Our camping enthusiasts nominate their favourite spots for a memorable night under the stars
Surf’s up: Yuraygir National Park is on the longest stretch of undeveloped coast in NSW
THE wind is howling at Cape Conran, Victoria, the temperature plummeting and the dark clouds massing on the horizon look ready to explode. But I’m one happy camper. Here in the windswept wilds of Cape Conran Coastal Park, 420km east of Melbourne, not far from where the Snowy River spills into the sea, I’m snug in my tent, curled up under a thick doona while the surf booms and crashes into the dunes behind.
OK, I admit my tent’s a little better than most, with a wooden floor raised far above the reach of any creepy crawlies that may want to visit in the night, and I have a nice queen-sized bed with crisp white sheets and the aforementioned doona. There are also reading lights and a fridge for the obligatory chilled sundowners on the private deck. But this is no fancy five-star resort. It’s a national park with more than 60km of deserted beaches. You still have to traipse across the way to the shower and toilet block and the camp kitchen’s a couple of hundred metres away, but at $120 it’s a bargain. www.conran.net.au. Lee Atkinson Racecourse Headland, Goolawah Reserve, NSW: My first stop at Crescent Head is always the camping ground, except these days it calls itself a holiday park. Everything curves, crescent-like, around here; past the park, while out on the waves, grommets and old men of the sea live out their blue-crush dreams. If Crescent Head isn’t working, or working so well that it’s overcrowded, I head south along the unsealed coastal track through Goolawah Reserve. The road rattles 30km to the river punt near Port Macquarie, becoming increasingly user-unfriendly.
Before it gets too bad, it delivers this big-hearted coast, swoops of long, empty beaches stretched between rocky outcrops. Dotted along it are small camping sites, the first, at Racecourse 10km south of Crescent, being little more than a few tent spaces and a thunderbox tucked among the wallum scrub. I pay a modest $12 to the ranger. Considering the front-stalls sea view, uncrowded waves and romping dolphin visits, it’s a bargain.
Farther south are the headlands of Delicate Nobby (Sensitive Dicky to some) and Big Hill, each with its own hideaway campsites. The real gem is Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve near Big Hill, where you can pull off the road and camp under the melaleucas, with black swans, pelicans and wallabies for company.
Goolawah is like camping used to be, before holiday parks, permanent cabins and gin-palace campervans became the norm. Fittingly, Goolawah, an Aboriginal word, means yesterday. www.escapenorth.com.au/ national parks macleay.htm. John Borthwick Karijini National Park, Western Australia: Drawing closer to the gorgeous gorges, we don’t know what to expect. A sealed-highway drive from WA’s coast to Karijini National Park puts us in the heart of the ochrehued Pilbara. The park’s low-impact resort, Karijini Eco Retreat, has 40 tents with ensuites and 10 shared bathrooms, plus a campsite for travellers toting tents, towing caravans or driving motorhomes.
A reddish-brown track curves towards our tent, fixed to its permanent base. Externally unremarkable, its interior is like a comfy hotel room. An on-site restaurant showcases native ingredients such as bush lime and wattle seed. Meats include crocodile.
Geologists say 2000 million years of erosion created deep gorges scarring this section of the Pilbara, now a big tourist attraction.
Four adventurers confide they’re off on a challenging five-day hike, clambering 100m down into gorges before climbing steep cliff faces. Others prefer an easier pace, boarding tour buses bound for lookouts over Oxer and Junction pools and other sites such as Joffre Falls.
