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AWD camping adventure on NSW's South Coast

  • By Marcus Craft
  • 28 May 2018
  • 7 min read
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

Camping right on a beach sits atop the wish-list of every weekend adventurer worth his or her salt. Problem is: there are very few places within an hour’s drive of Sydney where you can camp almost smack-bang on the sandy stuff.

There is, however, a campsite less than 70km from Sydney which gives guests the opportunity to get as close to on-beach camping as is legally possible and it's within an easy hour’s drive of NSW’s capital.

Coledale Beach is right there so obviously swimming, body-surfing, surfing, diving or fishing should be high on your agenda. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Coledale Beach is right there so obviously swimming, body-surfing, surfing, diving or fishing should be high on your agenda. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Our transport of choice on this quick break was a Ford Escape Titanium – for the full review, go here. Sure, it’s no hard-core off-roader but we didn’t need a rough-and-tumble go-anywhere tourer on this occasion, just something big enough to cope with a swag, esky, camp chair and a few other bits and pieces required for a beach trip, and something that would also go easy on the fuel consumption.

Our transport of choice on this quick break was a Ford Escape Titanium. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Our transport of choice on this quick break was a Ford Escape Titanium. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Take the Princes Highway/A1/M1 south out of Sydney, take the turn-off on your left to Helensburgh, then follow the signs to Coledale. The twisting coastal road – the Grand Pacific Drive – makes for a special driving experience, taking visitors past the coastal villages of Stanwell Park and Coalcliff, across the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge, past Scarborough and Wombarra villages and into Coledale.

The camping reserve is on the coast, near Coledale SLSC, just before you reach Coledale proper. It’s another left-hand turn, down a steepish hill, then park and go and have a chat with the reserve’s caretakers at their office before you head to your allotted site on the small, grassy camping area.

There are powered and unpowered sites here and visitors with caravans, tents, camper-trailers, and campervans/motorhomes are welcome.

When driving to your spot, go at a snail’s pace as there will invariably be other campers around, including children. If you’re booked in for a spot at the reserve’s northern end there is a little creek crossing, with a steep approach and departure, that you need to drive through at a crawl.

If you’re planning to camp here and forget food and/or supplies, don’t stress out as Coledale’s RSL, shops and takeaway are only a few minute’s walk away. If you can’t find what you need there, you have options north or south that village.

When driving to your spot, go at a snail’s pace as there will invariably be other campers around, including children. (image credit: Dean McCartney) When driving to your spot, go at a snail’s pace as there will invariably be other campers around, including children. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Coledale Beach is right there so obviously swimming, body-surfing, surfing, diving or fishing should be high on your agenda. There are rocky shelves at each end of the beach.

Dolphins can be regularly seen playing in the surf here and, between May and November, migrating humpback and southern right whales can also be spotted just off the coast.

Beyond that the coastline is peppered with rock pools, cafes, art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants and more. Visitors can quite easily range up and down the coast for days – from Bald Hill, just north of Stanwell Park (where adrenalin-junkies can go hang-gliding if they get the sky-high urge), down to Thirroul and Bulli – and they’ll never be bored.

The coastline is peppered with rock pools. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The coastline is peppered with rock pools. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Bush-walks anywhere along the coast and up into the Illawarra escarpment are popular attractions here; Sublime Point walking track – 700 metres one-way and nearly vertical in places – is a big drawcard for locals and tourists who love a challenge and being afforded the awesome views from the top upon arriving there.

There is a boat ramp at Little Austinmer Beach, 1km north of Austinmer Beach, where boaties can put in if they’re keen for a spot of ocean-fishing.

The reserve’s amenities block has hot showers and toilets, a kitchen with power outlets and sinks for washing eating and cooking utensils, and a laundry.

Electric barbecues, free of charge, are on the nearby grass promenade.

Make sure you book well in advance of your planned trip and fees do apply. Minimum stays do apply for different times of the year. Contact the caretaker on 02 4267 4302 or email camping@coledalebeach.com.au for more details or to book a site.

So, there you go; if you want a taste of beach-camping, or as near as you can get to it without breaking the law, then Coledale Camping Reserve offers one of the very few opportunities to do just that. Sure, there’s no off-roading needed to get here – there are a few sneaky tracks here and there in the Royal National Park though if you get that urge – but that’s not the point. A trip to Coledale's beachside campsite is all about using it as the perfect base from which to savour a wide variety of outdoors adventures on offer in the area and simply explore this awesome region.

Where's your favourite beach-camping spot? Tell us in the comments below.

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