ULTIMATE COASTAL FREE CAMPING HOTSPOTS


Australia’s most experienced travellers countdown the best coastal free camping regions 10 to 1!

WORDS BY JONATHAN PULLEN, PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARAVAN AND MOTORHOME

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Free camping along Australia’s best coastlines is every caravanner’s dream. Enjoying the white sands, crystal-clear waters while just sitting back and relaxing is what hitting the road is all about. That’s why we’ve assembled some of the most experienced coastal tourers in Australia. With over a century of combined experience, our experts have traversed every corner of Australia to discover their favourite spots that you won’t find in any guidebook. In the pages ahead they reveal their favourite coastal regions and how to enjoy them without breaking the bank. Best of all, we’ve had them vote so we can count down the 10 best free camping coastal regions in Australia. Where does your favourite fit in the 10? It’s time to find out!

10 SAPPHIRE COAST, NEW SOUTH WALES

You know they say that a free camping tour down the south coast of NSW is nearly impossible – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! You might like to free camp a little further inland as you enjoy places like Huskisson, Ulladulla and so on – but once you strike the stunning Sapphire Coast you’ll enjoy the rich local culture, the pristine beaches brimming with activity and locals just waiting to show you their way of life!

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MYSTERY BAY PRIMITIVE CAMPGROUND

Where: Off the Princes Highway, 15km S of Narooma

Pull up on the lush green grass beneath the shade of the gum and get ready for one of the best free camps in NSW. There’s plenty of room for all kinds of vans and the coastal views are something you won’t soon forget. There’s fishing, walking trails, swimming, lookout points and so much more. The campground can get crowded in summer, so arrive as early as you can.

BODALLA FOREST PARK REST AREA

Where: Bodalla State Forest, 9km S of Bodella

It might not be right on the water, but just off the highway, Bodalla is a perfectly placed base to stop for 24 hours and explore around you. Beneath the forestry you’ve got plenty of shade, however you might need to bring a levelling block, as the ground is unsealed and sloped – there are several spots that have been levelled out for you folks with big rigs.

NORTH HEAD CAMPGROUND

Where: 7km E of Moruya via North Head Drive

Here’s another low-cost gem that’s going to keep you within walking distance the ocean and also the Moruya River Mouth. Remember though, this is a camp for self-contained vans only, with only drop toilets and cold showers available. This spot is so incredibly close to Moruya as well! So get out there and enjoy – the town also has a dumpsite.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

EDEN KILLER WHALE MUSEUM

Where: 184 Imlay Street, Eden

This museum has been in business for over 80 years now and is still open today with the modest admission fee of just $9. From the outside you wouldn’t think it houses over 10,000 items but once inside you’ll learn so much about the history of Australian whaling, general maritime, timber history and social history. Ph: (02) 6496 2094 W: www.killerwhalemuseum.com.au

BEGA VALLEY REGIONAL GALLERY

Where: Zingel Place, Bega

When you need a break from relaxing on the shores of Bermagui Beach, you might consider visiting the Bega Valley Regional Gallery – as vanners it’s important to support cultural vibrancy and this gallery goes to show that living remote doesn’t curb any artistic talent. Ph: (02) 6499 2202 W: www.begavalley.com.au

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9 LIMESTONE COAST, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

One of my favourite coastal stretches less travelled is from the mouth of the Murray River at Alexandria straight to the Victorian Border – the alluring and enticing Limestone Coast. Unique geological formations like the Umpherstone sinkhole, vibrant beaches, and inviting locals make this a must-do tour on your bucket list.

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PINKS BEACH, PINKS BEACH ROAD

Where: Pines Beach Road, Pinks Beach

This beaut spot is just 50m from the beach front with a wealth of all the favourite coastal activities at your fingertips. It’s not great for big rigs, but there’s still room to move around.

WYOMI BEACH REST AREA, WYOMI

Where: Marine Parade, Wyomi

If you want a spot to setup shop for a little longer in the region then this is for you. You can stay for up to five days and there’s even a kiosk opposite. The beachfront is just some 100m away.

KINGSTON SE JETTY PARKING AREA, KINGSTON

Where: Marine Parade, Kingstone SE

Now this is one of my favourites – a really well appointed camp with a pretty level grassed area. The fishing is great, and if you don’t catch anything, there’s fish and chip shop next door!

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

THE SOVEREIGN GARDEN

Where: Jubilee Highway, Mount Gambier

This is one of the most interesting geological formations in the region. The Umpherstone Sink Hole’s surface collapsed and took the top soil with it, forming one of the most beautiful gardens in Australia – visit for lunch and use the BBQ.

WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE

Where: 1 Memorial Drive, Coonawarra

Visit Wynns Coonawarra vineyard where you can sample and blend your own red wine! You get to experience the blending process and take your own personally-branded bottle with you – why not enjoy later on at happy hour. Ph: (08) 8736 2225 W: www.wynns.com.au

NARACOORTE CAVES

Where: Naracoorte Caves National Park

Just 30km away from Wynns you can experience Naracoorte caves. I recommend taking the tour and marvelling at the Victoria Fossil Cave’s 93 vertebrae species. Ph: (08) 8762 2340 W: www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au

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8 CLARENCE COAST, NEW SOUTH WALES

Many people rush right by, but if you turn off the Pacific Highway at the Ferry Park, you will discover Maclean and its coastal beauty. The Clarence River is well known for its fishing fleets and historic towns, but did you know you can still find secret coastal havens to set up camp and catch a feast in one of the bays, beaches, or estuaries around Brooms Head, Iluka and Yamba?

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LAKE ARRAGAN AND RED CLIFF CAMPGROUNDS,

Where: Brooms Head Road, Yuraygir National Park

Live like Robinson Crusoe on the edge of the lake, beach or cliffs in this magnificent campground, shared with the resident kangaroos. You’ll never forget the walk to Shelley Beach.

SANDON RIVER CAMPGROUND

Where: Sandon River Road, Yuraygir National Park

This is my all-time favourite beach. Great for boating, fishing and kids around love estuary sandbars, there’s also the beach and Plover Island to explore. Just remember that the sites are bollarded and it can get busy relatively early.

MACLEAN SHOWGROUND, MACLEAN

Where: 12 Cameron Street, Maclean

Maclean Showground is a great base to explore Yamba, Iluka, Angourie or Brooms Head. Relax on the riverbank beside the historic shark creek bridge, drop in a line, or take a walk into town. $10 per vehicle.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

BROOMS HEAD SCENIC LOOKOUT

Where:Brooms Head

From the Scenic Lookout: try whale watching in August and September, add a new species of sea kite to your bird list, or catch sand whiting from the south beach.

MACLEAN TALKING TRAIL AND THE TARTAN POLES

Collect your guide from the information centre, Ferry Park, and take a self-guided tour around the town, including the more than 200 Scottish Tartan painted poles. Clarence Coast Visitor Information Centre Ph: (02) 6645 4121

ANGOURIE BLUE POOLS, ANGOURIE, VIA YAMBA

Famous for its surf breaks, Angourie is a picturesque spot to spend a day swimming in the rock pools and sunbaking in the coves. It’s only a short walk to the pools.

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7 NEW SOUTH WALES MID NORTH COAST

Johns River on the mid north coast of NSW offers water galore with beautiful beaches, quick inland trips for bad weather days and a choice of free camping and low-cost National Park camping. It is near Port Macquarie and Taree within a region of quiet lakes, beautiful rivers and a whole bundle of attractions tailor made for RVers.

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JOHNS RIVER HALL

Where: Community Hall, Johns River

Here’s one you won’t find in any book or brochure! Johns River Hall is a wonderful free camp set in a quiet village with a bush trail in the reserve. Remember to camp on the northern fence line – there’s less traffic there and much more peace and quiet!

ROCKS FERRY RESERVE AREA

Where: Rocks Ferry Road, Wauchope

Here’s a spot just a stone’s throw out of Port Macquarie. This is the best of both water worlds being based on the Hastings River, and just a short drive from the coastal beaches.

MICK TUCK WINGHAM RIVERSIDE RESERVE

Where: Farquhar Street, Wingham

This camp is managed by a group of locals and they are so friendly and welcoming! This is an ideal home base to branch out and enjoy Taree, Old Bar, Forster and Tuncurry.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

NORTH BROTHER LOOKOUT

Where: Dooragan National Park, North Brother

The Lookout in Dooragan National Park has vast coastal and lake views and great walking tracks with informational signage in tall forest on the mountain sides. A very special place to bring your partner.

