Top 10 Places to Sleep on the Beach

Catherine Lawson — 21 February 2019
Step out of your camper and onto the sand with these spectacular sites from around the country.

Dreaming of faraway fishing, starry-night seclusion and parking your camper mere metres from the sea? You can have all of this and more at these ten coastal camps. They’re uncrowded, off the beaten track and perfect for just about every sandy activity – so whether you’re a surfer, snorkeller, angler or 4WDer, keep them on your radar for your travels this year.



FRANCOIS PERON NATIONAL PARK

Peron Peninsula, WA

Fringed by gin-clear lagoons and steep sandstone cliffs, this 4WD-only, red sand wilderness has it all: exceptional beachfront camping, calm-water paddling and some of the best angling in the west. 

What makes Francois Peron a stand-out is what lies offshore: a world heritage-listed sanctuary teeming with loggerhead turtles, dolphins, 10 per cent of the world’s dugongs, and – unsurprisingly for a place called ‘Shark Bay’ – an awful lot of biters too.   

My perfect day goes like this: we launch the boat to fish Big Lagoon, put the 4WD on the beach at Bottle Bay, snorkel Gregories coral-fringed wall and, as the sun dips low, scale the high red dunes in search of shell middens and pearling relics. 

There’s a viewing platform above rare marine stromatolites, a scalding artesian hot tub to warm up in (if you dare), and wild dolphin feeding sessions at Monkey Mia. 

Five beachfront camps at Big Lagoon, Gregories, South Gregories, Bottle Bay and Herald Bight provide free gas barbecues, toilets, tables and basic boat ramps ($11 per adult and $3 per child; see parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au). Entry costs $13 per vehicle. 

When you go: Francois Peron NP is located 830km north of Perth and 4km north of Denham. Deflate your tyres upon entry. Visit from June to October and BYO water or buy it at Denham’s desalination station. 

Don’t miss: Walk the Wanamalu Trail to Skipjack Point (1.5km) to spot bottlenose dolphins hunting sea mullet in the shallows. 


RED BLUFF

Carnarvon, WA

The headland swell that peels off Red Bluff has magnetised West Coast surfers for decades, but with top angling, the west’s best blowholes and stellar camping, it’s not just grommets who find themselves this far out. 

An endless white sand beach separates Red Bluff’s camps from the sea, and while the off-the-grid facilities are unashamedly primitive, freshly brewed coffee sipped on the deck of the Red Bluff Store keeps things civilized. The store serves home-cooked pizza and welcomes sandy-footed surfers keen to warm up with flat whites or cool off with milkshakes after time in the waves. 

At the southern end of the bay, Red Bluff’s flat-top finger of rock stretches seaward, interrupting the swell that peels off its point, and sending it curling and rolling over a reef break to form the legendary Bluff Barrel. Ride this epic left-hander if you dare, or have fun on the gentler swell that crosses the bay. 

Red Bluff lies at the southern edge of Ningaloo Marine Park, which means there are coral reefs and wreck sites to snorkel, excellent beachcombing and fishing, and a lovely arc of pure white sand for sunset strolls.

When you go: Head 138km north-west of Carnarvon (900km north of Perth). Access is 4WD-only. Unpowered campsites cost $18 per adult and $7 per child (pets on leads allowed, pit toilets only, BYO water). Visit from June to August; see quobba.com.au for more. 

Don’t miss: The 20 metre high Quobba Blowholes (stop at the “King Waves Kill” sign) and the WW2 memorial to HMAS Sydney II.  


CARMILA BEACH

108km south of Mackay, Queensland

Providing much more than an easy overnight rest stop on the busy highway run between Rockhampton and Mackay, Carmila Beach is a surprisingly stunning coastal stretch that should be a fishing destination in its own right. There’s an endless beach to play upon and hundreds of shady spots where you can back the camper almost to the high tide mark beneath a healthy fringe of casuarinas and eucalypts. 

Squeezed scenically between the Connors Range and the Coral Sea, Carmila is a well-kept secret. Perhaps the resident cane farmers and retirees don’t want to share their prized tropical catches of barramundi, mangrove jack, trevally and flathead, because this place doesn’t draw a crowd, even in the crush of Queensland school holidays. 

Head here to shake out the beach rods, launch a tinny and beachcomb south for hours. There’s a playground and boat ramp at the northern end of the beach (watch for crocs), but no drinking water so arrive fully stocked.

