Let’s face it – there aren’t to many people that don’t enjoy camping on the beach. Especially when you have young kids. But if you’re like us, the constant fear of traffic roaring past is a constant threat to an enjoyable get away at places like Double Island Pt, Fraser Island and Bribie Island (to name a few).
While attending Steam Fest in Maitland one year, we searched for a camping location in between Brisbane and Maitland, but still on the beach. We found Illaroo in the Yuraygir National Park. 332Km’s from Brisbane or 635Km’s from Sydney, Illaroo is almost directly East of Grafton in New South Wales. When you hit the coast, it’s just a couple of kilometres north of the coastal town of Minnie Water.
When you arrive at Illaroo, you have two camping areas to choose from (North and South). It is not possible to book sites here so it’s first come, first served. Both areas are large, with open grassy areas that have varying degrees of shade from trees. Beach side campsites are usually elevated 4-5 metres above the beach which provides a great outlook to take in the view during the day or enjoy a campfire at the end of the day and during the evening.
For the family, Illaroo has well maintained toilets facilities. They are pit toilets but clean and tidy. If they smell, it is only slight and occasional. I can only sum them up as wife approved! Showers are not available at Illaroo but at the entrance of the camping area (just off the main road), water is freely available and is only about 2km’s from the campsite. If you leave a Jerry can in the sun for the day, we’ve found the water temperature just perfect for a shower behind a screen or behind the car on the beach with a 12 volt shower and small bucket.
Access to the beach is via we’ll built stair cases / steps that lead to large open beaches with crystal clear water. This spot is a favourite for our kids as the shape of the beach is ideal for catching waves that can be ridden for a good 60 – 70 metres.
It’s also ideal for playing a game of soccer, beach cricket or flying a kite at low tide.
A family favourite is to walk south onto the exposed rocks. The rocks, flooded at high tide, have tidal pools filled with marine life. And the kids love jumping around to find everything from reef fish, hermit crabs, crabs, octopus, sea slugs and more. Good footwear is recommended for the rocks and stepping in the water should be kept to a minimum due to the possibility of blue ring octopus being present We’ve never seen them but better to be safe than sorry.
These rocks are also a great launch pad to flick lures if you’re into fishing. Either back towards the campsite or out into the open water for Tailor. I haven’t had much luck catching fish from the beach here (except for small dart – good gor kids) although time has been limited due to attending to kids. Pippies are available here and found easily by doing the pippie dance in the wash around high tide. Beach worms can also be pulled here at low tide with use of a stinker. Best time is 1 hour before and during low tide. I’ve found them few and far between near the camping area, but they are much easier to find in numbers a kilometre or two up the beach and even easier near the headland towards Sandon.
If you like to get out and about from camp, then Illaroo also has plenty to offer. Drive behind the camping area and onto the surf beach and then drive 12 Km’s north to Sandon. On high tide, the sand here can be soft. Especially near the Sandon head land, you are best to drop tyre pressures early to avoid getting stuck particularly if you have a low clearance 4WD like a Prado.
Along the way, you’ll likely pass many a well formed gutter, both high and low tide types to fish for Whiting, Bream, Flathead or Tailor and Jew. Once you arrive in the small village of Sandon, you can turn left to access the River or turn right to head to Pebble Beach.
From the River you can launch a boat from the boat ramp with good access out to open water. Fishing from the rocks at Sandon River, just behind the mouth has also delivered many a Tailor, Trevally and Mackerel depending on the time of year. From here you’ll be looking across to the Sandon River camping area which is another popular spot.
A favourite spot for our family is Pebble Beach. Found at the other end of Sandon and missed by most people that visit, it’s a hidden gem. A short walk down the headland cliffs, well established steps lead down to a sheltered reef where kids can snorkel amongst a combination of reef fish and schools of bream and whiting that swim in and out of sea grasses and sea weed. Every time I’ve been here the water has been crystal clear with visibility between 4-7 metres. It usually lessens as the kids stomp on the bottom and stir it up slightly with fine sand. It’s also a magic spot for photos with strong rocky head lands, and a beach made up of fine pebbles and coral.
Minnie Water and Wooli
Heading south from Illaroo is the town of Minnie Water. Minnie has a good convenience store. It’s a must visit as they sell fire wood for your camp site – collecting wood in NSW NP’s is not allowed. They also do great fish and chips or grab an ice cream and enjoy the view over Minnie Water beach. Fuel is also available along with air to reinflate tyres. The caravan park in town is not friendly to national park campers so don’t waste your time supporting them.
Further south, approximately 20km’s is the coastal town of Wooli. It has a magic tidal river that is fantastic if you have a boat. While we have a tinny, we’ve not taken it down on one of our trips yet. But often you see young families cruising up and down with their kids out the back on ski tubes having a great time. Yabbies are available in the creek with a yabbie pump and sea weed beds are clearly visible to target for whiting and bream darting out for a fresh, well presented yabbie.
From here you also have great access to open water via an artificial rock wall. The water in the river is also beautiful and crystal clear. A great place to spend a few hours having a swim especially with young ones. The tidal current makes a real treat to walk up a few hundred metres and drift down stream only to repeat again and again. If you think ahead, you could get dropped off and drift down to meet the driver at your day spot. A Kayak also wouldn’t go astray here if you have one. The river would be a good way to get out of a strong breeze if you had a day of bad weather.
In the Air Sea Rescue there are also free, cold public showers. They are good facilities but are not private if that concerns you.
Food wise Wooli provides a few options. The fish and chip shop has really nice food but isn’t always open. The pub is also nice if you’re looking for a break from a camping meal. Right beside the pub there is also a convenience store and service station.
On the way to and from Wooli, you’ll pass access tracks to other camping areas. These are worth a look but only to confirm you’ve picked the best one already. They can be useful in peak times if you like to have your own space.
There is a side track of the Boorkoom camping area access track. This track leads down to a secluded beach that you’ll most likely have all to yourself. Note that the climb onto the beach at the end is soft sand and the beach itself is also quite soft. Dropping the Troopy tyre pressures from 40psi (Road pressure) to 26psi was enough for me to drive forward without any digging when I got stuck. After dropping pressures getting around was easy and not stressful.
Permits and Fees
There are fees for camping in the Yuraygir NP. For vehicles you’ll need a vehicle permit and overnight fees apply. You don’t have to do any booking before arriving because you can buy the permits from the camp ground manager. They usually visit daily. As far as I’m aware they don’t have credit card facilities so make sure you bring cash to buy your permits. For details on costs follow this link.
Overall, Illaroo and the surrounding area is a great area to camp and you can easily spend 5-7 days here without having to repeat the same activities and get bored. Or, if you enjoy spending time in one spot then this is a magic spot to do it. Out of all the spots we’ve camped this would be in the top 5 and we visit it often.