By Kate Cypcar
If there is one thing you must do while in Australia (and there are many), you must camp. But you don’t have to take only my word for it. After reading about some of the best camping locations around, you’ll be dying to make those reservations.
Darwin, the Top End, and the Kimberley
Camping in the Outback is perfect – that is if you don’t get caught in a torrential downpour or eaten alive by mosquitoes. Okay, on second thought, camping in the dry Outback is perfect. You may even want to ditch the tent and sleep out under the stars. Most locals just take a swag (a heavy canvas wrapped around a rolled mattress). Don’t be shy of asking a local to tell you the best places to camp – the region is stocked full of out-of-the-way spots to sleep in the open.
Gibb River Road
You can camp at a number of gorges and cattle stations along the Kalumburu Road and the Gibb River. 100 miles north on Kalumburu Road (this road branches off toward the coast from Gibb River Road), you will find campsites at Mitchell Plateau (King Edward River on the early part of the Mitchell Plateau Track) and at Mitchell Falls Car Park; the latter have toilets. Off the Gibb River Road is the Silent Grove campsite (close to Bell Gorge), with showers, toilets, firewood, and secluded sites (with no facilities) beside Bell Creek. The area is inaccessible from December to April.
Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park
Purnululu encompasses 1200 square miles in the southeast corner of the Kimberley. From the first view, you can’t help but be enthralled by the strange orange silica and black lichen-striped mounds that bubble up on the landscape. Climbing is not permitted because the sandstone layer beneath the thin crust of lichen and silica is fragile and would quickly erode without protection. Walking tracks follow rocky, dry creek beds. The walk along Piccaninny Creek to Piccaninny Gorge passes through gorges with towering 328-foot cliffs. The mounds are best seen from April to October and are closed January through March. The views and the experience are incomparable. Camping is permitted at two designated campgrounds, Bellburn Creek and Walardi. Certain sources claim that none of the campsites have facilities (I beg to differ; I’d call pit toilets a facility). Fresh drinking water is available only at Bellburn Creek. As usual, a good sense of adventure can spice up even the most primitive accommodations.
Perth and Western Australia
Cape Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park
One of Australia’s most fascinating areas is the 93-mile stretch of coastline on the southwest tip of the continent. The limestone Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge directly below the park contains more than 360 known caves. Four major cave systems are accessible: Jewel, Lake, Mamouth (call 08/9757-7411 for info about all three), and Ngilgi (08/9755-2152). Caves are open daily and cost A$9-$12 per cave with a guided tour. If you’re feeling energetic, the 75-mile Cape to Cape Walk begins at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse at the northern end of the park. Campsites with toilets, showers, barbeque facilities, and an information center are located north in Injidup. Expect to pay A$9/ night for adults, including firewood. Take a peak at the government website for more campground information.
Karinjini National Park
The Hamersley Range is 200 miles of huge rocks, crags, and gorges. Much is being mined for its rich iron deposits, but a small section has been incorporated into the national park. Towering cliffs, lush fern-filled gullies, and richly colored stone are just a few of the park’s trademark landscape. Karijini boasts trails for hikers of every level. Some trails are very challenging and should be undertaken only by experienced hikers. If braving freezing water, clinging to rock ledges, and scrambling over boulders through the Joffre, Knox, and Hancock gorges sounds right up your alley, I recommend making a stop at Karinjini National Park the next time you’re in Australia. For your safety, notify a ranger before hiking into these gorges. It’s better to visit during the cooler months of April to early November because summer temperatures can really put a damper on activities. Camping is permitted only in designated sites at Circular Pool, Joffre Turnoff, and Weano. Campsites have no facilities except toilets, but gas barbeques are free. The burning of wood is prohibited. Nightly fees are A$8 per car, plus a park entry fee of the same amount. Food and supplies can be purchased in Tom Price or Wittenoom, and drinking water at Yampire, Joffre Roads and Mujina Roadhouse.
The Red Center – Desert Camping
Ayers Rock Campground
This large campground sprawls amid rolling green lawns. There’s a well-equipped camper’s kitchen for public use, as well as a grocery and Outback-style shelter with free gas barbeques. Flush toilets, drinking water, laundry facilities, showers, grills, picnic tables, and public telephones are available for use. Cost is A$12.60 for two. Alright, so maybe it’s not the most rustic campground, but it could be a welcomed pit stop before going on to more isolated areas. (phone: 08/8956-2055; fax: 08/8956-2260). You shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Ayers Rock either.
Port Campbell National Park
Stretching 19 miles along the coast of Southern Victoria, Port Campbell National Park is the site of some of the most famous geological formations in Australia. 2.5 million years ago the sea level was much higher, and as the water receded towering sediments of sand, mud, limestone, and seashells remained to face the waves. Today, the Southern Ocean voraciously gnaws at limestone cliffs, creating columns of resilient rock that stand offshore. The most famous formation is the Twelve Apostles, although the formations at the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands Coastal Reserve and impressive in their own respect. It is best to visit from January to April to simultaneously witness the hundreds of hawks and kites that circle Muttonbird Island in search of baby muttonbirds emerging from their burrows. Campsites at Port Campbell National Parks and Cabins start at A$16 per day for a site without electricity (A$18 with power). Hot water, showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities, fire pits, grills, as well as river and beach swimming areas are available. Advance reservations are suggested. Book at 12 Apostle Tourism. From the campsite it is a ten minute drive to the Twelve Apostles.
Camping in the bush is a highlight of any trip to Australia’s outback, but poor preparation can really dampen one’s spirits of adventure and exploration. So the next time you decide to ‘rough it’ be equipped with a camping permit (available for purchase from the local NPWS National Parks and Wildlife Services), a swag (unless you want to find out firsthand that Australia has some remarkably hard ground), a mosquito net, and a good camp stove to eat and sleep under the stars. You can camp freely in most Outback areas, but be aware that despite the absence of fences or other signs of human habitation, you will more than likely be on someone’s property. Steer clear of livestock (that means no cow tipping!).
Here are some unbreakable rules of Outback travel ‘for Dummies’ (considering that these rules save lives, they seem pretty basic, but it always amazes me how frequently travelers break them and suffer the consequences): Camp a safe distance from water supplies, and use soap or detergents that won’t contaminate the drinking water. It is especially important to bring ample amounts of cooking fuel, and to always carry water if you travel into isolated areas, even national parks. Take a minimum of 5 gallons (that’s 676 fluid ounces for all who tote Nalgene bottles or CamelBack bladders) per person, which will last a week even in the hottest conditions. If you head off the beaten path, inform someone of your route and when you expect to return. If your vehicle breaks down, do not abandon it for any reason. Animals are less likely to pose a threat if you store food in your tent or a secure container. And the kicker…don’t sleep under trees because Australia’s native foliage has a habit of shedding limbs.