Free Camping Australia

Some thoughts on how to setup a motorhome for free camping
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Written June 2008

Before beginning any discussion about setting up a motorhome for free camping, it is perhaps important to define what is meant by the term “Free Camping”.

What is Free Camping?

Quite simply, I use the term free camping to describe any type of camping that is with out cost (or perhaps incurring very minimal cost). This includes bush camping, staying at road side stops and extended camping at remote locations such as beaches, state forests and areas not necessarily set aside for camping.

This is of course as opposed to using paid camping areas and caravan parks.

Free camping by the lake - [Click for a Larger Image]

Free camping by the lake

 

Let me make it very clear that I have nothing against caravan parks and I mean no disrespect to those who elect to use them. We have simply chosen an alternative that better suits the way we wish to travel. Traveling Australia from caravan park to caravan park is just as valid.

We feel that there should be freedom of choice. You should not be forced into a caravan park any more than you should be forced to free camp.


The argument for caravan parks suggesting that you should use paid accommodation because it is there – is like prohibiting us from drinking tap water – just because the shops sell bottled drinking water!

 

Why free camp?

We made the decision to set our motorhome up for free camping for a number of reasons – the most obvious of these being the economics. As full time travelers, the prospect of having to find an additional $11,000 each year ($30 X 365) would mean that we would have to work many many more days than we do currently.
Some of the less obvious reasons for electing the free camping route include:

  • The ability to visit and stay in places that few people are able to visit.
  • It becomes possible to really get away from the crowds.
  • Caravan parks are normally located in towns and cities – not good places for observing and photographing native wild life.
  • Some parts of the country have large areas set aside for free camping – these can be very social areas with many travelers returning to the same location year after year often for months at a time (one such place that we spent a few weeks even had a friendly truck driver deliver fresh fruit and veg each week).

 

The basics

What are the basic things you need to free camp for just a few days at a time? Power – most of us like our creature comforts; TV, radio, microwave etc. These all need power. If you are going to camp away from a power point for more than a night or two, you are going to need to generate some power. Solar is the ideal solution – but generators are also popular and more economical for short stays. Water – You are going to need to carry water. This is very likely going to be your main limiting factor when determining how long you can stay “out bush” for. 50 – 100ltrs is enough for camping out for a day or two. Food – Well that’s obvious – ya gunna need to eat. Toilet – And with all that food, you are going to need a toilet. Gray water storage – Depending on the location, it may not be appropriate to simply drop your waste water. This is not normally an issue in most places, however we sometimes camp in the middle of towns or in the car park of a hotel for a night (if for example we want to eat out and have a bottle of wine with the meal). It is not nice to simply drop gray water in these circumstances.    


 

A more advanced setup

As stated, we free camp almost 100% of the time. Our motorhome is setup to do just that, it has been adjusted and modified almost constantly over the last five years to make life on the road and free camping easier. With care, we can normally camp out for up to three weeks before we need to move the motorhome (normally to take on water).

Here is a description of what we think are the most important parts of our motorhome relating to extended free camping:

Power – we have 586 watts of solar supplying 220Ah of batteries at 24 volts. In
good conditions this supplies 100% of our power needs. We have a 24v electric fridge/freezer, we use an electric bread maker every second day and computers for several hours each day. We also have a Honda 2.0i generator for when the sun won’t shine.
To augment this, the motorhome is fitted with a huge 140amp 24v alternator that makes sure we always arrive with the batteries fully charged.
See the Article – Motorhome Electrics for more info

Free camping on a beach north of Broome - [Click for a Larger Image]

Free camping on a beach north of
Broome

Water – we carry about 500ltrs of fresh water. However this is stored in two tanks that are completely separate. 300ltrs is for washing, showering, dishes, clothes washing etc. The other 200ltrs is in a polypropylene tank and is delivered to a spout over the sink by a pump operated by a foot switch. This is the drinking water. Why separate? Well if we happen to be camped by a river or a stream, it is really nice to be able to use that water without the fear of possibly contaminating the drinking water. We have a small portable lift pump that allows us to pump water from a water source directly into our main water tanks.

Toilet – We have a simple cassette toilet. This works well for us as its capacity allows us to empty it about one each week. As we have a second vehicle, we can take the cassette to be emptied without having to move the bus. We use eco-friendly chemicals that do not cause issues with pit or composting toilets.

Gray Water – our gray water tank holds 200ltrs and we can drain this using a long flexible hose if this is appropriate for the location.

Gas – We carry two 9kg gas cylinders. Each of these lasts us for between 5 and 8
weeks (largely depending on the weather – hotter conditions require less gas to heat water for showers and we tend to do a lot of our cooking outside.)

