Apr 01, 2017
From experiences with all the trimmings to those that are blissfully basic — camping is one of the best ways to get in touch with Australia’s bountiful natural assets. With so much on offer, Natasha Dragun uncovers some of the best experiences to suit everyone.
Best for Getting Away from it All: Maria Island National Park, Tasmania
An island off an island off an island, Maria is as ruggedly beautiful as it is remote. Blissfully shop and car free (save for the rangers), on arrival you’re met by sweeping bays, rugged cliffs and mountains, abundant wildlife and historic ruins – it’s home to a convict probation station, which is one of 11 historic places that together form the Australian Convicts Sites World Heritage Property.
Winds can whip the slip of land so, thankfully, the campsite is located in a sheltered area on the east coast, tucked behind Darlington Bay Beach and just steps from the jetty.
Facilities include: toilets, gas barbeques, fireplaces and hot showers – extremely welcome after a day exploring this remarkable part of the world.
National Park fees and camping fees (from $7 per person/night) apply. Bookings should be made in advance. parks.tas.gov.au
Howells Point on Maria Island. Courtesy Tourism Tasmania and Rob Burnett
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Best for Romance: Mt Franklin Reserve, Hepburn Regional Park, Victoria
Picture this: steaming mineral water filling a bath built for two, the aroma of rose petals, an imminent massage and the promise of a glass of champagne at the end of the day. Victoria’s spa country around Daylesford really turns it on when it comes to romantic getaways. A short drive from the spa action is one of Australia’s most unique campgrounds, a vast grassy field occupying the crater of an extinct volcano. Tall conifers and deciduous trees ring Mt Franklin Reserve, where you’ll find bathrooms, fireplaces and water for washing as well as camp spots suitable for tents and motorhomes. While you could easily while away days hiking and picnicking along tracks surrounding the park, the allure of Daylesford’s healing thermal springs and excellent restaurants is hard to resist.
Camp spots are free and are allocated on a first come, first served basis. parkweb.vic.gov.au
Best for Families: Lake Keepit Holiday and Recreation Park, NSW
Sailing, kayaking, jet skiing, tennis, volleyball — there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained at this perennially busy holiday park. Pitch your tent, plug in your campervan or hire a cabin, then set out exploring beautiful Keepit Dam, easy to reach between Tamworth and Gunnedah. Naturally, water-based activities are the main draw, with Keepit applauded for its fishing – try your luck catching silver and gold perch, Murray cod and catfish, among others.
On shore, diversions range from a water spray park, playgrounds, a BMX and mountain bike track, and a nearby facility where you can sign up for glider joy flights.
It’s hard to go past a picnic barbeque, but the park’s new kiosk also serves up hot food, snacks and (importantly) ice cream, for when the temperature soars.
Sites can be booked online, with bush camping from $16/night. Pets are welcome. inlandwaters.com.au
Kids literally have a splash at Lake Keepit
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Best for Beachside Bliss: Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, QLD
It’s regularly voted one of the world’s best beaches, yet most people visit Whitehaven on a fleeting day tour by boating – or even choppering – in for a couple of hours of fun on the blindingly white pure silica sand. Come 3pm, crowds disperse and leave the strip of bliss in the Whitsundays to those who know about the intimate, eucalyptus-laced campground, just steps from warm, azure water.
There are no hotels, restaurants or shops on the island, and the setting is basic: there are toilets, but fires and generators are prohibited, and all drinking water must be brought in with you. It’s a small price to pay for the setting, within easy reach of two stellar walking trails: Tongue Point track, taking you to a perch above the beach, and Sawmill Beach, offering impressive bay views.
Advance bookings are required for camping, with rates from $6.15 per person/night. npsr.qld.gov.au
Lounging on Whitehaven, Courtesy Tourism & Events Queensland
Best for Stargazing: Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park, NT
Located 128 kilometres west of Alice Springs, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, Ormiston Gorge is one of those sacred places where you’ll feel an immediate connection to the land. The campground here is the start and finish of the Larapinta Trail, a 223-kilometre trek that takes you through the astonishing wilderness of the West MacDonnell National Park.