When you go: Turn off the Bruce Highway at Carmila (108km south of Mackay) and drive 6km to the sea. The best camping lies beyond the bitumen and costs $10 per night, payable by the Parkmobile app (parkmobile.com.au). It has toilets, a dump point, and a two week limit.

Don’t miss: A hike to the top of Flaggy Rock Bluff for breathtaking sea views.


CACTUS BEACH

Chadinga Conservation Park, SA

On the Nullarbor’s eastern edge, a windswept coastline of sculpted white sand dunes towers above some of the most remote surf breaks in the state. Beyond Blue Lake’s shimmering salt-pan, travellers shoot for the sea to explore a pristine coastal wilderness that’s rough enough for real adventure. 

It might be famous for its great white sharks but Cactus Beach lures big wave surfers anyway, along with adventurous anglers and shell hunters who spend days on the sand, returning to camps in the dunes to stoke roaring wintertime fires. 

You could swim and beachcomb all day long without reaching the end of Cactus Beach, and just across the headland, Port Le Hunte shelters a boat ramp against the predominantly strong westerly winds. Head there for a safe dip in the shark-proof swimming enclosure and to discover the harbour’s intriguing 100 year old history. 

When you go: Cactus Beach is signposted off the Eyre Highway, 21km south of Penong. Sites at Point Sinclair Campground cost $15 per person per night (phone 08 8625 1036). Toilets, bore water showers and fireplaces are provided, but bring drinking water and shade. 

Don’t miss: Sunny day reflections on Blue Lake’s shimmering salt pan.


JASPER BEACH

D’Entrecasteaux NP, south-west WA

Lured in by the roar of the Southern Ocean and the big annual salmon run, a soft sandy track guided us over the dunes to remote Jasper Beach on our most recent trip to this lovely place. Having been waylaid by paddling adventures on nearby Jasper Lake (the biggest in the region), we finally reached the sea to find we had Jasper’s grassy beach camp all to ourselves. 

There are no facilities on offer but we didn’t need them. Instead, we nestled our camper into the shady heath and dropped down onto the beach on soft tyres, navigating west in search of salmon. En route we explored tiny caves tucked high into the limestone cliffs, and scaled the windswept dunes on foot for elevated views. 

After our quiet, peaceful night, lulled to sleep by the sound of nothing but crashing waves, we followed the rough, coastal Waget Track west for more great fishing from the popular national park campground at Black Point. 

An air compressor is essential, and you should expect soft beach tracks and scratchy coastal heath (goodbye paint job) on this beach escapade.

When you go: Jasper Beach lies south-west of Pemberton. Head for Lake Jasper and continue another 12km (30 minutes) to the sea. Visit during autumn and spring. 

Don’t miss: Cleaning your tyres before entering the national park to prevent the spread of dieback. 


MUTEE HEAD 

Cape York, Queensland

After bone-rattling, dusty days on Cape York’s Telegraph Road, tip-bound travellers dream of exactly this kind of beachfront paradise. 

Perched on the edge of a beautiful, bright, blue bay, this camp is little more than a grassy clearing shaded by casuarinas. 

Once you’ve parked the camper, you can carry your beach rods across a squeaky curl of sand and watch turtles floating in the translucent shallows as you fish. 

Camping here is included with your pricey Jardine River ferry ticket, and while there are no facilities on offer, there are no real restrictions either. 

You can camp on both sides of Mutee Head but we prefer the breezier northern camp, despite the washed-out entry track. 

Head to the south side to launch your tinny for catches of mackerel, queenies, trevally, flathead and perhaps a threadfin salmon too. 

When you go: Drive 27km north-west of the Jardine River ferry crossing, turn west and continue 20km to camp (no facilities, no fees, BYO drinking water; see nparc.qld.gov.au). 

Don’t miss: Spotting crocs on the 4WD track from Mutee Head to the Jardine River mouth. to spot crocs.


DISCOVERY BAY COASTAL PARK 

Portland, Victoria

With fur seals, surf beaches, bat caves and blowholes, Victoria’s most remote national park is a rather surprising hub for beach adventures. Extending west from Portland all the way to the South Australian border, the park protects freshwater lakes that are perfect for paddling, camping and trout fishing; and, for something a little different, you can sign up to the Portland Dune Buggy Club, testing your mettle on the sand and sleeping in the dunes in a members-only camp near Swan Lake.  