A 30-minute walk down steep steps puts us at N the world of luxe travel, reclining under canvas doesn’t have anything to do with billy cans or sleeping bags. The vernacular is common, of course, in African safari destinations, but is also in favour in India (on the cusp of Ranthambore National Park), at delightful camps in Oman and the Maldives, on the Indonesian island of Moyo, and in NSW and the Northern Territory. This is what the industry has termed glamping: 21st-century camping without lifting a finger (or a tent peg). ■ Aman-i-Khas, Ranthambore, India: A keen competitor to Vanyavilas (see below), this Amanresorts property is a compound of 10 tents at the edge of tiger territory. The spacious canvas abodes are billed as ‘‘ reminiscent of the travelling tents enjoyed during the resplendent Moghul dynasty’’. The Amanresorts portfolio also includes Amanwana on the Indonesian island of Moyo (20 tents, linked by sand paths and set in tropical forest). www.amanresorts.com. ■ Banyan Tree Maldives, Madivaru: Glamping reaches the next level at this North Ari Atoll resort where six canvas villas are each comprised of three interlinked tents (one for sleeping, one for bathing, one for lounging) and a plunge pool and outdoor shower. Despite the resort’s petite dimensions, and
Local favourite: Coledale Beach
IFortescue Falls, where we plunge into a welcoming pool, our gaze fixed on gorge walls. Giant rocks seem poised to tumble on to us but I’m assured they haven’t moved in thousands of years. God was in a hurry,’’ suggests a Canadian visitor.
Back at our tent, hot water aplenty in our ensuite rinses away red dust, reminders of a day’s exploration. www.karijiniecoretreat.com.au. Chris Pritchard Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park, New Zealand: With 1500km of coastal inlets, the drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park shred the top of NZ’s South Island like a fringe.
It is a spectacularly odd region. The steep ridges that rise abruptly from the sounds have been conveyed by the alpine fault 450km north of their cousin rocks in Otago. And they continue to move towards Wellington at an average of 6.6mm a year. In the clash of the earth’s crustal plates that has caused the movement, the sounds, which are on the Pacific plate that is being overridden, are getting slowly pushed beneath the sea.
Kayak capers: Ratimera Bay the distinct possibility the tented villas are too selfcontained to need to venture out, there’s a spa, myriad aquatic excursions and the prospect of barefoot dining a deux on a sandbank. www.banyantree.com. ■ Desert Nights Camp, Wahiba Sands, Oman: As elsewhere in Oman, gentle hospitality is the leitmotif at this arc of new tents near Al Wasil, southeast of Muscat. The fenced camp’s tents have pointed roof overlays made in the US of biodegradable materials; they are blissfully airconditioned and well appointed with ensuite bathroom and separate sitting area. But explorers of yore would hardly approve of such softness amid the eerily empty lands of the Bedouins. www.omanworldtourism.com; www.desertnightscamp.com. ■ Voyages Longitude 131, Uluru, NT: Talk about a tent with a view: flick a switch, the blinds go up and
The sounds are ideal for sea kayak touring but their geology means it can be difficult to find enough flat space on the shoreline on which to pitch a tent. Fortunately, the Department of Conservation has several basic campsites, particularly in Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte sounds, with toilet and water facilities. These usually have only water access and cost $2 a night, the money placed in an honesty box.
After a week’s kayak touring in Pelorus, Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte sounds, we paddle into Ratimera Bay for our last night. It is the pick of our campsites, with the only thing to disturb us the occasional wash from a passing inter-island ferry. It would be difficult to find a more pleasant spot. www.doc.govt.nz. Colin Moore Yuraygir National Park, NSW: Do emus surf? Can they even swim? These are the pressing questions of the day as I sit and stare at the sea from my campsite at the mouth of the Sandon River in Yuraygir National Park, about an hour’s drive north of Coffs Harbour on the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in NSW. According to the ranger, these isolated and empty beaches are one of the few places in the country where you’ll see emus on the beach. I think the scores of pelicans trying the steal the fishermen’s catch have scared them off but it’s a good excuse to spend the afternoon doing nothing but watching the water, cold drink in hand, officially on emu watch.
A popular spot with fishos, our campsite is on the banks of the cleanest river in NSW and I’m hardpressed to think where else you get absolute waterfront views for just $10 a night. When we arrive, the place is wall to wall with four-wheel drives, but now that the sun has set they’ve tied up their boats, taken their fish and gone home, and we have the place to ourselves. It’s so quiet that the sound of the surf lulls us to sleep. A perfect place to pitch a tent. www.environment.nsw.gov.au. Lee Atkinson Landsborough River, Mt Aspiring National Park, New Zealand: The Landsborough is an oddity among the rivers of NZ’s South Island. Its source lies in the snowfields of the Southern Alps near Mt Cook, but instead of finding a quick exit to the west coast, it first runs south, flanked by the snow-covered peaks of the Main Divide for about 70km before joining the Haast River in South Westland.
