In my mind, summer days spent by the ocean are a cure-all for everything, every time. Tensions and pressures melt away under the heat of the sun as easily as butter, and the hours of the day become elongated, unfettered by the demands of regular obligations. There is a singular sense of gratification tied to lying on a beach for hours on end, growing gradually greasier throughout the day from habitual sunscreen reapplication, with miniscule white crystals of salt accumulating on limbs and eyelashes both. Concerns are limited to the heat, and the answer to that is always another swim. Repeat as needed. Break up the days spent lying on the sand with bushwalks, which will deplete your energy so that you’re ready for another few days of constant repose. Whatever the case, parents undoubtedly find delight in watching their kids collapse into bed at the end of the day, glazed in sand and docile from heat-induced fatigue.
This summer ritual is not exclusive to Australia — think coastal European cities, south-east Asia, west coast USA, and so on. Add camping to the mix, though, and it becomes a uniquely Australian pastime, one that has hummed away quietly in the background for decades, while other holidaymaking trends have passed through a constantly revolving door.
The presence of beachside camping in the arsenal of favourite Australian holiday activities is solid for many excellent reasons: it’s budget-friendly, perfect for going solo or with a crew, and it drops you right on the shared doorstep of the ocean and the bush. Regardless of which state you’re in, surfside campgrounds are generally a dime a dozen, but which spots are the cream of the crop?
Seal Rocks, New South Wales
A three-hour drive north of Sydney or just under two hours from Newcastle, Seal Rocks is a tiny village on the Barrington Coast. Prized for its pristine coastline with excellent surf breaks, choose a campground and spend time swimming, surfing, fishing, and exploring the seemingly endless stretches of beaches.
Myall Lakes National Park is right on the doorstep and offers excellent birdwatching and hiking opportunities. Treachery Headland Track is a short walk that takes in scenic views of Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse — take a detour to beautiful Treachery Beach and cool off en route. For a much longer and relatively more difficult walk, opt for Mungo Walking Track, a 21km (one way) trail that passes through some important Indigenous sites as well as some diverse flora before finishing up at Hawks Nest.
Wallingat National Park is also super close by and can be reached in half an hour. Here, check out the two short and beautiful walks, Coachwood Loop and Cabbage Palm Loop, both of which will lead you into thickets of sky-high native cabbage palms and blue gums. The best thing about Wallingat is that it tends to fly under the radar, so if you arrive early, you’re very likely to have the place almost to yourself. Find the Wallingat River and take the opportunity to have a swim in between walks, and then head to Whoota Whoota Lookout, which provides a stunning view over the surrounding coastline at sunset.
Stay at the family-owned Treachery Camp, which has plenty of unpowered sites a stone’s throw from the beach and welcomes all types of rigs. Treachery Camp has coin-operated washers/dryers, allows small campfires subject to fire bans, and sells firewood, ice, and LPG gas.
Tip: Head over to Lighthouse Beach and join a camel ride along the shoreline, no bookings required. Cash only.
Ph: (02) 4997 6138
Diamond Head, New South Wales
Diamond Head in Crowdy Bay National Park lies a five-hour drive north of Sydney, or a forty-five-minute drive south from Port Macquarie.
Don’t be waylaid by Crowdy Bay’s name, as the beaches around here rarely reach the point of being crowded. Its namesake instead lies in the quartz crystals in its cliffs. There’s an abundance of native fauna to keep an eye out for — including a famous crew of kangaroos that hang out by the water, koalas, and plenty of birdlife to spot — gorgeous swimming spots, and plenty of bushwalks situated amid pockets of rainforest, coastal heath, and extensive wetlands. Diamond Head Loop Walk is a medium difficulty walk that will take you through forests of paperbark and swamp mahogany, up through the headland to Kylie’s lookout (keep an eye out for dolphins), where you’ll have a panoramic view of Crowdy Bay with the Three Brothers Mountains looming behind you.
There’s also plenty of opportunities to fish and explore countless rockpools at low tide. 4WD beach permits can be purchased from Mid Coast Council (midcoast.nsw.gov.au/Recreation/Beaches/Driving-on-Beaches).
Stay at the beachside Diamond Head Campground, which has sites for caravans, camper trailers, campervans, and motorhomes. Stock up on food and supplies in Laurieton, which is 10km from Diamond Head. Fire braziers can be hired at the campground, and firewood can be purchased on site.
Ph: 1300 072 757 (National Parks Contact Centre)
Blanket Bay, Victoria
If you feel like cooling off amid lush temperate rainforest between days spent swimming and snorkelling, Blanket Bay is an excellent option. A three-hour drive from Melbourne or just over two hours from Geelong, Blanket Bay is ensconced among manna gum forest on the east coast of Cape Otway.
