Free Camping around Australia
Even if money is no object, free camping is a great way to travel around Australia. Some people associate free camping with tight-asses that can’t be bothered spending the $20 – $50 a night to stay in a caravan park. While in some cases this is true, saving money is just one of many benefits of free camping in Australia.
What can you expect from a free camp?
In our experience, a free camp is usually setup in or near a small country town. They will be located next to a creek, weir or river or some other kind of nice feature. The free camp will usually be setup and maintained by the local council in a bid to encourage travelers to stay in the town and spend money with the local businesses.
The facilities available at free camps in Australia vary greatly. The most basic free camps are nothing more than roadside rest stops that allow overnight stays and have no toilets or access to water. We have a camper trailer and need to stay in camps that have toilets. Lucky for us, there are heaps of free camps out there that do have toilets. Some are beautifully maintained and cleaned on a regular basis, and some are old and run-down with doors that don’t lock and no toilet seats. While traveling, you do take the good with the bad. Some free camps even have showers, and in some cases hot water.
In our travels we have not come across a free camp that has access to power, but we aren’t complaining. You couldn’t complain about FREE. If you NEED access to mains power, then you’ll probably need to stay in a caravan park.
Where can you find free camps?
There are loads of ways to find free camps. We use three methods, which are all as valuable as each other in finding new places to camp.
1.) WikiCamps App – Anyone that is doing any kind of big trip around any part of Australia needs to get this app on their smartphone, iPad or tablet. It’s easy to use and gives you access to thousands of places to camp around Australia (not only free camps either). Our favourite feature of the WikiCamps app is the ability to read reviews from real people that have stayed at a camp. If a campsite has 10 reviews from 10 different people all saying how amazing a location is, the chances are it IS amazing. Sometimes you will come across a campsite that has several negative reviews. We stick clear of those ones depending on how bad the reviews are.
2.) Free Camps Book – There are heaps of these on the market, but I think the one we use is called Free Camps Australia Wide. Although we prefer to use the WikiCamps App, sometimes we aren’t in mobile reception areas and can’t look up certain information on the app. And some of the places listed in our camps book are not listed on WikiCamps and vice versa.
3.) Word of Mouth – While touring around Australia you are going to meet a lot of great people along the way. If you don’t, you are doing it wrong. Having a chat and a few beers of an afternoon with fellow campers around you is good fun and a great way to learn. You will learn so many tips and tricks from other travellers as well as come across some great bits of camping gear that you have never seen before. But most importantly, you hear about other places that others have stayed at.
So are free camps really free?
In short, YES. But you will find a majority of them will have an honesty box or donation box setup somewhere in the campsite. They will usually ask for a small donation to go towards the maintenance of the free camp. You don’t have to pay if you are a real tight-ass, but we always like to throw $5 or $10 in. It’s pretty cheap accommodation.
Besides saving money, why free camp?
Caravan parks are ok and serve their purpose, but do you really want to be camped side-by-side on top of each other? Free camping in most cases gives you the chance to spread out and enjoy your own space. For example, I like to have music playing all day. In a free camp I am not interfering with anyone else by playing my music because my neighbours are 50 meters away rather than 5. At a lot of free camps, we don’t even have neighbours! This makes shower time easy. With no one else around, I simply wedge a water jerry-can in a fork of a tree and shower out in the open.
Almost all free camps are dog friendly. The ones that aren’t in national parks anyway. Dog friendly camping is a must for us, as we travel everywhere with our two little poochies. If there is no one around, we let the dogs off the leash and have a bit of freedom.
At free camps, you meet some great people. For some reason, free camps seem friendlier. Everyone is there to have a relaxing and good time. We regularly have an afternoon chat and beer with other travellers we have met at a free camp. This is something that rarely happens with us at caravan parks.
Can you free-camp all the way around Australia?
Yes, it’s definitely possible. And we have met some people that do exactly this and refuse to stay in caravan parks. There are thousands of free camps all over the country, from the coast to the outback.
For us, we travel with our dogs, so we need dog-friendly campsites. This does restrict us a little bit sometimes. For example, on a trip along the coast of Queensland we struggled to find free camps that were on the beach that were dog friendly. If we weren’t traveling with dogs we would have had plenty of options.
Although we could free camp every night around Australia, we do end up staying in caravan parks a couple of times a week. We get to have a nice, long shower and do some laundry.
And in some cases you would be mad not to stay in a caravan park. One that springs to mind straight away is Wagga Wagga Beach Caravan Park. It’s located on a beautiful bend in the Murrumbidgee River and is just perfect for swimming and dog friendly. But then on the other end of the scale, there is a caravan park in Mitchell, QLD that you would be mad to stay at. Firstly because we had a bed experience with the staff there that almost ruined our trip, and secondly there is a beautiful FREE CAMP just down the road at the Neil Turner Weir where you can setup camp right next to the water and have access to toilets.
But to answer the original question, YES you could free camp your way around the country if you wanted to.
Some more tips
- Even if a free camp claims to have well maintained toilets, make sure you have your own toilet paper packed. Just in case.
- Do the right thing. Use honesty boxes and also go in and support the local town. Buy something from the bakery and the butcher.
- Don’t be put-off by free camps that have the words “rest stop” or “truck stop” in the title. For overnight stays they can be comfortable and you can usually drive well away from the road somewhere hidden down the back to setup camp.
- When choosing what free camp to stay at for the night, have a backup spot in mind. One time we got to our destination and it was FULL! So we kept driving for another hour and found somewhere else nice.
- Have fun traveling this great country.