CROWDY BAY NATIONAL PARK

Where: Diamond Head Road, Crowdy Bay National Park

Enjoy the Coastal walking trails in Crowdy Bay National Park along deserted beaches and past huge sculptured headlands – maps are available at National Parks sign-in office. Ph: (02) 6588 5555

LAURIETON RIVER WALK MARKETS

Where: Camden Haven River, Laurieton

The wheelchair-friendly Laurieton River Walk Markets are on the third Sunday monthly and showcases locally-grown gourmet foods, wines and craft right on the glistening North Haven River. W: www.camdenhaveninfo.org.au

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6 THE KIMBERLEY COASTLINE

The vast north western coast line of the Kimberley brings pristine turquoise waters and white sands together with the raw red dirt of the outback. You’ll find isolated long-term camping sites for self-sufficient vanners, and more accessible camps for short stays and on-road vans. Wherever you are, this ancient landscape’s coastal free camps and natural attractions have made it the final frontier for Australian caravanners.

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JAMES PRICE POINT

Where: 52km north of Broome off Manari Road

Some of the best sunsets in the world are captured along here as the sun sets into the Indian Ocean. During tourist season, it gets very busy, so early morning is best for finding a site as they in high demand! There are many campsites scattered along this coastline, so be prepared to perhaps move more than once to find that perfect spot.

MIDDLE LAGOON

We advise to book ahead if you want a cliff-top view. Shade can be a premium when busy, so be prepared to provide your own – you might consider packing extra tarps or shade sails. There’s great fishing at the creek mouth.

WILLIE CREEK CAMPING AREA

Where: Willie Creek Road, off Manari Road north of Broome

This is a remote bush camp and a great spot to set up and explore the surrounding areas, the road is very rough so this is for off-road vans only, and with no facilities you also need to be self-sufficient.

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CABLE BEACH SUNSETS

Where: Broome

Toasting another great day as the sun sets into the ocean off Cable Beach, the camels have done their thing and you and your 4×4 have the perfect spot to set down with a sundowner and picnic. It’s a memory that you will keep for a long time.

STAIRCASE TO THE MOON

Where: Roebuck Bay, Broome

Between March and October you can watch the full moon rise over exposed mudflats with an extremely low tide – it creates an optical illusion of stairs reaching the moon. Don’t leave it to the last minute to find a spot or you will miss out and don’t forget to bring a camera and tripod.

KOOLJAMAN AT CAPE LEVEQUE

Where: PMB 8, Cape Leveque, Broome

Out on this point is great fishing – strike the right spot and you see the sunrise in the east and watch it set over the rocks in the west. Beautiful inviting waters have just enough waves to have some gentle body surfing fun. Beachcombing when the tide’s out is a great past time. Ph: (08) 9192 4970 W: www.kooljaman.com.au

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5 NORTHWEST COAST, TASMANIA

One of the least talked about coastlines in Australia, the northwest coast of Tassie, otherwise known as “the Edge of the World,” is dotted with free camps offering uninhibited access to this unspoiled ocean-side paradise. With breath-taking natural attractions like its white sandy beaches, the Nut, and Table Conservation Area and so much more this is one tour full of allure, mystery and intrigue!

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HALL POINT REST AREA

Where: 1.5km E of Preservation Drive

This gem is a beautiful spot to stop for a couple of days, being moderately well appointed, right next to the water and adjacent to a penguin habitat – great to observe them move amongst the shrubs!

COOEE POINT RESERVE REST AREA

Where: Cooee Point Road, Cooee

This is a really convenient 72 hour camp set on a spacious grassy site – it’s next to some rocky outcrops and has direct access to a yellow sandy beach great for swimming. This is self-contained and the nearest toilet is 500m away.

STANLEY RECREATION GROUND

Where: 88 Main Road, Stanley

This is the perfect spot for you to set up and explore Stanley and surrounds, right next to the nut, the aquarium, and other local attractions, adjacent to a beach, and just $8 a night – magic!

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

THE NUT CHAIRLIFT

Where: Nut State Reserve, Browns Road, Stanley

Take a chairlift to the top of a solidified lava lake of a long-extinct volcano. This will give you 360 degree view of everything – Rocky Cape National Park, Highfield Historic site and scenic coastline – you’ll never forget this. Ph: (03) 6458 1286

ARTHUR RIVER CRUISES

Where: 1414 Arthur River Road, Arthur River

This is something truly special, head down into the Arthur River aboard the George Robinson and see a stretch of water that has never been logged or dammed surrounded by Tarkine wilderness, thousands of years old. Ph: 0427 885 792 W: www.arthurrivercruises.com.au

STANLEY SEAQUARIUM

Where: Fisherman’s Dock, Wharf Road, Stanley

A truly unique aquarium, here you can get up close and personal with Tassie’s own fascinating sealife – from king crabs, to octopi and more. Best of all you can even buy fresh local seafood there! Ph: (03) 6458 2052 W: www.stanleyseaquarium.com

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4 EYRE PENINSULA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

As far as scenic coastlines go, you’ll find South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula to rank amongst the best of them. From Port Lincoln head northwest along the coastline before reaching the RVer hotspot, Coffin Bay – next, stop at the free camping mecca of Streaky Bay before experiencing the final cross road town of Ceduna! This touring is the perfect mix of natural coastal scenery with local attractions and plenty of free camps to accommodate you along the way.