Switch between exploring either the beautifully rugged coastline or the stunning Great Otway National Park. From Blanket Bay, a slew of beautiful waterfalls — including Hopetoun Falls, Little Aire Falls, and Erskine Falls — can be reached within an hour or so, as can a list of walks and hikes as long as one’s arm. Some good ones to try out are Phantom Falls, or the longer ironbark-laden Currawong Falls Walk. It’s generally recommended to wear hiking boots for these ones, as the tracks can become very muddy and slippery due to rain.
Set up your Otways base at Blanket Bay Campground, but you’ll need to book your stay quite far in advance, as this hideaway is sought-after for good reason. Over the summer, Easter, and certain public holidays, bookings are allotted via a ballot-type system. Even so, the isolated campground is comprised of just 22 sites that can accommodate a maximum of six people each — meaning it retains its sense of isolated serenity and never feels overrun. Camper trailers, motorhomes, campervans, and caravans are all welcome, though some sites are larger than others, so when booking it’s recommended to check out the dimensions of the available sites and make a comparison with the size of your setup. There are communal fireplaces and picnic tables on site, and all campsites are unpowered.
Ph: 13 19 63 (Parks Victoria)
Mission Beach, Queensland
Situated on the Cassowary Coast between Townsville and Cairns — three hours north of the former, or two hours south of the latter — the shores of Mission Beach are laced with palm trees. ‘Tropical haven’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but Mission Beach embodies it to a tee.
Aside from the crystal-clear waters of the coastline, it’s also the most ideal place to set up base camp and spend some time exploring the Great Barrier Reef, being the closest mainland access point — it’s less than 40km offshore. This means plenty of tours are run from this spot (check out missionbeachtourism.com/things-to-do-mission-beach-old/great-barrier-reef-tours-mission-beach/). The Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction, much less any touting, but whether you want to explore the world’s largest and oldest reef system via snorkelling, diving, or flying over the sheets of endless teal in a helicopter, Mission Beach is the place to start.
On the other side it’s flanked by Wet Tropics Rainforest — home to a staggering 663 species of vertebrate animals, 230 butterfly species, 135 beetle species, and 222 species of land snails — plus a wealth of rainforest hikes and walks to break up the days spent lying on the sand.
Stay at Mission Beach Camping & Caravan Park, which has full beach frontage and offers both powered and unpowered sites for all types of rigs. It’s also pet-friendly, and there’s even free Wi-Fi (though checking emails will likely be the furthest thing from your mind). If you want to feel even more remote, the Family Group of Islands lie just off the coast of Mission Beach, and if you charter a boat or hop aboard a water taxi you can get to the camping areas on Coombe and Wheeler Islands, which are accessible via boat only. Only one group of eight people at a time can camp on the southern side of Coombe Island, while the camping area on Wheeler Island can accommodate 10 people at a time. If you do opt to go here, you’ll have to take all the essentials with you. Open fires are strictly prohibited.
The only drawback of Mission Beach and the surrounding islands lies in the danger of stingers (including box jellyfish) from October to June — during this time, it’s highly recommended to swim only within areas that are safely netted.
Ph: (07) 4210 6078
Lucky Bay, Cape le Grand National Park, Wester Australia
If you’re already based in Esperance, you’re fortunately only just under an hour away from Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park. If you’re in Perth, though, you’re about eight-and-a-half hours away, but this spot is inarguably worth it — it’s no secret that the entirety of Cape Le Grand has spectacularly white sands contrasted by unbelievably blue waters, soaring granite peaks, and showcases much of the south-west region’s native flora and fauna.
With Thistle Cove, Le Grand Beach, Hellfire Bay, and Rossiter Bay to explore, there’s no shortage of surreal beaches where you can occupy yourself diving into pristine water, snorkelling, canoeing, and kayaking. As you make your way through the park, keep a keen eye out for western grey kangaroos, pygmy possums, ringtail possums, southern brown bandicoot, all of which call Cape Le Grand home. In the second half of the year, whales can often be seen migrating along the south-west coastline, and any of the aforementioned beaches will give you a chance to spot one.
Keep in mind that the beaches in Cape Le Grand can pose difficulties to vehicles dependent on the conditions, as it can be easy to get bogged even in innocuous-looking sand. WA Parks and Wildlife Service recommends making an enquiry about the surface conditions and tides to the rangers before you enter the park.
Stay at the oceanfront Lucky Bay Campground, which is accessible to 2WD vehicles and has 25 sites that can accommodate caravans, camper trailers, and campervans. Campfires and solid fuel appliances are not permitted, although there are barbecues and picnic tables. In addition to camping fees, park entry fees also apply. Bookings are essential.