#1: Camping spot – Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory One of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular swimming spots has to be at Ormiston Gorge, 135 kilometres west of Alice Springs on the way to Kings Canyon. The gorge forms part of the Larapinta Trail, which runs the length of the West MacDonnell National Park. Camping here means you can take a few days to enjoy swimming in the waterhole, surrounded by cliffs of striking red rock lined with white sand beaches. Brace yourself though, even on a hot day the water is very cold. From Ormiston Gorge campsite you can also take off into the bush on the 2.4-kilometre Ghost Gum Walk; keep an eye out for the metre-long Mertens’ water monitor and dingoes, which will be after a sandwich or two from your pack. Secret tip: the kiosk here serves great coffee seven days a week – the camper’s medicine.
#2: Camping spot – Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia Camp at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park to take a photo that makes Australia look like a surreal dream: a pristine white sand beach and turquoise water beyond that appears near luminous, a colour typical of the beaches on the south coast of Western Australia. Oh, and kangaroos lounge on the sand surveying it all sunbathing. An hour’s drive from Esperance, the campsite overlooks the perfect crescent of the bay and when you’re not soaking up the sun with the roos there are some great coastal bush walks; keep an eye out for migrating whales, moving between the many islands just off the coast here. Really though, once you’ve managed to stop taking photos of them, it’s all about doing what the kangaroos do: nothing much at all.
#3: Camping spot – Mitchell Falls, Mitchell River National Park, Western Australia Some campsites are positioned within walking distance of this country’s most remarkable natural wonders, making these places accessible to all. Mitchell Falls campground is just a five-hour loop walk to its namesake, deep within Mitchell River National Park in the Kimberley. You’ll find a spectacular gorge of red sandstone and a series of pools connected by waterfalls for some of the best wild swimming you can do in Australia. Don’t swim below the falls however as the largest reptile in the world – prehistoric-looking saltwater crocs – can pass through here. And since you’ve saved loads by sleeping under canvas, it may mean you have the budget to take a scenic flight over it all with Aviair, which can arrange a transfer from the campground to Mitchell Plateau Airstrip, under an hour’s drive away. Here you’ll board a helicopter to be whisked up to the falls before landing nearby to do the walk in style.
#4: Camping spot – Iga Warta, Northern Flinders Ranges, South Australia Drive a couple of hours north of Wilpena Pound and you’ll find a place where you can gain an understanding of this region’s traditional people, the Adnyamathanha. Set among the mountains of South Australia’s Northern Flinders Ranges, Adnyamathanha guides from Iga Warta camp run tours to rock art sites, give lessons in local flora and regale old stories around the campfire come evening. “Iga Warta means the place of the native orange. You’ll have a unique opportunity to experience Adnyamathanha culture firsthand whilst staying at an Aboriginal community,” says Terrence Coulthard, whose family, traditional owners here, run the camp. He’s working on a language project that is preserving Yura Ngawarla, his people’s language. “The passing on of our culture and knowledge is at the heart of what we do in the community at Iga Warta. We must keep our culture and language strong; without them we have nothing.” So, head here and appreciate what’s depicted in the 35,000-year-old rock art, or go to Nguthunanga Mai Ambatanha, a women’s site, where you’ll learn about traditional issues and perspectives. You’ll understand the people and their place in the land better, but also help to preserve it for generations to come.
#5: Camping spot – Bamurru Plains, Northern Territory The Northern Territory’s cattle stations can be bigger than some European nations. Take the 300-square-kilometre Swim Creek on the cusp of Kakadu National Park and the floodplains of the Mary River. It’s a vast, wild place where cranes, jacanas and kingfishers share the wetlands with brumbies, wallabies and crocs. In the middle of all this, just three hours’ drive from Darwin, is quite possibly the ultimate glampsite: Bamurru Plains. Taking in the view from the lodge you could be in the Okavango Delta, with buffalo grazing the surrounding floodplain. It’s fitting then that the accommodation channels a luxury African camp; the Safari Bungalows feature king-size beds on raised platforms open to views of the wildlife beyond with floor-to-ceiling mesh walls. Plus there are en suite bathrooms and an infinity pool at the central lodge to cool off in after you’ve been out on the water. Indeed, the best way to see this area is by airboat, the fan-powered water craft synonymous with high-speed chases in the Florida Keys. The guided tour skims you across the wetlands to get a close look at the birds, crocs and families of buffalo that call this place home, with a glass of Champagne and bush-tucker canapés to boot.
