Australia has some of the most magnificent coastlines on the planet, so it makes sense that we should head out for some beachside camping whenever we can. However, there are vital safety aspects and environmental laws to check before you even pull out of the driveway.
Every beach is subject to local rules, so it is important to check access before you head off. Some places will require you to pre-book a camp site and pay a parks permit. Additionally, beach camping and vehicle access also varies from state to state, so check your local parks website when planning your getaway.
Driving on the beach can be very dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. At worst your 4x4 can drown in high tides and wash-outs - inland creeks that meet the ocean. 4WD Queensland Vice-President David Harper says that if this happens, there is no guarantee you will be bailed-out.
"People stop in wash-outs and get stuck. The park rangers won't come and pull you out," David warns. "They may just give your number to a recovery centre - it can cost you lots."
He added that you can't rely on mobile reception on remote beach areas, either, so you may not be able to phone for help.
Generally, you will have two hours on either side of low-tide to drive safely on hard sand. With this in mind, make sure you check tide times and print out hard copies and maps to take with you. If you miss low-tide, the in-land tracks could be slow going as the sand is usually deep and soft.
"The same rules for the road apply to the beach - keep left and slow down when you see people," David says.
"Drive on the 'high side' of fishing rods instead of through them. Watch for any holes that kids may have dug in the sand. Pick a gear to keep momentum up that won't stress your engine."
When turning, David advises veering 'up' the soft sand and turning 'down' into the hard sand to avoid getting bogged.
A high orange sand flag attached to your car will make you more visible to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. But make sure you keep to designated 4x4 areas to avoid coastal damage, as sea birds and some marine life often nest in and on sand.
When packing for your trip, don't overload your roof-rack. This alters your car's weight ratio, which can be exacerbated by changing hard and soft sandy surfaces, leading to roll-overs.
David says that the most important thing to pack is basic recovery gear, but learn how to use it before you need it.
"At the minimum, take a shovel," David says. "Take a snatch-strap with quality rated shackles and attach them to proper recovery points, not tow-balls or bull-bars. I've seen tow-balls fly off and go through windscreens.
"Take a tyre gauge. Keep your tyre pressure down to increase its footprint on sand. Run them at 20 to 12 psi. Inflate your tyres as soon as you hit the black-top again."
Sand-specific tent-pegs, or sand anchors for ropes and large tarps are essential: standard metal pegs won't work in soft sand.
A portable toilet is also handy, as sand is too unstable to keep waste buried out of sight. David says he searches for discarded toilet paper around beach camp-sites before he sets up to avoid any nasty surprises!
Always set up behind the dunes, David advises, as this will protect you from the offshore weather and high tides. "The weather can change in a heart-beat and forecasts can't be relied upon."
On site, check that fires are permitted and make sure all flames are kept contained. Keep your cooking-stove shielded from coastal winds.
Karen Robinson, a seasoned camper from Brisbane, always takes plenty of tarps with her.
"You can never do without shade-cloth, tarps and ropes. This provides instant shade and tarps can be used as ground sheets to keep your tent clean.
"Standing in a bucket of water before you enter tents will help keep sand out of your bedding."
David adds that a dust-pan-and-brush is also handy.
Look after the Little Ones
Both Karen and David stress that kid safety is essential all the time, but especially on un-patrolled wild beaches.
"The kids don't go swimming. They can play cricket on the beach, they can sit on the edge of the water, they can fish, but they don't go in the water," Karen said of her rules for beach camping.
"You swim at your own risk," David added. "In summer there are also stingers and bluebottles."
Know your kids' allergies, and take a well-stocked first-aid kit in case they (or you) get stung by insects or jellyfish.
"I always make my kids look both ways when crossing onto the beach," Karen says. "You will hear the surf, [but may not] hear cars coming. Watch where they play."
After the Beach
Finally, after the beach, it is vital you give your 4x4 a good under-body wash to stop it rusting, as the saltwater and sand combine to erode metal very quickly.