Best rest areas around Australia

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Highway, Tourism Australia

Highway, Tourism Australia

Have you ever planned to stop at a rest area, taken one look at the facilities, and just decided to drive on?

A good rest area can make a long drive that much smoother (and a bad one can add a few more rocks to the road). That’s why we asked Paul Smedley, author of Budget Rest Areas around Australia – which lists all of the rest areas along major highways in Australia – to nominate his favourite places to stop along Australia’s highways.

So whether you want to stop and stretch your legs or save a few dollars by staying the night (if permitted) these rest areas are always worth a stop.

Sea Lake park area, Calder Highway, Victoria

Near new, well designed and very well maintained, this rest area is at the entrance to the caravan park – but you won’t have to pay a cent. While you can’t stay here overnight, there are toilets, showers, barbecues, water, picnic tables, as well as being dog friendly.

Highly recommended in Victoria: Greenhill Lake camp area, Plantation camp area, Genoa rest area and Minyip rest area

Mundoonan rest area, Hume Highway, New South Wales

This rest area on the southbound side of the highway is matched by a twin area on the northbound side. Both are excellent, with toilets, drinking water, barbecues and shade. You can stay overnight for free. We’re not sure what it is about the rest area on the southbound side – but it’s slightly better than its twin, luckily for the people travelling towards Melbourne.

Highly recommended in New South Wales: Gol Gol park area, Ardlethan park area, Kempsey park area, Diamond Head camping area, Mulligans Hut camping area and Wallabadah rest area

Waikerie park area, Sturt Highway, South Australia

A picture-perfect rest area on the banks of the Murray River, this rest area is overflowing with facilities. But don’t worry, the facilities themselves aren’t overflowing, with clean toilets, showers, picnic areas, a playground and caravan access.

Highly recommended for South Australia: Port Neil park areas, Wilpena Pound camping area and Mambray Creek camping area.

Ellendale Pool camping area, Brand Highway, Western Australia

Ellendale Pool camping area is 27 kilometres from the highway, so it’s only worth the drive if you’re planning to stay overnight. It’s a scenic spot next to a pool, with showers, toilets, shade, picnic tables, barbecues and disabled access. There’s a small fee to stay here.

Highly recommended: Big Brook Dam park area, Walpole park area and Shannon camping area.

Berry Springs park area, Northern Territory

This is Paul Smedley’s favourite spot for a short break that usually lasts for hours. Around 10 kilometres west of the highway, the park area is in Berry Springs Nature Park, so you can take a dip as well as use the facilities (the creek can be shut to swimmers in the wet season).

Highly recommended in Northern Territory: Lake Mary Ann park area, Wangi Falls camping area in Litchfield National Park (another Smedley favourite), Edith Falls camp area (near Katherine).

Scottsdale rest area, Tasman Highway, Tasmania

Scottsdale has the most facilities of all of the rest areas on this list, as this site is a dump point, along with the regular facilities of toilets, showers, picnic tables and water. The setting is also pleasant.

Highly recommended in Tasmania: Swansea park area, Hellyer Gorge and Sisters Beach rest areas, Fortescue Bay camp area in Tasman National Park.

Seaford camping area, Bruce Highway, Queensland

Queensland takes the prize for most rest/park/camp areas with great facilities. But Seaforth camping area is among the best of the best. This is an official campground, so you have to pay to stay here. But we think you’ll agree that the facilities are worth it, with toilets, picnic areas, shade, showers, caravan access and drinking water.

Highly recommended in Queensland: Theodore camping area, Bramston Beach camping area, Bluewater rest area and Rollingstone rest area.

 

 

The best free, no-bookings campsites in Australia.

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Babinda Boulders camping area, Kerryn Burgess

Babinda Boulders camping area, Tourism Queensland

Treat yourself to summer holidays accommodation that won’t even come close to breaking the bank with our list of free, no-bookings campsites across Australia (although you’ll find most camping areas down south).

And Victorians, you haven’t missed out. Even though Parks Victoria has introduced bookings and fees for many of their previously free campsites, the good news is that we’ve found plenty of other free campsites in Victoria (and around the rest of the country, of course!).

