Ultimate camping guide

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Camping is one of the classic Australian rituals that, as with barbecues, beer and Friday night footy, has got a bit fancy lately. However, there are almost as many ways to camp as there are campers. Here are some of your options.

Festival campers Georgie and Kat

The festival camper

Some people take a haphazard approach to camping, grabbing what they can before heading out the door. But not Georgie. She and her partner Kat are such seasoned campers, they have the process down to a fine art.

“Kat has a van that looks like your typical tradie van on the outside, but inside there’s a bed, three layers of curtains, fur walls and roof and rope lighting, with an inverter for power,” Georgie says.

“If we’re only going for a night, we can just drive there, park and that’s the campsite complete.” Georgie has been a camper for as long as she can remember, fondly recalling family holidays to the Great Ocean Road and the Otways when she was in primary school.

These days, much of her camping centres on music festivals, such as the annual Rainbow Serpent Festival of arts, music and lifestyle in the western Victorian town of Lexton. Kat is a DJ and Georgie is a VJ (the visual side of DJ-ing).

“I love everything, from the live music, art installations, workshops to shopping at festival markets and going on ‘food safari’. Festival food has come a long way,” she says.

“Most festivals have something for everyone. The last one we were at, the ages ranged from seven to 47, just in our campsite.”

When the pair embark on longer trips they pack tubs to store food and clothes, as well as a marquee with industrial strength pegs.

“It gives you shelter, privacy, as well as protection against the elements.”

Georgie says a huge part of the appeal of festival camping is hanging out with friends and making new friends.

See the Ultimate guide to festival camping for handy tips and hints.

Peter and Virginia Weaving

Wilderness camper

When it comes to choosing a camping location, Peter Weaving has a simple philosophy. Find the popular destinations and go in the other direction.

“It’s a pretty special feeling when you’re the only person on the beach, or you have some bushland to yourself,” he says.

Because the former newspaper photographer and his wife Virginia run an award-winning bed and breakfast in Sedgwick, near Bendigo, they can’t spend long periods away. That’s why they bought a second-hand Jayco pop-up caravan.

“We only ever go away for a couple of weeks at a time, so now we can take the caravan out and have everything we need.”

The couple also have a three-person tent, allowing them to get a little more off-road than the caravan will allow.

“Rather than taking the van into remote bushland, we can park it somewhere and then unpack the tent where we want. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Peter’s passion for remote camping has grown in recent years, as his adult children have flown the nest.

“We always used to go camping as a family at Easter time, with a group of friends, to anywhere where there was a lake. This went on for many years starting with more adults than children, then more children than adults and now more adults again as the children have grown up,” he says.

“Now,” he adds with a laugh, “the children accuse us of famping [fake camping], because the adults still get together but stay in cabins, units or houses.”

Family campers Patrick and Alison O'Bryan

Family camper

One of the first things Patrick O’Bryan packs when he’s embarking on a family camping trip is a pair or two of protective earmuffs.

Patrick, his partner Alison and children Valentine (six in December) and Henrietta (three) are veterans of the musical festival circuit.

“Once [with Valentine], we did five festivals in six weeks and three of them, including Meredith Music Festival and Queenscliff Music Festival, were camping festivals,” says Patrick.

“This was in a 2.5m by 2.5m canvas tent with one pole in the middle – a tight fit, but we’ve now upgraded.”

Patrick has camped extensively across the US and Canada, including alongside black bears in Ontario (“as soon as a bear would realise it had been spotted it would run away to the trees – they are very curious but don’t want to engage with people that much”).

Patrick and Alison are both seasoned campers, and love sharing the pastime with their children. Alison recalls childhood summers packed with “ready-made playmates, a creek out the front door as a playground and a bush track up to the waterfall” at one of Lorne’s caravan parks.

These days, the family can be found hauling their comfortable three-room tent to music festivals around the state, as well as other favourite camping spots including Wye River and the Great Ocean Road.

It’s an affordable family holiday, Patrick says, and Victoria boasts a number of caravan parks perfect for families with young children.

“[Parks including] Echuca, Gellibrand, Queenscliff and Wangaratta have great set-ups for families with young kids, with pools, playgrounds and instant friends.”

“It’s loads of fun and the kids love the whole adventure,” he says.

Top Australian glamping sports

Not everyone wants to BYO tent, furnishings and supplies when they head for the great outdoors.

Well-heeled travellers prefer Australia’s wild side without austerity, hence the new breed of glam camps.

For those who prefer their tents pre-pitched, would rather en suites than ablutions blocks and lavish bedding instead of sleeping bags, these camps are the answer.

