We’ve all heard it before – the best way to really see Australia is to leave the coastline behind and head for the desert. And what better way to see the desert than by camping there? That’s why we’ve found Australia’s top five desert camping areas, which will show you there’s more to the desert than sand dunes. But be warned: these campsites are hot properties, where temperatures soar and you’re pretty much isolated, so you’ll need to be experienced, self-sufficient and prepared.
Coongie Lake camping area, Malkumba-Coongie Lakes National Park, South Australia
Coongie Lakes is a rare permanent body of water in a corner of the outback more famous for dry rivers and lakes like Cooper Creek and Lake Eyre. More than that, it’s a recognised wetland, with abundant birdlife and shady, overhanging trees. It’s a cool change from the harsh surrounding landscape, and the campsites line the shore of the lake for full-frontal views. There are no facilities apart from toilets, so you’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient. Oh, and access is from the famously rough and tumble 4WD-only Coongie Track. Well, it wouldn’t be the desert if it was easy!
Dig Tree camping area, Dig Tree Reserve, Queensland
You’ll probably make happier memories at Dig Tree camping area than explorer Burke (of Burke and Wills), who famously met his end underneath the Dig Tree. Apart from the tree itself, which, at a reported 200 years old, is large, shady and unconcerned by its historical significance, you’ll find a pleasant camping area with extremely basic facilities along the Cooper Creek. As a bonus, this section of the creek normally has water. Set up your camp anywhere within the fenced area. Note: you’ll find it much easier to enjoy the view if you bring mosquito netting – this is fly territory.
Dalhousie Springs camping area, Witjira National Park, South Australia
An oasis away from the dunes and plains of the desert, Dalhousie Springs is one of the more popular camping areas in this neck of the outback, and for good reason – it has a large hot spring that averages around 38 degrees Celsius where you can laze away the cares of the road. And if that’s not enough, Dalhousie also has excellent facilities, with toilets and showers. It’s no wonder this camping area brings in plenty of other campers (and plenty of mosquitoes).
Palm Valley camping area, Finke Gorge National Park, Northern Territory
The main camping area in Finke Gorge National Park, Palm Valley camping area is found within the desert-meets-tropical beauty of Palm Valley. This valley is particularly remarkable because it protects the last of the red cabbage palms, an ancient species of palm endemic to the desert. The campsites are arrayed along the often-dry Finke River (although you might get some pooled water) and the area has good facilities – including flushing toilets! From the camping area, you can follow walking trails around the valley or head to the Kalaranga Lookout for heart-stopping sunset views.
Cameron Corner camping area, Queensland
Thousands of travellers make the pilgrimage out to Cameron Corner every year to stand at the place where Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia meet. Look at this geographical crossroads and then head to the pub attached the corner store for a surprisingly good burger and a cool bevvie – reward for surviving the long and bumpy trek out here. Talk to the owners Finn and Cheryl about bush camping in the 240ha at Cameron Corner, and hand over the small camping fee, which will be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. You’ll need to be experienced and entirely self-sufficient to bush camp in this desert, but if you prefer a few more creature comforts, you can also camp at the corner store.