Best wild camping in Australia

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If you want a wild weekend, don’t head for the Gold Coast – head for a wild camping area instead. You might think that it’s impossible to go wild camping legally in Australia, but some of the country’s best national parks let you camp in places untouched by camping amenities; it’ll just be you and nature.

Note: You need to be experienced and prepared for wild camping; remember to always get a permit and contact the ranger before heading out.

Alpine National Park, Victoria

Buckland Valley

 

The landscape of Alpine National Park is one of high romance – just ask Sigrid Thornton and Tom Burlinson from ’80s classic movie Man From Snowy River. This alpine region is a land of rugged mountains and views, wild brumbies and kangaroos, and abandoned shearers’ huts.

If you’d prefer to experience this land without the distractions of other campers, might we suggest you make for the hills? Alpine National Park allows wild camping (which Parks Victoria calls dispersed camping) in much of the park, with a few restrictions. While there are popular designated camping areas inside the park, it’s also the best place to go wild camping in Victoria.

Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales

Lake Crackenback

The alpine region crosses from Victoria into New South Wales, where it is protected by Kosciuszko National Park, home to Australia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko. Just like Alpine National Park, this is a place of high romance, particularly in spring, when the park literally blooms with wildflowers. You can wild camp in the Main Range area in the north of the park, although there are restrictions around the alpine lakes and a few other areas. Plan your visit and your campsite right, and you could make it to the top of Mount Kosciuszko before any day-trippers.

Sundown National Park, Queensland

Severn River Water by Tourism and Events Queensland

It’s hard to find places that allow wild camping in Queensland – but you don’t have to let the sun go down on your wild camping dreams, as it’s permitted at Sundown National Park, 250km south-west of Brisbane on the border with New South Wales. This national park is reclaimed grazing land, a dramatic mountainous landscape carved by the Severn River with old mining holes. It’s covered in tracks for both hikers and four-wheel-drivers, which makes it a popular adventure spot.

Malkumba–Coongie Lakes National Park, South Australia

Coongie Lakes National Park

Is there anything more unexpected than a wetland in the middle of the desert? Coongie Lakes National Park, 100km west of Innamincka on a rough and ready road, protects a wetland which has some of the only permanent water in this patch of South Australia. You could call it an Australian version of an oasis – one that comes with a trillion flies.

It’s not exactly wild camping, as you can’t camp anywhere you want in the park. But you can camp anywhere around Coongie Lake itself, which is the next best thing. The wide lake is fringed by sand dunes, and has plenty of opportunities for bird-watching as well as watching the spellbinding sunrises and sunsets. This is the desert, so don’t camp here in summer.

Munga-Thirri National Park, Queensland

Munga-Thirri National Park

If Coongie Lakes offers a welcome reprise from the surrounding landscape, you’ll receive no such luxury here. This is a harsh place that looms large in the memory landscape of Australia, a near impassable desert of rolling sand dunes that reach 90 metres high and stretch for 200 kilometres. Yet it’s all the more adventurous because of it, if you have the skill, experience and equipment.

The national park starts 80km west of Birdsville in Queensland. Birdsville is also where you’ll find the nearest mechanic (did we mention you need to be prepared?). This park is only accessible by 4WD, and you have to cross the desert on the QAA line. Camping is allowed within 500 metres of the line, and you should always stay with your vehicle.

Five winter road trips to make you leave the armchair behind

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Forget about travelling from the comfort of your armchair – winter is the best time to hit the road and see the more adventurous parts of Australia. These five road trips travel through the places that make up the dusty and beautiful soul of Australia, but are too hot or too wet to see in summer and the wet season. So dust off the Akubra and pump the tyres. It’s time we got moving.

Savannah Way from Broome to Katherine, Western Australia and Northern Territory

Gibb River Road

If you’re after a big drive through big scenery, look no further than the Savannah Way from Broome to Katherine. This section of the epic cross-country drive takes you from the coast of Western Australia to near the top of the Northern Territory – and it’s all 2WD accessible, unlike the nearby Gibb River Road. This is your route to the heart of the Kimberley, an isolated and hardy road through frontier towns like Fitzroy River and past landmarks such as the river-carved walls of Geikie Gorge, the unreal striped domes of Purnululu National Park, and the huge man-made lake of Lake Argyle near Kununurra. This looks and feels like an epic adventure, but without requiring a 4WD.