Billies are out, coffee machines are in. Campfire cooking has given way to gastronomic restaurants offering designer menus and premium wines. The campsites have stunning settings. They’re the canvas castles of Australia’s wide open spaces.

Glamping in Paperbark Camp, NSW

Paperbark camp, NSW

Paperbark was a pioneer of glam camping way back in 1998, when owners Irena and Jeremy Hutchings transplanted their memories of African-style safaris to the New South Wales coast. Their 40-hectare paradise of bush and wetlands, two hours south of Sydney, has 12 “tents” of the hardwood floor, wraparound deck and lush queen bed variety. Attached bathrooms are solar-powered with organic amenities; some have bathtubs for candlelit communions with nature. The stilted Gunyah Restaurant offers possum’s-eye views of surrounding bush, and inventive menus that run to kangaroo fillet with pepperberry, and eucalyptus ice cream. Guests inevitably make the pilgrimage to the famous white sands of Hyams Beach. There are also kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, bikes, hikes, swimming and, in spring, whale-watching in Jervis Bay National Marine Park. From $395 a night (closed in winter).

Pebble point VIC

Pebble Point, VIC

Sleepy Princetown is often eclipsed by the star attractions of the Great Ocean Road. But this little village in the Gellibrand Valley is one of the more charming pitstops on the heritage-listed route, and Pebble Point’s five tented platforms make a compelling case for a stopover. Set in scrub on a rise above the valley, they capture panoramic views to hilltop Princetown and a slither of Southern Ocean on the far horizon. The tents are cyclone rated (handy when southerly busters roll in) with king beds draped in Onkaparinga blankets and discrete bathroom cabins, glass-walled to frame the distracting scenery. There’s plenty to see and do in the area with the Port Campbell and Great Otway national parks, the Great Ocean Walk and the Twelve Apostles on the doorstep. From $145 a night.

A woman relaxes in a Spicers Canopy tent

Spicers Canopy, QLD

Spicers’ 10 tents straddle an elevated plain on a 2000ha property in the aptly-named Scenic Rim region, south of Brisbane. Set in classic bush surrounds – a World Heritage-listed remnant of the Gondwanaland forests – these decadent shelters feature pillow-top beds with Italian linen and wicker armchairs positioned for Great Dividing Range views. The camp anchors the four-day Scenic Rim Trail hike but is available for groups mid-week and off-season (Nov-Mar). Groups (minimum five couples) from $599 per tent nightly, including dinner, bed and breakfast.

An evening view from Sal Salis

Sal Salis, WA

Far removed from 21st century distractions, nine smart tents nest in the dunes of Cape Range National Park, just metres from the Indian Ocean at WA’s Sal Salis. There is one vital reason travellers end up in this place 1200km north of Perth: Ningaloo Reef, habitat of whales, dugongs, rays, countless fish and coral species and, for a magical window each year between about April and August, whale sharks. Visitors can swim alongside the biggest fish in the ocean and retire to the best address in town: Sal Salis, a dune-front campground of unimaginable indulgence. From $375 per adult, per night twin-share.

Wildman wilderness lodge

Wildman Wilderness lodge, NT

Wildman’s smart bungalows and homestead are recycled from Wrotham Park Station in central west Queensland; when Wrotham’s high-end resort closed in 2009 it was loaded on a road train and trucked 2800km across the Top End to the Mary River Wetlands. The original lodge and 10 chic cabins have been joined by 15 Kenyan safari tents and rebadged as Wildman Wilderness Lodge. Each tent is 50sqm and comes with ensuite. Take an airboat ride through the wetlands, home to myriad birds and monster crocs. Guests can safari to neighbouring Kakadu National Park. Mar-Sept. Tents from $615 a night including dinner, bed and breakfast.

Ikara Safari camp

Ikara Safari camp, SA

The post-war Wilpena Pound resort joined the canvas revolution in 2013 when it opened a new “safari camp” called Ikara (meaning meeting place, the name given to Wilpena Pound by the Adnyamathanha people, traditional owners and now co-managers of the Flinders Ranges National Park). Each of Ikara’s 15 tents is 50sqm and has a king-size bed, ensuite, minibar and air-conditioning. The camp is set apart from the main 60-room hotel and campground but close enough to access the on-site restaurant, bar, bistro, store and pool. Guided walks, scenic flights and 4WD safaris are available. From $438 a night twin-share, including breakfast and dinner (or from $298 B&B only).

Written by Kathryn Kernohan and Kendal Hill
February 20, 2019