Camping may not be for everyone – but it can be. There is, you see, a spectrum of the great outdoors. On one end you strand yourself in a remote crocodile-infested swamp with nothing but the shirt on your back and a sharp stick to catch dinner-rodents. On the other end, you cruise down the sunny coast in your brand new Range Rover Evoque to a secluded "camping" spot by a private beach and, instead of catching dinner-squirrels, you "catch" fresh rock oysters from the local seafood market down the road.
The Camp Site
Granted, most campers opt for somewhere in the middle of that dichotomy and Killalea State Park, located in Shell Cove (20 mins south of Wollongong, between Kiama and Shellharbour), is a happy medium – but hangs slightly on the side of the Range Rover end of the spectrum. Why is this, you ask? Arriving prepared with toilet paper and a mind which had convinced itself that hygiene isn't all that important anyway, I was surprised (and perhaps disappointed, deep down inside) to find showers, toilets and a communal cooking area barely 50 metres from the campsite.
The grounds themselves are located at the back of the park, and are divided into lots. Each lot is roughly forty square metres, which is plenty for a small group, but if you can't shake that city-folk compulsion for concealment, it can't do any harm to get two lots so there aren't any border disputes (not that there would be, unless you tried to turn your camping lot into a nation State). Each camping ground has its own fire pit and you can buy firewood for $15 a bag at the camping office, where you can also buy ice to prevent anyone from committing the sin of drinking warm beer.
Aside from the classics like fresh air, a hearty fire and the scent of sizzling snags, the camping grounds are a short distance from "The Farm" Beach. But don't let the name fool you (as if it did) - the only thing you can farm here are third degree burns from the friendly sun. "Mystics" Beach is much closer to the campgrounds and just as picturesque: it's quite long and ends at the mouth of the Minnamurra River. But you don't just get to go there – you have to earn it.
City-slickers like myself take for granted driving into the parking lot of a beach and stepping out onto the sand. It's not exactly the Long March but it's a fairly steep 5-10 minute walk from the campsite. Of course, the calm and blue salty serenity is reward enough once you get there. Unfortunately, at least around the middle of October, the water is slightly chilly (which is, however, great for cooling off) and the surf a bit too rough for snorkeling - but there are a few good fishing spots at either end, especially near the mouth of the river on the South side of the beach.
A better option for those who, for some reason, don't love to fry in the sun all day or get dumped harder than their ex by strong waves and rips might be to pack up your gear and take a 5 minute drive North to Shellharbour. Here (particularly the Shellharbour Reserve and Shallows Coastal Reserve) the water is a bit warmer, the sea a lot calmer and the marine life…present – which makes for great snorkeling, spearfishing or the age-old art of floating in a rubber ring with a tinnie in hand.
In short, you wouldn't go camping at Killalea State Park for the gritty hunter-gatherer experience offered by more remote areas of the country or coast. Although you can swim, surf, hike and fish around the camping grounds, I found its value in being a fun and cheap way to stay in intimate proximity to the natural beauty of the area's pristine coastline.