Thursday, 9 January 2014

2013 Campsites: the best of the best

A good campsite can elevate a simple weekend exploration into a memorable adventure. It can add wonder to a trip. In truth, each of our journeys into the Australian bush is as much about camping as it is about walking. Each adventure is a continuing conversation about what makes a good campsite, what hazards we have to avoid, the best gear for each unique situation, what is the ideal mix of serenity and scenery.

That camping conversation, at the end of each year, then turns into a fun deliberation as to which site was the 'best of the best' over the past 12 months. The 2013 debate turned out to be long and detailed. There was even some suggestion of calling a draw. It became a tight battle between two quality sites and we carefully weighed up the pros and cons of each - their aspect, wilderness value, water availability, the mood and feel of each place, the photos, uniqueness and the site's indelible qualities.

Our list of finalists this year follows....

The campsite above was in Nymboida National Park at the junction of the Mann and Nymboida Rivers, looking across The Junction pool to a rocky peak called Devil's Tombstone. Travelling by boat meant we were not hampered by weight considerations and could take multiple tarps and straps, all of which came in handy when rigging up this 'tarp palace'. With million dollars views, it unfortunately did not hold up well against a strong, cold wind that blew across the pool the following morning. But, what a magic spot it was to while away a sunny afternoon. For more about this trip visit the blog post - here.

The spectacular campsite above, off track in Mount Kaputar National Park, looked across to Mt Ningadhun and west across the plains to the township of Narrabri and north along the rugged peaks of the Grattai Wilderness. It certainly had the makings of a 'campsite of the year' and it nearly forced us to call this year's vote a draw. We spent a long afternoon at this location, admiring the view in all directions, exploring the surrounding habitat and watching peregrine falcons cruise the cliff edge beside us. We also did a number of other walks in this wonderful national park and spied plenty of future contenders for our 'best of the best' competition. For more photos read our blog post - here.

The campsite above is at the junction of the Styx and Chandler Rivers in a remote section of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. The tent is only just visible, centre left, tucked beneath the towering river oaks and the nearby tiny red dot is me preparing our afternoon brew. This spot had an incredible 'feel' about it - welcoming and open, the junction was dominated by a massive gravel bed spreading down river and in the pool just above camp a lone platypus emerged in the evening dark. Stay tuned for a full trip report on this adventure as it was one of favourites from 2013.

But, the winner is...Warabah National Park...

In the end, Warabah's winning feature was the very fact that it was so unexpected. Until we got there, we knew little about Warabah National Park and so this spot felt like a discovery. All day we had walked down the Namoi River and had seen many pretty, grassy campsites backed by open forest full of unique birds such as red capped robins, turquoise parrots, and bright honeyeaters. Yet, something kept us walking for longer than planned. Caz kept hoping for a more dramatic outlook. As we rounded a bend in the river we contemplated stopping on a sandy bank mid-stream but pressed on to where the river suddenly opened out to form wide smooth platforms of rock. At first sight, Caz declared the site 'campsite of the year' and so it is. For our full trip report from this adventure see the post - here

While our list of finalists for 2013 was shorter than expected, the quality was high. On most adventures we spent long periods of time at our chosen campsites, exploring them intimately and discovering the small wonders that you miss when walking: fungi tucked beneath old logs, the homes of small animals, strange insects, and new plants in fruit or flower.

Coorabakh National Park
In some respects, campsites are often out of our control. The first decision is to plan a general walking route.  We then have to make use of what we find on the way. This is what made the Warabah camp such a winner. It added a touch of unforeseen magic and spectacle to our walk. Unfortunately sometimes it is unforeseen trouble not unforeseen magic that comes our way. Several times in 2013 we were forced to make the best of what little we were given: small pads of uneven gravel in deep rainforest creeks. On one trip, we slept in puddles of water that pooled around the end of the bivvy bags as rain continued all night and the tarp had been left behind in the car. On a visit to Lamington National Park we planned to camp out with views of the escarpment and valley below only to find ourselves clouded in for three days and any potential 'best of the best' campsites were dropped from the list. Trouble or wonder - both make memorable stories. And, there is both to be had even when camping in established national park campgrounds, as our adventure with fireflies in Washpool National Park proved. Perhaps sometime soon we will have a conversation, and a competition, on our favourite car based campsites.

Rosewood River - Dorrigo National Park

Platypus Creek - New England National Park

Urumbilum River - Bindarri National Park

Lamington National Park
One of the most interesting conversations on camping to take place in 2013 was not our own discussion about which sleeping bag to pack and whether or not take a tarp and bivvy or full tent. Australian historian and playwright Bill Garner published a remarkable sounding book in 2013 called Born In A Tent: How camping makes us Australian

In an article about the book Garner writes: 

"Most importantly, camping requires us to fit into and adapt to the environment rather than try to dominate it. Camping intimately connects us to place. It allows us to feel that we belong to the land without the land belonging to us…..To call yourself a "camper"  is far more than a statement about the way you like to holiday: it speaks of your personal and social values, your attitude to material consumption, and your connection to the environment."

(for more visit

Barrington Tops National Park
Garner argues that historically Australia is a land of campers, from the first settlers to the gold fields to modern holiday makers. Even before European settlement the Aboriginal people perfected the art of camping. And historically there is evidence in our most famous literature of our affection for camping, to being born in a tent, and to sleeping out in strange places. Australian poet Henry Lawson penned the poem The Wander-Light which opens with the tent poles clattering and an unidentified narrator describing how "the fly in twain was torn, of the tent where I was born".

"For my beds were camp beds and tramp beds and damp beds,
And my beds were dry beds on drought-stricken ground,
Hard beds and soft beds, and wide beds and narrow - 
For my beds were strange beds the wide world round."

Cod Hole - Nymboi-Binderay National Park


  1. A worthy winner too. I must admit the Cod Hole campsite looks inviting as well. A really interesting read guys.

    1. G'day Phil. Yes the Cod Hole is a great spot. You can drive to it. It's one of the start/finish points for rafting sections of the Nymboida River although it suffered a bit of damage in the big floods we had here in early 2013. Thanks again for reading and hope 2014 is good to you!

  2. Great review. +1 for free standing tents I guess? :) The water on the cascades didn't keep you awake?

    1. Not so much the noise of the cascades that keeps one awake, more the stimulating effect the sound of running water has on one's bladder. :\