Staying at a free camp in sand dunes, swimming through chilly water on a canyoning adventure, and snorkelling with playful seals are among the best experiences you can have in Australia’s southern states.
BAY OF FIRES – TASMANIA
Australia’s island state of Tasmania is renowned for its free camps and some of the best can be found in Bay of Fires Conservation Area. On the East Coast, the Bay of Fires contains plenty of beachside camping areas that are free to use (as long as you leave after four weeks). Among the most popular is Swimcart Beach, where you can camp right behind the dunes of a white-sand strip regularly hammered by wild turquoise waves. It’s magical on both sunny and stormy days, and is a great spot for beach fishermen and anyone who loves strolling the high-tide mark in search of ocean treasures.
SNORKELLING WITH SEALS – TASMANIA
With soaring dolerite cliffs pounded by a typically rough sea, the Tasman Peninsula is an ocean-lover’s playground. Home to endangered albatross, common dolphins, leafy sea dragons and Australian fur seals, this is the place to immerse yourself in nature. Spend half a day with Wild Ocean Tasmania, exploring impressive sea caves, spotting white-bellied sea eagles and sooty oystercatchers and – the best bit – snorkelling with long-nosed fur seals. It’s worth pulling a dry suit on over winter clothes and slipping into the cool sea to watch the playful seals underwater. They zip past snorkellers, leaving streams of bubbles, while crayfish chatter below dancing bull kelp and pretty ctenophores float past masks. For salts, young and old, this is an experience that can’t be missed.
CRADLE MOUNTAIN CANYONING – TASMANIA
If hiking isn’t your thing but you don’t want to miss out on Cradle Mountain-Lake St Claire National Park, sign up for a canyoning adventure. The water will be icy – it’s Tassie, after all – but we highly recommend sliding down rocky chutes, jumping off ledges, abseiling over walls and swimming in hidden pools dressed in layers of neoprene as you make your way through Dove Canyon. This is a 50-metre-deep quartzite canyon and is physically and mentally challenging. Cradle Mountain Canyons is the company to go with and is based at Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre. If you’re camping, head 20 minutes away from the park to Lake Gairdner camping area (off the Cradle Mountain Road). It’s a private property down a long dirt road but is free, and perfect for self-contained travellers. If you reach Moina, you’ve gone too far.
PADDLEBOARDING POINT DANGER – VICTORIA
If you’re passing through Melbourne, make a beeline for Torquay, one of Australia’s favourite surf towns. Whether you’re there during the peak of summer or arrive on a fresh day, unstrap your stand-up paddleboard and hit the water. If the surf at Cosy Corner is non-existent, enjoy a flat-water SUP. If the swell calls, however, paddle out to Point Danger. While you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out the Australian National Surfing Museum, and, if you’re a beginner surfer, join a group lesson at Torquay Surf Beach, around the headland.
JOHANNA BEACH – VICTORIA
Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road has plenty of beautiful towns and campgrounds to call into but a favourite – and little-known place – is Johanna Beach, in Great Otway National Park. You’ll veer away from the cliff edge for a while, following narrow country roads, past paddocks of dairy cows, before turning onto a dirt road that leads back to the coastline and windswept Johanna. It’s a Melbourne locals’ secret and, apparently, when the swell isn’t working at famous Bells Beach for the Rip Curl Pro, the surfers relocate to Johanna. It’s easy to see why, as the waves here can be large, messy and threatening as the Southern Ocean pounds the shore. This beach is also halfway along the Great Ocean Walk, a 100-km trail that starts in Apollo Bay and ends at the Twelve Apostles. If this sounds like your kind of place, keep in mind that the campsite is basic, with drop toilets and nothing else. Take drinking water and don’t leave any rubbish behind.