6 secret camping spots near Brisbane
For an activity that can be so liberating, camping sure has rules. At least it does in our group.
Even before we pack the tent, there’s a mandatory four-point checklist to meet:
- The camping ground must be within two hours’ drive of Brisbane.
- It must have an open fire pit (“you’re not a camper if there’s no damper”).
- There has to be at least one hiking trail.
- For one of our group at least, we need a flush loo.
With all that in mind, here’s a wrap-up of my all-time favourite camping spots within a two-hour drive from Brisbane.
1. Bigriggen Park, Scenic Rim: 10/10
This place is so pleasing on the eye that we give it the sash, the crown, and the Miss Universe award for camping.
Bigriggen lives up to its name. It’s big. I’m talking 100 acres of hilltop and gentle river flats, towering gums and lovely grassy sites in the midst of one big Aussie bush in the Scenic Rim. There’s a sweaty hour-long hike up to a stunning swimming hole (note: you have to negotiate a squishy crack in the rock to get there), plenty of birdlife, and over school holidays the dirt roads easily turn into a bush velodrome for kids on bikes.
I always like to judge a place by its amenities and Bigriggen’s toilet block sparkles brighter than Miss Congeniality’s smile. The facilities are impeccable and there are pay-by-the-minute hot showers, a bonus in winter!
What pushes this place into camping Nirvana is the cap on campers. The limit of just 700 campers – even on popular long weekends – roughly equates to seven folks for every acre giving Bigriggen a still-in-the-bush feel. Oh, and the good folks here also run a little store stocking basic groceries, firewood and that all-important ice-cream for a post-hike sugar hit.
So what’s the downside? The possums! Cute to look at, these food bandits will make off with anything remotely edible.
2. Cedar Creek Camping at Amamoor Creek, Sunshine Coast: 9/10
I thought my camping buddies were bonkers when they suggested we go to Gympie. What? Apart from the billboard claiming this to be “the town that saved Queensland”, there didn’t seem to be much to differentiate Gympie from any other rural Queensland town. Wrong! A couple of kilometres inland from the highway is camping gold (hint!).
Cedar Creek Camping at Amamoor Creek comes a close second on my list. It has massive hoop pines, lovely grassy patches to stake your tent, a small creek that’s good for a summer dip and miles of hiking through a bird-filled forest. Best yet, it costs just $7 a person a night. My bet is you’ll spend more on the espressos on the drive up than you’ll spend staying the night.
The downside – it gets super busy over school holidays and I ended up sleeping closer to my neighbour than my partner. Also, it only takes a few snorers to sound like the local Mary Valley Rattler is steaming through the grounds. Beware also of the rustic outdoor shower which comes with one temperature: cold. The monitor lizards love squatting at the doorway to peer in.
P.S. Gympie “saved Queensland” in 1867 when James Nash discovered gold in the bankrupt state and attracted some 25,000 folks to the region. There’s a neat little Gold Mining Museum on the edge of the town to celebrate the fact.
4. Cylinder Beach, Stradbroke Island: 9/10 (most times)
When we jumped on the 7am car ferry to North Stradbroke Island there was a hint of summer in the air and the skies were October blue. By 9am our tents were pitched and we were sitting beachside with a skinny latte in hand watching the perfect surf waves lap onto arcs of fine white sand.
Perfect. But only for a few hours. By midday, my smartphone was beeping like an electrocardiograph machine warning us that the mother of all storms was about to unleash 27,000 bolts of lightning on Brisbane. Yikes. All we had were a few steel poles and a thin nylon tent cover.
How did we get through it? With an even mix of valour and red wine and a quick decamp to the neighbouring Straddie Pub to watch nature’s most fearsome light show from the protection of its wide verandah.
On any given weekend, Cylinder Beach would score a ten for camping. The facilities are great, boasting flush toilets and hot showers (you pay for them) and there are heaps of activities on the island, from a super cool headland boardwalk to great beach fishing. On the downside, the car ferry to the island, at $145, is a bit expensive. So best to stay a few days to get a return on your camping investment.
3. Charlie Moreland, Sunshine Coast hinterland: 7.5/10
It’s worth coming here for two reasons: the beautiful uphill hike to Mt Allan fire tower for 360-degree views out over the Conondale ranges and the charming town of Kenilworth which sports a vibrant Grass Roots Market every third Saturday of the month. The cheese factory is also awesome with award-winning creamy stuff made from the local dairy herd.
By other camping standards, Charlie Moreland is a little rustic. There are no showers (the creek is a popular bathing spot at dusk) and the toilets are your basic drop dunnies with no flush system. Perhaps because of this, the grounds are always spacious – even over long weekends.
Being on the edge of the Conondale National Park, this spot teems with birdlife. The climb to Mt Allan is a rewarding 8.8 km round trip and there are a couple of other mid-range walks to Booloumba Falls and an old gold mine.
5. Peach Trees Camping, Jimna State Forest: 7/10
What would Richard do? That was our mantra when the heavens opened and camping plans were kyboshed in favour of a BBQ on the back deck. Under the safety of a solid iron roof, our admiration for Richard Branson, the ultimate adventurer and a man who lives life to the max, grew. The more burgers we ate, the more we knew that if Richard was one of our gang, we would be out there facing the elements.
So the next day, we repacked the car and headed two hours north-west to Jimna State Forest to resurrect our Easter long weekend.
Peach Trees Camping is lovely. It’s got the requisite mob of kangaroos at dusk, open fireplaces and some super pleasant short hikes, including one that has a neat little suspension bridge over the creek, but as at April 2015, there were no shower facilities and the water at Yabba Creek was a bit stagnant for a swim. (We stank: Richard would have been proud).
Beware also the brand new toilets. While pristine, they look like they’ve come straight out of Prison Break and the stainless steel seat-less rim makes the job quick and snappy.
Still, being a state forest, it costs next to nothing and the site is very pretty. Just remember to pack a lot of rubbish bags as anything you bring in, you have to take out.
6. Yarramalong Recreation Centre, Scenic Rim: 6.5/10
The entrance to this 160-acre private camping grounds is promising. A cute little heritage building takes pride of place to the left of the driveway and a necklace of mountains fans out behind it. Yarramalong is just minutes to quaint little towns, Lake Moogerah, which is a popular spot for boaters and water ski fiends, and loads of stunning hikes, including Governor’s Chair at Spicers Gap Road where the view is breathtaking.
The campgrounds themselves offer two ungraded and rather patchy sites along a rambling creek: the main camp and the island camp. The latter can be a bit difficult to navigate in a low-lying 2WD car but it’s furthest from the amenities and if your idea is to get away from kids, then it’s worth the bumps.
But that leads to my biggest issue with these grounds: the toilet block needs a good scrub and a lick of paint. Sure it has flush toilets and (hot) showers at no extra charge but the love and promise at the entrance, as well as the higher cost of overnight camping, is not reflected in the amenities. And that, folks, impacts on what is otherwise a nice spot.