Have you considered camping in your own backyard this summer? Be it a remote and rugged bush camp or a glampsite that leans toward luxe, it’s time to plot a course to some of the best campgrounds across the country.
NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort, Sapphire Coast, NSW
Commanding clifftop views over the Pacific Ocean isn’t the only surprising feature at this NRMA resort on NSW’s Sapphire Coast. Those who live for hot summer days with their toes in the sand and sea salt on their skin won’t be disappointed: the resort is flanked by two quiet golden beaches, and there are plenty more shores to explore just a short drive away (Bar Beach is a beautiful little lick of silica).
The more actively inclined camper won’t go without either: there’s a glut of well-maintained facilities onsite, from a swimming pool complex, to a sand volleyball court and a tennis court, plus a camp kitchen, barbecue areas, picnic tables and even a wood-fired pizza oven, firewood supplied. Pets and kids are both welcomed here, too, the latter catered to with a playground, giant bouncing pillow, go-karts and kids’ club. Find the kitsch seaside town of Merimbula only two kilometres away.
The Neck Reserve Camping Area, Bruny Island, TAS
An isthmus of chalky white sand bordered by shrubs and tall grasses and lashed by the Tasman Sea, The Neck is Tassie at its most endearingly elemental. On the north side stands the timber staircase that leads you to the iconic, panoramic lookout, while on the south side, a campground lies hidden in plain sight.
Sheltered behind sand dunes and amid a grove of lofty eucalyptus trees, this unpowered Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service site is only 20 metres from the beach. Take a twilight stroll along the windswept shoreline for big gulps of salty sea air and a chance to spot fairy penguins coming home to roost. You’ll doze off to the sounds of the ocean, and wake up to golden light streaming through the trees. Arrive early if you want to secure a spot at this popular (and unbookable) site.
Lime Bay State Reserve campground, Tasman Peninsula, TAS
Lime Bay offers a slightly unconventional take on a summer camping trip. Located beyond a worn path, and featuring a side serve of Tasmania’s dark history, this campground on the Tasman Peninsula campsite suits those who crave more than palm trees, sundowners and beaches. Sure, you can still wander barefoot on pristine white sand and marvel at grand blue skies; in fact, this little corner of Tasmania is well-known as prime boating, kayaking and snorkelling territory thanks to its sheltered bay location and fetching turquoise waters. But the bigger draw here is arguably the local history: explore the bleak legacy of Tassie’s former penal colonies at the World Heritage-listed Coal Mines Historic Site and the Port Arthur Historic Site. Coal Mines is only a 10-minute drive, or one-hour walk away, while Port Arthur is less than a 40-minute drive away by car.
Bellwether Wines, Coonawarra, SA
Owner Sue has clearly pondered every last detail at small-scale outfit Bellwether, coming up with an experience that is light years away from cookie-cutter camping. A bucolic farm-cum-boutique-winery on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, you’ll feel at home, and at peace, when you pitch your tent among the lush grass and ancient gum trees on one of the six sites here.
Whether camping or glamping, all guests get a private hour of wine tasting in the old stone shearing shed – now the winery’s cellar door – which dates back to 1868. The rustic camp kitchen has everything you might need, all set around a long timber dining table. Pluck fresh herbs and produce from the kitchen garden for dinner, and crack a few of the truly ‘farm fresh’ eggs for breakfast. As Coonawarra’s deliciously cool summer nights draw in, plant yourself around one of the three communal fire pits with a bottle of the house cab sav before soaking in the site’s clawfoot bathtub.
Leliyn (Edith Falls), Nitmiluk National Park, NT
In the heart of Jawoyn country, amid the ochre sandstone carved by wind and water over millennia, lies a serene waterhole that has captured the heart of many a camper. Leliyn, also known as Edith Falls, promises respite from the pulls of modern life. Here, just a short walk from the campground, you’ll find tiered natural pools linked by a waterfall that emerge from behind the trees and scrub like a mirage. Escape the Top End’s tropical heat with a dip in the cool waters of the plunge pool. Bask by the water’s edge, under the shade of a paperbark tree with a good book. Or take one of the walking trails to the handful of other, less frequented, pools.
The campsite itself offers every basic amenity you could need – gas barbecues, picnic tables, hot showers, and a kiosk dishing up homemade fare that earns rave reviews, particularly for its burgers and pies. There are also water fountains dotted around the grassy flat.
