If you’re the kind of traveller who likes to spend less and see more, Tasmania’s East Coast tempts with more idyllic free camps than you could possibly experience in a single trip.
Words and images by Catherine Lawson and David Bristow from wildtravelstory.com
Park your rig on the shores of shimmering lagoons, nudge into blissfully deserted blue coves, wake up beneath towering granite headlands or stoke a campfire in a remote myrtle forest - no camping fees required!
These top five Tassie freebies from wildtravelstory.com are so genuinely scenic you’d be happy to pay, but you don’t have to. Pack your hiking boots, hitch up a tinny, book a boat ride across the Strait and get set to enjoy a little elbow room on Tassie’s stunning East Coast.
1. Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve
Blink and you’ll miss this little beachside beauty close to Swansea where grassy camping nooks offer grand views across Great Oyster Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula. It’s a shady spot with good facilities, but to discover what really intrigues about Mayfield Bay, stroll the endless white sand beach south to the creek and explore the 1845 convict-built Three Arch Bridge.
This marvelous structure is in stunning condition, rivaling another convict creation located close by - the 1840s Spiky Bridge - which rates as one of the most distinctive in the state. Like most free camps on this coastline, Mayfield Bay permits dogs on leads and free stays of up to four weeks. There are toilets, fireplaces and day-use picnic tables, and a donation box if you feel like dropping a few coins.
You’ll find the camp signposted off the Tasman Highway (A3), 15km south of Swansea. When you go, take drinking water and firewood.
2. Bay of Fires
This tricoloured coastline of white sand beaches, arcing blue coves and golden granite headlands offers what I think are the most scenic campgrounds on the island. Eight fantastic free camps on the shores of shimmering lagoons and wild, sunny beaches, and there are boat ramps, dog beaches and miles and miles of windswept sand to explore.
Anyone with a boat on board will enjoy a stay at Grants Lagoon, but I can’t resist the secluded, breezy camps at Jeanneret Beach for the picturesque granite headland that glows golden at sunset, and the easy access to Swimcart Beach for long walks north. Caravanners love Cosy Corner’s spacious sites, but to break from the pack, push north to Sloop Lagoon and nudge down the steep track that veers right to some very secluded camps.
There are more campsites at Big Lagoon and adventuring beyond, unsealed Fire Road leads to an isolated camp at Policemans Point with big, grassy sites at the mouth of Ansons Bay. This spot will thrill self-contained solitude-seekers and like everywhere at Bay of Fires, you can stay for up to four weeks.
Captain Tobias Furneaux named Bay of Fires for the indigenous campfires he spotted burning ashore as he sailed past in 1773. Campfires still burn today, but you’ll need to bring your own wood (and drinking water) and take your rubbish 10km back to St Helens when you need to resupply. To get there, follow Binalong Bay Road (C850) out of St Helens, turn north onto The Gardens Road and follow the signs.
3. Freycinet’s Friendly Beaches
The cosy nooks tucked into the coastal health at Isaacs Point are some of Tassie’s most bewitching, at least that’s what the roaming Bennett’s wallabies and wombats obviously think. You’ll encounter them day and night, and a short stroll away on the Friendly Beaches, spot humpbacks close to shore as you stroll this seemingly endless ribbon of white silica sands, squeezed between translucent seas and the powdery dunes beyond.
There’s plenty of open ground for caravans and camper trailers, awesome beach fishing, and you can brave the chilly surf or set out on long beach walks towards the Cape Tourville Lighthouse. Because this free camp is located within Freycinet National Park, no dogs or campfires are allowed, and if you haven’t invested in a top-value national park’s pass ($60/vehicle for eight weeks), entry costs $24/vehicle (www.parks.tas.gov.au.).
You can stay at Isaacs Point for up to two weeks while you explore the rest of Freycinet National Park, and the camp provides hybrid, wheelchair-accessible toilets (bring drinking water and take away your rubbish). To get there, head 19km north of Coles Bay.
4. Lagoons Beach Conservation Area
What will be forever memorable about this simply stunning beach is the afternoon we spotted a tiny pair of red capped plovers tending two miniature, speckled eggs in an unlikely nest scraped into the sand. Higher on the dunes amongst thick tufts of spinifex, pied oystercatchers followed suit, luring walkers away whenever they ventured too close to the nest’s hidden location.
The nests were so small and so very nearly underfoot that we spent the rest of the afternoon treading carefully as we beachcombed north and south, spotting tiny penguin tracks too. Stretching for about 7km along the coast, Lagoons Beach is a huge free camping destination with plenty of shade, fireplaces and toilets.
If the camp and its great salmon fishing keep you interested, you can stay for up to four weeks so bring plenty of drinking water and firewood. You’ll find it signposted off the A3 about 2km north of the St Mary’s turnoff. Although dogs are permitted, you’ll need to keep them tethered and away from nesting seabirds.
5. Ben Lomond National Park
A forecast for snow had us detouring inland from St Marys to Ben Lomond National Park, tackling the daring drive up Jacobs Ladder along a road precariously etched into the side of Tasmania’s second highest cluster of peaks. From the ski village nestled beneath Legges Tor (1572m), we leapfrogged up sodden summertime slopes, climbing to a chilly patch of old snow for our child’s first snowball fight.
After thoroughly soaking ourselves we retreated off the mountain to the free bush campground on Ben Lomond’s lower flanks, to stoke a roaring campfire that left us as toasty as our pink marshmallows. The six spacious campsites provide ample space for camper trailers and motorhomes, and there’s a shelter shed with picnic tables, toilets and fireplaces (with wood provided too!).
Located around 50km from Launceston, Ben Lomond’s camp is a great find. You’ll need a national parks pass to stay (or simply pass the $24 entry fee on arrival) and remember to bring drinking water.
Want to discover more of Tasmania?
We recently cycled Tassie's east coast as a family, and loved every minute of it! Alternatively, head over to Wild Travel Story to unlock the kinds of adventures that will inspire you to pack your bags: remote 4WD journeys, paddling trips, hiking expeditions, cycling tours, sailing voyages and global roams that are achievable, affordable and immeasurably rewarding.