TV – Satellite TV is of course the only option if you plan to spend time more than a few km’s from a town. See Satellite TV for Motorhomes for more info.

Communications – For safety we carry a satellite phone. While this is expensive to buy and keep connected, the day you really need it is the day it will seem like the best thing you ever bought. If you are going to be traveling and staying in remote areas, it is a very wise investment. We also have a Telstra NextG phone, car kit and a very large external antenna. This is our main form of
communication and it used to double as our internet connection (we now use a satellite internet system). The external antenna makes a massive difference to the coverage – we have found very few places where we do not have at least some mobile phone signal.

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32 Responses to “Free Camping Australia”

  1. Phil And Sue Says:

    Hi, love the site, lots of good info and taking some tips about the water, thank you. We are full time in a 1981 40 foot tag axle Denning Den air, a on going project it feels like. We love it having a ball hope we will see ya on the road some time thanks again keep the black bits pointed down yours Phil and Sue

  2. Lee & Gerald Says:

    Hi, I have been following your blog for probably a year. We are on day 8 of our adventure. We told our friends we would be away 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months…or longer no real plans, but we made it past 6 days. We are trying to ‘free camp’ but we are finding that a lot of towns are closing the free camps and two towns in the last 8 days have missed out on us spending cash there. We are heading up the centre then down the west coast, at this stage, but things could change. We are in a 27ft Winnebago Explorer, with Tassie plates, we may see each other on the road.
    Cheers
    Lee and Gerald

  3. Simon Says:

    Hi guys,
    I see you are living the dream.
    I am getting there.
    I have a 20ft van, I have 6x2V batteries, 35Watt reg, looking for an 80 to 140Watt pvc.
    We plan on getting a 4wd duelcab to tow it, with a flatbed rear to put the road and trail bikes on and the back seat for the dogs and pet rats (they are part of our family).
    I plan to take a long trip to Qld via where ever we end up (I own a block there and want to build a house on it when ever we get there).
    Do you have any probs with multiple charging of your batteries?
    How do you regulate them all, without interferance from each other?
    I was thinking of also using wind generation for longer stays at any one place as they provide high Wattage at a low price and can be setup on a semi perminant pole (off the drawbar) easily.
    Any reason you don’t use wind generation?
    I have not done anything like this as yet and I’m loving the steep learning curve (and learning from other people).
    I have not yet read all of your site, but I have no doubt I will inbetween van mods, work and saving a few $$ before we hit the road.
    I also plan on multiple water tanks, so we can reuse fresh/grey water etc.
    I hope to find your advise on using rainwater to fill tanks.
    Thanx in advance for any advice,
    Cheers Simon

  4. Hobo Says:

    Multiple charging sources can be a problem. However, so long as the charge regulation points are all simular and you decide on which regulator should be trusted to indicate “full charge” it is not an issue.
    We manually control the output voltage (and thus current) from our alternator (on the bus engine). The current naturally decreases when the batteries are near fully charged. I manually turn the alternator off once the solar regulator (a Plasmatronics PL40) indicates that the batteries are full.
    I have programmed the PL40 to the exact charging specifications supplied by the battery manufacturer and so consider the PL40 to be the most accurate regulating device on the system.

    Interesting that you should mention wind generation. We have been looking at the 300w unit distributed by Jaycar Electronics (see http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=MG4532&keywords=wind&form=KEYWORD) . We have seen a number of these units in operation in the last few weeks and the owners seem very happy with their performance. At $679 they are far more economical on a dollar per watt basis than solar – they do however take some time to setup (they should be mounted on a 6 meter mast). Right now we are in a very windy part of the west coast – there has been no sun for about a week – wind generation seem like a great idea for this place.

  5. Tina Says:

    Hi, love your info, very helpful and interesting hopefully one day we will be able to live the dream as well. We have travelled oz for short trips, that makes want to see more. I like the idea of free camping some of the time at least. Happy Camping!

  6. John Says:

    Hi folks ,
    Love your web site , very informative.
    Please can you explain how you use, and in fact mount your wind turbine? Given that you are not in one location for a long time, is it a hassle to put it up and down? Also does one need a lot of knowledge to build the add ons you have done?
    best wishes and safe travels

  7. Hobo Says:

    Hi John, Thanks for your comments. I have answered you questions about the turbine on the posting about the wind generator. It is located located here …

    http://hobohome.com/news/?p=231

  8. Motorhome and Caravan Info Australia » Blog Archive » How to Find Free Camps in Australia – (Part 2) Says:

    […] Prepare your vehicle – make sure it has all the necessary equipment to allow you to stay in places with few or no facilities (see article on setting up your motorhome for free camping). […]

  9. Bob Says:

    Hi Guys, we are doing the same as you and have found some great spots around the country. We bought a couple of 20ltr drinking quality water containers so that if we are parked in a good spot we don’t have to move the motorhome just for water. We just fill the containers in town and decant them into our water tanks on return, works well so far.
    Love your site, happy travels.