Many opt to sleep here in pegless tents or campervans, given the baked ochre soil. Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed a sublime setting of startling white ghost gums ringing a waterhole just begging to be swum in.
Still, the biggest allure is found up above: free from light pollution, the night sky here is dazzling. Drag your duvet outside and sleep under the stars, watching comets, meteors and satellites dance across the Milky Way.
Gas barbecues, toilets and showers are provided. Fees, from $3.30 per person/night, are paid on arrival. nt.gov.au
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Best for Hiking: Ngarigo Campground, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW
It may be located just off a major Kosciuszko National Park road, but Ngarigo Campground is one of the state’s most scenic thanks to its setting on the banks of the Thredbo River amid a forest of tall alpine ash.
Many come here for the excellent fly fishing (rainbow and brown trout are plentiful), but most are drawn by the hiking and mountain biking opportunities – it’s also a good base for skiing, although come prepared as it can get very cold in winter.
A highlight is the the Kosciuszko walk: a full-day day trek from Thredbo that takes you past rocky granite outcrops, through fields of wildflowers and finally to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko (2228m), Australia’s highest point. The sweeping views across the Snowy Mountains and Victorian High Country are sure to impress.
Sites are unpowered, but there are toilets and barbeque facilities. Camping is free, but National Park entry fees apply. Bookings are unavailable. nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Kosciuszko National Park. Courtesy Ben Hope
Best for Glamping: Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef, WA
You can expect style and sustainability in equal measure at this upscale tented camp in Western Australia’s far-flung Cape Range National Park (pictured at top). A 90-minute drive from Exmouth, the property’s 16 accommodations are built on platforms to protect local flora and fauna, and boardwalks link guests with the main lodge to prevent soil erosion. Energy comes from solar panels, recycling is a priority and produce is as local as it can be.
But sitting in your comfy handmade jarrah bed, wrapped in plush sheets, gazing over Ningaloo Marine Park and the white sand dunes of South Mandu Beach, the retreat’s eco-credentials are paled by pure exclusivity and luxury. Snorkelling one of the world’s greatest fringing coral reefs is a highlight; time your visit right and you’ll also have the opportunity to swim with whale sharks and humpback whales (July to September).
Sal Salis is closed from November 1 to mid-March, annually. Rates from $1500 per night, double. salsalis.com.au
Best for Breathtaking Views: Richardsons Beach Campground, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
On Tasmania’s east coast, Freycinet National Park is a place of wild beauty: towering pink-hued mountains known as the Hazards form a stunning backdrop for the crystal-clear water of Wineglass Bay. It’s here, at the top of Freycinet Peninsula’s sheltered west coast, that you’ll find Richardsons Beach Campground.
Spaced out behind an inviting strip of sand, powered and unpowered campsites come with vistas over the water and those bare granite outcrops. Even better is the outlook from one of the viewing platforms along the area’s walking trails, ranging from a 1hr return walk to Wineglass Bay lookout to a steep climb up Mt Amos. Regardless of which route you choose you’ll be rewarded with bird’s-eye views over Freycinet Peninsula. Back at camp, as dusk falls, join fellow campers at the visitor centre’s outdoor cinema.
From late December to mid-February and at Easter, site allocation is via a ballot system: download the application form and submit it by July 31. National Park fees apply as well as camping fees, from $13 per site/night. parks.tas.gov.au
Wineglass Bay and The-Hazards. Courtesy Tourism Tasmania and Chris Bray Photography
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Best for Chasing Waterfalls: Leliyn (Edith Falls), NT
While there are showers at the Leliyn campground, an even better way to cool down after a day of hiking is to dive under Edith Falls, located off the Stuart Highway around 40 kilometres northwest of Katherine. Here, paperbark and pandanus fringe upper and lower swimming holes, both of them crocodile free (observe warning signs, as not all waterways are safe).
