9 epic camping spots just a drive from the city
Leave the city behind and get ready for serenity under the stars.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
You never have to go far to find adventure in Australia. This selection of stunning beaches, farms, reserves and national parks – just a hop and skip away from urban areas – will immerse you in a beauty of the rugged, wild, and tranquil variety.
Set aside a weekend (or better still, a week) to pitch your tent, explore nearby trails, and breathe in the best of the great outdoors. These easy-to-access locations are gateways to natural playgrounds that will soothe busy minds and help remind you of the important things in life.
From Brisbane: forest bathing at Lamington National Park
Take the 1.5-hour drive from Brisbane to arrive at Lamington National Park, where Binna Burra Lodge’s Rainforest Campsite offers the ultimate base camp for experiencing the park's cascading waterfalls, drinking in the incredible views, and exploring the dense bush. You can even try your hand at forest bathing – the practice of slowing down and relaxing among the trees. When you've finished swimming at waterholes or bushwalking among the ferns, get the heart pumping by joining one of Binna Burra's roster of activities; think abseiling down escarpments and cliffs and zooming along the 165-metre (540-foot) zipline through the treetops.
From Cairns: go waterhole hopping at Babinda Boulders
Whisk yourself an hour south of Queensland’s tropical town of Cairns – and cruise along the Bruce Highway past sugarcane and banana farms – to reach Babinda Boulders, where tropical waters flow through natural rock pools fringed by rainforest. No matter the weather, a dip here is always refreshing, as the pool’s waters originate from Mount Bartle Frere, Queensland's tallest mountain. Camp in one of 13 sites at the Babinda campground.
From Darwin: cascading waterfalls at Litchfield National Park
For a more private dip at Buley Rockhole, swim in the shady creek that runs parallel to the walking trail to Florence Falls. View the Litchfield National Park map and heed signs for safe swimming.
A two-hour road trip from Darwin along the Stuart Highway will land you in dreamlike waterfall territory. Make sure to stop for a mango smoothie at Crazy Acres Mango Farm along the way (and say ‘g’day’ to Karen, the farm’s owner). Once you’re inside Litchfield National Park, the popular Buley Rockhole is the first swimming hole you’ll reach. Pay attention to the Litchfield National Park swimming guides to help you make the most of safe dipping spots. Set up camp at Litchfield Tourist Park with the Finnis River flowing through its back yard (cast a line and try to catch some freshwater fish, too).
From Alice Springs: outback oasis at Ormiston Gorge
Immerse yourself in the unique colour palette of the Red Centre on the one-hour trip west of Alice Springs to Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges), and be sure to stop at Ormiston Gorge on the way. Pack your swimming costume, as the gorge has a waterhole suitable for swimming year-round, located just 500 metres (a quarter of a mile) from the visitor centre. Explore the nearby scenery – with twisted ghost gum trees, ochre-toned cliffs and hilltops with sweeping valley views – on either the five-minute Waterhole Walk or the 20-minute Ghost Gum Lookout walk.
From Sydney: Discover magical mountains at Cathedral Reserve
Follow the Bells Line of Road, through the Blue Mountains fruit country, to the pretty village of Mount Wilson, a two-hour drive from Sydney’s city centre. Here you’ll find Cathedral Reserve, a campground blanketed in orange leaves during autumn (in spring, it bursts with blooms). Wander 10 minutes to the Cathedral of Ferns, a 30-minute loop trail often shrouded in mist or illuminated by fireflies.
From Adelaide: explore the blue waters of Kangaroo Island
Escape the mainland for the blindingly blue waters and bone-white sands of Kangaroo Island, often dubbed the “zoo without fences”. Arrive at the island by ferry, which departs from Cape Jervis, a 1.5-hour drive south of Adelaide. Camp at Brown Beach, 15 minutes from the ferry port at Penneshaw. This site offers a beachfront position from which to swim, sleep and ocean gaze – and there are good odds for sea lion spotting, too. Explore the other highlights of Kangaroo Island, such as getting close to more than 150 species of native Australian wildlife at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, or visiting one of the island’s wineries.
From Canberra: picnic perfection at the Cotter Reserve
Just 20 minutes from Canberra, the Cotter Reserve (also known as the Cotter Avenue Recreation Area) is a peaceful pocket of babbling creeks, picnic patches, and towering casuarina trees (that often house rowdy yellow-tailed black cockatoos). After lazing by the river, drive for a further hour to camp at Blue Range Hut, a misty, gumtree-walled campsite steeped in Italian migrant history.
From Perth: sustainable farmstay at Margaret River
Hit the open road and head south from Perth to Margaret River (a three-hour drive) to connect with the good things in life – wine and waves. Amp up your back-to-nature experience by camping beside blooming food gardens at Fair Harvest permaculture farm. Enjoy the farm café, yoga barn and forest walking trails, or, for something more immersive, join a mindfulness or permaculture workshop.
From Melbourne: lyrebird spotting at Cathedral Range
At Cathedral Range State Park, about two hours from Melbourne in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, a breathtaking, seven-kilometre (4.3-mile) rocky escarpment rises up amid thick bushland. Neds Gully campground is a sweet, riverside site accessible via a footbridge. Base yourself here to explore the region by car or bike. Those more adventurous spirits may want to kit-up for rock climbing. You’re in koala and lyrebird country here, so keep your eyes peeled towards the treetops.