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CAPE HARDY BEACH

Where: 15km SW of Port Neill

Once you leave Port Lincoln heading east, stop and make use of this great beachfront camp. There are no grassy sites but it’s spacious and the unsealed ground is extremely level. You have individual sites with a view of the ocean but there’s no shade and it can get windy.

REDBANKS CAMPING AREA

Where: Lincoln Highway, Eyre Highway-Port Lincoln, 2km NE of Arno Bay

This is a favourite camp site of ours and even though there are no facilities and it’s unsealed, you’re setting up right on the beach and the stretching coastal views are just mesmerising – the only thing better than the view is the fishing. You’ll rarely find it crowded!

EYRE WATERHOLE REST AREA

Where: Flinders Highway, Port Lincoln- Ceduna, 4km S of Streaky Bay

A convenient spot to set up a base camp and explore nearby Streaky Bay. I’ve always found it to be quite roomy, there’s a bit of decent shade under the gums, and the drive-through gravel sites are great. There aren’t a lot of facilities but the shaded picnic tables and fire pits are more than enough to guarantee an enjoyable night.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

COFFIN BAY NATIONAL PARK

At only $10 per vehicle for a day pass, $8 concession, you’d be mad to miss out on the wild native flora of the park, as well as its sweeping coastal views. There are over five campsites available. Ph: (08) 8688 3111

BAIRD BAY OCEAN ECO EXPERIENCE

Where: Baird Bay Road, Baird Bay

When you hit Baird Bay, about 45 minutes out of Streaky Bay, you’ve got to stop and visit Baird Bay Ocean Eco experience – this is your chance to make a memory of a lifetime swimming with dolphins and sea lions in the wild. You won’t regret it. Ph: (08) 8626 5017 W: www.bairdbay.com

CAPE BAUER LOOP DRIVE

This is one free attraction that’s worth its weight in gold. It’s a 40km round trip from Streaky Bay – it’s predominantly gravelled and will suit even most 2WD vehicles. Stop at the boardwalk and take in the views of the Whistling Rocks and Blowholes. W: www.streakybay.sa.gov.au

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3 TASSIE’S EAST COAST

The east coast of Tasmania has so much to offer, with rugged coastal outcrops, and long sweeping beaches with rocks covered in orange lichen. Stretching from Musselroe Bay in the north to the Tasman Peninsula in the south, free camping here is in abundance allowing vanners to enjoy the coast at their leisure, with nearby inland services, towns and attractions being a short drive from base camp.

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POLICEMAN’S POINT

Where: Road C843, 3km W of Ansons Bay

This is basic camping, and by that I mean there are zero facilities, but that won’t bother you once you find it located on beautiful Ansons Bay. Level grassy sites are a plenty, it’s a nice combination of bush meets beach. There’s plenty of fishing in either the bay or the surf.

PONDERING FROG CAMPSITE

Where: 7215, 16494 Tasman Highway, Bicheno

You won’t find this one in any camp books! The new camp site is located close to the Freycinet turnoff, a great grassy spot to camp while exploring the peninsula. It’s made possible by friendly owners of the Pondering Frog Tea Room offering sites to self-contained RVs. W: www.ponderingfrog.com.au

FORTESCUE BAY

Where: C344, 12km E of Fortescue Bay Road

Fortescue Bay in Tasman National Park has lovely quiet camping at the head of the Cape Hauy hike. Snorkelling and fishing is popular here. Clean facilities, marked campsites, showers (with token) and toilets. A great low-cost camp at $13 a night.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

DEVILS IN THE DARK

Devils in the Dark at Bicheno is an experience you will never forget. In a secret location, you watch wild devils feed on wallaby, while you are offered cheese and wine. So if you’re going to spend the money to go to Tassie, you should see the devils in absolute comfort! At $55 per person, the experience is worth it. Ph: 0401 246 777 W: www.devilsinthedark.com.au

COLE MINES HISTORIC SITE

Where: Coal Mines Road, C341, via Premaydena

On the Tasman Peninsula this heritage listed area housed up to 600 convict labourers. Only ruins of the penitentiary, mine and cells remain. Free to view, you can take a picnic and wander amongst the convict ruins on the site. Ph: 1800 659 101

