Top 5 desert camping areas

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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!

Coongie Lakes National Park by Flickr dracophylla

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. 

Dig Tree, Tourism and Events Queensland

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).

Dalhousie Springs by Citizengastronaut

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.

Finke Gorge National Park by Tripadvisor conatus

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.

Cameron Corner marker by Tripadvisor Megan_Chambers

Best coffee stops along the Hume Highway

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coffee-shops-on-hume-highway

Ahh, the Hume Highway. Travelling the 880km between Melbourne and Sydney on the inland highway is a summer pilgrimage for many travellers. But even those who enjoy the drive would have to agree that after a while the scenery gets a little bit … well, monotonous. And a bit … well, boring. Trust us, you’re going to need coffee or two (or three). Here are the best places to get that reviving cup of joe along the highway.

The Proprietor, 459 Townsend St, Albury

As you look around at the white-tiled counter, big timber tables, black-and-white flooring and hanging Art Deco lamps in the revamped old butchers’ shop, you might need to remind yourself that this is Albury, not Melbourne – particularly when you realise the beans behind the seriously excellent coffee you’re drinking are from East Brunswick’s own Padre. Try the food, too; the lamb salad is a particular winner.

The Proprieter, Albury

The Proprieter, Albury

J&B’s Gourmet Cafe, 143 Albury Rd, Holbrook

We know you want to see the famous submarine, but stop at J & B’s Gourmet Cafe first for some classic Australian food with classically good Aussie coffee. The staff here can not only pump out your flat white, but your long black and macchiato, too. And they also make the best beef pies along the Hume Highway.

J&B's Gourmet Cafe by Tripadvisor John E

J&B’s Gourmet Cafe by Tripadvisor John E

The Long Track Pantry, Riverside Dr, Jugiong

Factor in a long lunch at Long Track Pantry in Jugiong – in fact, we’d move in if the owners would let us. Let’s just tick off everything you’ll find at LTP: great coffee, tick; friendly service, yes; delicious food, sorted; take-home gourmet goodies, of course; rustic and welcoming decor, nailed it.

The Long Track Pantry

The Long Track Pantry

Barneys of Bookham, 30 Fagan Dr, Bookham

Follow the cars ducking off the highway just before Yass on the way to Sydney; they’ll be heading towards Barney’s at Bookham, a cute little locally owned cafe that has managed to fly under the traffic radar. Well, secret’s out – this cafe will give you the fuel (coffee and burgers) to drive those remaining kilometres.

Barneys by Tripadvisor user AustraliaFamilyMan

Barneys by Tripadvisor user AustraliaFamilyMan

The Old Hume Cafe, 78 Yass St, Gunning

The owners of the Old Hume Cafe know that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it … which is why the kitchen sends out delicious home cooking (think burgers, toasties and classic cakes) with old-fashioned friendly service. Oh, and the coffee is great.

Old Hume Cafe

Old Hume Cafe

Grit Cafe, 5/1-3 Sowerby St, Goulburn

You’ll feel sheepish if you miss Grit Cafe, situated just off the highway near the Big Merino in Goulburn. The coffee is delicious – definitely a step up from McCafe – and the menu is well-rounded, with sandwiches, soups, muesli, and brekky plates. The cafe itself is cute, with indoor and outdoor seating.

Grit Cafe by Tripadvosor user Twoaussies_13

Grit Cafe by Tripadvisor user Twoaussies_13

The best hidden beaches for summer

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Stokes Bay Hidden Beach

Stokes Bay, Tourism South Australia

Want to beach yourself on the coast this summer – but don’t want to battle the crowds? Well, grab the SPF and the beach towel, because we’ve found the best hidden beaches around the country.

Stokes Bay Beach, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Stokes Bay Beach, not far from Kingscote on the north side of Kangaroo Island, looks uninspiring a first glance, a messy jumble of rocks and heavy waves – that is, until you notice the intriguing sign pointing through a gap in the rocks. Follow the directions along the hidden path until you come to a small beach, an enchanting spot with a curved stretch of squeaky sand and a natural lagoon. Now that’s more like it.