Cairns to Cape York, Queensland

Elliot Falls, Cape York

This is a gnarly journey up into the wet and wild tropics of Cape York – you’ll definitely need a 4WD for this trip. But it’s all worth it on a quest to make it to the top of Australia. The tip is a 30-hour drive from Cairns, depending on which road you take. There’s the adventurous route along the highway and then the ‘good’ bypass roads on the cape, and then there’s the really adventurous route, which tackles the journey to the tip along the Bloomfield Track and the Old Telegraph Track, with river crossings, crocs and ancient rainforests galore. Whichever route you take, you’ll be passing through scenery more authentically prehistoric than Jurassic Park. When you make it to the top, the tip is typically understated – only marked by a rusty sign set on some rocks. But it’s a truly special experience that anyone who has done it will tell you is worth the journey.

Red Centre Way, Northern Territory

Kings Canyon

If anything could convince you to leave behind the armchair this winter, it’s the Red Centre Way, a 690-kilometre-long drive that loops through the red desert scenery of Central Australia on its way to some of the biggest attractions in Australia. And when we say biggest, we mean the biggest, from Uluru, one of the largest monoliths in the world, to the mighty walls of Kings Canyon. You’ll also drive past Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Kata Tjuta and Mount Conner, to name a few. This is a land carved by the ancients – and the Red Centre Way, which is 2WD accessible (although a 4WD is recommended), takes you right into the heart of it. Sure, you could just fly into Yulara, the town that services Uluru, but where’s the fun in that?

Overlander’s Way, Queensland and Northern Territory

Barkly Homestead by TripAdvisor reviewer Zuluwarrior131

It’s a long way from the Great Barrier Reef at Townsville to Tennant Creek in Northern Territory – and we’re not just talking kilometres (although there are 1566 of those). It feels like you’re travelling from one world to another along this road, the tropical palms and waters of the east coast to the red outback of Central Australia. This is a long and occasionally lonely drive through wide open plains along a sealed highway, but with some memorable stops, from the historic gold town of Charters Towers to that stalwart against the long drive, the Barkly Homestead.

Melbourne to Broken Hill, Victoria to New South Wales

The Living Desert, Broken Hill

This can be a relatively straight-forward drive; after all, it’s only 9 hours from Melbourne to Broken Hill. But doesn’t that sound a bit … boring? To get the best of this trip, you’ll need to embrace the art of the detour, as you’ll discover the best of outback New South Wales just off the road. First, you need to get to Mildura. From Melbourne, the drive takes you up through Bendigo and into the mallee lands around the Murray. When you get to Mildura, forget about the direct Silver City Highway, and take the more meandering Darling River Run to Broken Hill. This road follows the Darling River and will take you through the dusty soul of New South Wales, from the dry prehistoric lakes and eerie sand formations of Mungo National Park to the iconic lakes of Kinchega National Park. It’s a drive full of character and characters (make sure to stop in the small towns along the way). When you do arrive in Broken Hill, you might decide that you’re having too much fun and keep going all the way up to Bourke.

Best campsites to stay at this autumn

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Autumn isn’t the time to stay in front of the home fire – rather it’s the perfect time to explore the wild places of Australia that are too hot, too wet, too inaccessible to visit over summer. We’ve picked our five favourite campsites that will entice you away from your couch and onto the open road.

Leliyn (Edith Falls) camping area, Nitmiluk National Park, Northern Territory

Edith Falls

Leliyn (Edith Falls) camping area is paradise found, a lush campground deep in Nitmiluk National Park, just west of Katherine in the Northern Territory. While the camping area itself is great – grassy, unpowered, well-defined sites under shady trees with good facilities (including washing machines!) – the real attraction is just next door, as the camping area is a few steps away from a ridiculously picturesque swimming hole fed by Edith Falls. These sites are first come, first served, so get in quick.