New South Wales

Mungo Brush camping area, Kerryn Burgess

Mungo Brush camping area, Bernard Schmitz

Bendeela Recreation Area, Kangaroo Valley

This campsite in the Kangaroo Valley is a hidden and picturesque gem! The sites are on a large, shady area next to the river.

Big River camping area, Goulburn River National Park

This campsite rocks. Set above the Goulburn River, you’re only a hop, skip and a leap away from some great swimming holes.

Blackbird Flat Reserve camping area, Macleay River Public Recreation Reserve 

Free, dog-friendly, spacious camping next to a river in summer? Count us in.

Bodalla Forest Park, Bodalla State Forest

The perfect stop off the Princes Highway, this picnic spot also doubles as a shady and spacious camping area.

Coachwood camping area, Chichester State Forest

We like Coachwood camping area so much we almost don’t want to tell you about it. This pretty-as-a-picture campsite is next to a river in Chichester State Forest, which neighbours the magical Barrington Tops National Park.

Daisy Plains Huts, Carrai National Park

These remote huts are left unlocked for campers to use. It might not be ‘proper’ camping with a roof over your head, but as you wake up to the black cockatoos squawking in the eucalypts, you won’t care so much about those pesky details.

Frying Pan Creek camping area, Chichester State Forest

On the other side of the Telegherry River to Coachwood camping area, this picturesque campsite is justifiably popular.

Glen Davis camping area, Glen Davis

It’s a campsite with a view – and then some! This free camping area overlooks the beautiful Capertee Valley in the Blue Mountains.

Ingar Campground, Blue Mountains National Park

What makes Ingar camping area so good? It’s near Wentworth Falls AND a swimming hole, has toilets and easily accessible walking tracks. There are only eight sites though, so if you snooze on the morning you’re meant to leave, you may lose out on a spot.

Jacob’s River camping area, Kosciuszko National Park

Only a short drive from Jindabyne, Jacob’s River camping area gives you more than enough reasons to visit the alpine area in summer. It’s an attractive camping area set next to Jacob’s River. While away the time swimming and fishing.

Manning River camping area, Barrington Tops State Forest

Cool down by camping on the banks of the Manning River under the temperate rainforest. The fishing’s not bad, either.

Newtons Crossing camping area, Timbillica State Forest

There are only five sites, but chances are people will overlook this lovely inland spot in favour of a place on the beach. Their loss – situated next to the river in the midst of the forest, Newtons Crossing camping area is a winner.

Paddys River Flats camping area, Tumbarumba

You’ll fall in love with this simple camping area near Paddys Falls, where you can swim, fish or go bushwalking.

Pindari Dam camping area, Pindari Dam

You don’t have to pay to camp here, but you’ll probably enjoy this small, casual camping area with its view over the dam so much you’ll be happy dropping a few coins into the donation box.

The Pines camping area, Olney State Forest

Give us a campsite among the pine trees at Olney State Forest, with good facilities and lots of shade.

Rocky River Fossicking Area camping area, Uralla

You’ll strike gold at this free campsite – maybe even literally! You can hire fossicking equipment at the visitors centre. Otherwise you can just relax at the shaded campsite and cool down in the swimming holes in the river.

Victoria

Eight Mile Flat camping area, Lyndon Sparrow

Eight Mile Flat camping area, Lyndon Sparrow

Blue Pool camping area, Briagolong State Forest

Walk down the steep gorge to find a deep blue pool surrounded by trees. You can’t pay for a summer cool-down this good – and at Blue Pool camping area, within easy walking distance of the pool, you don’t have to.

Fort O’Hare camping area, Dartmoor

With clean, tidy, grassy and shady campsites on the bank of the Glenelg River, Fort O’Hare is a pleasant spot to camp.

Horseyard Flat camping area, Alpine National Park

At this simple campsite among the trees, you’ve got access to walking and lookouts (but no actual horseriding facilities, sorry!).

Jones camping area, Toombullup Ranges

A good spot for anglers next to Hollands Creek near Mount Samaria State Park.

Pineapple Flat camping area, Alpine National Park

Bounce in with your 4WD, set up tent on the grassy, shaded sites, enjoy how picturesque it looks, before bouncing off again to tackle some of the 4WD tracks in the park.

Vaughan Springs camping area, Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park

Victoria has less free campsites than it did at this time last year, so expect Vaughan Springs to increase in popularity. The sites aren’t the most scenic, but it is a spacious camping area with swimming nearby.

