Ever wondered where the best wilderness camping spots in Australia are? Let me take you on a journey around this amazing country to discover five of the most remote, dramatic,breathtaking, spectacular and inspiring places to set-up your camper.
ARKAROOLA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Hidden in the northern Flinders Ranges, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary was established in the 1960s by modern-day pioneers, the late Reg and Griselda Spring, to protect the area's unique flora and fauna. The drive along deserted roads to this remote destination is an adventure in itself and a visit to the impressive Chambers Gorge is mandatory. You can plunge the depths of this timeless landscape as a passenger on the world-famous Ridgetop Touror self-drive the Echo Camp Back Track, which is classified as'extreme 4WD' in a few sections of the track.
If you're a fan of stargazing, Arkaroola boasts some of the best celestial viewing conditions in the southern hemisphere and is home to three fully-equipped astronomical observatories.
We camped for three days in this rugged location, and enjoyed every minute. The large camping ground is a fantastic playground for the kids and the sunsets seen from the comfort of our tent were spectacular.
One day-trip saw us head out to Nooldoonooldoona Waterhole,where we scaled the massive rocks and stared at the crystal-clear water. Bolla Bollana Spring is a great place to visit late in the day when the yellow-footed rock wallabies and euros venture out fora drink at dusk.
The highlight of our stay, however, was the 4WD trip along Mt Jacob Backtrack, which is only 13.5km but took us four hours to complete. We travelled past the Ochre Wall to Lively's Find, onto Jasper Twins and Welcome Mine. The steep climb to Mt Jacob's Lookout is a riveting ride and rewards with panoramic views.
> Arkaroola is about 200km north-east of Wilpena Pound,accessible by an unsealed road. The camping area has powered sites,taps and clean amenities as well as laundry facilities.
> For more information, call (08) 8648 4848, or visit http://www.arkaroola.com.au/
> Explore the many 4WD tracks and discover places like Nooldoonooldona Waterhole, Bolla Bollana Spring, ArkaroolaWaterhole and Barraranna Gorge.
ARTHUR-PIEMAN CONSERVATION AREA, TASMANIA
Tasmania's rugged west coast provides the adventurous traveller with a 4WD experience that is both challenging and memorable. The Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area is a wilderness range of more than 100,000ha bounded by the Arthur River in the north and the Pieman River in the south. This dramatic stretch of coastline makes for an epic journey for any off road enthusiast, but it needs to be treated with respect; it's claimed that at least one car is swallowed up by the ocean each year.
We opted to spend the weekend at the open and spacious Manuka campground. From here, it is a short drive to Gardiners Point atthe mouth of the Arthur River, where the world's greatest tract of temperate rainforest drains into the mighty Southern Ocean. The gales of the Roaring Forties meet Tassie's rugged west at a places awe-inspiring that early explorers fittingly named it 'the edgeof the world'.
The 106km journey along the Western Explorer to the township of Corinna is a must-do. The scenery changes from wide grass plains to sheer cliff walls and luscious rainforest as you approach Mt Donaldson. Located on the rain forested banks of the Pieman River, Corinna transports you back in time with a heritage roadworker's shack and several miners' cottages. It's as if time stood still inthis magical town among the Tasmanian wilderness.
> Stand on the edge of the world and marvel at the untamed and storm-battered coastline. Make the journey along the Western Explorer Road to Corinna and experience a journey across the Pieman River on the Fatman barge.
> The Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area is 441km north-west of Hobart, accessible by sealed road. There are three formal campgrounds in Arthur River, each with taps and toilets. For moreinformation, call 1300 135 513 or visit http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/
> For more information on Corinna, call (03) 6446 1170 visit http://www.corinna.com.au/
WINDJANA GORGE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The place in Australia where you're guaranteed to see freshwater crocs must be a part of any Big Lap. Sure, it's a long drive and the road can be badly corrugated, but you'll soon forget once you've experienced a sunset in this majestic place.
We arrived early in the afternoon and picked one of the few shady spots available. That night the sun slowly sank below the horizon, setting the gorge walls alight in a fiery red and orange display - a spectacular sight that is engraved in my memory.