Koolamon camping area, Ikara–Flinders Ranges National Park, South Australia

Flinders Ranges National Park by TripAdvisor reviewer Steve W

Aroona Valley, with its ochre mountains that glow with colours from red to purple to orange, has inspired famous artists such as Hans Heysen; and as you set up your campsite next to a creek overlooked by the Heysen Ranges, you might feel tempted to reach for a paintbrush yourself. While the camping area is accessible to both 2WD and 4WD, it’s for self-sufficient campers only, as there’s not much here apart from toilets (and the views – did we mention the views?).

Lower Davies Creek camping area, Davies National Park, Queensland

Davies National Park by TripAdvisor reviewer Sbug79

Once you’ve set up your tent next to Davies Creek amid the dramatic boulders, you’ll wonder why more people visiting tropical far-north Queensland don’t leave the beach behind and head inland. Davies National Park is only a short drive south-west of Cairns, a landscape of winding creeks (where you might get a glimpse of an elusive platypus), deep, inaccessible bush and granite outcrops. You’ll find peace and quiet at this campsite, particularly as there is no mobile coverage. You need to have a permit and be entirely self-sufficient to camp here; the sites are also a short walk from the carpark, so don’t bring anything you can’t carry.

Dales camping area, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Karijini National Park

Karijini National Park is an oasis in the middle of the desert, a surreal landscape of gorges with tropical swimming holes hidden around every bend. Dales camping area is one of only two camping areas in the park, and it’s just a short walk to all the major attractions – Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Dales Gorge. There are 140 campsites, spread out on the red dirt amid the straggly and shady gums. This is the desert, so you’ll need to be relatively self-sufficient. But what Dales camping area lacks in facilities, it makes up for with peace, quiet and a night sky luminescent with stars.

Homestead Creek camping area, Mutawintji National Park, New South Wales

Mutawintji National Park

This is what people mean when they talk about the outback – rugged mountains, ancient and proud gums, deep gorges, red plains prickly with saltbush, and an aura of the sacred about the whole thing … yup, Mutawintji National Park, north-east of Broken Hill, has it all. Homestead Creek camping area is the main campground in the park, and although you’ll need to be self-sufficient, it has good facilities, including barbecues, hot showers and wide shady sites.

Top 5 dog-friendly camping areas

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You don’t have to leave your dog behind going on this trip – at least not if you camp at one of these five dog-friendly camping areas. These five spots offer some of the best camping outside of a national park. Even better? Most of these campsites don’t take bookings, so you’ll still be able to nab a spot.

Main Beach camping area, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland

North Stradbroke Island by TripAdvisor reviewer NattyGol

This could well be paradise – a spacious campground with 300 unpowered sites spread behind a 38km-long beach on the east side of North Stradbroke Island. This island is only a short drive from Brisbane, and it’s a local classic, full of old-fashioned camping areas meant for enjoying the sun, the sand and the sea with the whole family, including the pooch. There are zero facilities at Main Beach, and it’s 4WD-access only. You will need to book in advance.

Danjera Dam camping area, Nowra, New South Wales

Nowra by TripAdvisor reviewer Nirvikar Y

You’ll find one of the best campsites in the south coast area around 30km west of Nowra. That’s right – this isn’t a beach camping area, but rather a spot on the shores of Danjera Dam, a man-made reservoir that covers the old town of Yalwal. Although the dam is surrounded by forest, the camping area itself is a cleared, spacious area with toilets, picnic tables and barbecues; and the water, which is excellent for swimming as long as you avoid the skeletons of old trees, is right on your doorstep. It’s free, no-bookings and dog-friendly.

The Quarries camping area, Briagolong State Forest, Victoria

Briagolong State Forest by TripAdvisor reviewer Heather R

The Quarries is the most popular area in Briagolong State Forest, an accessible spot often full of happy campers splashing in Freestone Creek. But don’t let its popularity put you off, as the campsites are spacious and shady, potted about under the trees on the banks of the creek. This is the only campsite in Briagolong where you have to pay a fee.