#6: Camping spot – Boreang Campground, Grampians National Park, Victoria It’s Melbourne’s big weekend playground: 1672 square kilometres of stringybark forests, red gum woodland and heather-covered plateaus run through with vast ribbons of sandstone, with all the bizarre, camera-worthy rocky outcrops and mountain peaks that brings. One of these is known as the Fortress, an imposing buttress rising abruptly out of the surrounding bush. If you’re an experienced walker not afraid to get really remote, and want to do some real camping, you can take three days to hike here; a journey that affords sweeping views of the ranges. Take a path off the Harrop Track and on the first night pitch your tent, or just a swag, under a sweeping overhang on the way up to the massif, and light a fire like ancient peoples did for aeons. It’s walks like this, as well as the famous Wonderland Traverse or the Gulgurn Manja Aboriginal art site that make the Grampians (Gariwerd in the local Indigenous tongue) a must-camp spot to spend a weekend tackling the many trails that riddle the national park. Boreang Campground is a good place to base yourself with easy access to some of the best walks; stay in October when the plateaus are ablaze with colour during the annual display of wildflowers. And if the thought of a swag in a cave is a little much, then stretch the glamping ideal to its limit and stay in the gorgeous contemporary architect-designed cabins at DULC, with wood burners, polished concrete floor and floor-to-ceiling glass.
#7: Camping spot – Noah Beach, Cape Tribulation, Queensland To really experience where the rainforest meets the sea, the best thing to do is to actually stay within this renowned boundary along the spectacular coastline of Cape Tribulation. The campsite at Noah Beach is just 50 metres from the white sands bordering the Coral Sea, set within the fringes of the Daintree Rainforest eight kilometres south of Cape Tribulation village. From here you can simply walk the stretch of beach with palms and rainforest creepers hanging over the sand; if you’re lucky you may see a cassowary taking a stroll too. Swimming in the sea is probably not the best idea owing to stingers and ravenous crocs; you’re far better off exploring the flora and fauna of the oldest rainforest on the planet at the Daintree Discovery Centre.
#8: Camping spot – Crayfish Beach, Hook Island, Queensland The Whitsundays isn’t all about luxury resorts and expensive yacht charters, don’t you know? The humble camper can make their way into the Whitsunday Islands National Park and enjoy its reefs, beaches and lush forests just as well as the next traveller and, dare we say it, have an even more fulfilling experience for it. Head to the campsite at Crayfish Beach, found on the eastern side of Hook Island at Mackerel Bay, around 35 kilometres north-east of Airlie Beach, where the beach sits nestled between two mountains, coral rubble becoming tropical forest beyond. But the real treasure lies out at sea – bring your snorkel and you’ll have the Great Barrier Reef to explore at your leisure right off the beach, with coral gardens and all the colourful fish species that come with it a quick swim away in the bay. And at the end of it all there won’t be a bar tab to settle or yacht-hand to tip.
#9: Camping spot – Memory Cove, Lincoln National Park, South Australia Within Lincoln National Park, a peninsula hanging off a peninsula on the rugged coast of South Australia, you’ll find a park within a park: the Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area. If you’re really wanting to feel isolated for a few days then this has to be one of the best campsites in the country for some much needed solitude owing to its restricted access – just 15 vehicles a day are allowed in. Keeping people to a minimum means the sense of wilderness here is preserved; the flora and fauna can continue as it has done, uninterrupted for millions of years. Booking approved, you’ll find the campsite at secluded Memory Cove in mallee woodland. Walk along the white sand beach and take in the glassy surface of the water in this sheltered, calm cove, which for a day or two, can be protection from the rigours of modern life.
#10: Camping spot – Dawson Spring Campground, Mt Kaputar National Park, New South Wales It’s hard to tear yourself away from some of the country’s more popular national parks and their associated camping spots, the Blue Mountains, Kakadu and the like, but think outside the box, turn your gaze a little further inland and you’ll find some places you shouldn’t overlook. Take Mount Kaputar National Park, an hour’s drive from Narrabri in northern New South Wales. The Dawsons Spring campground is a good central base from which to explore, replete with hot showers (yay!), set among a copse of towering snow gums. From here you can set out to the Mount Kaputar summit walk from where it’s said you can see 10 per cent of the state. While in the park don’t miss the Sawn Rocks, a short drive away to the north. These hexagonal pillars rise out of the bush like the pipes of a cathedral organ, the result of cooling lava from an ancient volcano.