Waterfalls camping area, Pyrenees State Forest

Pleasant sites under the trees near some excellent bushwalks.

Western Beach camping area, Lake Albacutya Park

On the shores of Lake Albacutya, this camping area is peacefully situated under the river red gums.

South Australia

Port Parham camping area, Port Parham

You’ll find this family-friendly camping area north of Adelaide. Splash about in the shallow waters or try your hand at crabbing – just don’t get crabby if you come up empty handed.

Campsites along the Heysen Trail

These campsites are all well maintained and normally free! There are sometimes huts at these campsites so you can ‘camp’ with a roof over your head.

Tiparra Rocks camping area, Yorke Peninsula Reserves

One of a few free camping areas along the coast in the Yorke Peninsula Reserves, come here for the water-based activities. Permits required.

Western Australia

Campsites along the Bibbulmun track, south-west of Perth

Designated campsites along the Bibbulmun Track are free and no-bookings sites (although the sites are normally small), so go to town and camp all along the track (some of the camps are walk-in only)!

Bidjar Ngoulin camping area, Munda Biddi Trail

This basic campsite is on the Munda Biddi Trail. The peace, quiet and beauty of Bidjar Ngoulin, nestled as it is in a towering forest, more than makes up for the limited facilities.

Wungong camping area, Munda Biddi Trail

A bush campsite surrounded by Western Australia’s remarkable jarrah trees. This campsite is on the Munda Biddi Trail, which is always a good option for free campsites.

Queensland

Babinda Creek camping area, Babinda

This free campsite is 6km from Babinda, near the swimming hole at Babinda Boulders (which rates as one of our favourite swimming holes on the east coast) and has toilets, showers and barbecues. Note: you can only stay for 48 hours.

Caliguel Lagoon camping area, Condamine

Camping in Queensland in summer? You’ll be glad there’s a lagoon nearby where you can cool down. A seriously charming campsite with good, clean amenities and plenty of water-based activities.

Wuruma Dam camping area, near Eidsvold

This increasingly popular camping area has good facilities and great fishing. The view’s not bad either.

Tasmania

Apsley Waterhole camping area, Douglas–Apsley National Park

As you swim in the Apsley River swimming hole near your free campsite in Douglas–Apsley National Park, you’ll ask yourself: does life get any better than this?

Boltons Green camping area, Southwest National Park

Boltons Green is the end of the road in Southwest National Park – from here it’s all walking tracks and endless ocean vistas. You need to get a permit for this camping area.

Dago Point camping area, Lake Sorrell

Set on the shaded banks of Lake Sorrell, camping doesn’t get much better than this. And since fishing is banned, it doesn’t get as crowded as you’d expect.

Green Point camping area, Marrawah

Water, water everywhere at Green Point camping area. This unprotected camping area (bring a strong tent!) overlooks the wild and beautiful Southern Ocean.

Hastings Forest Picnic Area camping area, Southern Forests

You might expect a free camping area to be ugly, with bad facilities and nothing to do. Well, may we introduce you to Hastings Forest Picnic Area camping area, which is nestled beside Esperance River on soft, mossy ground with toilets and all the activities you could want nearby?

Lake Barrington West camping area, Lake Barrington

Come here for the angling (permits required) and stay for the views and peace and quiet.

For more of Australia’s best camping, check out Australia’s Best Camping by Kerryn Burgess.  

 

Driving holiday along the south coast of New South Wales

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Grand Pacific Drive

Grand Pacific Drive

The November it’s-been-too-long-since-the-summer-holidays blues driving you up the wall? Get in the car and take a short trip with Lee Atkinson, author of Driving Holidays around Australia. Today Lee reveals her tips for driving the south coast of New South Wales.

Southern Highlands and Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales

Combine mountain and coastal scenery on this drive through the Southern Highlands south of Sydney and along Grand Pacific Drive, a cliff-hugging, breathtakingly scenic coastal route. Most people do the cliff section of the drive heading south, but in the spirit of saving the best to last, and because the views are better heading north, we’ve approached the bridge from the opposite direction.

HOW LONG? An easy day drive from Sydney, or you can make a weekend of it driving through forgotten hinterland valleys and exploring the back roads of the Southern Highlands. For a shorter trip, drive straight to Wollongong via the Sea Cliff Bridge.

