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Cleo Smith search: Inside the ‘wilderness campground’ where little girl was last seen

This is where it happened — a remote coastal haven for campers and caravanners to immerse themselves in the area’s wild and rugged beauty.

Aerial photos show more than 20 tin shacks scattered in bush fringing the beach. Last weekend there were also 20-30 caravans at the Blowholes Campground, also known as Point Quobba.

And there appeared to be just one tent — a new family-sized tent from which four-year-old Cleo Smith is suspected to have been snatched from in the dead of night early Saturday, October 16, with her mum Ellie and stepdad Jake Gliddon sleeping just metres away.

Billed as a “wilderness campground”, the Blowholes is just that. There is no check-in, no register, no powered sites and no access to water. Campers have to be self-sufficient.

Many visitors come to see the Blowholes and watch jets of water erupt into the air — sometimes up to a height of 20m — through narrow holes in the rocks from sea caves below. Or they come to snorkel a coral-filled lagoon known to the locals as the “Aquarium” and to picnic on the white sand.

Campers can stay for up to 30 nights. There’s an honesty box, though people are encouraged to pay site fees online, with adults charged $11 a night, seniors $8 and children free. A Shire of Carnarvon ranger visits the site daily to check registrations.

Missing girl Cleo Smith, 4.
Camera IconMissing girl Cleo Smith, 4. Credit: Facebook / Ellie Smith/Facebook / Ellie Smith
Aerial view of the Blowholes .
Camera IconAerial view of the Blowholes . Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian
Aerial view of the Blowholes.
Camera IconAerial view of the Blowholes. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Like most of the State’s north, the wilderness campsite, 75km north of Carnarvon, is a transient place with many coming and going.

When the sun sets, the vastness and wildness of the area becomes apparent. Nights are quiet and dark once the campfires have gone out.

The terrain is inhospitable and uncomfortable underfoot, especially if you’re not wearing shoes — another factor that reduced the likelihood Cleo had got up and wandered off on her own. Last Monday morning, the site was empty of campers. It was a co-ordination centre for an exhaustive land, air and sea search, led by WA Police.

Cleo has been missing for more than a week.
Camera IconCleo has been missing for more than a week. Credit: NO BYLINE/supplied

It was also a crime scene; one that has since become the focus of national and international media attention.

One week on, people in different parts of the world are also following developments, praying for a miracle, and just like West Australians, asking: where is little Cleo? Police now believe she could be anywhere in the State.

With the investigation moving away from the campsite, the area was quiet on Saturday night, with just three campervans parked there. The sound of helicopters was gone, replaced by the crashing of waves against the rocks.

Two visitors turned up late in the afternoon, unaware of what had happened. They turned around when they read an electronic sign that flashed “Missing Girl”.

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