sites have all-year fire bans.

Here are web pages with info:


A lot more people camping here!  Oh yeah, one more detail: Quagi Beach is surrounded by State Forest, but it is not in Stokes National Park, so you don't get slugged the National Park entry fee!

Tags: nomad