Australia is a big and sparsely populated country — just 20 million souls in an area as large as the Mainland USA.

And being an island, it’s got coastline all around it. In fact, it’s a bit like that fantasy surf island we all doodled as kids: warm-water, sand-bottomed righthand points rifling down its most easterly coast; lonely, lefthand, desert reefbreaks thumping down its most westerly coast; and a startling array of beaches, reefs, points, slabs and rivermouths seemingly surrounding the entire 16,000 miles of Australia’s stunningly varied perimeter.

I say this with some authority, having driven the entire length of Australia with my family in 2011 on a year-long surfing/camping road trip. I could have written a book…Hang on a second, I did!

As you’ll appreciate, some sensitivity must be exercised about specific locations. One Internet troll threatened to break my legs after I referred to a semi-secret wave as “somewhere in south-east Australia” in a blog post. These here are fairly well-known locales, though often remote enough to remain reasonably uncrowded, with generally good etiquette present in the water. Localism is still alive and well in some of these places, but if you mind your manners, respect local pecking orders and don’t travel in large groups, you should get a decent reception.

1. North Stradbroke Island, Queensland

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A 45 minute ferry ride and a relatively high probability of seeing a large ocean predator tends to the keep the crowds relatively low. Photo: Andrew Shield | Lead photo:

Jeremiah Klein

This little gem just off the mainland offers quality beachbreaks that are offshore when the dreaded nor’easters cruel most mainland breaks and a long, rifling pointbreak rivaling any of the better-known mainland points. A reputation for sharks and a 45-minute ferry ride keep crowds low. And a brilliantly positioned pub allows you to ride waves then walk back up the beach and call in for a cleansing ale as the sun goes down.

Type: Well-appointed, beachfront, bush campground adjacent to long sandy beach.
Location: North Stradbroke Island, just off southeastern Queensland.
Nearby waves: Cylinders, Deadmans, Main Beach.
Best season: Autumn and Spring.
Who’s there? A hardcore local crew and a handful of mainland visitors, though busy with tourists during holiday season.

2. Broken Head, New South Wales

Byron Bay might be the name everyone knows, but head south out of town and you’ll find sanctuary from the fire twirlers and tourist hordes. Cabins and powered sites are available within walking distance of the righthand point immortalized in the classic ’70s surf flick Morning of the Earth. Don’t expect to have it all to yourself, though. If it’s empty peaks you crave, venture up the beach to the north, or round the corner to some hidden bays in the south, though be aware if you’re with kids: one of them is favored as a nudist beach.

Type: Rainforest headland campground fronting long, sweeping beach.
Location: Northern NSW, just south of Byron Bay.
Nearby waves: Broken Head pointbreak, scattered beachbreaks to the north.
Best season: Autumn.
Who’s there? Multi-national backpackers, holidaying families, tight local pack on the point.

3. Crescent Head, New South Wales

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Located halfway between Sydney and the Gold Coast, Crescent Head is a no brainer for any road trippers heading up (or down) the coast. Photo: Thomas Lodin

A popular halfway point on the road trip between Sydney and the Gold Coast, and favored by longboarding retirees, Crescent’s is a long, user-friendly right point. The campground enjoys prime beachfront position along a cobblestone coastline, with waves out front and shops and cafes an easy walk away. An array of beachbreaks beckon to the north and south, with fewer crowds and some no-frills bush campsites.

Type: Large, well-appointed campground with ocean and creek out front, powered sites or cabins.
Location: NSW mid-north coast, halfway between Sydney and the Gold Coast.
Nearby waves: Crescent Head point, Point Plomer back beach, varied beachbreaks to the north.
Best season: Autumn.
Who’s there? Retired longboarders, local fishermen, road-tripping backpackers.

4. Treachery, New South Wales

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Photo: Andrew Shield

This is a classic Australian coastal bush campground with basic amenities and an amazing location just a short stroll over high sand dunes to a long stretch of beach. Offshore during the spring nor’easters, this is a favorite wave haven for a lot of longtime locals and visitors, with a mellow vibe and few crowds. There are cabins for those who don’t fancy roughing it, but the free-form camping under paper-bark trees is sublime. It’s a rugged drive in over unsealed roads that get muddy in wet weather, so take it easy.

Type: Basic bush camping by the beach.
Location: A three-hour drive north of Sydney.
Nearby waves: Varied beachbreaks.
Best season: Spring and summer.
Who’s There? Not many people — a few old fishermen, a handful of locals and loyal, regular visitors. Busy in holiday season.

5. Budaree National Park, New South Wales

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If you’re driving south from Sydney and want to find out why Budaree is commonly referred to as “Aussie Pipe” then you might want to add this spot to your itinerary. Photo: Andrew Shield

This is a stunning setting, fronting what is allegedly the whitest beach sand in the country. There is a variety of campsites spread throughout the National Park, all striking distance to the famed Aussie Pipe, a hollow left reef that’s a miniature replica of its Hawaiian namesake. It doesn’t pay to leave valuables in the bush car park before the long walk into the break. But the rewards are more than worth it.

