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Published April 28th 2017
Bush camping at its best
Coolendel Nature Reserve is located on the southern side of the Shoalhaven River, approximately 3 hours from Sydney. It offers bush camping, native wildlife, river rapids, hiking trails and great amenities, all set in a stunning location, and really does tick all of the boxes on my list for a fantastic camping experience.
Coolendel offers bush camping along the Shoalhaven River
The road from Nowra to Coolendel is scenic as it winds around the Shoalhaven River and climbs up and down the ridges of the mountains. Take the turnoff signposted as HMAS Albatross and from here the road is bitumen for around 9km then becomes dirt for the remaining 11km into Coolendel. The road is accessible by 2WD vehicles. As well as taking in the pleasant scenery you will also need to watch out for wildlife on the road as well as oncoming traffic, as the road is narrow and single lane at some points.
The scenery is a mix of farms on the river and the dense bush of the Morton State Conservation Area which features many attractive large ferns and cycads. The road to Coolendel is well signposted along the way.
Coolendel is a 52 hectare nature reserve boasting 2.5km of river frontage on the Shoalhaven River. The grounds are maintained to a very high standard and the camping facilities are excellent. If you are after a bush camping experience without giving up your home comforts of a hot shower and flush toilet, then this is the place for you.
On arrival, you will need to check in at the Office / Kiosk to pay your camping fees. You will receive a map of the park and then you can drive around and select a camping area which suits you.
There are a variety of spots to choose from such as the large and open Main Camping Area, and other smaller and more secluded spots such as Willow Flat, Sandy Beach, The Burrows, Cedars, Hideaway and Riverview. Camp sites are unmarked and cannot be reserved, and rely on a first in best-dressed system. There are regularly spaced fireplaces and plenty of rubbish & recycling bins provided around the park.
We chose a campsite near The Burrows which was only a short walk to both the river and an amenities block. Apart from the well-maintained grounds, the first thing you will notice is the abundant wildlife at Coolendel. Within the first couple of hours, we had seen some bare-nosed wombats wandering around, wallabies grazing here and there, a number of peacocks and a goanna or two.
It is possible to get fairly close to the animals to observe them but touching them is not recommended. If you're there at the right time you may even spot an adorable baby wombat like we did. If you appreciate being able to see native animals in the wild then you will love this place.
Surrounding Coolendel on three sides is the Shoalhaven River. On the northern side, you will find the Bugong Rapids which is a great place to admire the rugged landscape and practice your stone skimming skills. The rapids are shallow but appear to be very fast moving.
On the southern side of Coolendel are the Coolendel Rapids which is also a popular swimming hole with campers.* It is a good idea to note that the banks of the river and the riverbed is comprised of stones and pebbles which can be quite difficult to walk on with bare feet. Reef shoes, sandals, or thongs at the very least are recommended.
The kids had great fun riding tyre floats down the Coolendel Rapids. They also had a few jumps off the Jumping Rock into the deep pool. For obvious reasons, this is only recommended for strong swimmers and adult supervision is a must. But even if you are not swimming, the location down by the river is a lovely place to sit and relax and enjoy the natural surroundings.
If you're interested in taking a bush walk from Coolendel there is a Walking Guide available from the kiosk. It includes a map of the area and brief descriptions of ten different walks, varying in length and difficulty.
During our stay, we did the Grassy Gully Creek Walk which took us along the cliff path which features glorious views of the river. We then hiked through the bush and down to the mouth of Grassy Gully Creek. On the Walking Guide it is described as an easy walk however we did find it challenging in parts with steep inclines and declines and as the track was un-signposted we weren't sure if we were going the right way at some points.
In the end, we made it to the mouth of Grassy Gully Creek. From here we were supposed to walk up the creek bed to The Solitary Pool and small waterfall. However, the creek bed was not dry (the water appeared to be quite deep) and we were not prepared to get wet and muddy. As there was no other way around we did not make it to the final destination, but still enjoyed the walk.
The best place to be after dark at Coolendel is by the campfire. Without the interference of electric lighting it is amazing how many stars are visible on a clear night. Remember to pack some marshmallows for toasting or damper ingredients for an authentic camping experience.
For night time exploring around Coolendel, one item you must have with you is a good torch as you can barely see a few metres in front of you - it is so dark. The nocturnal animals, such as wombats, wallabies and echidnas, will be most active at night although we were lucky enough to see wombats and wallabies during the day as well.
As mentioned earlier the amenities at Coolendel are excellent. There are actually two amenities blocks - the main one is located in The Burrows, not far from the main camping area. It contains multiple flush toilets and hot showers for both ladies and gents. It also includes laundry facilities (hand washing only) and facilities for the disabled. There is also a smaller amenities block containing two showers and toilets at the entrance to the main camping area. The amenities blocks are serviced twice a day.
Having camped at many bush camping sites over the years with either cold showers or no shower facilities and pit toilets (or worse), it is such a luxury to be able to have the bush camping experience without forfeiting the home comforts of a nice hot shower and a flush toilet. It really does make a world of difference.
Coolendel also has camp kitchen facilities and gas BBQ's. If you do happen to forget something or run out of bread or milk during your stay there is a kiosk which sells the basics as well as ice, firewood and gas.
Coolendel is the perfect place to escape from your busy life. There is no phone reception here, so you will not be distracted by the constant buzzing of your technology. Instead, you will be surrounded by the calming influences of nature and experience the benefits of "green therapy".
- Enough food and drink for your stay
- Reef Shoes & something to float on if going in the rapids
- Insect Repellent
- Bikes - for exploring or for a quicker trip to the amenities
What you need to know:
- There are no powered sites and there is no phone reception within the park (although there is a pay phone at the kiosk)
- No pets, motorbikes or generators allowed
- Flush toilets and hot showers are provided.
- Open fires are permitted within the fireplaces
- Keep all food locked away so the wildlife does not get in to it
If you wish to camp at Coolendel bookings are preferred Please phone on 02 4421 4586 to make a booking.
For information on how to get to Coolendel please click here. Important note: Do not use GPS navigation until you are south of the Shoalhaven River at Nowra, otherwise you will be lead astray and end up on the wrong side of the river.
*Due to the unpredictable river conditions Coolendel advises poor swimmers to stay out of the water and away from the river. As the river is fresh water it offers less buoyancy than sea water making it more difficult to swim in. They also advise that the water level in the river varies due to unseen rocky outcrops and sand and rock deposits.