Australia has some pretty incredible places to wake up to in the morning. One of my favourites is waking to the sound of waves rolling in just metres away from my bed. Australia has over 10,000 beaches, and there are a number of them that you are allowed to camp on. Many of them are about as good as a beach gets, so we’re pretty lucky here to be able to camp on them.
We’ve all seen photos of glassy calm beaches, clear water and just the right amount of sunshine. The reality is that they can also be the exact opposite, and if you want to spend a night or two camping on the beach, there are a few things you’ll want to consider and do before heading off.
The idea of camping at the beach sounds good, but there are a few things to know.
Finding a beach you can camp on
Unfortunately, there are plenty of restrictions when it comes to camping in Australia. Aside from the strange looks you may get rolling a swag out on the main beach in your local city, you are likely to be asked to move on and given a fine by the resident ranger.
In general, the more populated the area, the less chance you are of being allowed to camp on that beach. Once you start heading further away from the crowds though, finding beaches where camping is allowed, gets easier.
Finding out whether you are allowed to camp there or not is actually quite simple – look for any signs, check the relevant shire websites, follow any national park regulations and download helpful apps, like Wikicamps, which is full of information. These days it only takes a couple of minutes of searching online to find your answer.
If you do find that camping is not permitted, follow the instructions. Whilst you could get away with it for a night or two, it just gives further evidence to have even more places shut down and you could end up with an extra bill to pay when you get home.
Always check out your location before you set up.
If you plan on driving on the beach, you should have a 4WD. Some beaches can be driven on with AWD and even 2WD vehicles, but only if the sand is extremely hard, and most of the time it isn’t.
If you’ve never taken a 4WD onto the beach, be sure to do some reading prior to hitting the sand! Understand how to engage 4WD, in both high and low range and how to let your tyres down (including what pressure you should be running). It’s important that you take a recovery kit, and that you have rated recovery points, should you get stuck.
If you are going to drive on a beach, you also need to check that vehicle access is allowed in advance. In general, you should drive between the waterline and high tide mark and steer clear of restricted areas such as sand dunes to avoid native flora and fauna.
If your vehicle has never driven on sand, make sure you know what you’re doing.
Sometimes camping off the beach is the best option
When things are perfect, there’s nothing better than camping right by the water’s edge. However, beaches are not always camping friendly, and in many situations, you will be better off camping a little back from the beach. You can still be within 30 metres of the water’s edge but this way you can enjoy a lot more protection.
In general, the wind is a concern when camping on the beach. If you know that it’s going to be good weather, then you are in luck. However, if you suspect that the wind may pick up and you can find a sheltered position behind a dune, then often camping off the beach is a better decision.
I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night to your tent getting smashed from every direction by the wind!
Camp behind a dune or your vehicle, if it’s windy out.
Do your research before you go
Before you commit to camping on a beach, take a few minutes online to do some research on a few different topics such as tide, wind and temperature.
There are heaps of websites online that will tell you what the tide is going to do. In some parts of Australia, it only goes up and down 30cm, and that makes for little of an issue. However, if you are in the northern parts of Australia where the tides can go up and down 10 metres, you can get into some serious trouble very quickly.
Always consider the tide before setting your tent up, or you may find yourself waking up with the ocean running through the front of your tent!
Keep an eye out on the tides when camping at the beach.
Weather predictions are getting better and better, and you can usually get a pretty good idea of what the wind is going to do before you head away. Yep, it’s not always perfect and sometimes you will end up with more, or less wind than predicted, but at least it gives you an idea.
If you know that the breeze is going to come in hard, perhaps it’s better to camp off the beach where you have a bit of shelter!
When setting your tents up, have a good think about where the wind is going to come from, and what it’s going to do to your setup. Many tents will fare much better when they are faced into the wind with decent aerodynamics.
Try to face your tent in the correct direction in windy conditions.
There’s nothing better than a warm, sunny day at the beach, but only if you are prepared for it. The temperature will change what you need to take, and how you set up. If it’s going to be 40 degrees on the beach you are going to want lots of water and shade, so you can take a break from the sun. It can also get cold at night, so make sure you take warm clothes, just in case.