Type: Cozy National Park campground nestled in dense bush by the beach.
Location: NSW south coast, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Sydney.
Nearby waves: Aussie Pipe (aka Black Rock).
Best season: Spring.
Who’s There? Local indigenous surfers, devoted goofyfooters who descend whenever there’s waves, keen bodyboarders.

6. Johanna, Victoria

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If Bells isn’t breaking then Johanna might be worth checking. It might not be as well-known as Bells, but on the right day there are plenty of nearby waves to make it worth the drive. Photo: Tim Baker

These booming southern beachbreaks first came to the world’s attention as the site for the 1970 World Titles, and more recently as an alternative site for the Rip Curl Pro when Bells Beach fails to deliver. Blessed with abundant swell, it’s normally a case of waiting for the wild Southern Ocean to calm itself enough for the beachbreak to be manageable, though a slew of local reefbreaks handle larger swells.

Type: Basic beach camping with few amenities.
Location: Victoria West Coast, a two-hour drive west of Torquay.
Nearby waves: Varied beachbreaks, mysto reefs.
Best season: Autumn.
Who’s there? Heavy local crew, farmers, fishermen, a few hardy travelers.

7. Cactus, South Australia

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Don’t expect to find any “glamping” options near Cactus, but if a remote location with serious surf sounds appealing—as shown in this classic photo shot roughly 50 years ago—the place is ideal. Photo: John Witzig

Legendary desert campground at the edge of the Great Australian Bight, renowned for world-class reefbreaks, gnarly locals and plentiful sharks. Not for the faint-hearted, this is no-frills camping with heat, flies, wind, localism and teeming sea life. If you tread softly and mind your manners, the waves make it all worthwhile. Cactus was first showcased in Paul Witzig’s epic late-’60s/early-’70s surf movies as Wayne Lynch fast-tracked modern surfing development. Witzig later purchased the beachfront land and preserved it as a low-impact campground.

Type: Simple campsites with pit toilets and non-potable water. BYO-Everything.
Location: South Australian West Coast.
Nearby waves: Caves, Cactus, Witzig’s, mysto spots.
Best season: Autumn
Who’s There? Heavy longtime locals, fishermen, gritty travelers.

8. Yallingup Beach Holiday Park, Western Australia

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This area is known as much for its wines as its waves. No wonder John John Florence (shown here) likes to drop by every now and then. Photo: Damea Dorsey

Comfortable, well-appointed beach campground with cabins, full amenities, short walks to shops and beaches and sweeping ocean views over Yallingup’s main break. If you don’t mind Taj Burrow looking down on you from his luxurious hillside residence (dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by locals), this is one of the most ideally located campgrounds in WA. Yallingup is not necessarily the pick of the local waves, but it’s more than decent on its day and you’re in easy striking distance of the abundance of the Southwest’s wave riches, not to mention its plentiful wineries.

Type: Family-friendly, comfortable, beachfront campground.
Location: Southwest WA, a three-hour drive south of Perth.
Nearby waves: Yallingup, Smiths, Supertubes.
Best season: Autumn.
Who’s there? Lots of local surfers, half of Perth during holiday season.

9. Red Bluff, Western Australia

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If you’re looking for a remote Australian wilderness experience with a chance of world-class surf then Red Bluff and the surrounding coastline is worth consideration. Photo: Fabian Haegele

Basic desert camping on the coast, with an upmarket “glamping” option for those with the coin and a taste for comforts. The campground is part of a pastoral lease that once ran livestock, but now increasingly relies on tourism. Long revered as one of the great Australian wilderness surf experiences, its long, Indonesian-style left reef has been celebrated in surf films and photos for decades, but its relative remoteness has kept some order, and a generally mellow vibe, despite its fame.

Type: Either basic desert camping or luxury glamping.
Location: WA desert coast, a 12-hour drive north of Perth.
Nearby waves: The Bluff, a few semi-secret reefs for small days.
Best season: Winter.
Who’s there? A couple of local families with a bunch of hot rat kids, gnarled desert locals and travelers.

10. Gnaraloo, Western Australia

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This location has been well-documented for a reason, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Heavy locals and heavier surf. Photo: Ed Sloane

Another basic desert campground just to the north of the Bluff, without the glamping option (though there are comfortable cabins available a short drive further on, at the Homestead). Generally gnarlier crew tackling what is a heavier wave, with few on-land comforts. A wood-fired water heater provides hot showers for those who are quick off the mark when the smoke signals its operation each afternoon. A teeming ocean provides good fishing and a few scares out in the water.

Type: Low-key coastal camping, BYO-Everything.
Location: WA desert coast, a 12-hour drive north of Perth.
Nearby waves: Gnaraloo consists of three main sections, a bit like G-Land: Midgies, Centres and Tombstones. Semi-secret small wave options to the south.
Best season: Winter.
Who’s there? Perth and Kalbarri crew who descend when swell hits, travelers and fishermen, mine workers on their week off.

 

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