We've lived in a van between Bellambi beach and every break to Noosa Heads on one long east coast surf safari. As well as camping out the in back of the GPC jeep, as well as some of the parks and hidden spots closer to home when the swell direction demands it. From the staycation authority to the campsite renegade we want to share with you the beach breaks and the spots along the Illawarra that will be worth pulling up that bumper.
Everyone does it differently. Next to our HQ there is a beach front car park that sees everything from the standard tourist hire van, the tradie-style van combo, the family van, the luxe top of the range surf van to the hippy mega-bus. We salute you and the great vibes you bring.
If you are looking to explore the lower east side of Australia's pacific coast, here are a few of the best surf beaches on the NSW south coast next to the best campsites near Sydney within an hours drive. No van, no worries. These sites are still some of the best campsites for motorcyclists in NSW for those seeking dryer adventures along the Grand Pacific Drive touring route looking to squeeze the most out of that down time.
Royal National Park: -
Most of the park is tent camping only and parking at the surf spots is paid hourly during summer/key times. It gets absolutely smashed by south Sydney visitors in summer so arrive before 10am to get a parking space. There are no services in these car parks and mobile phone coverage is poor. The beaches of Era, Garie,Burning Palmshave surf clubs with sparse amenities but they are for purely for day visits so we suggest you park in Bundeena overnight and enjoy its village life and sunset estuary vibe. Check theRoyal National Park website for camping information as it changes often due to weather conditions and booking policies.
Stanwell Park: -
One of the most photographed beaches in Australia and for good reason. We never get bored heading of this epic route home from Sydney and dropping down into the warm embrace of the Illawarra with a spectacular view of Stanwell and beyond. Pass thezooand the amazingtemple(do stop for their weekend lunchtime curries as they are awesome) and then head to Bald Hill lookout for the iconic view of the escarpment and Sea Cliff Bridge then grab a coffee from our friends atFlying High Cafeand ice cream van. Its a small car park so although great for motorcycles and small vans it's not built for buses or overnight stays.
Heading into Stanwell Park village there are a number of great spots to have breakfast or lunch if you are staying for the day. We recommend Loafand Uluwatu Blue,who sometimes host gigs in the village.
Stanwell Park Beach Reserve is a day car park with limited amenities but a great littlecafeby the beach. There is a small camping facility at Stanwell Topsbut the nearest official campsite is in Coledale just a few kilometers across the Sea Cliff Bridge.
Before you reach Coledale there are a number of great stops if you are hungry after your journey and we have to call them out. The very ace crew at Coffee Bird Vanparked next to Clifton Arts School at the southern tip of the Sea Cliff Bridge, the newly renovatedThe Imperialand The Scarborough, for its cliff top beer garden and fish & chips special.
Through the super hip and cool enclave of Wombarra and its gig-friendly and Thai street food hot stop, you will reach the beach of Coledale and its camp ground. It has everything you need, right on the beach, with an RSL in walking distance, a regularSunday makers marketat the school, a wine store, hair salon and two of the best brunch spots on this strip; the amazingEarthwalkerfor the veggie and vegans and the newly openedSketchas well as a theRSLbistrofor everything else.
A few hundred metres from Coledale village and you hit Sharkies. A solid favourite for surfy vanlifers who don't want to camp (or cant get a spot) in Coledale with its mixed visitor camping crowd. There are no facilities other than a public toilet block but with its location next to Coledale and its laid back vibe it is often lined up with surf vans.
Little Austie: -
As with Sharkies, the beach at Little Austie next to Austinmer Beach, this is a raw stop but it is popular for overnight stays and early morning searches. Only a few hundred metres from Austinmer official, its only a stroll for coffee atMoore Street General Storeand themorning paper as well as pool and public facilities. If you need to park and have a proper bed for the night, there isHeadlandsfor that required upgrade or an evening catching the last of the rays of hanging in the sports bar.
Thirroul beach and escarpment: -
Home of Grand Pacific Customs since 2020, Thirroul Beach has one of the largest free car parks along the coast and as such attracts vanlife lovers every day. It's bang next to our HQ so we can see it all going on from our office windows. Not a camping park, just a key stop due to the three beaches it serves; Thirroul, McCauleys and Sandon Point. As this is a big car park with free street parking this is where you will see the big old surf buses pull up for the weekend. With the Thirroul Pavilion Cafe, outdoor pool and public toilets, great views and close to the village centre of Thirroul and their THREE famous surf stores, this happy place always attracts a smiling face. If Thirroul Pavillion is busy then you have the perfect reason to jump to the car parks north ofSouth Sailor (and their amazing seafood) and slide into Bread, Espresso &for one of the best breakfast with pesto this side of New York. We know, we compared.
A big shout out to our neighborhood campsite with a pool and friendly Shetland pony. Hidden in the sub-tropical canopy of the escarpment and away from the sea winds, this is a great secret spot to decompress and seriously chill. Only a few hundred metres up the hill from great pizza, sushi, the second best burgers in Thirroul (and the best veggie burger in the Illawarra), the best coffee and bakery and less than 1km from the beach. Check out and check into Hewitts Hideaway.Warm welcomes await, especially if you bring a carrot for the pony.
A great spot between Sandon Point break and Bellambi is Bulli and offers powered sites and all the amenities you need to recharge and launder yet right next to the beach. Run by the local council and placed within a stroll of three boardwalk cafes, this is a solid overnight or weekend spot to consider. It is a formal site so gets sold out on school holidays. Book ahead. There are plenty of cafes along the foreshore to pick up your coffee ahead of the searches. Check out the Point Cafe next to Sandon Point, Bulli Beach Cafeand Ruby'sright next to the camp site.
A day stop rather than an overnight stop but plenty of Bondi surfers pull their vans and stay overnight on Bellambi beach for its longboard waves. There are surf competitions all the time and you will usually find one of the heads of Laybacks and Smokestacksaround for a chat.
Lots of old skool respected surfers here so wave etiquette is a must. It gets busy especially on the weekends and on holidays. You will find us here during the week between our job shifts.
Known as 'Easties', the beach atEast Corrimalfeatures an official campsite run by the local council as well as another great surf and coffee stop,Fangerz.
This site takes you up to the city of Wollongong, 100km south of Sydney, and all it has to offer.
We will do another blog on the southern surf beaches and camp sites of the Grand Pacific Drive route south of Wollongong and onto Ulladulla in another post. You now just need a t-shirt to say you did the whole route and you know where to find yours. Check out our classic collectionhereand tag us on your next adventure. We'd be amped to follow you.