WHEN TO GO Any time of year is a good time to do this drive, although the Southern Highlands can be cold in winter: during spring and autumn the Southern Highlands’ parks and gardens are beautiful.

NEED TO KNOW Several sections of this drive are narrow and winding, particularly the drive down Barrengarry Mountain into Kangaroo Valley. If you suffer from travel sickness, take some medication before you set off.

SYDNEY TO BERRY, VIA THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS

From Sydney, head south along the Hume Motorway (M31), turn off at Mittagong and wind your way through the highland towns of Bowral and Moss Vale, stopping to browse the galleries, bookshops and antique stores.

From Moss Vale take the Nowra Road up through the mountains to Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park. Here you can stretch your legs on the short walk to the lookout above the dramatic waterfall that tumbles 82m to the floor of the ravine below. Continuing south, follow the sign to Manning Lookout to enjoy spectacular views over Kangaroo Valley, one of the state’s prettiest valleys.

The road then descends through wild bushland, following a series of twists and turns down Barrengarry Mountain to reach the valley floor, before crossing historic Hampden Bridge. Stop for a swim at Flat Rock, at the end of Upper Kangaroo River Road, or have a picnic on the riverbank near the old hall in the village centre.

It’s not far from here to Berry, home to countless B&Bs, guesthouses, boutiques, antique shops and cafes.

BERRY TO WOLLONGONG

Continue east to hit the coast at Kiama and check out the blowhole in the rocky point below the lighthouse. Wollongong, the third largest city in New South Wales and a major coal, iron and steel producer is, despite all that heavy industry, a very attractive place to spend a night. Explore thehorseshoe-shaped cove of Wollongong Harbour, with its lighthouse, fishing fleet, fish markets and wonderful city beaches. Linger over coffee in one of the many cafes along the foreshore or stockpile some inner harmony at the eight-storey Nan Tien Buddhist Temple – the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere (180 Berkeley Rd, Berkeley; (02) 4272 0600; open Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; www.nantien.org.au).

WOLLONGONG TO SYDNEY, VIA GRAND PACIFIC DRIVE

The Illawarra Escarpment tumbles into the sea just north of Wollongong and marks the beginning of the signposted section of Grand Pacific Drive, as the road follows the coastline north through a succession of seaside suburbs and villages. Grand Pacific Drive crosses the famous Sea Cliff Bridge between Clifton and Coalcliff.

Beyond the bridge, the road climbs through ferny forest above the beach to Stanwell Tops, high on the edge of the escarpment. Paragliders and hang-gliders soar on the thermals rising from the ocean below. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Wollongong and enjoy a great view of the route, over the Sea Cliff Bridge and the beaches beyond.

Soon after Stanwell Tops, Lawrence Hargrave Drive turns west to join the Princes Motorway, which leads north to Sydney, but you should veer off to the right along Lady Wakehurst Drive.

This winding, narrow road will take you through the heart of Royal National Park, the world’s second oldest national park, founded in 1879 (Yellowstone in the United States is seven years older). En route to Sydney’s southern suburb of Waterfall, the road winds through eucalypt forests, over windswept heathland and across low-level river weirs. Sidetracks spear off to beaches and lookouts and there are dozens of great picnic and swimming spots along the way.

Being so close to Sydney, the park is a popular place on sunny weekends, when traffic snarls can be frustrating, but if you can time your drive for a weekday, you’ll pretty much have it to yourself.

Camp like an explorer at these camping areas.

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Dig Tree camping area, Paul Smedley

Dig Tree camping area, Paul Smedley

These are the campsites in Australia where you can camp like an explorer, but with more amenities and less danger, from a caravan park in Mitchell in Queensland to the original Dig Tree where Burke met his unfortunate end.

Thomas Boyd Trackhead, Hume and Hovell Track, New South Wales 

The Hume and Hovell Track follows the path that explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell took in 1824 as they forged a path from Sydney to Melbourne (hence the aptly named Hume Highway).  You don’t have to be quite so adventurous to reach Thomas Boyd Trackhead camping area – you can now drive in with your dog and camper trailer and expect a campsite with quality amenities.