  10. Hobo Says:

    Hi guys, Good idea about the water containers. We carry one in the Moke all the time.
    Raining here in WA right now – collecting rain from the roof.

    Hope to see you on the road some time

    G & T

  11. Danny and Esther Says:

    Hi there we love your site and find it queit helpfull as we are building our motor home in our back yard and plan too go on the road full time in 2014 we are only in our early 40s and we are working very hard on our bus and a lot off research to make it self sufficent we have a 1980 hino am 100 series just a bit longer than a coaster and we were wondering if anyone out there knows where we can get parts for it as they seem pretty hard to find we would really like some feed back if any one has any info and we will keep on seaching

  12. Danny and Esther Says:

    great site

  13. Toofulla-fisi Says:

    Thanks for the excellent site, am about to launch forward into the hinterland and am looking for as much advice and ideas I can lay my hands on. Think it a pretty smart idea to seek advice from people out there doin it, advice comes hot off the press. Will comment further at a later time. Keep it up!

  14. Hobo Says:

    Thanks for the comment – good luck, you will have a ball.

  15. Anamcara Travelling Says:

    Have just found this website as part of our preparations for beginning our own great adventure when I retire shortly. Communications has been a concern to my wife and I are surprised that the NextG network seems to be so readily accessible. I would be interested to hear what sort of antenna rigs are most effective.

  16. Hobo Says:

    Hi, There are two types of antennas that are used by travellers … omnidirectional (broom handle type) and unidirectional (yagi). For extreme distance reception the yagi will out-perform the broom stick every time. The down side is that it takes time to setup and correctly aim. Height makes a massive difference as well, so many people carry large poles to allow their antennas to be mounted as high as possible.
    Good question – I will repeat this question and answer in the article and discussion about using a phone as a modem at http://hobohome.com/news/?p=635 where the discussion will continue.

  17. Bobcdowling Says:

    I have just read the local Tasmanian Paper and have been shocked to see that the government has directed councils to apply the competitive principles to roadside camps, in other words it sounds like no more free camp sites. How do you compare and price of a caravan park with all the amenities including water and power with a roadside stop that has no amenities. Most fifthwheelers and motor homers do not mind paying a small charge for a roadside stop, but the charges have to reflect the amenities and services provided. It will be interesting to see how many large fifth wheelers, motorhomes and even caravans will pay the $1,800 to $2000 for the trip over Bass Strait then pay the high caravan park fees also. It will be interesting to see how much the caravan park fees will go up in light of this ruling of the regulator. The small businesses in these small towns can thank their caravan parks owner for the drop off in business this summer.
    The Fifth Wheelers Network Inc will be advising their mainland members to bypass Tasmanian this year until it is known how this will be administered.
    R C Dowling

  18. Tents Says:

    Tents…

    […]Motorhome and Caravan Info Australia » Blog Archive » Free Camping Australia[…]…

  19. Cheryl Pascoe Says:

    What website would I need for free camping Australia

  20. Patricia Says:

    Cheryl, go to the newsagent and buy a copy of CampsAustralia6 – lists free camp sites Australia wide. CMCA – Caravan and Motor Home Club of Australia – also lists some, and “On the Road” magazine is very helpful.

  21. Hobo Says:

    Better still – if you have an iPhone, get a copy of “Camps Wiki” a $1.99 app with thousands of crowd sourced free and low cost camps. Fantastic app – almost worth buying an iPhone for (might also be available for Android)

  22. justanaussieguy Says:

    Hi guys. Just found this site, and so far I am very impressed. Not that I am a great judge of what is good and what isn’t. But despite my newness to this kinda thing. I still have an opinion on how informative and helpful I find a site to be. So a BIG thumbs up. Have a millions questions as I read more and more. But for now I will like to ask one and also add a link of a site that I found. Hope I ain’t breaking any rules, by doing so. Having read the comments on this thread I noticed a couple of people asking about free campsites. I haven’t been to any myself, as yet. But given that I have very, very little money I was looking for some recently and came across the following site. http://ozcamps.net/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=29

    Now for my question. At the risk of not having come across a thread that may already answer this question…here it is. You mentioned this earlier “Power – we have 586 watts of solar supplying 220Ah of batteries at 24 volts.” Can you please explain the set up that provides you with all this power. Also if I was to equate my total average daily power use in my house to be 6kw….and all that, that entails. What can one expect to use in a typical rig like yours? Just to let you know…I know bugger all about this stuff 😉

  23. Hobo Says:

    Hi,

    We currently have just over 1Kw of solar on the bus. This allows us to do most things (bread-maker, household vacuum cleaner, electric blankets etc etc). This is stored in 380Ah of 24v flooded lead acid batteries (8volt golf buggy batteries). The whole setup works really well and we are very happy with it.

