It is surprisingly dark sleeping underground.
Naturally, I didn’t expect to see sunlight. But the snug, inky blackness of our underground campsite in Coober Pedy was striking. You could close your eyes and open them again and struggle to tell the difference.
I was 15 and road-tripping around South Australia with my family. I was used to seeing the bright night sky through the fabric of our tent. We’d spent a week camping with zero light pollution in the remote Flinders Ranges and had clearly grown accustomed to the company of the moon and stars.
You instantly connect with the natural environment and the spirit of a place if you camp there. For families, camping is a good value, flexible and self-sufficient ticket to awesome destinations around Australia. I’ve been lucky enough to pitch a tent on the sand of Moreton Island, string up my wet clothes in a hut on Tasmania’s Overland Track, and zip up my swag in a tent village beside Undara’s lava tubes.
Whether yours is a family of luxe lovers, adventurers or homebodies, you will love camping and caravanning on our wide brown land. Here’s our wrap of the best Aussie camping for families:
A camp or a cabin stay in a holiday park could not be better suited to families. Holiday parks know how to show kids a good time, with swimming pools, jumping pillows and plenty of onsite activities. From a grown-up’s perspective, they are also budget-friendly and convenient, with camp kitchens, laundries and shower blocks.
Big families or multi-generational groups can sprawl in multiple tents across a campsite or mix it up with adjacent cabins. Keep your eyes peeled for holiday park chains such as BIG4, Top Parks and Discovery Parks.
We especially love BIG4 in the MacDonnell Ranges, which probably has a lot to do with their free pancake breakfast every Sunday. They also host games nights, didgeridoo demonstrations, stargazing talks and have their own water slide, climbing pyramid, BMX track, bike hire and pedal go-karts.
They’re all about location, location, location – BIG4 MacDonnell Range is perfectly situated to explore Alice Springs and the Red Centre. Nearby, you can swim in the ‘Bottomless Waterhole’ of Ellery Creek, or at the Ross River Resort. You can also explore Glen Helen Gorge, the famous Simpsons Gap, and segments of the hot and dusty Larapinta Trail.
Make a sea change and opt for BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut, a five-star tropical holiday park on the Great Barrier Reef coast. The two jumping pillows (essentially colourful trampolines) are enormous, and there are three pools, tennis courts and volleyball courts.
You can also cool off at BIG4 Merimbula Tween Waters. It has a waterslide, resort-style pools and access to Pambula Beach, which you will share with local kangaroos. Head inland and you will arrive at Discovery Parks Dubbo, which has a BMX track and is walking distance to Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Our other favourites are Big4 Easts Beach Holiday Park, Kiama, BIG4 Adventure Whitsundays Resort, BIG4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park, NRMA Ocean Beach Holiday Resort, Umina and BIG4 Aussie Outback Oasis Holiday Park in Charters Towers, the gateway to a road trip on the Outback Way. For northern New South Wales, we recommend Reflections Holiday Parks in spots such as Hawks Nest.
The Central Coast is a great place for family holidays, just an hours’ drive from both Sydney and Newcastle. Here, Central Coast Holiday Parks have four options – Budgewoi, Canton Beach, Norah Head and Toowoon Bay – all in prime locations and perfect for caravan, cabin and camping accommodation.
Many a camping trip begins with an argument because someone forgot the marshmallows. Or the matches. Or worse, the tent poles. I have slept in a tent held up by an umbrella and a car door for that reason.
Campers who are keen but want to skip the stress and fuss will love glamping. If you don’t have the gear or the time, this is the perfect way to test out the experience. You can expect the same novelty factor and immersion into nature, but with the creature comforts of home.
A ferry from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour is all it takes to arrive on Cockatoo Island. All tents are set up with bedding, toiletries and picnic chairs in view of gleaming Sydney Harbour. There is access to hot showers and an excellent camp kitchen. A two-bedroom glamping extravaganza sleeps a family of four (with two adjoining tents containing two beds each) and starts at $310 per night.
Kids can follow the Convict Clues activity trail or roam free through the old convict prison and shipbuilding machinery.
Karijini Eco Retreat offers the only glamping experience available in Karijini National Park, the second largest national park in Western Australia. There are 40 eco-tents with ensuites, as well as 10 dorm-style tents.
Onsite bonuses include BBQ facilities, a school holiday Kids’ Club, kiosk and a lovely alfresco restaurant. You can even grab a packed picnic lunch for your day exploring the park’s gorges, waterfalls and desert.
