BLACK velvet skies splattered with stars; wide-open spaces where the only sounds are the crackle of a campfire and the lapping of waves.Add the sweet aroma of a freshly cooked whiting and the scent of sea salt on the breeze and you may just have the perfect coastal camping scene.
Across Australia we have some of the world's best coastal camping sites. Here are a few to entice you to roll out that swag for a night or two of bliss in a million-star hotel by the sea.
Nine Mile Beach, Byfield National Park
Imagine a long sandy beach and not another camper in sight. Don't forget fishing gear, as dinner is taken care of when the whiting are running. But there's more here than good fishing.
At the southern end of the beach is Queen Mary sand blow, an enormous parabolic sand dune reaching 5km inland. At low tide, you can walk from pretty Corio Bay to Waterpark headlands. Bird lovers will enjoy Sandy Point - part of an internationally recognised wetland - where endangered terns roost on the coastal sands. The park is the only place on Earth you will find the Byfield fern and Byfield grevillea.
Byfield National Park is north of Rockhampton and accessed via Yeppoon.
From Yeppoon, take the fully-sealed Yeppoon-Byfield road 34km to the Byfield State Forest.The 15,000ha park is remote.
The track to Nine Mile Beach is soft sand and suitable for 4WD vehicles only, with experienced drivers on sand behind the wheel. Allow up to an hour for 15km, depending on conditions.
Remember, the tide comes in quickly here, so time your drive to the falling tide.
The Byfield National Park, State and Conservation Park map produced by the Queensland Environmental
Protection Agency is enormously handy, with intersections and their numbered markers displayed.
A beach driving permit is necessary if you wish to drive on the beach.
Camping: Camping is permitted behind the fore dunes as indicated by blue markers. Camping permits are required.
All sites are unpowered. Fees are $4.50 an adult a night or $18 for a family.
To book, visit www.qld.gov.au/camping, phone 131 304 (24 hours) or contact QPWS Rockhampton on (07) 4936 0511.
When to go: Byfield, right on the Tropic of Capricorn, has a climate with temperatures typically around 22C-32C in summer and 9C-23C in winter.
More info Call Capricorn Tourism on 1800 676 701 or visit the Environmental Protection Agency/Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services
On the largest sand island in the world, even away from the dunes you will still be camping on sand.
Attractions on this World Heritagelisted island include Rainbow Gorge, the Champagne Rock Pools, Lake McKenzie and the Maheno, the most famous of the island's wrecks.
Fraser is also a prime spot for humpback whale and dolphin spotting.
Getting there: It's 300km north of Brisbane, off the coast from Hervey Bay. Fraser Island
Barges provides vehicle access, with barge services daily from Inskip Point, River Heads, south of Hervey Bay, and Urangan Boat Harbour in Hervey Bay.
Driving on Fraser requires a permit, 4WD and experience in sand driving.
Camping: Formal campgrounds (with taps, toilets, gas barbecues and sinks) include Central Station, Dundubara, Waddy Point top and Waddy Point beachfront.
There are smaller campgrounds at Lake Boomanjin, Ungowa and Wathumba.
Informal beach camping is allowed behind the fore dunes on the eastern beach within marked areas. Camping areas on the western side are generally quieter. Walkers' camps are located along the Fraser Island Great Walk.
All campgrounds have a 9pm noise curfew and generators are not permitted.
Permits are required for all camping and driving on the island.
When to go: All year round.
More info: Visit Tourism Queensland or Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service
Cape Leveque Dampier Peninsula
Are you an adventurous traveller? Then head for where the pristine, rugged Kimberley meets the sea.
Stroll unspoilt beaches framed on one side by steep red cliffs and on the other by clear waters, perfect for snorkelling.
Experience the unique culture of the area, known to the local Aboriginal people as "ardi", meaning "heading north".
There's loads to do on and off shore, but don't miss Middle Lagoon and the pearl shell altar at the Sacred Heart Church, built by the Pallottine monks and the indigenous people of Beagle Bay in 1917.
Getting there: Highly recommended for 4WD vehicles and camper-trailers.