Dig Tree camping area, Queensland

The bad news about Dig Tree camping area is that the explorer Burke, back from his trek to the Gulf of Carpentaria with Wills, died underneath Dig Tree. The good news is that since that event, this area has been developed into an appealing camping area next to Cooper Creek.

Halligan Point camping area, Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre National Park, South Australia

Halligan Point camping area is the only lakeside camping area on Lake Eyre, and it’s just as desolate as it was when Edward John Eyre ran smack bang into its dry expanses trying to explore north. Out of all the campsites on this list, Halligan Point feels most like an exploration. But don’t do a Burke and Wills – make sure you are well prepared before you camp here (you also need a permit).

Major Mitchell Caravan Park, Mitchell, Queensland

Major Mitchell certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed a similar level of luxury on his four expeditions to that you’ll find at the caravan park that bears his name in Mitchell in Queensland. This friendly caravan park on the banks of a river is well worth a stay if, like Mitchell, you’re venturing into the outback.

Camp Beadell, Gunbarrel Highway

Travelling along the Gunbarrel Highway from the Red Centre into Western Australia’s interior still feels like an adventure today – which is fair enough, considering Len Beadell only made the track in the 50s. There’s water here, and space. A lot of space. Oh, and one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see.

These are the best ten campsites in Australia.

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Camping at Freycinet National Park, Kerryn Burgess

Camping at Freycinet National Park, Kerryn Burgess

These are Australia’s ten best camping areas. Don’t trust us? Ask the camping expert.

Kerryn Burgess has the enviable job title of camping expert, which basically means she gets to camp around Australia for work. Her latest book, Australia’s Best Camping, reveals her pick of the top 100 camping spots around Australia. But even an expert has to have favourites, and here are Kerryn’s picks.

 The Whitsundays, Queensland

The best, most memorable camping in Australia (and therefore the world) can be found in the Whitsundays. And that’s no exaggeration. With white-sand beaches, warm azure water, lazy snorkelling and tiny campgrounds for just a handful of campers at a time, this really is paradise found. You can take your pick from campsites including Whitehaven Beach, Crayfish Beach, Maureens Cove, Planton Island, Denman Island, Sawmill Beach and Paddle Bay.

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

If the Edith River flowed with cold beer and water nymphs provided free massages, Leliyn might be a better campground than it is – but only just. It’s the Top End campground of your fantasies, with a freshwater pool and great facilities.

Freycinet camping area, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Superb bushwalking and views you’ll remember for life at the best campground on Tasmania’s east coast. Every campsite has been designed for maximum view impact. Once you’ve soaked in the view, take one of the many walks.

Tulki Beach camping area, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Australia’s wildest, most rugged, most exhilarated coastal camping – and a close community of campers to swap stories with around the campfire. It’s a camping experience you’ll never forget.

Tidal River camping area, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

Tidal River is the biggest and the best national park campground in Victoria, with superb walking tracks and activities to rival Wet’n’Wild. With its hot showers, supermarket and coffee, Tidal River is closer to a camping town than a regular campsite. But with a spectacular wilderness at your tent flap, you don’t need the campsite to be wild too.

Rocky River camping area, Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

These gorgeous, private, bushy campsites have easier access to more native wildlife than any zoo, with wallabies at the campground and seals and sea lions not far away.

Dales camping area or Karijini Eco Retreat, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Vast, remote gorges and dramatic landscapes in the heart of the Pilbara make for the camping experience of a lifetime – one the author found more valuable than a share in Gina Rinehart’s Pilbara operation.

The Basin, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, New South Wales

The Basin is a huge, grassy, shaded area that has access to all the coves, beaches, headlands and views that make the coast north of Sydney so special.

Green Patch camping area, Booderee National Park, Jervis Bay Territory

You’ll find a sparkling beach backed by bushland and birdlife at Green Patch, plus whales if you’re lucky. The campsite itself is also kind of sparkling, with tall trees, secluded areas, private corners – oh, and that extraordinary white sand beach.

Bald Rock Creek camping area, Girraween National Park, Queensland

Bald Rock Creek camping area is a beautiful and sympathetic blend of natural elements and functional campsites with access to one of the best collections of day walks in the region.

NOTE: Girraween National Park is currently closed due to fire danger.

Start planning your summer camping adventures with Kerryn’s book, Australia’s Best Camping