If you don’t prepare for what Mother Nature is going to throw at you, your camping trip at the beach might not be so enjoyable!
What gear makes camping on the beach more comfortable?
Shade, sunscreen and appropriate clothing
If you spend time down at the beach without shade, sunscreen and appropriate clothing, it will be a lesson you won’t forget anytime soon. It doesn’t take more than an hour (even less for some people!) to get badly burnt on the beaches in Australia.
Tourists especially, often underestimate how powerful the sun and temperature can be on your body. So, make sure to look after it!
An awning or shade will go a long way at the beach for UV protection.
Camping on a beach brings its own set of unique challenges. There’s nothing pleasant about climbing into a sleeping bag covered in sand, or dragging half of the beach into your tent with you.
These days, there are some fantastic options when it comes to matting that you can have around your tent to clean off before going in. These range from the foam puzzle pieces that join together to various shade cloth styles, which allow the sand to fall through and not come back up.
Don’t underestimate how good it is to be able to sit on a clean mat off the sand!
Leave your tent closed
We always try and leave our tents shut when camping on the beach. Little grains of sand will blow past your tent all day. If you don’t shut your tent up properly, expect to be sharing your bed with a fine layer of sand!
Shut up your tent completely so that you don’t get sand blown in your tent.
Dustpan and brush
On the same token, sand will end up where you don’t want it to. It’s inevitable, and there’s really not a whole lot you can do about it. A simple dustpan and brush will allow you to keep on top of most of it, and it makes for an easy way to clean your feet and legs before you head into the tent.
If you are staying on a beach for more than a day, you’ll probably get sick of the salty feeling left from swimming in the water. Of course, it’s better than nothing, and a quick dip each day is not a bad way to ensure you stay hygienic and reasonably comfortable.
Baby wipes are an excellent option for cleaning salt off your body. There are some soaps that you can use in saltwater, but its best to grab it in a bucket and wash away from the ocean. Whenever you’re washing anything outdoors, always use biodegradable soap (as some conventional ones are harmful), and always do it 100m away from waterways.
It’s so important to be considerate of your surroundings to keep our beaches pristine.
Taking care of our beaches
Having a fire on the beach is a fantastic way to wind an evening down. However, do it responsibly – in a fire pit if possible (check the council for specifics), and use sustainable timber. Make sure the fire is out when you leave, and do not bury the coals in sand as this keeps them hot. Wind can blow any residual embers to any nearby bushes or shrubs, so be extremely careful and aware of thew surrounding risks.
When packing up to leave, use sea water to completely extinguish any coals and use a non-combustible marker that clearly shows where the campfire has been. A cairn of rocks works well and may help to reduce the frequent incidence of third-degree burns experienced by the next campers arriving at the site. Or, kids digging into the sand to build castles!
There should be no indication of a fire ever being there. It is also worth checking the rules of the area in case there are any fire restrictions in place.
A bonfire is a camping tradition, just ensure you are considerate.
Leave it as you found it
Nothing is more annoying, and disgraceful than arriving at a beautiful beach to see that people have left it in a filthy state. We have some of the best beaches in the world, so it should be in everyone’s best interest to keep it that way.
You should not be able to see any evidence that you have camped in an area on the beach when you leave, except for footprints and car tyre prints.
Take all of your rubbish with you, put fires out and fill the hole in.
If you camp on a beach, it’s your responsibility to leave it as you found it.
Going to the toilet on the beach isn’t always the easiest of things to do. Generally, the best practice is to walk as far off the beach as possible, to dig your hole and do your business. Portable toilets make this a simple exercise. Make sure it’s well away from any main tracks.
One issue, often faced when beach camping, is the lack of cover to do your business – consider taking a toilet/shower tent with you for more privacy.
A coastal destination should be top of your list for your next getaway.
Spending a few nights on a pristine beach is an experience you won’t forget anytime soon. There are a few things you need to change about your usual camping setup, but it’s definitely worth it.
We live in the best country for waking up on the coast – get out there and enjoy it!
Do you prefer camping in the bush or on the beach?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.