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Our favourite Australian river campsites

Head upstream with Danielle Lancaster to some of her favourite Australian river campsites.

From islands to the rugged outback, Australia is blessed with myriad camping opportunities along our rivers. All are idyllic playgrounds for water sports, some have great hiking or biking trails, and others are perfect for casting a line to see who can catch dinner. At night, sit outside and listen to the gurgling of the river, breathing in the fresh air and looking at the galaxy of stars above. Here are a few of my favourites.

1. Margaret River

Western Australia

At Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat, a privately owned bush camp set in Bramley National Park, we feel as if we have the river to ourselves. It’s a nature-based campsite with hot showers, flushing toilets and camp kitchen. While it’s best known as a wine region, we prefer to relish the walks and bike trails, swimming and enjoying family time.

This section of coastline is known as one of the world’s best big-wave surfing locations. The kids loved watching surfers wipe out but back at camp, the only wipe-outs in the gentle waters are off the kids’ boogie boards.

Hot tip

Children should be accompanied and observed along rivers and waterways, no matter how accomplished they are at swimming.

Image credit © Wharncliffe Mill

2. The Dig Tree

Queensland

A squeal of delight erupts from the eldest of my boys. A tinkling bell signals the catch of a yellow belly on the end of his fishing line. He is thrilled with himself and once his dad gently removes the wriggling fish from the line, he casts off again, a smile lighting up his face. If fishing is a relatively new experience for your younger campers, the calm waters of Cooper Creek in far western Queensland are perfect for them to hone their skills.

The only creek in Australia to be formed by the joining of two rivers, it's the site of the historic Dig Tree, a huge ancient Coolibah (Eucalyptus microtheca). It's also where the Burke and Wills base camp buried provisions in 1860. Sadly, they never discovered it, leading to their demise. Just west of it is the Face Tree which has the image of Burke carved into it.

At night, as our catch is cooking over the camp fire, I look over to my three kids, as it is far too quiet. They are looking up, marvelling at the night sky until a falling star has them closing their eyes and making their wishes.

Hot tip

Call into Charleville and visit the Cosmos Centre and the School of Distance Education.

Image credit © Tourism Queensland

3. Hawkesbury

New South Wales

A cheeky goanna saunters past our campsite on its way back from the river. We are camped near the tranquil Longneck Lagoon on the Hawkesbury River in Cattai campground. He takes no notice of us at all, nonchalantly continuing his leisurely stroll, his tongue flicking in and out.

At this nice quiet campground, we also see powerful owls, a rufous night heron, sugar gliders, possums, frogs and more. The campground is accessible to two-wheel drives, suitable for all camping except caravans, has flushing toilets, picnic tables and barbecue facilities (BYO wood). There is no power and you must take your rubbish with you.

Del Rio Riverside Resort is another favourite of ours set along a three-kilometre frontage of the Hawkesbury River. It's a modern resort with camping, cabins, villas and lodges and a list of activities. There's a BMX track, golf course for starters and water skiing for the more adventurous in your camp.

Hot tip

Teach your child to zip up the tent every single time they go in or out. Coach your child on how to deal with wildlife like freezing if they see a snake - we made a game out of this and it payed off on a river bank for our son, who was just five at the time.

"The kids love racing along the boardwalk and then paddling back downstream in the cool water"

4. Shoalhaven

New South Wales

A mere two hours from Sydney and Canberra, many a camping memory has been created along the banks of the Shoalhaven River as it spills out through the heads into the sea. There’s a river and plenty of nearby beaches to keep the brood amused. Our days are spent exploring markets, cafes, meeting locals and enjoying long walks in the bush and on the beach. We certainly sleep well each night.

Shoalhaven Heads Holiday Haven Tourist Park is bordered by Seven Mile Beach on one side and the river on the other and was voted “Australia’s Favourite Weekend Getaway” Tourist Park by Turu.com.au. There’s plenty to keep the kids entertained with an outdoor cinema, numerous games and activity areas such as mini-golf and a fun aquatic playground. Children of all ages may not want to leave the park at all.

Hot tip

For those travelling with four-legged family members, there are great 24-hour off-leash areas on Seven Mile Beach and River Road Reserve. Your pooch can also join you for dinner at the pet-friendly Shoalhaven Heads Hotel or Coolangatta Estate Restuarant.

5. Fraser Island

Queensland

Deep in the forest a frog croaks and the little ears in our camp pick up on it. With their eyes now as wide as saucers, we shine a torch into the darkness of the forest on the world’s largest sand island. Alas we see nothing – but the kids have plenty of fun trying to find their vocal amphibious friend.

From our campsite at Central Station, almost smack-bang in the middle of Fraser Island, we explore Wanggoolba Creek through to Pile Valley. We see and learn about the largest fern frond in the world thriving along the creek, the township that once existed back when Fraser was a logging community, and huge giant trees saved from the saw.

There’s plenty of river fun to be found beyond Central Station as numerous freshwater creeks flow into the ocean from Fraser Island. On the eastern side of the island, the largest of these is stunning Eli Creek, which pours millions of litres of fresh water into the ocean every hour. The kids love racing their way along the boardwalk and then paddling back downstream in the cool water.

It’s a digital detox as there is no mobile service. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to access the campsite and be totally self-sufficient. The camp area is fully fenced and bookings should be made in advance.

Hot tip

Don't forget the sand pegs and follow the rules too stay Dingo-Safe - it is their island too.

6. The mighty Murray

Victoria

The Murray River, the longest navigable river in Australia and the third longest in the world, winds its way to form the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Along the river, Parks Victoria offers a range of campsites snuggled on river bends and hidden among huge river red gums. For camping in comfort, Discovery Parks – Echuca is close to the river and perfect for seeing the heritage shops in town (the kids will especially love the Echuca Heritage Sweet Company) and enjoying the Echuca-Moama Food and Wine Trail.

From here we are also able to venture on a magical river journey upon the Pride of the Murray. The journey takes us back to a time when the rivers were traversed by paddle steamers. The skipper soon has all our crew working as deck hands. The kids get to steer and have smiles as wide as the Murray itself when they receive their free Skippers Certificate.

Hot tip

Never camp or park your car underneath a river red gum just in case the tree falls or drops branches.

Image credit © Tourism Queensland



This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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