The glacier that once ground its way down the valley has left several large terraces on the valley floor and it’s there is Uluru, perfectly framed like the most glorious painting. This is an encampment of 15 white-domed tents, each named for an explorer, including the illfated Burke and Wills and John Flynn, founder of the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service. Add a pool, red-sand vistas, educational touring and convivial dining in the Dune House. Voyages also operates the small Wilson Island in Queensland with tented accommodation for 12 soft-centred castaways (closes each February for bird-nesting season). www.longitude131.com.au; www.wilsonisland.com.
Paperbark Camp, Jervis Bay, NSW: There are eight so-called original safari tents (with hardwood-floored veranda and ensuite) and four deluxe versions, with the bonus of a freestanding bath, at this NSW south coast hide-out. These agreeable habitats, elevated above the ground (and its cargo of creepy-crawlies), stand dotted between paperbark trees; good meals are served in a treetop dining room circled by birds. www.paperbarkcamp.com.au.
Vanyavilas, Ranthambore, India: This Oberoi-run 25-suite spread is a tented resort with all the facilities such a term suggests, from orchard-filled gardens and pool to a day spa and elegant restaurant (serving superlative north Indian food). The tents are set behind earthen walls, with outer roofs that hang low and shady; canopied ceilings are printed with parades of little tigers and the veritable waterhole of a bath has claw feet, of course. www.oberoihotels.com. to one of these terraces, Toe Toe Flat, that Landsborough River rafters are taken by a small plane.
The first campsite is on the other side of the river and it’s worth the effort to inflate the rafts and glide across because on the far bank there is likely to be a large mesh bag, held below the icy water with a few river stones, holding a generous assortment of canned beer and several bottles of fine chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
It’s a just a sample of what is to come: a wilderness journey as palatable to the taste buds as the spectacular mountain scenery and rich indigenous forest is to the eye. Starters are king prawns lightly cooked on a flat steel plate over an open fire with garlic bread warmed in tin foil in the embers, along with a selection of exotic cheese and crackers.
Main course is de-boned joints of lamb that have marinated all day, cooked on the grill plate before being cut into thick, tender and succulent slices served with vegetables, Greek salad, potatoes and, naturally, chilled wine. Lamb rarely tastes so good nor could it be enjoyed in a more magnificent setting. www.queenstownrafting.co.nz. Colin Moore Coledale Beach Camping Reserve, NSW: Absolute beach frontage from $20 a night is yours at Coledale Beach Camping Reserve. All you have to do is pitch your own tent; a powered site costs an extra $5 a night. When I head there with my two young sons it seems like a real adventure, even though it’s only 3km from our house. ‘‘ That’s not unusual,’’ says Norm Jenkins, the campground’s live-in manager. ‘‘ A lot of the people who stay here live locally. About a third are from within 20km or so.’’ The locals obviously know a good thing when they see it. Coledale is one of Wollongong’s northern coastal villages and its campground, a few kilometres from sinuous Sea Cliff Bridge, is sited on a beach noted for surfing and dolphin sightings. Surf life saving club members help keep the campground trim and tidy. Campers enjoy free electric barbecue grills, hot showers, powered kitchen and laundry. A short walk away, a cafe in Coledale village serves breakfast and good coffee. There’s a Mediterranean restaurant (Chedo’s), wine shop, general store and small, friendly RSL club. Pizza and fish and chips are available, too. A stroll in the other direction brings you to Headies, the Headlands Hotel, a landmark pub with grand ocean views. As for the area’s fishing potential, the list of prize catches hanging above Headies’ bar testifies to that. www.coledalebeach.com.au/camping.html. Peter Needham
Windswept wilds: The deserted splendour of Victoria’s Cape Conran Coastal Park
Running on empty: Racecourse Headland
Just gorgeous: Karijini National Park