Cactus Beach, Penong, South Australia

Off the Nullarbor Plain near Penong lies Cactus Beach, one of Australia’s best surfing spots. It’s a pilgrimage for surfers to come here and tackle the breaks, but this fantastically isolated spot, looking out over the Great Australian Bight, is worth the trek even if you prefer to worship the wave from the shore. Remember to bring a lot of insect repellent – this is midge territory.

Prize winner Mich submitted Cactus Beach in our competition to find Australia’s Best Hidden Gems.

Cactus Beach

Cactus Beach, Tourism South Australia

Alexandria Bay, Noosa, Queensland

Alexandria Bay is surprisingly quiet for a Sunshine Coast beach. That might be because you have to walk kilometres through Noosa National Park to get there, or it might be because the beach is unofficially clothing optional. Whatever the reason, this bay is postcard perfect: a gently curving stretch of golden sand and rolling waves protected by a crown of bushy cliffs.

Alexandria Bay

Alexandria Bay

Fotheringate Beach, Strzelecki NP, Tasmania

Move over Freycinet and the Bay of Fires – Strzelecki National Park could very well have the best beaches in Tasmania. The most popular is Trousers Point (yup, its actual name), but a 3.5 kilometre walk away is Fotheringate Beach, a small and rocky spot with clear and enticing water looking over to the park’s granite mountains. This is pretty much paradise found.

Strzelecki National Park Marcus Carrick

Strzelecki National Park, Marcus Carrick

Turquoise Bay, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Turquoise Bay is in Cape Range National Park, a place where the desert meets the coral reef. It’s one of the best beaches in the state, ticking off all the boxes: pristine sand, sparkling turquoise water, endless ocean views. But the real fun comes when you throw yourself into the water – the diverse marine life and coral of Ningaloo Reef is just a few metres offshore. Don’t forget your snorkelling gear.

Turquoise Bay

Turquoise Bay, Tourism Western Australia

Wonboyn Beach, Wonboyn, New South Wales

Arriving at Wonboyn Beach almost feels like arriving at the end of the world – it’s just you and kilometres and kilometres of curved beach, backed by acres of coastal forest, facing the untold space of the Pacific Ocean. Apart from the occasional rip, it’s pretty much perfect. Just don’t tell the locals we let you in on the secret.

Wonboyn Beach Sharon JB

Wonboyn Beach, by Tripadvisor user SharonJB

Sealers Bay, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

You’ll have to walk 9.5 kilometres over tropically overgrown hills to get to Sealers Cove; but believe us when we say the sweat and thigh burn are worth it. Sealers Cove is one of the quieter spots in the extremely popular Wilsons Promontory National Park, so you can enjoy the uninterrupted golden stretch of sand, backed by wild mountains, in relative peace.

Sealers Cove, Wilsons Promontory

Sealers Cove, Wilsons Promontory

You won’t believe you can camp with your dogs at these five camping areas.

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Dog friendly campsites

It can be tough to go camping with dogs in Australia. National parks are mainly out, and sometimes you can’t even stay at caravan parks. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave your dog at home. There are some great dog-friendly camping areas around the country – you just have to know where to look! Our favourite place to start? State forests, which generally welcome pets. Here are our top picks for a camping experience the whole family – yes, even lassie – can enjoy (and there’s even a spot in a national park).

Johanna Beach camping area, Great Otway National Park, Victoria

There’s a reason Johanna Beach is one of the most popular camping areas in Victoria – it comes pretty close to being perfect. Just off the Great Ocean Road near Johanna, the camping area is in a seriously beaut spot behind the beach, in a grassy clearing with plenty of space to spread out amidst the coastal shrub. And even though the camping area is officially a part of Great Otway National Park, you can still bring your dog. A camping area this good can (and does) get booked out, so remember to book well in advance.

Johanna Beach

Johanna Beach, Tourism Victoria

Chowilla camping area, Chowilla Game Reserve and Regional Reserve, South Australia

If you’re after a spot of relaxation with your dog at your side, you can’t do better than the camping at Chowilla Game Reserve, which protects the Murray River floodplains near Renmark. While you can’t camp alongside the Murray itself, there are sizeable creeks – all of them feeding into the Murray – throughout the park where you can set up your tent under the trees or among the river shrub. The main activity at Chowilla is relaxation, but you can also indulge in some bushwalks, a spot of wildlife watching, canoeing or angling.

