Best camping spots in Australia: Five spectacular, cheap places to camp

Travel is back, but there's a small problem: it isn't always cheap. Over the summer holiday period in particular, going on holiday can be prohibitively expensive, as hotels and resorts enjoy their peak season.

For travellers on a strict budget, however, all is not lost. It's still possible to enjoy a well-earned holiday this summer, without have to part with too much of your well-earned. As long as you don't mind roughing it a little, communing with nature in a tent or caravan, some of Australia's most spectacular locations are open to you.

These are campgrounds with champagne views on a beer budget, sought-after locations that can give you everything you need this holiday season – including affordability.

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, SA

(From $16 a night)

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Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary
South Australia Tourism Commission

Photo: South Australia Tourism Commission

Few locations encapsulate the beauty of Outback Australia like this stunning reserve in the Flinders Ranges, about 600 kilometres north of Adelaide. This is ancient landscape, which began forming almost 2 billion years ago, and has been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years. There are native rock wallabies here, wedge-tailed eagles, red-barred dragons, and a host of rare plants such as the spidery wattle.

Best of all: you can pitch a tent right in the middle of all this splendour. Arkaroola has 50 powered campsites ($25 a night) and 300 hectares of land on which to bush camp ($16), to take yourself as far away from civilisation as you please and bang in a few tent pegs. Surrounded by the rocky cliffs of the Flinders Ranges – though still within cooee of the reserve's swimming pool and village facilities – watch as the cares of the world recede. The site is currently closed but reopens on January 3. See arkaroola.com.au for more.

North West Island, QLD

(From $6.85 a night)

North West Island, about 50 nautical miles north-east of Gladstone on the central Queensland coast.

Tropical island paradise doesn't come cheap. Anyone familiar with the unique delights of the coral cays at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef – spectacular resort islands such as Heron and Lady Elliot, known for their attractions both underwater and over – will also know those experiences come at a cost. So, it will be welcome news to discover there's another island just like those where facilities are basic and prices are appropriately low (we're talking $27.40 per family per night, or just $6.85 per person).

Welcome to North West Island, a coral cay with bush-camping sites right by the beach, where your only companions are the island's resident terns and shearwaters. Snorkel or scuba-dive straight off the beach. Rest and relax with no one else around. There are no facilities here other than drop toilets – everything else has to be carried in (by private or charter boat from Gladstone or Yeppoon) and carried out.See parks.des.qld.gov.au for permits and information. And for those a little less intrepid, there's also camping available on Lizard Island – just near the luxury resort – in Queensland's far north, with access by plane from Cairns.

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Cockatoo Island, NSW

(From $50 a night)

COCKATOO ISLAND, NSW:
In Sydney's early European history, prison wardens thought that waking up to harbour views was a punishment. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Cockatoo Island has done time as a convict prison, dockyard and a reformatory school for naughty girls. Now, the largest island in Sydney Harbour has cafes, picnic spots, a thumping art scene and runs convict escape tours and a haunted history tour.

Photo: Destination NSW

Admittedly, this isn't quite as cheap as your standard camping experience: we're talking $50 a night if you bring your own tent, and $99 a night if you need to hire one. Still, where else can you spend a night right on Sydney Harbour, with views of the Harbour Bridge and all the drool-worthy waterfront real estate you could possibly imagine, for 50 bucks a night?

That's what's on offer on Cockatoo Island, a truly unique place to pitch a tent. Unzip your door in the morning and peer out at flawless Sydney Harbour, one of the world's most sought-after locations. Spend evenings on supplied camp chairs watching the city lights sparkle. This is camping, but not as you know it. See cockatooisland.gov.au for bookings.

Freycinet National Park, TAS

(From $0 a night)

The Friendly Beaches form part of Freycinet National Park. Fishing, walking and surfing are popular in this area.
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Tourism Tasmania

The Friendly Beaches. Photo: Tourism Tasmania

It's worth pausing to wonder as you sit there on a folding chair in your campsite at Tasmania's Freycinet National Park: how much do people normally pay for views like this? The answer, of course, is a lot. Thousands. Millions. And yet for campers in Freycinet, perched under canvas by the white-sand shores of Richardsons Beach, Honeymoon Bay or Friendly Beaches, this experience costs but a few dollars (and sometimes not even that): $13 a night for a non-powered site, $16 with power (camping at Friendly Beaches is free). That's the glory of camping in one of Tasmania's – and indeed one of Australia's – most famous national parks. The sites here are a mixture of those suitable for caravans and campers, some among trees, some on sand, some close to others, some remote. All are in high demand, so get in quick. See parks.tas.gov.au for permits and access.

Alpine National Park, Vic

(From $17 a night)

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Hiking, Mount Nelse, Falls Creek, Alpine National Park
Parks Victoria image

Photo: Parks Victoria

Unzip your tent and peer out – what do you see? Mountains stretching to the horizon, the peaks of Victoria's Alpine National Park piercing the horizon above and even below you. Summer is the perfect time to tackle the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing, a 37-kilometre, three-day hike across high mountain ridges, through snow gum woodland, surrounded by some of the finest scenery Victoria has to offer. And at night: you camp. You camp by two huts, Cope and Dibbins, where you will be able to enjoy more views of that gorgeous alpine countryside. You will need to carry all of your gear and food of course, so this isn't for the faint-hearted, but the rewards for those who make the effort are incredible. Camping costs $17 per night. See parks.vic.gov.au for permits and more.

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