If you want to experience camping at its wild and adventurous best, I recommend a trip to Stanage Bay, on Queensland’s central coast. I’d never even heard of Stanage until a few weeks ago. Having spent over a month in Queensland, mostly staying in cabins in manicured towns, we were keen to head into the wilderness and camp again. But we didn’t want to stay in a traditional campsite, nose-to-tail with other tents and caravans and noisy generators. We wanted to find something similar to El Questro in the Kimberley, where you can “private camp” in your own piece of paradise (only this time we wanted to avoid saltwater crocs, wild bulls and ankle-deep dust). So we pulled out our map and looked for the most remote place we could find south of Cape York.
Stanage Bay caught our eyes because it’s at the end of a peninsula that can only be reached by four-wheel drives, along more than 100km of dirt track that can become completely inaccessible after rain. Aha, we thought – that’ll give us a break from civilisation, and the night skies will be sparkling out there! We looked it up online, and saw that there’s only a small settlement on the peninsula (mostly used by fishermen), a shop that also serves as a pub, and a tiny campsite that has no running water, phone signal or power. (It does have deadly salties and jellyfish, but we’re used to those now). Sold, we said, and added it to our itinerary.
A couple of weeks later, loaded up with enough supplies to survive if we got stuck, we headed about 300 kms down the Bruce Highway, from Airlie Beach to a tiny place called Marlborough, where the road out to Stanage Bay begins. We shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that the turning wasn’t marked. Virtually no one goes to Stanage, and the few people who do have either been going there all their lives (and want to keep their piece of paradise secret) or work at the Australian military base on the peninsula (and want to keep people away from the live fire testing range).
We had no idea what awaited us at the end of the long, unmade road. We’ve learned not to build up our expectations too much, and to be pleasantly surprised if a place turns out to be beautiful. The road itself wasn’t special, so I thought we’d be lucky to find an average beach at the end of the track, and perhaps a camping spot that would at least be dog-friendly and peaceful (which isn’t easy to find in the middle of the school holidays).
But a couple of hours later, as we drove over the final crest in the road, Stanage Bay glittered before us. It was a jaw-dropping moment. The coastline was wild and ruggedly beautiful, with high, multi-coloured cliffs, and pristine beaches lined with mangroves. We couldn’t believe our luck! Stuff the campsite, we said. We’ll wild camp amid this breathtaking scenery. We’ll find the perfect spot, settle in, and spend three blissful days camping under the stars.
Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. The first problem was that Mr. Get Off My Land owns much of Stanage, and he has erected threatening signs and barbed wire around the place. We never met him, but we did find his signs at the end of almost every track we drove down. Each time we backed up and retraced our steps, we came up with another creative way to greet the friendly landowner if he ever crossed the path of our large, heavy vehicle!
And then there were the sand flies. Not your normal sand flies. I’m talking about microscopic devils, which attack every millimetre of exposed skin the moment you step out of your car. These sand flies must be one of the reasons Stanage is so quiet – something we discovered the hard way. After finally finding a flat, legal camping spot, we jumped out of the car to recce the land. But even Al, who has asbestos skin that doesn’t burn and doesn’t react to mosquitoes, had to run for cover to escape the clouds of biters that descended upon us.
Conscious that we’d been searching for nearly two hours and that it would soon get dark, we headed back to a hill site that we’d explored when we first arrived in Stanage. It was the only place we’d found that was high up (away from the sand flies) and where we’d be able to wild camp legally on public land. The site was sloping and on the edge of an unfenced cliff, but it was beautiful.
Towards the end of our stay, I was walking along the beach with Bailey and Saffy, after three days of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and two stunning starry nights, when I met a local man walking his dog. “I’d love to meet the people who are camping up there!” he said, pointing up to our campsite. “They must be crazy!”
I smiled sheepishly. “Great spot though, don’t you think?” I replied.
“Oh sure, best spot on the bay,” he said, with what I thought was a twinkle in his eye.
“Maybe not so crazy, then,” I said, as we turned and walked back up the beach.