Murray River

Murray River, Tourism South Australia

Alexander Bay camping area, Esperance Shire, Western Australia

Alexander Bay camping area is Lucky Bay camping area’s less famous cousin. Luckily the scenery is just as spectacular, with long, pristine white beaches and turquoise water. The campsites are just behind the beach in the shrub, so you’ll have easy access to the ocean – which is why everyone comes here, of course! The site is managed by the local council, and dogs are welcome.

Recherche Archipelago

Woody Island, Recherche Archipelago

M.V. Sarawak, Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area, Queensland

M.V. Sarawak camping area is the sort of place tourism brochures are made of. The northernmost campground in Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area, the sites here are just behind the beach. You can set up wherever you find space; most of the sites are under coastal trees and a few have views out to Fraser Island. It’s pretty basic camping, as the only facilities are toilets and fire sites. Apart from being dog-friendly, the camping area is also suitable for large groups and can be accessed by 2WD.

Inskip Peninsula

Inskip Peninsula, Tourism and Events QLD/Nick Boustead

Manning River camping area, Barrington Tops State Forest, New South Wales

You’ll find this basic camping area in the dense rainforest next to the Manning River near Henry’s Bridge. It’s a picturesque spot that looks kind of wild, almost like the sort of place a bushranger might have made his hideout. These days the site mainly attracts fishermen on the hunt for trout and four-wheel drivers – as well as people looking for an excellent spot to camp with their dogs.

Barrington Tops

Barrington Tops

Best camping along the Great Ocean Road

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Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road, Roberto Seba

The Great Ocean Road has some of the best camping areas in Victoria stretched along its length: there are campsites next to rivers, behind beaches, hidden in forest gullies, near waterfalls … And we’ve done the hard work of finding the best five camping areas along this classic route. Even though you can drive the Great Ocean Road in four hours, these camping areas will make you want to spend a week.

 

Cumberland River Holiday Park

Cumberland River Holiday Park, cumberlandriver.com.au

Cumberland River Holiday Park, Cumberland River

Just south of Lorne you’ll find Cumberland River Holiday Park, where campsites, powered and unpowered caravan sites and cabins are casually strewn alongside the Cumberland River at the base of bushy hills. The park is literally just off the Great Ocean Road, tucked in a nook behind a hairpin corner bend, on the other side of the road from the beach. The park feels a bit old-school – everything moves at a slower pace here, and it’s all about swimming, fishing and relaxing. We can’t think of anything better.

 

Koala Bear

See Koalas at Kennett River

Kennett River Holiday Park, Kennett River

Stand outside your cabin, camping or caravan site and take a deep breath. Look around and spot the koalas, or feed the native birds with birdseed you’ve purchased from the park. Think to yourself: this is the life. Kennett River Holiday Park is located just off the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay, with a patrolled beach across the road. Sheltering between the mountains of the Otways, the park is orderly, well-maintained and green, with camping and caravan sites spread underneath the trees, and a few lucky cabins facing the ocean view.

 

Cape Otway Lighthouse

Cape Otway Lighthouse

Blanket Bay camping area, Great Otway National Park

Let Blanket Bay camping area wrap you in the warmth of a seriously excellent camping area. This gem is hidden on the coast in Great Otway National Park, a short drive south of Apollo Bay near the famous Cape Otway Lighthouse. The sites at Blanket Bay are shaded and generous, and you’re also allowed open fires in the allocated fireplaces. It gets so popular here you have to enter a ballot to nab a spot over Easter and Christmas; make sure you plan in advance!

 

Great Otway National Park

Great Otway National Park

Aire River camping areas

The biggest decision you have to make at Aire River, located between Cape Otway and Glenaire, is whether you’re going to camp on the east or west side of the river. At Aire River West camping area, you have a large campground with little shade, a boat ramp, and heaps of space for large groups. And it’s closer to the beach. At Aire River East camping area, you’ll find a smaller, shaded camping area with a river beach. It’s charming and quieter. Both offer excellent kayaking. You choose!

 

Johanna Beach

Johanna Beach

Johanna Beach camping area

You’re not far from the Twelve Apostles at Johanna Beach camping area, a large and grassy campground spread comfortably behind the popular surfing beach. This rustic camping area doesn’t have any facilities apart from toilets, but it’s still very popular – particularly as you can bring your dog, even though you’re in a national park.