Our favourite Australian river campsites
Head upstream with Danielle Lancaster
to some of her favourite Australian river
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
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.
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
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.
Call into Charleville and visit the Cosmos Centre and the School of Distance Education.
Image credit © Tourism Queensland
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.
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"
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.
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
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
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.
Don't forget the sand pegs and follow the rules too stay Dingo-Safe - it is their island too.
6. The mighty Murray
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
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.