Allow 3.5 hours to reach Cape Leveque from Broome.
Before departure, check road conditions with the Broome Visitor Centre on (08) 9192 2222 or toll-free on 1800 883 777.
Camping: One of the best places to camp is at the Kooljaman, a multi award-winning Aboriginal-owned wilderness camp, 220km north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula.
There are 26 powered and unpowered sites, some with shade covers, and wood barbecues throughout the camp.
Rates are $16 an adult, $8 a child (3-16 years), $5 an outlet for power, with some conditions.
Dogs are not allowed, alcohol cannot be bought anywhere on the peninsula and medical facilities are limited. Ph (08) 9192 4970 or visit www.kooljaman.com.au
When to go: Winter is the best time to travel. Summer rain can cause flooding.
More info: Visit Tourism Western Australia
The Shipwreck Coast
When the sun is shining and the sea is calm, it's hard to believe that the spectacular coastline of southwestern Victoria has seen the hellish end of some 700 ships. Less than a third of those shipwrecks have been found.
High above those watery graves, the Great Ocean Road is one of the world's most scenic driving routes. It is home to the magnificent 12 Apostles, fabulous fishing spots and walking tracks with stunning coastal views.
Getting there: The Shipwreck Coast runs from Cape Otway, 227km from Melbourne, and stretches 180km west to Port Fairy.
Camping: Great Ocean Road Tourist Park at Peterborough, 247km from Melbourne, offers powered and unpowered sites in a quiet, pretty area. On the well-protected Curdies River inlet, it is a top spot for fishing, diving, sailboarding and swimming.
Rates for powered sites are $30-$38, depending on the season; unpowered $24-$30.
Discounts for Top Tourist Parks of Australia members.
Bookings can be made by calling 1800 200 478, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gortp.com.au
When to go: Winter can be wet and windy, but offers wild ocean vistas. Summer can be hot and dry.
More info: Visit Tourism Victoria
NEW SOUTH WALES
Yuraygir National Park
Vast heathland plains that burst into a kaleidoscope of blooms, long isolated beaches, tranquil lagoons and craggy headlands are a few of the features of this park, which stretches 60km along he NSW north coast, making it the longest expanse of undeveloped coastline in the state.
The park shelters an array of native fauna, on and off shore, and there's great canoeing, surfing and walking trails to suit all fitness levels. There are areas foR beach driving.
Getting There: The park is 48km east of Grafton.
Camping: Camping at all nine campgrounds is on a first in-first served basis, with no advance bookings. Fees are $10 an adult a night and $5 a child (5-15 years) a night. Children under five are free. Vehicle passes are $7 a vehicle a day. Pets and generators are not allowed.
When to go: This region is pleasant all year round.
High summer temperatures are often relieved by sea breezes. Spring is wildflower time.
More info: The NPWS North Coast regional office in Grafton, ph (02) 6641 1500; email northcoast.region @environment.nsw.gov.au
For vehicle passes, call 1300 361 967 or visit www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
See white wallabies, wind-ravaged rock sculptures, a convict lighthouse and immerse yourself in the ancient Aboriginal culture.
First sighted by Abel Tasman in 1642, Bruny Island (really two islands joined by an isthmus called The Neck) has an abundance of wildlife and is noted as a birdwatcher's paradise.
There's fine produce to sample and Australia's southernmost pub and winery to visit. It's also heaven for surfers.
Getting there: Call D'Entrecasteaux Visitor Information Centre for tickets on the vehicular ferry, which arrives at Roberts Point on Bruny Island. The trip takes about 15 minutes and costs $25 a vehicle (5m or less).
Camping: There are several campgrounds. South Bruny National Park - Jetty Beach has no camping fees and no facilities except pit toilets.
At Barnes Bay on North Bruny, the Bush Camp at Duck Pond Reserve has no facilities. All campers should be self-sufficient and carry fuel, water, food and first-aid supplies.
When to go: November to March.
More info: Bruny D'Entrecasteaux Information and Visitor Centre, ph (03) 6267 4494. Call Tourism Tasmania on 1300 827 743; email email@example.com or visit www.discovertasmania.com