If these remote caravanning and camping destinations were any closer to civilization, you’d pay big bucks to enjoy them. Thankfully, they make the free offroad journey worthwhile with the promise of great scenery, solitude, top fishing, swimming and more.
1. DAMPIER PENINSULA BEACH CAMPS
Manari Road, WA
60km north of Broome
Secluded barramundi fishing holes and blissfully remote beaches sandwiched between shallow coral reefs and an uninhabited coastline of red sand cliffs make this one of the west’s best beach camping destinations.
The threat of Woodside’s gas processing plant development has long past, reserving this pristine stretch of Pindan woodlands for anglers, campers and beachcombers. To get there, head about an hour’s drive north of Broome to Willie Creek with its natural boat ramp, and Barred Creek further up the track: both ideal camps for barramundi-chasers.
For beach life, ocean views and the chance to spend long, lazy days swimming, snorkelling and spotting whales, continue along Manari Road to Quondong Point where a 3km-long stretch of campsites (some with shade), tops the red cliffs. There are more beachfront campsites 13km north at James Price Point, and a large, flat clearing at Coulomb Point on the southern edge of a nature reserve, both providing beach access for four-wheel-drivers.
There are no facilities on offer so the usual camp courtesies apply: make use of your onboard toilet, use only existing fire rings, and take all rubbish away with you. Bring drinking water and when in camp, keep your dogs leashed.
Broome is at its best from May to September when monsoonal skies clear, the humidity abates and anglers can expect catches of queenies or trevally off the beaches and mangrove jack up the creeks. Locals say the threadfin salmon that are around at this time are good tasting fish that love a fight. Try for them on an incoming tide and around creek mouths when the tide reaches full height.
Location: Travel 10km east of Broome, turn north onto the Broome-Cape Leveque Road and after 15km take a left onto Manari Road and follow the signs to your choice of camp.
Facilities: None, maximum three-day stay, generators permitted.
2. CALVERT RIVER BUSH CAMP
Savannah Way, NT
175km east of Borroloola
Cutting an adventurous path for 3700km across Australia’s north, the Savannah Way lures travellers who are keen to get lonely for a while. One of the best and most remote sections of the route lies between Normanton and Borroloola, skirting the Gulf of Carpentaria through Hells Gate’s bulging sandstone buttresses and across pandanus-fringed rivers.
Nestled beneath shady paperbarks where the Calvert River cascades into a series of clear, shallow pools, offroad campers will relish this picturesque camp on the north-western side of the causeway crossing. Despite offering nothing more than a spacious pull-off, this is easily the best place to camp on the long, bumpy stretch between Borroloola and Hells Gate.
Dunking yourself in the Calvert’s chilly cascades is a delicious and rare experience on this route, so don’t pass it up, even if you arrive long before it’s time to stop for the day. Arriving early means you’ll have time to explore downstream and discover the incredible tufa waterfall that stretches about 100m above the eastern riverbank.
Constructed from layers of calcium carbonate deposited by lime-rich water draining into the Calvert, fragile tufa (pronounced too-fa) covers a steep bank above the river’s rocky pools. Although reduced to a trickle on our late-winter visit, the waterfall would be an incredible sight in full flow.
This section of the Savannah Way is accessible only during the dry season (April to October), and is best tackled by 4WD vehicles towing sturdy rigs with enough clearance to cross shallow causeways.
Location: The Savannah Way crosses the Calvert River 175km east of Borroloola and about 140km west of Hells Gate.
3. THE BEND
Cape York, Qld
3km north of Coen
For Cape York pilgrims lured by Weipa’s legendary fishing or that little landmark at the very tip of the country, Coen is a popular supply stop for fuel, meals and a breezy riverside campground at The Bend. Here you can park your rig alongside deep, sandy pools on a magnificent stretch of the Coen River and enjoy a deeply relaxing stay without time limits or camping fees.
The croc-free Coen River flows year-round and is renowned for its healthy population of cherabin.
Just set a pot, stoke the campfire in time for sunset and sit back to enjoy the gangs of sulphur-crested cockatoos that screech from the treetops. Wade and swim upstream to discover more and more secluded waterholes or spend time watching the birdlife whizzing by. Spacious and grassy, there’s room at The Bend for up to a dozen rigs, and plenty of shade too. Facilities are basic (just a drop toilet, rubbish bins and some fireplaces), but pets are welcome and you can use your generator.
The Bend is a good jumping-off point for travels into Oyala Thumotang National Park (CYPAL), a rugged, remote patch of wilderness, accessed 25km north of Coen. If you go, time your Cape York adventure for after the wet season, setting out between May and October.
Location: On the Peninsula Development Road, 3km north of Coen (310km north of Lakeland).
Facilities: Toilet, bins and fireplaces (pick up treated drinking water in Coen). Pets: Allowed.
Contact: Visit www.cook.qld.gov.au for road reports and www.tourismcapeyork.com for travel ideas.
4. GILBERT RIVER
Burke Developmental Road, Qld
100km north-east of Normanton
Between Chillagoe and the fishing mecca of Karumba, a dusty, corrugated back road traverses a remote landscape of rugged limestone outcrops, undulating forested hills, lowlands of blooming wattles and flaxen grasslands.
Following the Mitchell, Staaten and Gilbert rivers, flowing west into the Gulf of Carpentaria, this 570km-long section of the Burke Developmental Road links remote pastoral stations. With low-slung causeways and bulldust holes, it becomes impassable in the wet season.
But during the cool, winter dry season, well-equipped 4WD travellers chasing an elusive dose of solitude will discover lily-covered lagoons, dams and shady waterhole camps that bring a surprising abundance of birdlife into close view.
One of the best of these is found on the Gilbert River, a deep, wide, waterway located about 100km from Normanton where campers stake out shady clearings along the river’s high south-eastern bank. It’s a breezy spot to dangle a fishing line, or enjoy the great flocks of migratory waterbirds that converge on the region after summer monsoonal rains.
Corellas and galahs screech from the eucalypts and brolgas and sarus cranes soar overhead. At sundown, swift wallabies emerge to graze at the water’s edge. Upriver, a bush track leads for about a kilometre to more secluded camping nooks with equally impressive water views.
Although there are no facilities on offer, the Gilbert River’s bush camp will appeal to offroad travellers keen to break away from the pack. There are no restrictions of any kind out here so the usual camp courtesies apply, especially in regards to keeping dogs under control and the wildlife safe.
Location: Travel 30km north of Normanton (40km from Karumba), turn east onto the Burke Developmental Road at Walkers Creek rest area and continue for 70km.
Contact: www.carpentaria.qld.gov.au and www.racq.com.au