Up at the crack of dawn the following morning, we were the first people to head into the gorge. We knew we were in the right place when one of the kids shouted, "Croc! Mum, I see a crocodile!" The two older kids pointed at the two large crocs, which looked rather dangerous with their big mouths wide open, ready to swallow their next victim. Needless to say, people don't go swimming here.
We ventured deeper into the gorge and came across a large population of bats - the trees were covered with them.
The next day we reluctantly left Windjana to take on the famous Gibb River Road.
> The majestic gorge is home to a large population of freshwater crocs. A trip around Australia is not complete without witnessing a breathtaking sunset in this awe-inspiring location.
> Windjana Gorge is hidden in the Kimberley along the unsealed Fairfield-Leopold Road. The campground has solar-powered-hot showers, toilets and taps.
> For more information, visit http://www.derbytourism.com.au/
THE GULF, NORTHERN TERRITORY AND QUEENSLAND
An adventure through the Gulf of Carpentaria takes you through rocky river crossings, past endless savannah woodlands and into historic mining towns. It is a journey into the country's past,with stories about courageous explorers and Australian bush men and women who persevered to make a living in these remote areas.
Our trip started in the remote Top End town of Borroloola, from where we drove east for about 100km without meeting another car. We negotiated the deep Calvert River before pushing on to Hell's Gate Roadhouse, where we spent the night.
The next morning we drove to Burketown, situated on the Albert River, the unofficial the barramundi capital of Australia. The kids were eager to get to Normanton to see the replica of Krys, the Savannah King, claimed to be the largest recorded saltwatercrocodile (8.63m) captured in the world. From Normanton it is a 71km drive to Karumba, the perfect place for spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Carpentaria. Make sure you pay a visit to Ash'sCafé, where you can buy a serving of fish and chips for $5; let me tell you, it's good stuff.
As you head out to Croydon, pay a visit to Leichhardt Lagoon.This campground is only 400m from the Norman River and home to barramundi, red claw yabbies, freshwater prawns as well as fresh and saltwater crocs.
> This memorable journey through the Gulf of Carpentaria is an epic adventure through remote areas. Stay at Hell's Gate Roadhouse campground, marvel at Krys the Savannah King, visit the Purple Pub in Normanton, ride the legendary Gulflander and eat fishand chips on Karumba beach.
> There is plenty of camping along the Gulf. The longest stretch of road without a campground or caravan park is from Borroloola to Hell's Gate Roadhouse (306km of dirt road and multiple creek/river crossings).
> For more information, visit http://www.savannahway.com.au/
BOODJAMULLA (LAWN HILL) NATIONAL PARK,QUEENSLAND
Boodjamulla NP is a place of breathtaking beauty, with Lawn Hill Creek winding its way through steep sandstone cliffs and cascading down majestic waterfalls. We camped at Adels Grove when we found the national park campground was booked out because of the school holidays.
We chose to do the Island Stack walk first thing in the morning,which involves climbing a steep track to the lookout, where an adjoining 1.7km walk takes you around the 'table top' for impressive panoramic views. An easy walk to the cascades leads you to tufa formations where you can swim in the cool spas.
One of the most popular walks would have to be the track to the Indarri Falls. The falls are a perfect place for a refreshing swim with the barramundi, turtles and archer fish in the icy,emerald-green water.
From Indarri Falls you can hike up to Duwadarri Lookout for an incredible vista over the impressive gorge, cliffs and surrounding country.
> Experience an emerald oasis in the middle of dry savannah country. The magnificent landscape can be experienced on a challenging bushwalk or by jumping in a canoe.
> Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is 220km south-west of Burketown, and 340km north-west of Mt Isa. The national park has a campground with toilets and cold showers, but bookings are necessary from April to October. Alternatively, you can camp at Adels Grove, 10km from Lawn Hill, where there is a small shop,laundry, restaurant/bar, emergency mechanical repairs, and fuel.
> For more information about Boodjamulla NP, call 13 74 68 orvisit www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/boodjamulla-lawn-hill/index.html
> For more information about Adels Grove, call (07) 47485502, http://www.adelsgrove.com.au/
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia#57, September 2012