Edith is one of many waterfalls in the Nitmiluk National Park, also known for its spectacular gorges and plunging escarpments rich with plants and animals. And the grassy, well-shaded campground is the ideal base to explore the outback, with a number of hiking trails beginning and ending here. The site’s facilities have been upgraded in recent years and now include toilets, washing machines and a small kiosk. Generators and fires are not permitted, however, and all sites are unpowered.
Bookings are unavailable. Rates are from $12 per person/night. nt.gov.au
Best for Indigenous Culture: Iga Warta, Northern Flinders Ranges, SA
In the Northern Flinders Ranges of South Australia, the Adnyamathanha people open their homes and share stories of the land at Iga Warta. You can stay in elevated safari-style tents, but there’s also plenty of space for bush camping, made all the more pleasant by extensive facilities including a camp kitchen, pool, showers and toilets.
But the real reason you come to this 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned and managed site near Nepabunna is for the informative, and immersive, cultural tours — visit 35,000-year-old painting sites, sign up for artefact-making sessions and plant tours, try bush tucker, and enjoy stories by the campfire.
Backdropped by rugged mountains, the Iga Warta site is a mecca for native flora and fauna, particularly beguiling after the rain.
Camping from $11 per person/night. igawarta.com
Best for Wildlife: Rocky River, Kangaroo Island SA
Just 110 kilometres south of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is a natural magnet for those on the lookout for Australian wildlife. Yes, there are plenty of ‘roos around, but you can also add koalas, wallabies, wombats and echidnas to the list of attractions.
The island is also known for its populations of sea lions and New Zealand fur seals, the latter of which call Cape du Couedic, in the 32,600-hectare Flinders Chase National Park, home.
The park is home to Rocky River campground, a series of linked sites suitable for caravans, trailers and tents. Private and protected, the campground is popular thanks to its great facilities, which include flush toilets, boardwalks, good pressure showers, barbeques and a visitors’ centre where you can top up on supplies.
Camping rates are $30 per vehicle/night. Bookings are essential. environment.sa.gov.au
Sunset at the Remarkable Rocks Kangaroo Island. Courtesy SATC
Best for Pets: Johanna Beach, Victoria
The first thing that this camping spot has going for it is its location — it is just a short detour from the Great Ocean Road and set behind sand dunes that shield it from waves pummelling one of the coast’s most popular surf beaches.
The only other reason you need to come here is the fact that it’s pet friendly. Just 220 kilometres from Melbourne, Johanna’s grassy campground is basic: the 25 sites are all unpowered and there’s no drinking water provided. But that’s part of the appeal. You’re steps from a strip of sand framed by towering sandstone cliffs, and it’s a short drive to creature comforts in Johanna town. There are actually two campsites here: one at sea level for regular campers, the other an elevated cypress-lined perch overlooking the beach, for walk-in hikers. Pets are only permitted at the former.
Online bookings are essential for both sites. Rates from $25.80 per night. parkstay.vic.gov.au
Johanna Campground. Courtesy Sylvia Van Der Peet
Best for Foodies: Wharncliffe Mill, Western Australia
Forget sausages and damper cooked over an open fire – if you pitch your tent at eco-friendly Wharncliffe you’ll have dozens of artisanal culinary experiences on your doorstep.
Set amid staggeringly tall trees in Bramley National Park, this bush retreat is in the heart of Western Australia’s Margaret River region, an easy drive from applauded wineries (think, Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Leeuwin Estate), breweries, a farmers’ market, restaurants and more.
As an added bonus, a number of wine tasting tours stop at Wharncliffe, so you don’t have to drive. While there are on-site cabins and provided safari tents, there’s also plenty of shady space for campers and caravaners, alongside welcome comforts such as hot showers, a campfire pit and a communal kitchen.
Powered campsites from $34/night. wharncliffemill.com.au
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