On a continent the size of the USA, Oz has the population of Manhattan Island and is one of the least tarmac-ed countries in the world. Plus it’s really bloody beautiful.
So, to help you get out there and enjoy it all, here’s a quick peek, in no particular order, at some of Australia’s finest camping experiences.
Fraser Island, Qld
World Heritage-listed Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. A pleasure island for4WDers, the local wildlife here would have Darwin quivering like a dingo at an underage beauty pageant. It also has some amazing camp spots. Canvas erecting is either done in established sites, like Dundubara, or anywhere beach camping is signposted. Dundubara is relatively basiccamping, but right on the beach on the east coast. The most popular way to appreciate Fraseris by 4WD, though you can stay longer (most trips last three days max) and for cheaper by walking round the central part. Take care when setting up camp as a traveller was injured recently when he slept too close to the 4WD track.
More info about this and other camping spots in Queensland visit www.epa.qld.gov.au
Where it’s at: Fraser Island lies at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Brisbane.
Freycinet National Park, Tas
This is possibly our favourite camping spot in the whole world. Hiking up the peak of Mt Amos, you can take in spectacular views of Coles Bay and Wineglass Bay. Walk down and along a beach that looks like it’s been stolen from the Caribbean and nip into the trees at the end for a wonderful little spot, where wallabies will come and gently pester you while dolphins splash about in the water. The sites are basic, with toilets but no showers, but it’s a small price to pay.
Myall Lakes National Park, NSW
A great spot for wildlife enthusiasts. You can catch migrating whales gliding up or down the coast, as well as frolicking dolphins and a school of grey nurse sharks (don’t panic – they’re friendly) lives nearby. So bring your snorkels. The beach at the tiny Seal Rocks “township” is a proper treat, with crystal clear waters lapping the golden sands between two rocky headlands. There are a series of campsites, some near the beach and others dotted about the park, often near warm, tranquil shallow lakes – ideal for a bit of fishing, kayaking or simply watching the sun sink, coldie in hand. Most sites have toilets and drinking water and some allow fires (but check for fire bans).
Sydney Harbour, NSW
Did you know you can actually camp inside Sydney Harbour (and we’re not talking James Bond style boat-tents here)? Cockatoo Island is a whole eight minutes by ferry from Circular Quay. There you can pitch your tent under the stars and enjoy the best thing Sydney has to offer – a view of the harbour (albeit for $45, info at harbourtrust.gov.au). If you’re after something a little more hardcore, go bush in the rugged terrain of Marramarra National Park (environment.nsw.gov.au). It’s on the junction of Hawkesbury River and Berowra Creek, on the northern outskirts of Sydney. If you’ve got a campervan and are sick of getting stuck in rush-hour traffic, have a think about pitching up at the city’s legendary but uncrowded northern beaches, such as Narrabeen (environment.nsw.gov.au).
More info, Head to environment.nsw.gov.au for the info.
SHARK BAY CAMPGROUNDS
Shark Bay, WA
Shark Bay is yet another World Heritage area. Renowned for Monkey Mia, it is one of the most undisturbed coastlines in the world. Where else can you hand feed dolphins, or nip up to the Ningaloo Reef and dive with whale sharks? There are four designated camping areas in the Shire of Shark Bay, all with 2WD access. Located 18-36km from Denham, the campsites all offer beach-style camping, fishing, and of course, snorkelling.
Permission must be obtained from the Shire, or you can incur a huge fine.
For more info on the area, Ph: (08) 9948 1590
Where it’s at: Shark Bay is located 900km north of Perth and 155km off the North West Coastal Highway.
THE PINES CAMPGROUND
Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park, Vic
Like Uluru, Mount Arapiles rises out of a plain resolutely, if not quite as spectacularly. And Mount Arapiles is one of the finest rock climbing destinations in the world. People take time out from Chamonix to come hang out at the Pines and do some sport climbing. With good toilets nearby, plenty of parking (the campground is tents only though, with a soft bed of pine needles) and world class rock climbing, the place has an amazing vibe over the summer. Some people move into the campground for months at a time just to climb for the season. Guitars, bandanas, woodfires and cool bottles of wine are de rigueur here. Camping fees apply, just pay the ranger when you get there.
More info at ring Parks Victoria, Ph:(03) 5387 1260 or visit www.parkweb.vic.gov.au
Where it’s at: Mount Arapiles is 320km north-west of Melbourne via the Western Highway and Natimuk.
WILPENA POUND CAMPGROUND
Flinders Ranges National Park, SA
The Flinders Ranges National Park has some of Australia’s most rugged scenery, taking in moonscapes and lush oases with equal ease. It is literally riddled with brutal offroad tracks that can turn into lentil soup after the most trivial rain, and therefore, is a magnet for offroaders. Wilpena Campground isn’t exactly roughing it though. It has full facilities with powered sites (for those of you doing the campervan thing), toilets and showers, even a bar.
Bookings are not necessary for basic camping. For powered sites or any enquiries, call the Wilpena Pound Visitor Centre, Ph: (08) 8648 0048.
Where it’s at: Wilpena Pound Resort is approximately 450km north of Adelaide via the Sturt Highway.
GAGUDJU LODGE COOINDA
Kakadu National Park, NT
World Heritage-listed Kakadu needs no introduction. Yellow Water is nestled in the heart of the park, and is a great place to explore further afield. Gagudju Lodge Cooinda provides
a sanctuary where you can camp out in one of 80 powered campsites, or 300 unpowered sites. And if sweating through your third night under canvas doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, there are 48 air-conditioned rooms and a swimming pool.
More info on Gagudju Lodge Cooinda, Ph: (08) 8979 0145, www.gagudjulodgecooinda.com.au
Where it’s at: The lodge is three hours south-east of Darwin via the Stuart Highway