Stretch your dollar further with these stunning low-cost camping destinations the whole family can enjoy.
FRASER ISLAND, QLD
Fraser isn’t exactly a ‘budget camp’ if you’re hailing from Wangaratta, Vic, but for us local Queenslanders, it’s hard to beat. The trick is to stay a week or so as, once the costs of barge tickets are absorbed and you’re camped up the beach, Fraser’s this side of free.
There are about 35 camping areas on the island with some featuring dingo-proof fencing, ideal if you’ve got little kids. Actually, kids are okay everywhere so long as you watch them at all times.
Many know and favour the eastern beaches, especially the beach fishing crew. I’ve had no luck at it myself but I’ve camped with blokes who have, and nothing beats fresh whiting for breakfast!
The sites are QPWS managed, so you’ll need permits and that means knowing where you want to camp. For first-timers, I recommend either side of Eurong as it’s fairly central and easy to get supplies. But as Fraser gets more popular, it may be a case of grabbing what’s free. Rest assured, there’s no such thing as bad camping on Fraser, and the QPWS system limits the crowds.
Be sure to plan around the tides and allow time to get to your site on day one. Things can slow right down when the tides’ in, especially if you’re towing!
Oh, and fires are banned on Fraser except for those enclosed with manufactured fuels, so a tub of heat beads make this a brilliant place for winter camping, too!
GARDENS OF STONE NP, NSW
When it comes to rocky outcrops and utterly spectacular scenery, the World Heritage-listed Gardens of Stone NP will wrap any keen 4WDer around its little finger. It’s hard to image how a place so heavenly can lie within a few short hours of Sydney and offer free camping to top it off! Yep, this underrated part region neighbours the Capertee Valley, the second largest canyon in the world, which most Aussies have never even heard of!
In the heart of the Gardens of Stone NP, you’ve just got to lock in the hubs and tackle the Baal Bone Gap Track. It plunges deep into the bowels of the park and takes you on a sandstone journey like no other. Leave the campers back at camp for this one though; there are a few tricky parts of this track that demand respect. A great little site about a quarter of the way down the track might prove too hard to resist if you’re setup is super capable.
If you’re more into bushwalking or mountain-biking this track will surely tickle your fancy too. Don’t forget to check out the Baal Bone Gap picnic area, which offers one of the most stunning views this side of the planet. And if you’re a pure adrenalin junkie, the Newnes Plateau is a must-see too. It’s a world of adventure with stunning views of the Wolgan River and some of the best rocky outcrops in the park.
LOWER GLENELG NP, VIC
Lower Glenelg NP protects Victoria’s largest estuarine river, the Glenelg River. Declared a national park in 1969, the 27,300ha sanctuary draws bushwalkers and campers with its Great South West Walk and the Princess Margaret Rose Caves.
Glenelg Drive, a well-maintained gravel road, leads to many bush campsites south of the river. To access its more remote camps, drive through Nelson and stop for a counter lunch before continuing to Donovans. From here you can access Wanwin Road, via Caves and Old Caves roads, crossing the state border several times.
Turn-offs north from the sealed Wanwin Road take you to different campgrounds, which are linked by a comfortable well-maintained track varying from gravel to sand north of the river.
From Pritchards campground (south side), it’s a 20-minute drive to Lake Monibeong within the Discovery Bay Coastal Park, via a well signposted turnoff on Nelson Road. The gravel road meanders through pine plantations to the large Lake Monibeong campground. A sandy track from the campground leads to the beach but there’s no vehicle access beyond that point. If you’re looking for solitude and kilometres of unspoilt coast, this is the place for you.
Lower Glenelg NP is 420km from Melbourne and 490km from Adelaide with numerous campgrounds, including Pritchards, the largest and most accessible. Fireplaces, toilets and non-potable water are available at all campgrounds.
FLINDERS RANGES, SA
With a roughly five-hour drive ahead of you from Adelaide, the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park pushes the limits for a weekender, but with a 6am start you’d be unpacking the trailer ready for an outback lunch with a day’s exploration before heading home Sunday afternoon. The park is viewed as the south-east gateway to Australia’s heart drawing thousands of local and international tourists year in, year out eager for a taste of outback life.
There’s no shortage of attractions with bushwalks through million-year-old canyons and gorges to ruins from the area’s colonial past, ancient Aboriginal sites and countless tracks. If you’re a history buff the old Wilpena Station is a must-see. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the now-retired station tells tales of hardships, drought and floods spanning 135 years.
With close to a dozen designated campgrounds within the park, and an average of 10 campsites at each you won’t struggle to find a spot. The Brachina East and Koolaman campgrounds respectively offer seven and eight campsites accessible with a 4WD, if you’re looking to break free of the crowds. Both grounds offer basic amenities so come prepared and keep $14 in the coin purse per night per vehicle.
While some 2WD-accessible campsites offer easy access to creeks and walking trails, the privately-owned Wilpena Pound inside the park has hundreds of unpowered sites, a bar and swimming pool. Entry to Wilpena Pound costs $10 per vehicle, but camping and station tour fees also apply.
THE TURQUOISE COAST AND THE PINNACLE DESERT, WA
Every time we visit Perth with a day free, we head north to Lancelin, Wedge Island and on to the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung NP. It’s a pretty easy run along the Indian Ocean Drive and you can be in Lancelin with its great dunes in a couple of hours from the CBD.
After you’ve had a play amongst the great dunes, continue north to Wedge Island, to visit one of the largest beach shack communities in Australia. It’s a spectacular section of the Turquoise Coast, which includes 40 or so islands spread along 150km of coastline.
Further north again is the Nambung NP, famous for its Pinnacle Desert which is accessed via an entry station and Interpretation Centre. The firm sandy track wanders amongst the sandstone pillars giving easy walking access to the best areas. There are also some delightful beaches and headlands to enjoy at Kangaroo Point and Hangover Bay, perfect for fishing, swimming and snorkelling. If you are into flowers then spring is the time to enjoy this magical area.
Outside the park and close to the town of Cervantes is Lake Thetis where a loop trail and boardwalk leads you to see some fascinating thrombolites: living rock-like structures built by micro-organisms and dating back to the very dawn of life on this planet.
Camping is not allowed in the Nambung NP but there are many pleasant commercial camping areas in Lancelin and Cervantes.