Albany Free Camps, Southwest WA
Nestled on turquoise bays and white sand beaches, Albany’s five seaside camps make excellent wintertime fishing destinations. You can park your caravan easily at pet-friendly Cosy Corner for seven days of beachcombing and boating, or drive 30 minutes east of Albany to neighbouring camps at Bettys Beach and Normans Inlet which are, quite simply, exquisite.
Ideal for compact caravans, Normans Inlet attracts paddlers who can glide across a deep, tannin-hued pool graced by elegant black swans and explore the edge of Mount Many Peaks Nature Reserve.
Close by, the grassy campsites at Betty’s Beach overlook one of the region’s prettiest bays, bookcased by giant granite boulders that glow golden with orange lichen at sunset. Pods of dolphins fish the bay and with a 4WD you can access the beach to launch a tinnie or reach rock-fishing spots at low tide.
Caravanners should take care negotiating the steep access road (the Council website warns vanners off this camp but it can be done). At the camp, set up amongst the salmon fishing shacks, occupied only over the busy summer.
Fast Facts: Albany is 415km southeast of Perth. Stay: Freecamp available at Cosy Corner, Torbay West, East Bay, Normans Inlet or Bettys Beach (seven-day limit, toilets and bins only, no fires and no mobile reception). Entry fee: Free. Enjoy: Fishing, paddling, walking and birding.
Mallacoota, Eastern Victoria
Known for pulling immense summer holiday crowds, Mallacoota is just as breathtaking when the skies darken and the wind blows. Only over the chilly winter months do travellers have this magnificent coastline all to themselves to tackle quiet bushwalks and paddle Mallacoota Lakes far inland spotting waterbirds easily scared off by the noisy summertime crowds.
For mind-blowing vistas, climb the easy trail to the summit of Genoa Peak, 490m above Mallacoota Lakes and Croajingolong National Park’s wild, 100km-long coastline (3km/two hours return). Birdwatchers will love the easy Wingan Nature Walk (1.5 hours) for the chance to spot feathertail gliders, lyrebirds and eastern whipbirds.
Fast Facts: Mallacoota is 450km east of Melbourne and 500km south of Sydney. Stay: Choose Shady Gully Caravan Park (powered sites $31/couple), Mallacoota Foreshore Holiday Park (pets and campfires permitted, powered sites from $25/couple), Beachcomber Caravan Park or A-Wangralea Caravan Park. Enjoy: Fishing, boating, swimming, walking, paddling and surfing.
Bay of Fires, St Helens, Tasmania
Put yourself in this tricoloured vista: an endless white sand beach, fiery granite headlands dipping beneath the waves, and arcing bright blue coves that call beachcombers to the water’s edge. From campsites poised above it all you can fish and paddle on bright lagoons where waterbirds take refuge, walk, swim and relax, your bank balance stalled by some of the best free camps on Tassie’s east coast.
On any day the sea might be calm enough to launch a kayak, or toss your tinnie in its foamy swell, but in all its incarnations, the sea off the Bay of Fires is utterly magnetising. Settle into one of eight idyllic camping locations on wild sunny beaches or shimmering lagoons, in sheltered bays or atop weathered granite headlands — all offering month-long stays.
There’s a boat ramp at Grants Lagoon campground and caravan-friendly sites at Jeanneret Beach, Cosy Corner and remote Policemans Point, an idyllic spot with big, grassy sites at the mouth of Ansons Bay. Best of all, St Helens is only 10km away when you need to resupply.
Fast Facts: Located 10km northeast of St Helens (via Binalong Bay Rd, C850). Stay: Free for up to four weeks. Toilets, picnic tables and fire pits are provided at most camps and pets on leads and generators are permitted (BYO drinking water and firewood). Entry fee: Free. Enjoy: Fishing, boating, swimming and paddling.
Stokes Inlet, Southwest WA
From their impossibly scenic campsites, anglers chase catches of black bream and paddlers push off to explore the shallow, tannin-hued Stokes Inlet. The inlet rarely breaks through to the sea but you can walk there in 45 minutes, skirting its paperbark-fringed foreshore and spotting swans, Australian shelducks, grebes, egrets and herons en route (7km return).
If you carry fishing gear to the ocean’s edge you might return with a dinner of Australian salmon, whiting or skippy. Picturesque at any time of the year but moody and mysterious over winter, Stokes Inlet is lovely wintertime destination where you can sit by the water and watch the birds as the mist rises at dawn.
Big, private sites at Benwenerup Campground are nestled around two central shelters with free gas barbecues, picnic tables, recycling bins and wheelchair-accessible toilets and there’s a boat ramp for launching shallow draft boats and kayaks and a top interpretive walking trail.
Fast Facts: Stokes Inlet National Park is located 80km west of Esperance. Stay: Unpowered campsites cost $11/adult, $3/child, payable via self-registration (generators permitted but no campfires or pets). Bring drinking water. Entry fee: $13/vehicle. Enjoy: Fishing, paddling, walking and birding.
Lipson Cove, Eyre Peninsula, SA
Lipson Cove is not only one of the Eyre Peninsula’s prettiest camps, it’s also a top spot for angling, paddling, birding and endless blue salmon feasts!
Warm up over the chilly winter months on the clifftop trail that hugs the ocean’s edge south of camp, or cross the sand spit at low tide to Lipson Island where crested terns, cormorants and great pairs of Pacific gulls shift restlessly on the sand.
