It’s one of the prettiest scenes in the tropics: a long stretch of sweeping, golden sand, fringed by towering melaleucas and shaggy-topped coconut palms and nestled against a lush green backdrop of rainforested hills. Facing seaward, an elegant strip of sassy bars and relaxed luxury resorts lures a well-heeled crowd, but the best real estate lies at the end of esplanade and it’s reserved exclusively for campers.
The pet-friendly Palm Cove Holiday Park is a spacious place to spend Easter, close to a patrolled swimming area and right opposite the town jetty. You won’t find a jumping pillow or water park but you won’t need them either, so well located is this spot to the north’s best watery attractions.
From the jetty you can hitch a ride out to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkelling and diving fun, or board a cruise with jumping crocodiles at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
North of Palm Cove, Queensland’s most scenic coastal drive carries you to Port Douglas, hugging the water’s edge for immense ocean views. Along the way, hang-gliders launch themselves into the abyss from Rex Lookout, and there are also some lovely stretches of sand at Oak and Thala Beaches. Be sure to stop and see crocs at the Mowbray River crossing, a popular fishing spot, too.
Get yourself there: Head 20km north of Cairns to Palm Cove Holiday Park where powered sites over Easter cost $54/couple/night (unpowered sites $42/couple plus $10/child).
This unpretentious seaside town is custom-made for rekindling long-forgotten summers, its long arcing waterfront wrapped around a shimmering, bright blue bay.
An old timber jetty interrupts Tumby’s stunning coastal seascape, luring walkers and anglers who dangle lines and tease the seagulls with paper-wrapped fish and chip dinners while fish dodge baited hooks through an invisible sea.
Lazy days here are spent floating on the silent shores of the Spencer Gulf, or on long, low-tide walks to nearby Tumby Island to watch the sea birds. Launch a tinny and head offshore to the Sir Joseph Banks Group of Islands, a major South Australian breeding grounds for gorgeous Cape Barren geese.
Behind the beach, the grassy foreshore is studded with towering pine trees and picnic shelters, and across the road, the Tumby Bay takeaway dispenses wonderfully fresh fish and chips so cheap that you can afford to feed the seagulls.
Even when Easter holiday crowds descend on Tumby Bay, the town’s unhurried pace pervades, and there’s always elbow room in that big calm sea where kids can splash about on boogie boards despite the distinct lack of swell.
Get yourself there: Tumby Bay is located 297km south of Port Augusta. Powered sites at Tumby Bay Caravan Park cost $37/couple over Easter plus $10 per child. A basic motorhome park on the road into town provides unpowered sites for just $7.50 a night.
CARNARVON GORGE NATIONAL PARK
After kick-starting the day with a chilly wake-up plunge into Rock Pool, campers hike deep into Carnarvon Gorge, discovering hidden fern-filled chasms, Indigenous rock art and misty, mossy waterfalls.
One of Queensland’s most popular Easter holiday destinations, Carnarvon Gorge is accessible and oh-so-impressive: a towering chasm of soft, white sandstone where cycads, spotted gums and Carnarvon fan palms thrive.
A 10km-long walking trail paves the way into it all, leading to Ward’s Canyon where a waterfall feeds the world’s largest king ferns, and the Art Gallery’s 62m-long wall of red and yellow ochre boomerangs, coolamons and hands — more than 2000 depictions in all.
Other trails lead to Boolimba Bluff, Baloon Cave and Mickey Creek and, at day’s end, everyone cools their heels back at Rock Pool’s deep, sandy, swimming holes.
The park’s shady campground where Eastern grey kangaroos and pretty-face wallabies graze, opens only for school holidays (a concession to commercial interests in the park). There are generous sites, toilets, coin-operated hot showers, drinking water and gas barbecues, and at $6.55 per person ($26.20/family) it’s a good deal if you snag a booking. For powered sites ($46 for 2 adults, $6 for kids), contact Takarakka Bush Resort.
Close to Carnarvon Gorge, paddle your kayaks at little-known Nuga Nuga National Park: home to the largest body of water in Central Queensland and a magnet for waterbirds.
Get yourself there: Follow the Carnarvon Development Road 200km north of Roma (via Injune) to the park turn-off and continue 45km into the park. Access is suitable for all vehicles in dry weather. National park campsites cost $6.55/person and free for kids under five.
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
This microcosm of the Top End is Kakadu in miniature: easier to explore and renowned for its stunning ensemble of deep, clear waterholes that remain gloriously croc-free. The spring-fed creeks that tumble off the Tabletop Range’s sandstone plateau gather as Wangi, Tolmer, Florence and Tjaetaba Falls, nurturing lush monsoon forests and filling swamps that unite birds and birders.
Sealed roads make this an all-weather camping destination, and you can enjoy campsites with hot showers for pocket change, and no shortage of swimming opportunities, walking trails and offroad adventures to discover lost cities, historical sites and hidden waterholes, too.
Size yourself up against Litchfield’s legendary termite mounds and soak all day long at Buley Rockhole or beneath Wangi Falls, perhaps hiking to the hidden pools atop stunning Tjaetaba Falls that will put you on top of the world!
