How to Find Free Camps in Australia (Part 1)
How to find Free Camps in Australia
This is part one of a two part article discussing how to find “Free” camps in Australia.
Those of you that regularly read our travel blog will know that as we travel Australia in our motorhome, we spend much of our time staying in free and nearly-free camps. We do this for a number of reasons…
- Economics – clearly one of the major benefits of free camping is the cost saving. We have spent a lot of time and money getting our motorhome to the point where we are not dependant on any external services. We carry lots of water, make our own power (solar and wind) and we have everything we need onboard. Therefore, it simply does not make sense to pay for services and facilities that we don’t need or use.
- The freedom – no forward bookings are required to stay in free camps. They are almost never crowded and there are no huge lists of camp rules to take note of. We have our own, very simple “leave no trace” mantra.
- People – We find that the people that we meet when staying in free camps are somehow different from the ones that you run into when staying at popular paid camp grounds. This might simply be because they are relaxed and enjoying the same freedom and stress-free life that we enjoy.
- Space – We have found ourselves staying in campgrounds that are so tightly packed that caravan doors touch the neighbouring van when opened. It is beyond me why people seek to escape cities for holidays that involve being jammed into accommodation that is far more crowded than where they normally live and work. Free camping normally offers space and the ability to be some distance (perhaps hundreds of kilometres) from the nearest neighbour.
- Remoteness – Australia is a fantastically diverse country with some truly remarkable landscapes. Many wonderful places simply do not feature fully equipped, paid camping facilities. Free camping is the only option if you want to experience these remote places.
We often get asked “so how do you find these free camps?”
After travelling Australia in a motorhome for over six years, we think we are pretty good at finding great places to stay. There is no single source, no book and no secret website – experience is a great teacher!
Here are some general guidelines.
- Decide what type of camp you need. If we need to be near a city or town to get something done, the places we stay are very different from the ones we look for when we want to relax for a few weeks. When we are looking to earn some money, we head for popular low cost camp areas (we often work for fellow travellers doing electrical repairs, installations and designs).
- Consult the books – Camps Australia Wide is the most widely used, but there are others. Jan Holland wrote a series of books called “Priceless Camps” covering Western Australia and the Northern Territory. These, while getting a little dated now, are fantastic and we consult and trust these books often.
- Word-of-mouth. When sitting around a camp fire with other campers, once the subject of “how many fish were caught today” has been discussed, the conversation normally turns to “what great camps have you been to lately”. We are never content with vague directions or maps drawn in the sand. We take very careful note and often pull out a computer based mapping program to pinpoint and mark the spot being discussed (more on this computer mapping system a little later).
- Ask at the information centres. Take care how you ask the question. Experience has shown us that it is not always just about asking – sometimes it is about how you ask. “Are there any free camps around here?” will often be met with “No – but we have a very nice caravan park just down the road – $45 per night”. Putting the question like this : “We have a fully self-contained motorhome, are there any places in the area where we could park for a night or two?” will often get a far more favourable response. We have even been told by the staff at that one info centre that they are under strict instructions not to volunteer information about free camps in the area unless specifically asked.
- Our database. When we find a place to camp, we carefully record it. We now have a huge database of places to camp. We record information about each place including:
- The latitude and longitude
- The size of the area (suitable for larger rigs?)
- The facilities – toilets, water etc.
- Special instructions – is the sand soft? Nearest dump point, where can we get water?
- Overall rating – we give each site a number between 1 (not good) and 9(fantastic, free beer and dancing girls) – we have never seen a “9” but we reserve the number just in case.
- Some places to consider if you are just looking for a place to spend the night and you are not concerned about the view – you might just be happy to use one of the following:
- Truck stops (often noisy and sometimes specifically exclude vehicles other than trucks)
- Roadside rest areas.
- Gravel pits (places where councils store road making materials)
- Light industrial areas (be prepared to be woken early).
- Deserted rail yards etc.
- Car parks
Electronic mapping and waypoint management
We use a mapping product called OziExplorer. This is an amazing, Australian written, piece of software that we have used since long before we started exploring Australia in our motorhome. Unlike the traditional mapping software, OziExplorer will not give instructions, telling you to turn left or right and it is not really well suited to navigating in cities. Where it does shine is in its ability to handle many different types of maps and manage a large list of special places (called waypoints). The program also allow us to transfer these waypoints to our dash mounted GPS unit making it a very simple task to find the nearest camp spot.
We have been collecting maps for OziExplorer for a number of years now. These maps are a major source of new “out of the way” places to camp. Simply reading a map and looking at where that small dirt track goes to can provide some great insight into what it might be like to camp there. Many of our maps are so detailed; they even have every house and building marked on them.
OziExplorer also interfaces with Google Earth and Google maps – this allows us to switch to a satellite view to examine potential camping spots in more detail before we travel 100kms down some rough dusty track. The Google StreetCar has travelled much of Australia photographing at 5 metre intervals as it went. This can be a tremendous resource for places to camp. You just cannot beat the ability to “look around” an area from ground level before you go there. To see the Google StreetCar view, visit Google mapping and look for the little orange man.
In Part Two of this article we will look at places to avoid and some safety and security thoughts.
Part two can be found here
As always, your comments and questions are very welcome!
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