The road to Byron Bay is long, and you may average three u-turns a day, but as the saying goes, half the fun is getting there. When you need to stop and rest, do yourself a favour: avoid the cheap motels (which aren’t exactly cheap anymore, they just look it). Do something different. Spend some time in the sand, walk in the dirt, get back to nature, lay under a tree, pitch a tent, cook on a portable gas stove, shower at the beach. To help out a little, here’s our top 10 east-coast campsites as you make your way to Bluesfest.

Mackey VC rest area
Hume Highway and Illawarra Highway Junction, Moss Vale.

Highway rest areas aren’t very glam, but after hours of powering up the Hume from Melbourne towards Byron, flashy means nothing. Somewhere to recharge your cells means everything. Mackey Victoria Cross – named after John Bernard “Jack” Mackey (16 May 1922–12 May 1945), who was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War Two – is a great option, and only 100 metres off the main route. You’ll get mobile phone coverage, toilets, shady areas and picnic tables. It’s pet friendly, it’s free and staying overnight is permitted.

Crosslands Reserve
Berowra Valley Regional Park.

Set among some of Sydney’s best forests, Crosslands Reserve is a top spot in which to lose yourself in nature after wrestling Sydney traffic. A short drive off the Pacific Highway, you’ll find guided Aboriginal heritage tours, spotlighting, eco-history walks, canoeing and picturesque chill areas. You’ll need to bring your own drinking water and a gas stove if you’re staying overnight (contact Hornsby Shire Council for bookings). Some advice: don’t go there if you’re in a campervan or a pulling a caravan or trailer. They’re not banned – just not suitable.

Jimmy’s Beach Holiday Park
Coorilla Street, Hawks Nest.

You may struggle to leave this place if you’re just passing through. Nestled between the ocean and a protected bay just north of Newcastle, the beach is a quick walk down a track that opens up on to a pristine setting overlooking Shoal Bay and the Marine National Park. If you surf, then a four-by-four access track leads you to the back beach where you’ll find yourself on a narrow strip connecting two larger land areas: the Myall Lakes National Park and the volcanic headland of Port Stephens (which rises 210 metres above sea level). For a day at the beach, you have plenty of options; one side of the isthmus is always protected from the prevailing winds. The holiday park offers ample shady areas, free wifi, a short walk to shops and dogs are allowed (during the off-peak season).

Little Lake (Neranie) Campground
Myall Lakes National Park.

Set in a diverse bush setting next to a freshwater lake, Little Lake Campground offers easy access for water sports and has a great eco tour. Take a short ferry crossing and drive toward Hawks Nest, where there are a bunch of great sightseeing options, including huge sand dunes and Aboriginal middens. For active folks, there are picnic spots along the lake and bush-walking tracks through beautiful landscapes.

Treachery Camp
166 Thomas Road, Seal Rocks.

A detour to Seal Rocks is a must when driving between Byron and Sydney. If it’s not for the surf, it’s for the fishing, swimming, lazy beach days, lighthouse attractions, coastal walks, sunset drinks and dreamy camping spots. There’s ample space to spread your tarp, a white sandy beach (that picks up any hint of swell for you surfer dudes), another white sandy beach on the other side of the headland and a heritage-listed lighthouse. Part of the camp is set up for “glamping”, with hot showers, washing and drying machines and large camp kitchens (if you don’t BYO gas cookers) with washing-up areas.

Point Plomer Camping Ground
Limeburners Creek National Park.

Deep in the heart of Limeburners Creek National Park, Point Plomer is arguably the most peaceful camping ground you’re likely to pitch a tent at. It’s a fair way off the Pacific Highway, but if you want an escape from the speed of city life before you hit the madness of Bluesfest, come here, breathe the salty air and feel the love.

Woody Head campground
Bundjalung National Park.

If you’re on the last stretch of your road trip to Byron and need an overnight rest, Woody Head is a good option, just 15 minutes off the highway. There’s a lot of exploring to do at this seaside retreat: ocean beaches, protected beaches, hikes, swimming, fishing, surfing, boating, or just take in the beauty and recharge the batteries. It’s popular, so book ahead.

Flat Rock Tent Park
East Ballina.

A well-equipped little camp ground where you feel like you’re deep in a coastal national park. Truth is, you’re five minutes from Coles and Woolies. This can be a good thing. Flat Rock is 30 minutes drive south of Byron and is the cheapest beachfront camping around.

First Sun Holiday Park
Byron Bay.

This place is all about location. Opposite The Wreck and Main Beach, stay at First Sun and you’ll be treated with ocean views, direct beach access and a casual stroll to a highly addictive seaside town. If you haven’t booked yet, do so immediately.