Getting into camping and confused by all the different types of camping sites on offer?
In New South Wales (NSW) places to go camping range from free camps to big holiday parks and can vary considerably in price depending on the type and time of year you book.
Location can also be a factor when it comes to availability and the need to book in advance or not.
After more than four years of camping weekend trips from Sydney and sticking to within a 4-5 hour drive of the most populous city in Australia; these are the five types of campsites I’ve come across.
Including where to find them, whether to book in advance or not, and the pros and cons of each type.
New South Wales is the most populated state in Australia meaning there are a lot of great places to camp. And if you’re a coffee fiend like me, many are not too far away from a decent barista-made coffee. However, more people means some places get booked up months in advance.
With all this in mind, being savvy when it comes to planning your camping trip, pays off. Especially when camping close to a tourist hot spot or at a campsite within prime weekend driving time from Sydney.
To help, here are the five types of camping sites I’ve discovered in NSW to help plan your next trip away.
Different camping sites at a glance
- Best for cost: Bendeela Recreation Area in Kangaroo Valley. Not only is it free but there a lots of wombats around at dusk.
- Best for your classic camping experience: Treachery Camp when camping at Seal Rocks. Camp in the bush and walk the five minutes to Treachery Beach over the sand dunes.
- Best for feeling remote: Little Beach in Bouddi National Park on the Central Coast. You have to carry everything (800m from the car park) into camp and book well in advance (6-8+ months) but with only six sites on offer you are rewarded with what is pretty much a beach all to yourself.
- Best for booking last-minute: Holiday Haven Bendalong when camping in Bendalong. With plenty of space on the holiday park and in the unpowered Annex section of the camping site on Bendalong Point (complete with ocean views), it’s my go-to place for a last-minute camping weekend away.
Places to free camp are rare along the East Coast of NSW but they do exist within the state.
I’m yet to free camp by the beach and especially within a a few hours drive of Sydney but if you’re camping inland, well that’s a different story. There are even options in prime tourist spots such as the Blue Mountains and Kangaroo Valley.
For the most basic free camps consider whether you are self-sufficient enough to warrant the $0 cost to camp and how this will impact your stay.
If you are travelling for a long time or even on the road full-time, then they are a great option for keeping costs down. You may even be set up with power, running water and a toilet in which case, they are perfect. But if you are just staying 1-2 nights over a weekend then you may consider paying for a campsite with facilities for both ease and comfort.
Need to know
Is it really free? Yes. Free camps are completely free and even vary in terms of amenities provided from drop toilets to flushing toilets and even showers.
However, there can still be some costs associated with getting to the campsite you should be aware of. For example, parking or park entry fees if the camping site is in a National Park.
Free camps near Sydney
- Bendeela Recreation Area when visiting the Kangaroo Valley
- Cathedral Reserve when camping in the Blue Mountains
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service campgrounds
These are some of the best campgrounds I’ve stayed in. By their very nature they are located in a National Park which makes them in some of the most stunning and unique places to camp.
Facilities tend to be basic, so don’t expect power and you will need to bring your own drinking water (sometimes bore water is on offer but isn’t suitable for drinking).
As a result they are cheaper than other independent campsites and holiday parks, and provide you with that classic camping experience out in the great outdoors. Check the What to bring section for each campground’s web page at nationalparks.nsw.gov.au to know exactly what to expect.
Need to know
Camping fees vary depending on the site size and quality of the facilities at the campground. On average, the cost is around $34/night near Sydney and from $24 per night further out along the NSW coastline.
You can only book these NSW camping sites online so head to nationalparks.nsw.gov.au and check both availability and the cost of your stay.
In my experience, the cost per night covers two adults and goes up from there. For some campgrounds (for example, Little Beach campground on the Central Coast) the maximum number of adults per site is stated so depending on your camp set up there may be room to pitch two tents on one site. Although you will still need to pay for each adult and rangers do come around in the mornings to check you’ve paid the right amount.
National Parks & Wildlife Service campgrounds by the beach
- Little Beach and Putty Beach campgrounds in Bouddi National Park
- Fraser campground in Munmorah State Conservation Area
- Depot Beach campground in Murramarang National Park
- Trial Bay Gaol campground near South West Rocks
- The Ruins campground near Blueys Beach
Other parts of the NSW coast
North of Sydney
South of Sydney
- Aragannu campground in Mimosa Rocks National Park
- Gillards Beach campground in Mimosa Rocks National Park
- Bittangabee campground in Ben Boyd National Park
- Saltwater Creek campground in Ben Boyd National Park
Independent campsites and holiday parks
Beyond the National Park campgrounds, are independent campsites and holiday parks. These are less likely to be on the ‘top beach camping’ site lists but I’ve found they tend to still be in ridiculously good spots along the coast, making them one of NSW’s best kept secrets.