Dirk Hartog Island, Coral Coast, WA
Load up the four-wheel drive and set the GPS for Dirk Hartog Island when only the wildest, most remote escape will do. Located in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, this arid, scrub-draped, isle molded by sand dunes is paradise for adventurous campers. Just one family, the Wardles, lives permanently on Dirk Hartog. Here, there are no powered camp sites, phone reception is extremely limited and only eight vehicles are allowed on the island at any one time.
The rugged terrain and surrounding neon blue waters harbour all kinds of wild creatures – skittish sharks, bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, dugongs, sea eagles, ospreys, and even the largest loggerhead turtle breeding colony in Australia. Snorkel alongside cuttlefish and manta rays; splash around in rockpools; pull up a pew next to the island’s explosive blowhole; and soak in the glassy, warm waters on the island’s east. We also recommend laying out the picnic blanket for sunset atop 200-metre-high limestone cliffs that overlook the Indian Ocean. Watching the daylight fade here at Steep Point, the westernmost point in all of mainland Australia, is quite the spectacle.
There are three different homestead campgrounds available at DHI, all of which feature hot showers and fresh drinking water; two of these can be booked for exclusive use with private camp kitchens. More intrepid or budget-conscious campers can opt for one of the island’s nine basic national park campsites.
Smalleys Beach, Cape Hillsborough National Park, QLD
There’s a secret little pocket on Queensland’s Hibiscus Coast where verdant lowland rainforest abuts a sweeping arc of sand. Spend your summer holidays at Smalleys Beach campground and you don’t have to choose between the beach and the bush – both are on your tent’s doorstep. And with just 11 spacious, sun-dappled camping spots on offer, some with beach views, tranquility is in abundant supply, too.
Rise before the sun and you’ll not only witness the gentle morning light paint the horizon: this stretch of coastline is known as a popular dawn hangout spot for wallabies and kangaroos, which come to feast on seaweed and mangrove seed pods. After a camp breakfast, explore the ridge-top lookouts, mangrove forests and boardwalks frequented by birds and butterflies within the Cape Hillsborough National Park.
Book online in advance to reserve your pitch.
Mt Barney Lodge, Scenic Rim, QLD
The Sunshine State might be best known for its beaches, but delve into the verdant hinterland that hides behind Brisbane and the Gold Coast and you’ll question why you didn’t visit sooner. Come summer, the rarefied air of Mount Barney National Park offers welcome relief from the sticky heat of the city and the state’s crowded beaches. Skirting the park’s entrance is Mt Barney Lodge, a 12-hectare property that fronts onto a creek and boasts a screensaver-worthy shot of the eponymous mountain as its backdrop.
Gorge on the great outdoors with rock climbing, abseiling, hikes, mountain expeditions, navigation courses and more at your disposal. Or spend a lazy day driving through neighbouring towns and villages replete with quaint cafes and country pubs, old-school dairies and boutique breweries and wineries. Lodge staff have an encyclopedic knowledge of local bushwalks and can pinpoint hidden nearby swimming holes and creeks that are perfect for a cooling dip or scenic picnic. This rural retreat takes sustainability seriously, too, from pressing guests to bring reusable water bottles to placing compost bins in every building, using energy-saving light-bulbs and plenty more beyond.
Cowes Foreshore Tourist Park, Phillip Island, VIC
Finding a campsite that doesn’t feel like a tourist bubble cut off from civilisation can prove surprisingly tricky; step forward Cowes Foreshore Tourist Park. Not only does the campsite occupy a plum beachfront setting and all the mod cons you could ask for, but the township of Cowes is just a 10-minute walk away. Mosey into town for a tasting paddle at modern and minimalist Ocean Reach Brewing, or a flute of local sparkling at the cosy Grenache Wine Bar without worrying about designated drivers. You can also stroll into town along the beach without worrying about where to park when the daytrippers descend.
Long popular as a school holiday getaway for families, a trip to Phillip Island will inspire a spot of nostalgia for many Victorians. Roll up and embrace the small town seaside vibe – eat fish and chips on the sand and chase it up with an ice cream; go crabbing off the Cowes Jetty; take a bracing jet boat trip out around the island. There’s still something a little bit whimsical about this island escape.
Visit our Reclaim Summer hub for more ways to experience the best of summer.