Hastings Forest Picnic Area camping area, Southern Forests, Tasmania

Hastings Caves by TripAdvisor reviewer Kobosake

You’d want to camp at Hastings Forest Picnic Area camping area even if you couldn’t bring your dog. This camping area is a gem, with campsites spread out on the mossy banks of the Esperance River, a coolly magical spot deep in the Southern Forests south of Hobart. And even though the campground is free, no bookings and allows dogs, it has good facilities, including toilets and picnic tables. It’s pretty much perfect.

The Gap camping area, Yorke Peninsula Reserves

Yorke Peninsula by TripAdvisor reviewer rmakani

What The Gap camping area lacks in shade – apart from a few coastal shrubs, you won’t find any protection from the wind here – it makes up for in coastal views. This camping area is right on the long, isolated beach, with campsites arrayed in a no-fuss space in the coastal dunes. It’s the sort of place made for running along the beach with your dog … and for fishing, of course. This camping area, in the hardy north-west of the peninsula, is one of those run by the local council; check their website for information on how to get a permit. There are no facilities, and you’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient.

Four off-the-beaten track camping areas

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Forget about caravans, phone reception, flushing toilets or loud generators – sometimes you need to take camping back to basics, with just you, a tent, and some seriously spectacular scenery. Plus all the supplies you need to be self-sufficient, of course. Here are our picks for the best remote and under-the-radar campsites in Australia.

Waychinicup Inlet camping area, Waychinicup National Park, Western Australia

Waychinicup National Park by TripAdvisor reviewer FabGab13

With granite mountains standing guard over white-sand beaches buffeted by the turquoise ocean, Waychinicup National Park is like Wilsons Promontory National Park’s Western Australian cousin – although with added mozzies and no fresh water. You don’t have to book the campsites here; just drive up and nab one of the limited tent-only sites among the coastal shrub just behind the beach. A short 65km drive north-east of Albany, Waychinicup National Park should be more popular, but maybe the basic facilities and dodgy entry road (only accessible to 2WD in dry weather) put people off. It’s our gain!

Boyd River camping area, Kanangra-Boyd National Park, New South Wales

Kanangra-Boyd National Park by TripAdvisor reviewer Saddo33

As Blue Mountains National Park’s craggier and more forbidding sibling, Kanangra-Boyd National Park doesn’t get a whisper of Blue Mountains National Park’s visitors, even though it’s right next door. Don’t let that put you off! Boyd River camping area is a quiet nature getaway, with 30 campsites generously spaced out on the banks of Morong Creek under the snow gums. You’ll have to rattle along 20km of dirt road to get there, which might account for the campsite being more popular with native wildlife than with humans. Make sure to visit the unfenced Kanangra Walls lookout, just a few kilometres further into the park, for expansive views over the mountains.

Goldsborough Valley camping area, Wooroonooran National Park, Queensland

Wooroonooran National Park by TripAdvisor reviewer senzaester

It’s a mystery how Wooroonooran National Park, just south of Cairns near Millaa Millaa, has managed to fly under the radar. Part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, this park looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones(the opening scene of

Raiders of the Lost Ark, naturally), with dense and mysterious rainforests, misty mountains and hidden waterfalls. Goldsborough Valley camping area is a patch carved out of this wilderness, with 13 sites split between a grassy clearing and shady sites on the banks of the Mulgrave River. Those self-sufficient enough to venture in will be rewarded with excellent hiking trails and water-based activities.

Seven Emu Station, Northern Territory

We’ve saved the most remote for last – Seven Emu Station is a working station in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 100km south-east of Borroloola towards the Queensland border. The property is owned by the Shadforth family, who have set up a rustic campground around 7km from their homestead. The sites are spread out under straggly gums along the cliff above the Robinson River, with the toilets – old galloon drums – buried in the ground on the cliff-face. There is excellent fishing, but you might prefer to set up your chairs near the edge of the cliff and watch the water from above … particularly after you spot a saltwater croc or bull shark.