  24. justanaussieguy Says:

    Thank you very much for responding so quickly to my enquiry. If I wanted to run a small fridge..I think it is a caravan fridge..and a 110 litre freezer 24/7. How much power do you estimate it would require? I bought a small petrol generator (180watt) long before I thought about using it to run the electrics on a caravan. What priority electrics do you think it could run, assuming the only thing I would run more or less 24/7 is the fridge?

  25. Hobo Says:

    Hi – I think you mean 1800w generator, I have never seen one as small as 180w.
    Our 220ltr (danfoss compressor) fridge/freezer uses about 256w of solar to keep it running 7/24. Your requirements will depend on many factors eg – type of fridge, compressor, location and average temperature (when it is hotter fridges and freezers have to work harder), and time of the year (summer = more sun hours). Solar panels are now very cheap (<$1/watt)- I recommend putting as much solar as your roof will hold and you can afford. You can never have too much solar.

  26. Peter Hegarty Says:

    Hi to All
    Just found the site HOBO and find it most interesting. We live on the Gold Coast and are caravan owners of a Jayco Starcraft 20.62.2.12C purchased in May 2012 (our third van). We have done a few trips including a 4000km up the Qld coast and back down inland. I read with note about the caravan parks and the ‘annual costing’ if one stays in parks. We have up to this point stayed in powered sites, or with friends that I have known over many years.
    We are just about to leave on a long trip (Friday 5 April) and be away foe 5/6 months; heading toward Perth and then on up. We would like to ‘free camp’ as much as we can during the journey.The van has the regular 12V battery and 2x9ltr LPG tanks. We will need to ensure that we have sufficient power for lighting and say microwave and can use the gas for cooking and the fridge. In all this we see us only staying on overnight stops intermingled with van park stops.
    My question(s) are; How long would the battery be sufficient to sustain a stay? and, How long will it take to recharge it to maximum again ? We have considered purchasing a Honda 2.0i generator but to now have not done so. Would the van need any extra wiring ?
    Any comments you or the readers could give would be greatly appreciated.
    Pete and Jacki aka “Hegs and Chook”

  27. Hobo Says:

    Hi guys,
    Free camping is not only economical, but also a lot of fun – you can meet some great people at free camps and most are more likely to socialise when not in a regulated, paid caravan park.
    From the electrics point of view small things like lights should present you with no issues – a microwave on the other hand is quite different. Running a microwave would require ether a generator (at least 2kva) or a large inverter and some substantial means of recharging the batteries (solar or other).
    If you are just using lights, one or two nights should be ok (use fluro or LED lights) – the battery will recharge with 2 or three hours of driving. If you are changing the battery from a generator the time taken will depend on the capacity of the charger. For example a 50amp changer will charger the battery in about half the time it would take with a 25amp charger. The actual time taken is dependant on how deeply the battery has been discharged (ie how much energy has been taken from it).

    I hope this helps.

  28. Peter Hegarty Says:

    Thanks. We will be giving it a go initially without generator. And as you say free camping is fun and the great people you will meet most likely will be a great source of experience and information.
    In reality it is only the microwave and the aircon(if needed) that will require a boost at 240v.
    Cheers for now.
    Pete and Jacki

  29. Jo Davy Says:

    Hi, I live in SA. Curious what the legislation is at the moment for roadside/verge camping. Also camping adjacent watercourses, such as the river murray.
    Is there a set distance from a road (if unfenced), or distance from a watercourse high-tide / low-tide mark that is crown land and able to be camped on without permission? Thanks,

  30. Paul & Val Says:

    Hi guys, great article. We are about to embark on a 3, 6, 12 month trip (who knows really?) and have NEVER done anything like this before! 1992 Mitsubishi Canter Motorhome with two solar panels on roof, in-built 2Kva generator and two house batteries and we have NO idea how to work anything properly yet!
    Setting out from Hervey Bay and maybe see some of you on the road sometime….

    Cheers All!

    Paul & Val

  31. Hobo Says:

    Hi ya guys. Welcome to a much larger (and more fun) world.
    Best of luck and I hope to see you somewhere on the road.

    Cheers

    Gavin & Tracey

  32. gary Says:

    ive always thought of free camping in towns, spend all day wherever, and every night park in front of the local police station, safe as and for one night would they hassle you if you were very incognito, just a thought

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