The park’s Lake Monibeong is another favourite camp and the fishing (and swimming) is good off Estuary and Ocean Beaches near the SA border. Close to Portland, Cape Bridgewater’s Australian fur seals entice walkers along the edge of Victoria’s highest sea cliff to watch the 650 strong colony far below. From the beach, water-savvy paddlers can ride their kayaks out to encounter the seals more closely.

A few kilometres away at Cape Duquesne, turbulent seas explode against volcanic cliffs, filling dramatic blowholes, and a clifftop walk leads past indigenous shell middens, spring-fed pools and a ‘Petrified Forest’ of crumbling stone columns standing sentry over the sea. 

When you go: Discovery Bay Coastal Park extends west of Portland, which is 350km west of Melbourne. Camp at Lake Monibeong or Swan Lake ($28.70 per night; see parkweb.vic.gov.au) where fireplaces, tables, water and toilets are provided. 

Don’t miss: Surf breaks at Yellow Rock and Whites Beach.


LIPSON COVE

Eyre Peninsula, SA

There’s something to indulge every traveller at this shimmering, shallow-water camp: calm-water paddling, a clifftop walking trail, birdwatching and salmon feasts. 

Arrive during the salmon run to watch the seas explode as dolphins drive fish into the shallows and seagulls descend en masse to pick at the scraps. At low tide you can walk across the sand spit to Lipson Island for a better look at the birds: crested terns, cormorants and great pairs of Pacific gulls.

Lipson Cove rates as one of South Australia’s prettiest beaches and time-out in its big beachfront campsites won’t cost you a cent. Good facilities include toilets, fire pits and rubbish bins, and pets and generators are welcome. 

When you go: Lipson Cove’s free camp is located 290km south of Port Augusta. Sealed roads provide access. BYO water and firewood. 

Don’t miss: Snorkelling with Australian Giant Cuttlefish during their wild mating spectacle at nearby Fitzgerald Bay from May to August.  


WONGA BEACH

90km north of Cairns, Queensland

With famously good fishing on the edge of the Daintree River, this quiet, coconut-fringed beach is a dream destination for anyone with a boat. There are easy-to-access, protected reefs just offshore and 140km of river to explore on the edge of Daintree National Park. 

From the beach boat ramp at Wonga’s well-shaded, council-owned camp, you take the tinny across to Snapper Island and throw down your swag within metres of the sea. Rising to 99 metres and girthed by rugged cliffs and white sand beaches, this unpopulated, coral-fringed island is more castaway than campground, but the snorkelling is stellar and from here, the reef’s coral trout, nannygai, trevally and red emperor are within easy reach. 

To camp within walking distance of a hot shower, check into Wonga Beach Caravan Park on the mainland and spend time fishing off Cape Kimberley or up the Daintree River if the weather turns wild. Expect to woo fellow campers with big barramundi, mangrove jack, fingermark, queenfish or grunter. 

On morning walks at Wonga Beach, just-out-of-bed beachcombers are likely to spot pods of dolphins and green sea turtles cruising the calm, blue bay. 

When you go: Wonga Beach is located 30km north of Port Douglas. Powered campsites at Wonga Beach Caravan Park (07 4098 7514) cost $32 per night (boat ramp, no pets). Arrive in winter to avoid marine stingers. Campsites on Snapper Island cost $6.55 per person (parks.des.qld.gov.au). 

Don’t miss: Waterhole swimming at Mossman Gorge, a 15 minute drive away.


FRIENDLY BEACHES

Freycinet NP, Tasmania

Tasmania’s most famous national park needs no introduction, but of all the top places you can camp around Coles Bay, none beats this freebie on the endless Friendly Beaches. Custom-made for self-sufficient beachgoers, this grassy campground sheltered by heathland at Isaacs Point provides tiny nooks and big-rig friendly sites that you’ll share with wombats and pademelons at day’s end.  

Access to the beach is limited to foot traffic to protect nesting seabirds, but you can fish off the rocks just north of camp or launch your boat at nearby Coles Bay for trips around the Freycinet Peninsula to the famously photogenic Wineglass Bay. From your base camp at Friendly Beaches, you can spend days snorkelling at Sleepy Bay, birdwatching at Moulting Lagoon or watching southern right whales passing beneath the Cape Tourville lighthouse.

When you go: Friendly Beaches is located on Freycinet Peninsula, 190km from Hobart. Camping is free, with a 14 day limit. Toilets are provided; no pets allowed. Visit over summer.

Don’t miss: A half-day hike to Wineglass Bay.