MARIA ISLAND FERRY

Where: Esplande West, Triabunna

Take a ferry journey across to Maria Island – and enjoy the Captain’s intriguing narratives on the way over! Once you touch down to explore, discover the unique features of the island like the painted sandstone cliffs, the Commissariat store and gaol erected in the early 1800s. There’s so much to see! Ph: 0419 746 668 W: www.mariaislandferry.com.au

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2 RAINBOW COAST, WA

In a state that’s increasingly turning its back on free camping, the rainbow coast remains an enticing region that loves free campers and appreciates what they bring to the region. What will you get in return for your visit? Dozens of vibrant national parks, ample free camps, a proud firstsettler heritage, and a welcoming array of locals!

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COSY CORNER EAST, ALBANY

Where: Cosy Corner Road via Lower Denmark Road

One of my favourites in the region, you’ve got 10 sites to choose from – so you could call it a boutique camp, but you’ve got a choice of setting up in the coastal scrub in the shade, or closer to the beach.

BETTYS BEACH, ALBANY

Where: Turn left off Homestead Road, continue 2.3km

Located between Two People’s Bay and Normans Beach, this is a lovely secluded spot to enjoy a day of swimming and fishing. Be mindful, not the best space for bigger rigs.

PARRY BEACH, DENMARK

Where: South Coast Highway, Denmark

If you’re planning on an extended stay this is the camp for you with a three week maximum stay. Go for a swim, fish off the rocks or the beach, or simply beach comb, walk and explore.

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OUR THREE TOP ATTRACTIONS

GREENS POOL, DENMARK

Where: William Bay National Park

One of, if not the best beach in Denmark. The water is clear and pristine, surrounded by stunning granite boulders. A calm beach, it’s perfect for swimming and snorkelling for younger and older travellers.

HISTORIC WHALING STATION, ALBANY

Where: Whaling Station Road, Frenchman Bay

No trip to Albany is complete without a trip to Discovery Bay and the restored Historic Whaling Station – take the 40 minute tour and learn about the town’s rich whaling history – it’s unlike anything else in Australia. Ph: (08) 9844 4021 W: www.discoverybay.com.au

THE NATIONAL ANZAC CENTRE, ALBANY

Where: 70 Forts Road, Mount Clarence

A truly unique Anzac museum, the National Anzac Centre stands as a tribute to the 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders that left Albany for WWI. The museum tells the story through their eyes. Ph: (08) 9841 9369 W: www.nationalanzaccentre.com.au

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1 FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND

This region of far north Queensland spans from Rockhampton to Mackay. As many of you know, trying to find free or cheap accommodation near the main cities can prove near impossible, so it’s nice to know there are still some beautiful free, or cheap, options available by the sea, in our sunny and tranquil tropics – so try these hidden hotspots!

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YARRAWONGA PARK RESERVE

14km E of Ilbilbie, off the Bruce Highway

This has to be one of our absolute favourite free camps in FNQ, with soft sands and spots where you can pull up in the shade and catch ample fish or crabs make this an ideal spot to bring the family, or setup solo.

BUSHY PARKER RESERVE

Rollingstone Street, Rollingstone

“Bushy” Parker Reserve is an absolute gem. With around 30 fresh water taps which can be connected straight to your van which is great. It’s in close proximity to the general store, pub and petrol station. The best spot is right next to the creek and swimming hole so get in early.

HULL HEADS RECREATION AREA

20km E of Tully

A great low-cost camping area and very popular with fishos, thanks to its position on the mouth of the Hull River and close proximity to the ocean, there’s plenty of room. There’s a pub and shops about two kilometres away.

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PALUMA RANGE NATIONAL PARK

Where: Crystal Creek, 26km S of Ingham

This park is home to Crystal Creek, Jourama Falls and Lake Paluma and will provide some of the most spectacular bird watching you will find anywhere. It’s just 15km north of Rollingstone along the Bruce Highway.

TULLY HEADS TAVERN

Where: 25 Tully Heads Rd, Hull Heads This is a great complement to your Hull Head free camp – just down the road from campsite – you can get a great cheap meal here which is absolutely delicious! And there’s a huge grassy area for the kids to run around and play on while you relax. Ph: 07 4066 9350

ST LAWRENCE CREEK, LOCAL FISHING HOTSPOT

Where: By the Bruce Highway and St Lawrence N Road

The local secret amongst seasoned fisherman is St Lawrence Creek on the north side of town, if you fish off the weir at the right time you might find plenty of barramundi.

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