Essential NSW North Coast 4WD Camping Guide
The North Coast of NSW has some of the best beaches and campsites in Australia, many accessible by 4WD. With a slide on camper such as the Trayon you are well set to explore the best locations of this region. For this trip we’ll head to one of Australia’s best coastal campsites then explore several other fantastic beaches and locations in this area. Here’s a map of our journey.
Pebbly Beach – NSW north coast
We’ll start this trip by heading to one of the best coastal campsites in Australia – Pebbly Beach.
Pebbly Beach campground is located in a small bay within the Yuraygir National Park which is about 50km north from Coffs Harbour and 58km south of Grafton. To get to Pebbly Beach from the north follow the Pacific Highway for 35km south of Grafton and take the signposted road on the left to Station Creek (Yuraygir NP). The gravel road winds its way through to the Newfoundland and Barcoongere State Forests, with signposts directing you towards the Yuraygir National Park.
There are opportunities to explore the many forest tracks if you are looking for some extra adventure on the way, or on the way back out.
It’s not long until you arrive at the park entrance and after another 4km will arrive at a main intersection where there are information boards, rubbish skips, and a firewood pile. Have a read of the information boards, drop off any rubbish, collect some firewood and head down the track towards Pebbly Beach.
From the intersection it’s only a couple of kms to the warning sign advising only high clearance 4WD’s past this point. This is a good place to lower your tyre pressures and engage 4WD prior to heading through the dunes via the tight and bumpy sand track that leads down onto the beach.
The wide beach is spectacular with waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean. Unlike many other areas no beach permit is required, so just jump onto the beach and head the 2.5km up to the exit and the Station Creek crossing. The beach exit can be soft so take care and ensure there are no oncoming vehicles, and use a little momentum to get up off the beach.
The biggest challenge is the Station Creek crossing. At high tide this crossing is virtually impassable but at low tide is generally easy. Make sure you do your research on tides before coming to Pebbly Beach! There are star picket markers indicating the crossing point, but make sure you walk the creek first and choose the shallowest route as the crossing can change regularly. On our visit the best route was to initially follow the markers then divert upstream before circling back to the exit.
Once across the creek and up the exit a sign welcomes you to the Pebbly Beach Campground. There are around 60 large campsites, many bordering the beach with green grass and shady trees. The place is just like a picture postcard with the deep blue ocean right out front, waves crashing onto a sandy beach, beautiful casuarinas and banksia trees, large grassy campsites, and spectacular headlands to the left and right framing this picturesque cove that is Pebbly Beach. Time to pick your own piece of paradise, set up your campsite, and relax in this beautiful place.
The Trayon is just perfect for a location like Pebbly Beach. With the onboard hot and cold water, 90 litre fridge, shower enclosure, and solar panels to keep the batteries charged you can remain in this magnificent location for as long as you like in absolute luxury!
After a few fabulous days at Pebbly Beach fishing, walking, swimming, or just relaxing it’s time to leave. At low tide cross Station Creek and head back down the beach, through the dunes, and out of the national park. Eventually you will come out onto the Pacific Highway and head south to our next destination – Hat Head National Park.
Hat Head National Park Campground – NSW north coast
Hat Head National Park stretches from South West Rocks down to Crescent Head. The northern point (South West Rocks) is 32 km north from Kempsey and 105 km south from Coffs Harbour. The park covers an area of 7220 hectares and hosts a variety of landscapes, wildlife and birdlife. There are a number of campgrounds, walking tracks and fabulous coastal scenery. If you are up for a challenge grab a beach permit and head for a drive along magnificent beaches which is one of the highlights of the area.
South West Rocks & Trial Bay Campground
South West Rocks is about 14km from the Pacific Highway and is a great place to stock up with supplies from the township. Here you can grab a beach permit for access to the fabulous beaches. There are a couple of caravan parks but there are some great national park campgrounds just out of town including the Trial Bay and Smokey Cape campgrounds.
Trial Bay Gaol is on the outskirts of South West Rocks and the campground is at the base of the ruins. The Gaol was first opened in 1886 and was built to house prison labourers who were there to construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbor for boats travelling between Sydney and Brisbane. However the scheme failed, but you can see some remains of the breakwater from the guard tower lookout. The facility was last used during World War I as an internment camp for people of German descent. The Gaol is open daily for self-guided tours – allow about 1hr to explore the ruins and museum, and make sure you check out the fantastic view from the sentry’s lookout.
The campgrounds at Trial Bay are fantastic with a range of sites including ones right on the water’s edge.