Need to know
The independent camping sites tend to be cheaper than the regional and state chain holiday parks. They have fewer facilities and sometimes don’t offer a powered option but by their very independent nature, they vary a lot.
Sometimes this is a good thing. For example, they’re in the bush, with a great locations and the option to have a campfire. Other times it’s not as good. For example, the quality of amenities can be lower or there can be permanent caravans on site, which can also change the atmosphere on a campsite.
My best advice is to simply read the reviews and pay particular attention to the reasons why people like or don’t like a campsite.
The main things I look out for in the comments are on amenities, park management, the location (for example, proximity to the beach), as well as things to do in the area.
Where to camp by the beach
- Treachery Camp when camping at Seal Rocks
- Beachcomber Holiday Park when camping near Bodalla on the South Coast (one of my absolute favourite places)
- Surf Beach Holiday Park in Narooma
- Corrimal Beach Tourist Park near Wollongong
- Coledale Beach Campsite just outside of Sydney
Small chain holiday parks
Often along a particular stretch of the coast or within the same council area, you get different holiday parks running under one umbrella organisation. For example, around Kiama (South of Sydney) there is a chain of Kiama Coast holiday parks operating across the Shoalhaven region.
These are similar to independent holiday parks but set a standard across their facilities and quality of amenities.
Need to know
I’ve stayed in a lot of these types of holiday parks over the years due to both their location but also due to their availability to book at short notice. So it’s worth keeping these in mind for those last-minute weekend getaways.
In terms of cost they range from $30/night upwards (for unpowered). Around peak holiday periods expect to pay closer to the $50/night mark but check in advance for the actual costs.
I find the best way is to just call them and ask for the price and how booked up they might be.
Where to camp by the beach
- Holiday Haven Bendalong when camping in Bendalong
- Holiday Haven Huskisson Beach when camping in Jervis Bay
- Holiday Haven Culburra Beach just North of Jervis Bay
- Lakesea Park when camping in South Durras
- Crescent Head Holiday Park when camping in Crescent Head
- Calypso Holiday Park Yamba when camping in Yamba
- Werri Beach Holiday Park near Gerringong
- First Sun Holiday Park when camping in Byron Bay
National chain holiday parks
These are the bigger holiday park chains you can find across the country. In my experience, the biggest differences in costs can be seen within this category of camping site.
Although peak times of the year definitely play a role in pushing the prices up (especially during the Dec-Jan school summer holiday period), I believe the chain and state of the holiday park determines the price.
Need to know
In my experience NRMA camping sites are the most expensive ($45+/night), followed by Ingenia Holidays ($30-50/night) and with Reflections Holiday Parks generally being a lot cheaper than the others (around $30-40/night). This is my experience though and watch out for prices especially during the Dec-Jan school summer holiday period as they often can increase to $50+ per night.
Some chains offer membership which can bring the price down per stay. Often you will pay an upfront price for the year and be rewarded with a certain percentage discount on each stay. So if you camp at the same chain a lot this may be worth investigating.
Where to camp by the beach
- Seal Rocks Reflections Holiday Park when camping at Seal Rocks
- Bonny Hills Reflections Holiday Park when camping in Bonny Hills
- Eden Reflections Holiday Park in Eden
- Ingenia Holidays Byron Bay when camping in Byron Bay
- Ingenia Holidays One Mile Beach when camping in Port Stephens
- Ingenia Holidays Broulee just South of Bateman’s Bay
- NRMA Ocean Beach Holiday Resort in Urmina on The Central Coast
- NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Resort on Sydney’s Northern Beaches (Narrabeen Beach)
With so much on offer and so much variety when it comes to camping in NSW, I hope this guide to different types of camping sites helps make where you go camping next a little easier to plan.
My best advice is to mix it up and not be put off by staying at a holiday park – they are in some of the most beautiful locations I’ve stayed in!
Another piece of advice is for those special places marked on your bucket list, make sure you plan ahead. Australians are very organised when it comes to camping and the most popular spots do get booked up, sometimes months in advance.