Pitch Perfect: A camping hater’s guide to national parks

Let’s be clear, my definition of outdoorsy is drinking rosé in the backyard. So getting out of town and into a tent is so far outside my comfort zone – it sits somewhere between negotiating on price and belly dancing at a Turkish restaurant.

Since I’ve become a tent owner (a story for another day), I’ve realised that there’s camping and there’s camping – the latter of which is very rosé and Riedel glass compatible.

After all, there are 165 national parks with campgrounds in Queensland, and not all of them were designed for roughing it. In fact, there’s not much more than a few letters difference between camping and glamping, if you know what you’re doing.

So, if you’re looking for hotel amenities on a national park budget, we’ll save you the set-up and pack down. Here’s our guide to comfy camping in a national park – from one camping hater to another.

1. Green Mountains campground, Lamington National Park

Lamington National Park

Lamington National Park, like its namesake, is a crowd pleaser. What’s not to love about sleeping in a rainforest system that’s been around for 100 million years?

While Lamington National Park might be ancient as far as landscapes go, don’t assume this campground is dated. Lamington’s two campgrounds have composting loos, hot showers and there’s even a free WiFi hotspot at the Green Mountains Information Centre – a service some hotels don’t even offer!

You’ll find this heighty-hinterland an hour west of Surfers Paradise – or two hours south of Brisbane – wedged between two stalwarts of the tourism industry: O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Binna Burra Lodge.

It’s worth pointing out these notable neighbours, in case you need a break from the butane stove in favour of their cafes, restaurants and activities beyond the 160 kilometres of bushwalking trails on your tent’s doorstop.

2. Broken River campground, Eungella National Park

Broken River Campground

The early bird might get the worm down south, but when you’re camping in Eungella National Park, early birds are guaranteed platypus sightings and cappuccinos (and not the kind that comes from an instant sachet, mind you).

You’ll find Broken River campground tucked away in the middle of Australia’s longest sub-tropical rainforest, but you won’t need survival training to enjoy this wilderness. The campsite is so close to civilisation that you can walk to a handful of cafes for your morning fix of coffee and eggs benny.

So sophisticated is this camping, you’ll want to pack some cash to splash at the local gift store, which stocks everything from local mountain garlic, to hand-knitted headbands, kauri bowls and of course, platypus paraphernalia.

Real flushing loos and fire rings are a plus to this campground – the only downside is that you’ll have to take a dip in the emerald waters of Finch Hatton Gorge if you really need a wash.

If the weather turns (common for a destination that translates to “land of the clouds”), there’s always Broken River Mountain Resort – an excellent plan B if ever I’ve heard one.

3. Ben-Ewa campground, Moreton Island National Park

Moreton Island Camping

Ben-Ewa, pronounced Ben-Eeeewah, puts the comfort in camping on Moreton Island.

I wouldn’t normally recommend island camping for haters – because there’s something isolating about 40 kilometres of water between your tent and the mainland – but Ben-Ewa campground is an exception to the rule.

It’s so comfortable that you could easily forget you’re camping at all… although the sand in your tent will bring you back to reality.

From its western beach location, you’ll be a short drive from the Bulwer General Store, which sells everything from ice-cream to boat battery acid.

Not just backup of essentials though, you’ll find your hit of barista-made coffee and a range of burgers including their Mad Moreton Burger, which is the local favourite.

Fuelled up with caffeine and carbs, you’ll have more time to get your tyres dirty, cruising up the endless miles of sandy beaches and inland tracks. We guarantee this is a destination where you’ll spend more time out of your tent than in it.

4. Castle Rock campground, Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

A campsite within 30 kilometres of these six James Halliday 5 star-rated wineries? Where do I book?

Girraween National Park, happy campers, is truly an outdoor nirvana and you’ll find it 260 clicks west of Brisbane, a smidge north of the New South Wales border.

More than just wine, you’ll find a granite jungle gym with 11 walking tracks, which are worth exploring over a couple of days, while you camp at night.

All tracks are graded between 2-4 and crisscross the national park, including the calf-muscle-challenging Pyramid Track.

In terms of creature comforts, think hot showers, toilets, picnic tables and communal wood barbecues – not to mention serious seclusion if you don’t travel on a long weekend or during school holidays.

If there’s one downside, this campground is cold and the average minimum temperature here in winter bounces between the 1-2 degree mark, so pack your doona!

5. Big Crystal Creek campground, Paluma National Park

Paluma Range National Park

Heading north from Townsville, you’ll find picturesque Paluma National Park, the rainforest gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage-listed area.

It’s all about fresh mountain air and mossy mountain freshwater streams here – with Big Crystal Creek and Little Crystal Creek a stone’s throw from this campground.

All sites come complete with a stunning view, privacy and amenities block that would truly win a Game of Thrones.

For first-time campers, it’s mountain magic, and even though the showers might be cold, you won’t notice anyway. The humid conditions of the rainforest are the only hot and steamy atmosphere you’ll need to create a perfect camping adventure here.

Combine these benefits with the cooee of a barista calling “coffee up”, and you’ve got yourself a campsite to convert any camping-hater. Just don’t forget to pack your mosquito repellant!

6. Dandabah campground, Bunya Mountains National Park

Bunya Mountains

You’ll go nuts (or should that read Bunya nuts?) for Bunya Mountains National Park, set amongst a 30-million-year-old landscape and Australia’s largest collection of Bunya pines.

They’re three campsites – Dandabah, Westcott and Burtons Well— but Dandabah is our pick for early (camping) adopters with its picnic tables, flushing loos, hot showers and coin-operated barbecues.

Numbers are capped at 70 sites, so you won’t be pitching with the hoards in the second-oldest national park in Queensland.

Unfortunately we aren’t the only ones who think Dandabah’s a good spot to peg down the guy ropes, though, and you’ll need to book at least 12 months in advance for school holidays, long weekends and when travelling as a large group.

If camping starts to get your goat, reinstate your zen with a bushwalk through the Scenic Circuit – where you can waterfall chase Festoon Falls and Tim Shea Falls.

7. Chilli Beach campground, Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park

Chilli Beach | A camping hater's guide to national parks

Photo by Andrew Tallon

One thing is for certain – I guarantee you’ll never be chilly camping at Chilli Beach on the Cape York Peninsula.

Sure, for camping haters you have to trek a long way to find this jewel in the national park crown, but the juice in this campground’s case is certainly worth the squeeze. Particularly if you like coconut juice… the campground is full of ‘em.

Chilli Beach is so popular, in fact, that National Parks has to cap the visitation – reason enough for any camping hater to make an effort to see what all the fuss is about.

From your tent, there are mere steps between you and the white sand, which is fringed entirely by rainforest so thick that it makes the Daintree look bald by lush comparison.

You’ll find composting loos and space for open fires – a rare treat in most national parks. What this campground lacks in life’s luxuries (like showers and barbecues), it makes up for with ocean-front views that will convert you to camping faster than any amenities block ever could.

Of course, if you don’t like it, you’re only a short drive away from Iron Range Cabins for your hot shower and warm bed needs.

Looking for something closer to Brisbane? Don’t forget this wrap-up of camping spots near Brisbane.

*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.