Smokey Cape Campground – NSW North Coast
Smokey Cape camping area is around 7km from South West Rocks. The campground has shady sites with toilets and picnic tables, and fires are allowed. The resident kangaroos and kookaburras will most probably pay you a visit if staying here. The beach at the base of Smokey Cape lighthouse is only a short walk away.
Smokey Cape was named by Captain Cook on 13th May 1770 as he sailed north on the Endeavor. The smoke rising from above the headland was from the fires of the Dunghutti aboriginal people who have been living in this coastal area for thousands of years.
Smokey Cape Lighthouse and Captain Cooks lookout is just a few kilometers from the campground and offers spectacular coastal views towards Hat Head and South West Rocks. The white-washed lighthouse and buildings make a fantastic backdrop to this incredible view. The lighthouse was constructed in 1891 and is the highest above sea level in NSW – you can find out more on one of the tours held regularly (check website for times and details).It is just a short walk from the carpark up to the lighthouse, with this area a popular viewing spot for whales in the winter months.
From the lighthouse backtrack down to the campground and onto the beach for our first beach run between South West Rocks and Hat Head. Drop some pressure out of your tyres and head down onto the beach.
The beach exit is relatively easy and then you pop done onto the beach with the Smokey Cape Lighthouse on your left and the Hat Head headland off in the distance. It is a spectacular sight with the waves crashing in to the wide firm beach. The 14km run down the South Smokey Beach is great fun, with plenty of fishing opportunities in the numerous gutters along the beach. The beach exit at Hat Head is straightforward with wooden planks re-enforcing the track off the beach.
Hat Head Campground – NSW North Coast
Hat Head has a general store, bowling and surf lifesaving clubs, and a huge caravan park. The park is a great option if looking for some facilities and there is plenty to do in the area with walking tracks, swimming or paddling a canoe in the creek or ocean, or just relaxing under the shade.
From the Hat Head township head back to the main road and across the creek, take Gap Road that follows Korogoro Creek then turn right into Hungry Road. The road continues past the Hungry gate camping area at Kemps Corner and down to the beach.
This next beach run is 11km down Killick Beach from Hat Head to Crescent Head. This beach run is a little trickier that the previous one with patches of soft sand to negotiate, but shouldn’t pose too many issues. If you have a camper trailer it may be better to leave it at one of the campgrounds – no such problem with a lightweight slideon like the Trayon. The scenery is again spectacular with Crescent Head headland is the distance, waves pounding in, and large sand dunes on the left. Plenty of fishing opportunities again – just a fabulous place and great fun. The exit can be hard to spot – we went past it and had to backtrack when we hit the river. The sand at the exit is soft and may require a bit of momentum to get through. Once off the beach you will be at Richardson’s Crossing Picnic area and then it’s only a few km’s to Crescent Head Township.
Crescent Head Camp Sites – NSW North Coast
Crescent Head is a larger town and has a large caravan park right on the coast and alongside the river. From here you can continue down south via the Point Plomer track which passes plenty of camping areas including a great campground at Point Plomer located right on the beach. From Crescent head it’s only 20km back to Kempsey and onto the Pacific Highway.
What to Take – NSW North Coast
As this trip travels through several coastal towns, there is ample opportunity to pick up supplies so you should only need to be self-sufficient for a few days at a time. There is reasonable phone coverage at all the locations so a satellite phone is not necessary. The NSW North coast is a popular fishing destination so bring some fishing gear if you would like to try your luck at catching a meal or two. Carry some recovery equipment such as Maxtrax’s (or equivalent) as there are some areas of soft sand that you could be caught up in. Definitely bring your camera as the scenery is spectacular!
Best Time to Visit – NSW North Coast
The NSW North coast is a year round destination but is more pleasant in the warmer months such as summer and spring/autumn. Perhaps avoid the summer holidays as the area can get very busy at this time.
The NSW North Coast has some of the best coastal camping in Australia and with a Trayon you can take advantage of these places. Pebbly Beach is one of the premier camping areas in Australia which should definitely be on all 4WDrivers bucket list. It is a great place to base yourself while tackling some of the infamous 4WD tracks in the Coffs Harbour region, or you can just relax in the surrounds for a few days. The Hat Head National Park is also a great place to spend a few days with some fantastic camping areas, 4WDriving and fishing down the beach, and experiencing the spectacular coastal scenery. Load up your Trayon and pencil in a few days or more for the North Coast of NSW – you will not be disappointed.
Written by Geoff Martin