Solitude seekers will love the utterly secluded riverside camps on pandanus-fringed Walker Creek (walk-in only and just $3.30 a night), and lose themselves in the remarkable wilderness at the Lost City, winding through an hypnotic maze of towering pillars and tumbledown rock walls that taper into closeted passageways.
Get yourself there: Head 130km south of Darwin. Entry is free and unpowered campgrounds at Florence Falls, caravan-friendly Wangi Falls and 4WD-only Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek) provide drinking water, hot showers, wheelchair-accessible toilets and fire pits ($6.60/adult, $3.30/child and $15.50/family; half-price at Sandy Creek). The cafe at Wangi Falls let's you log into free Wi-Fi too.
It’s a white-hot destination with endless beaches and 100 ways to enjoy the outdoors, so smear some zinc on your face and hit the waves at beautiful Byron Bay. Check out the protected arc of sand at Clarkes Beach where small waves are kind to beginner surfers, then test your mettle on the wilder breaks that peel off the rocks beneath the Cape Byron Lighthouse.
Explore Main Beach and the Pass, Wategoes Beach and the seemingly endless stretch of sand that reaches from Tallow Beach to distant Broken Heads. Park your rig at Clarkes Beach in Byron’s most central beachfront holiday park, and unload the surf toys or sign up to take a lesson with a local pro.
Out of the water, the best way to begin any day at Byron is on the Cape Byron Walking Track, climbing through coastal rainforest thick with Bangalow palms and banksias to top out at Byron Bay’s historic lighthouse. Start early to catch sunrise from Australia’s most easterly point and watch bottlenose dolphins surfing the breakers far below (3.7km, 1-3 hours).
Get yourself there: Byron Bay is located 170km south of Brisbane and 800km north of Sydney. Camp at Clarkes Beach Holiday Park. When you go, don’t miss Byron Bay’s weekly Farmers Markets (Thursday from 8-11am).
At Torquay we take to the sea, watching the waves roll in over Bells Beach and lining up with locals and backpackers, seasoned surfers and wannabes, all smelling like surf wax and gauging the swell. The waves are pumping so we stick to the shallows, ogling the daredevils carving bold moves beyond and retreated afterwards to build sandcastles on the shore.
Uber-cool Torquay is a popular Easter hotspot, and although the town has moved on from its surfer roots, a lingering sandy-footed vibe pervades. Along Torquay’s polished main drag, the Australian National Surfing Museum (and its awesome Hall of Fame) reminds everyone what this town is built on and wide-eyed grommets are everywhere.
There’s great food and shopping, plenty to do and a dozen places to camp, but Torquay’s original and oldest — the Torquay Caravan Park — is still hot property. Thrill the kids with a day at Adventure Park in nearby Geelong.
Get yourself there: Torquay is located 100km south of Melbourne. Sites at Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park over Easter cost from $67-70 for two adults. Alternatively, try the Torquay Holiday Park.
For Perth escapees, Margaret River has huge pulling-power with squeaky white-sand beaches, exquisite surf breaks, and dozens of ways to get your toes wet and your boots dirty between winery tours, marron lunches and cafe lattes.
The surf breaks between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste attract a steely guard of helmeted surfers and an audience of amazed onlookers, while swimmers and snorkellers stake out the bright blue bays in between.
At sunset, giant karri trees glow in the hills behind, signaling that it’s time to retreat to a cool, stone courtyard somewhere for a glass of Margaret River’s finest. Wine aficionados could spend their break on an endless whirl of wining and dining, but great wine is just the start.
Find time to snorkel Canal Rocks (just off Caves Road), go caving or hire a mini-Malibu (for adults) or a lightweight foam board for kids to ride the beginner swell at the mouth of the Margaret River.
Spend a sunrise with forest kings in Boranup Forest watching the rising sun ignite colourful 400-year-old karri trees; collect miniature shiny shells at Moses Rock; watch for whales atop Gracetown’s Cowaramup Bay and discover “The Other Side of the Moon” on a tour from Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse.
Get yourself there: Margaret River is located 290km south of Perth (a 3-4 hour drive). Camp at Conto Campground, 19km south of Margaret River ($11/adults $3/child) or Gracetown Caravan Park where powered sites with all the trimmings cost $49/couple and $40/couple.
If surfing, paddling, fishing and bushwalking in one very holiday-sassy seaside towns sounds like the thing to keep your family Easter holiday humming, then Kalbarri will make you swoon. A solid half-day’s drive north of Perth, Kalbarri caters for its crowds in style with four mega holiday parks and weeks’ worth of fun.
Hire kayaks to paddle the Murchison River, follow the clifftop trails to Shellhouse Gorge and Island Rock, and peer through Nature’s Window in Kalbarri National Park, a natural rock window on the deep, rugged Murchison Gorge. There are daily pelican feeding sessions on the foreshore, great fishing and swimming, and vast pink lakes at nearby Port Gregory to ogle at sunset.
Get yourself there: Kalbarri is located 580km north of Perth. Stay at Anchorage Caravan Park, Murchison River Caravan Park, Kalbarri Tudor Caravan Park or Red Bluff Caravan Park.