Plant your feet on the stand to reel in catches of salmon, snapper or kingfish, or spend time snorkelling with Australian giant cuttlefish during their wild mating spectacle at nearby Fitzgerald Bay from May to August. Best of all, stays at Lipson Cove’s big beachfront campsites won’t cost you a cent and pets and generators are welcome.
Fast Facts: Lipson Cove is located 290km south of Port Augusta. Stay: Unpowered campsites are free and provide toilets, fireplaces and bins. Entry fee: Free. Enjoy: Fishing, paddling, walking and birding.
D’Entrecasteaux National Park, Southwest WA
Protecting 130km of the state’s most desirous beaches, giant sand dunes, freshwater lakes and great granite monadnocks, this outstanding southern wintertime destination is also surprisingly accessible to conventional rigs, too.
Park your rig at Windy Harbour Campground and set out to climb low-lying Mount Chudalup, scamper up the massive Yeagarup Dunes, spot the rusting wreck of a Norwegian barque and walk through Goblin Swamp at Carey Brook — no 4WD required.
Windy Harbour provides a camp kitchen, hot showers, toilets and a laundry, and makes a great base for day spent paddling with waterbirds on Yeagarup Lake or wandering the nearby clifftops at Point D’Entrecasteaux spotting migrating whales en route to Cathedral Rock.
Fast Facts: Conventional vehicle access is via Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole, all located within 430km of Perth. Stay: Bush camp at Crystal Springs (small vans only, $8/adult, $3/child) or Windy Harbour ($13.50/adult, $6.50/child or $38.50/family plus $7 for power). Entry fee: $13/vehicle. Enjoy: Fishing, boating, swimming, walking and paddling.
Portland, Southwest Victoria
What makes Victoria’s birthplace one of the best places to holiday this winter? It begins with Portland’s windy clifftop walks that lead you to Australian fur seals and dramatic blowholes, Indigenous shell middens, spring-fed pools and a Petrified Forest of crumbling stone columns standing sentry over the sea.
Stand atop Victoria’s highest sea cliff, poke your head into bat caves and settle into a sheltered campsite beside Lake Monibeong or Swan Lake in Discovery Bay Coastal Park. This pristine wilderness extends all the way to the South Australian border and is a great destination for trout fishing and calm water paddling over the winter months.
Fast Facts: Portland is located 357km west of Melbourne and 107km from Mount Gambier. Stay: Unpowered campsites in Discovery Bay Coastal Park over winter cost $27.20/site (toilets, shared fireplaces and tables). Entry fee: Free. Enjoy: Walking, fishing, paddling and spot koalas in nearby Cobboboonee National Park.
Narawntapu National Park, Northeast Tasmania
On the edge of Springlawn when the sun dips low, Tassie’s most watchable wildlife begins to stir: wombats and pademelons, Forester kangaroos and Bennetts wallabies, to the delight of the travellers gathered at the day’s end.
Narawntapu is a rare seaside sanctuary and one of most recommended places in Tasmania for wildlife encounters. Its superb visitors’ centre is one of best around, and the choice of campsites will woo all kinds of travellers.
For sea views and boat access to the beach, I love the big, quiet, campfire-friendly sites at Bakers Point where pademelons forage and big, bushy possums and the occasional wombat emerge after dark.
For hot showers and power, you can’t beat the spacious campsites at Springlawn — close to the wildlife action — and just a short stroll to the visitors’ centre to check out top displays, read books and ask questions. Caravanners at Springlawn also enjoy free electric barbecues, picnic tables and drinking water, all for just $16 a night.
Fast Facts: Follow the B71 east of Devonport and take the C740 north to Bakers Beach. Stay: Powered sites at Springlawn cost $16 for two people plus $3.50/child or $22/family. Bush camps at Bakers Point cost $13/couple plus $2.50/child or $16/family (no pets). Entry fee: $24 per vehicle. Enjoy: Fishing, swimming and wildlife.
Myall Lakes National Park, Bulahdelah, NSW
Over the chilly winter months, this coastal wilderness magnetises water-lovers and whale watchers with 40km of beaches and bays and the state’s largest brackish lake system to explore.
While surfers with steamers brave the ocean swell, anglers stake out blustery beaches, and boaties and kayakers turn their attention inland where 10,000 hectares of wetlands harbour a third of all coastal plants and animals recorded in the state.
There are walking trails for you to warm up on (try the Mungo Brush Rainforest loop or perhaps the Tamboi track), and one of the east coast’s tallest trees to ogle: a 400-year-old ancient flooded gum tree called the Grandis that pierces the canopy above with its 76.2m-high trunk.
Climb to Sugarloaf Point lighthouse to spot whales and gaze out over Seal Rock where the Catterthun sunk in 1895 in one of NSW’s worst maritime disasters.
Of all the national park’s camping options, Banksia Green is a good pick for caravanners with beach access for fishing and surfing, and paddling on the calm Bombah Broadwater behind.
Fast Facts: Located 100km north of Newcastle. Stay: Caravan-friendly Banksia Green provides toilets and barbecues (BYO water, no pets). Off-peak camping costs $8.50/adult and $4/child. Entry fee: $8/vehicle/day. Enjoy: Fishing, boating, swimming, walking and paddling.