Off the grid: Epic island camping sites for the win
There’s camping, and then there’s island camping.
It might take a little more hustle to get there, but when you’re rewarded by fringing coral reefs and secluded beaches at the foot your swag, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you put in the effort.
Choose between eight sandy campsites (which allow for a max. of seven people each), and sit back and enjoy a slower pace of life, but don’t get too comfortable.
Covered mostly by national park, there’s definitely some exploring that needs to be checked off: trek to the top of Mount Kootaloo, explore the island’s core on the round-trip circuit track through Palm Valley, and make friends with the fishies snorkelling off Muggy Muggy and Coconut Beach.
But the best part? A Sunset Bar that’s open Friday to Sunday serving fresh seafood (among other tasty treats) and ice-cold beers. #hellyes
How to get there: Catch the Mission Beach Water Taxi from Wongaling Beach or head over with your own boat.
Facilities: Drinking water, flushing toilets, hot showers (hallelujah!), gas barbecues, picnic tables and rubbish bins.
You don’t have to be rollin’ in the dough to rent your own island.
Say g’day to Coombe Island, Dunk Island’s lesser known (and more remote) neighbour in the Family Islands National Park, where you only have to cough up a mere $6.15 per night to call the entire island yours.
With only one group permitted to camp at any one time, the island is basically a Cast Away camping dreamboat. Think long, lazy days frolicking in crystal clear blue waters, fresh oysters plucked straight from the rocks, and sunset hammock hangs from your beachfront camping site.
You’ll need to be completely self-sufficient, bringing everything you need and then some, but oh, it’s abso-freaking-lutely worth it.
How to get there: Access the island via private boat or arrange an island transfer with Mission Beach Water Taxi, who will drop you off and pick you up.
Facilities: Picnic table.
Never heard of Pelorus Island? You’re not the only one.
One of the Great Barrier Reef’s best-kept secrets, Pelorus hits the sweet spot for anyone eager to spend as much time in the water as possible, because lying just off the shore is a breath-taking underwater metropolis (literally, you know, because you can’t breathe underwater) that would make even Ariel content with an entire life under the sea.
Spend your days snorkelling and diving the fringing coral reefs accessible straight from the beach, then when your hands have reached next-level pruney, dry off and explore the island’s untamed forest.
No permit is required to camp on Pelorus, but you must be entirely self-sufficient.
How to get there: Via private boat or if you’d prefer someone to take care of all the hard work for you (journey AND supplies), book into this camp and dive safari.
Curtis Island (Southend)
Four-wheel driving buffs should get acquainted with Curtis Island stat, because aside from the epic national park camping spots (both a stone’s throw from the beach might I add), the off-road tracks to get there are a dang treat in themselves.
Winding your way through red dirt and sand, you’ll stalk the rugged coastline and inland tracks of this relatively unknown island off the coast of Gladstone, before reaching the entrance to the national park.
As well as bringing all your supplies, trust me when I say you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed the rods and reels, and even some snorkelling gear (you can float over colourful fish and coral from Connors Bluff).
How to get there: Take the Curtis Ferry over from Gladstone Harbour. Access to campsites is by 4WD only and can be reached via the track off Refuse Tip.
For a Whitsundays holiday without the resort price tag, try Keswick Island, and experience the joys of camping with the luxuries of home.
The boutique campground on this Coral Sea knockout is nestled in a leafy hillside just a hop, skip, and omg-get-me-in-that-water jump from Basil Bay, aka one of the most beautiful beaches in Queensland.
Setting up camp here is getting back to nature without the hassle – you can choose to either bring your own gear or hire from the island, and you’ve got access to a heap of facilities (see what I mean below). Heck, you can even hire golf buggies!
Want to take it up a notch? Opt for one of their glamping suites, so the minute you arrive you can slip straight into holiday mode.
How to get there: By charter or private boat from the Mackay coast, or fly over with Island Air.
Facilities: Toilets, change rooms, showers (hot water shower bags available), fire ring with cooking plate, recycling and waste facilities, camp sink with fresh water, access to nearby Basil Bay Hut (a powered facility with kitchenette, microwave, fridges, BBQ and picnic tables, plus change room, toilet and beach shower), and eco-friendly soap and detergent.
South Molle Island
Another Whitsundays charmer, you’ll find South Molle Island on the opposite side of the camping spectrum – raw and back-to-basics.
Even though it’s located just 12km from Airlie Beach, you’ll feel like you’ve crossed into another world; the stark contrast between the bustling tourist strip and, well, pure nature, is a breath of fresh air to lone wolves and adventurers.
Avid bushwalkers will be in their own little heaven over here, with both national park campgrounds connecting to the island’s walking tracks, traversing through sheltered rainforest gullies, open eucalypt forest, and past ancient remnants of the local indigenous Ngaro stone quarry.
Sandy Bay on the island’s south side features an open camp setting behind casuarina trees on the foreshore of a seemingly endless stretch of sand, while the smaller, sandy site of Paddle Bay located on the northern tip backs onto shaded rainforest, with a fringing reef located directly off the beach (don’t forget your snorkel!).
How to get there: By private boat or island transfer with Scamper or Island Transfers in Airlie Beach.
Facilities: Toilets and picnic tables.
Okay, okay. I know I’m harping on a lot about the Whitsundays here, but c’mon, with a total of 74 islands, it was bound to happen, right?
Hook Island is the ying to South Molle’s yang – while the latter holds strong appeal to landlubbers, Hook Island is a sea-loving paradise, surrounded by fringing coral reefs and plenty of diving and snorkelling opportunities from the national park campgrounds.
Good luck choosing where to set up camp though, because all four are top-notch contenders, from the pandanus-sheltered Maureens Cove (right near the pristine Manta Ray Bay) to the Steens Beach rainforest site with views overlooking Hayman Island.
How to get there: By private boat or an island transfer with Scamper in Airlie Beach.
Facilities: Composting toilet and picnic tables.
Double Island Point
So, technically not an island per se, but hey, it’s got the word ‘island’ in it, so we’re calling it.
If you live on the Sunshine Coast and haven’t been camping at Double Island Point, then you’re doing life wrong.
Located just south of Rainbow Beach in the Great Sandy National Park, the coastal and inland campsites are regularly frequented by locals keen for long weekends of surfing, fishing and beach 4WDing.
Even though you’re not really leaving the mainland to get here, it still kind of feels like it if you’re driving up from Noosa-way, because you’ll need to hop on the barge to cross the river.
How to get there: Access by 4WD only from Rainbow Beach or Noosa (crossing the Noosa river with Noosa North Shore Ferries).
Facilities: Composting toilet and picnic tables.