An overnight stay in a zoo is about as exciting as it gets for kids. Taronga Western Plains Zoofari experience in Dubbo offers guests lodges for four to six people. In Victoria’s Werribee Open Range Zoo, you can stay in a tent looking out across the African savannah exhibit.
Other popular glamping experiences include Sal Salis in Western Australia, Paperbark Camp on the south coast of New South Wales, Paradise Country eco farm-stay and the tent city at Undara. I can vouch for Undara’s special bush breakfast experience, surreal lava tubes tour and delightful restaurant, where I first tasted crocodile.
Or for those who let their tastebuds decide the destination, you can’t go past glamping in the Barossa Valley. Just launched, Discovery Parks – Barossa Valley’s eco-luxe tents share a private pool and heater spa and lounge area. With vineyard views as far as the eye can see, you have one of the world’s best wine regions on your doorstep (literally).
Prices start at $250 and the tents can be configured with either a king or two twin beds. You can even book out the entire 12-tent section of the park for special events; think hens weekends and special birthdays. Or, with no kids allowed, it’s the perfect excuse for a romantic getaway for two.
Glamping spots tend to be more limited than your average camp booking so get in fast. Expect a higher price tag to match the luxury.
Prefer the real deal? Does pitching your own tent, cooking damper on a camp fire and exploring the bush sound like the ultimate family adventure? It certainly allows you access to untouched corners of Australia and gives the kids the chance to get their hands dirty.
Camping doesn’t have to be tricky. Australia has more than 500 national parks, many with camp areas that include toilets and even water and BBQ facilities. Basically, you can choose somewhere as remote or as comfortable as you like.
Jervis Bay’s Booderee National Park on the New South Wales south coast was one of the first places where I camped as a kid with my family. We stayed alongside the resident rosellas and lorikeets at Green Patch campground, which has fresh water, hot showers, sheltered BBQs and beach access.
The two other stunning unpowered camp sites nearby are Bristol Point and Cave Beach. Keep an eye out for humpback and southern right whales off the coast in June, July, October and November.
You’re bound to find unpowered, off-the-grid camping near you, so get researching. To start you off, have a look at Carnarvon Gorge and Deepwater National Park in Queensland, as well as sites in Victoria’s Grampians National Park such as Jimmy Creek Campground. In the Flinders Ranges, I’ve camped at Arkaroola and at Rawnsley Park Station, which was 10 to 20 minutes from Wilpena Pound and the Great Wall of China rock formation.
Of course, Fraser Island is a must for any outdoor enthusiasts, although Moreton Island is an equally beautiful alternative. For the ultimate escape, camp on Lady Musgrave Island on the Great Barrier Reef. You need to be completely self-sufficient as you won’t see anyone… except perhaps passing tour groups.
If you have adventurous teens, you might want to try overnight hikes. Tasmania’s Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair is a good introduction as there are huts, toilets and plenty of water along the way. I love the scenery on hikes in New South Wales’ Snowy Mountains.
Step it up a notch and hire or invest in caravans, campervans, motorhomes and camper trailers. They are fully kitted out with the essentials and save hours of packing and repacking every time you hit the road.
Give the experience a test run on the Apple Isle. Stay in BIG4 Hobart Airport Tourist Park when you arrive, conveniently located over the road from Apollo campervan and motorhome hire. Hire a campervan and set off along Tasmania’s roads.
If you’re in it for the long haul, a popular itinerary is the ‘rim route’ around the outside of Australia. Experts recommend going anti-clockwise, starting in Melbourne or Sydney in spring or summer. You should try to avoid peak season in populated areas and should prepare for pricey fuel in remote locations.
Shorter, manageable bursts are made easy by caravan-friendly holiday parks. Take your time getting from Sydney to Brisbane, stopping in at one of the three BIG4 parks in Port Stephens and the three BIG4 parks in the Coffs Harbour area. I would love to one day follow BIG4’s recommended touring route from Adelaide to Darwin, making use of BIG4 Stuart Range Outback Resort, BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park and BIG4 Howard Springs Holiday Park.
The beauty of a caravan is that you have everything you need right there with you. You can avoid holiday parks altogether and go for free camping instead.
No matter where you rest your head, the point is that getting out and getting active on a camping holiday is great fun as a family. Road trips with my parents and brothers in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and central Australia gave me my fondest childhood memories.
There is a special kind of magic to sleeping under the stars (or under the ground, as the case is in Coober Pedy), whether you pitch a tent, tow a caravan or glamp it up.