A Guide to Free Camping in Australia
If you have plans to do some exploring in Australia over several months or even a year, you are probably familiar with low cost camping options and the increasingly popular and trendy free camping.
Apart from the obvious benefit of saving you cash on accommodation, low cost camping can take you to exciting new places, heighten your cultural experiences through chance meetings with fellow travelers off the beaten track and, most importantly, get us thinking about ways in which we can use limited resources in a more sustainable way.
Low cost camping, or living off grid simply means reducing our reliance on power and water resources from parks and other paid accommodation facilities. We say reduce because clean drinking water and power are finite resources when living rough. While we can certainly prolong our use of water and energy resources while traveling, one or more will exhaust in time. Off grid travel is an exciting and fun way to see Australia particularly in the less populated areas and it has been aided by the increase in efficiency and portability of water and energy resources.
The most popular and common places for low cost travel stopovers in Australia are in the State’s and Territory’s National Parks, gazetted local government free camp sites (roadside rest facilities and other parks and publicly funded spaces) and, private camping facilities such as farm stays and private properties. Popular resources for locating and in some cases reviewing other travelers experiences of these places are Camps 8 and WikiCamps. Youcamp and Free Range Camping are websites that host listings from private properties offering lower cost accommodation for travelers.
There are always plenty of travelers on the road in Australia - backpackers, retired folk, professionals and the self-employed and parents, holidaying, home-schooling or simply exploring a different way of life. Their hopes and dreams are as diverse as the community itself.
Making the most of what you have is a situation nearly all of us are familiar with, and it often brings out the best in us. Whether you travel in a caravan, a motor home or a pop-up tent, sometimes simply subsisting can be the perfect reality check to an over complicated world. All of us are limited by resources in one way or another and so these limitations challenge us to make good, choose wisely and ultimately make sacrifices, stepping outside our comfort zone while returning us to a life more ordinary as we travel. The most basic resources we take for granted at home can require careful planning and thought as they increase exponentially in value when we travel.
Here is a summary of the most important resource areas to consider when road tripping and some tips for good measure. We hope that they may in some way help with planning your next travel adventure. Naturally, their use will vary according to your own travel tastes, style, purpose and budget and it's by no means definitive.
If you want to get off grid for extended periods then securing a reliable source of power is one of the most important prerequisites. Here are some options that you can give your travel plans a real energy boost!
- Auxillary (deep cycle) batteries are designed to deliver a strong, reliable and consistent source of power. They are most regularly used in recreational vehicles for electric fridges, water pumps, lights, small appliances and electronics. They can be recharged using solar input, a tow vehicles power sources or via a 240 volt socket. Deep cycle batteries are also installed under the bonnet of large four wheel drive vehicles to provide additional power capacity to 12 volt camping accessories. A deep cycle battery in a vehicle can be recharged using solar panels while stationary or via the alternator while in transit. You can learn more here.
- Solar panels harness the sun’s energy to recharge deep cycle batteries in passenger and recreational vehicles. Solar panels deliver variable charges depending on size and price. Their charge is also subject to the right weather conditions.
- Rechargeable Batteries. Many common travel items rely on alkaline batteries for power, such as lights, cameras, shavers and other small electronic devices. Rechargeable batteries have longer lives and are more cost effective when used over long periods. Having a ready supply can also help to avoid paying the high price for batteries in remote locations.
- Portable Power Banks are battery cells that use lithium polymer technology to deliver high output and are designed for recharging small USB compatible electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and small cameras. A 6000mAh power bank can recharge a smart phone 2-3 times before requiring recharging. Great for camping!
- Gas is one of the most efficient forms of energy you can use for cooking. A typical 4kg gas bottle can last several months depending on usage. Gas hot water systems are also a common feature in recreational vehicles for cleaning and showering. Butane gas cylinders are small, lightweight and connect to portable stoves. They are excellent for small camping trips. Most can boil a billy of water in 2-3 minutes!
Tip: Public libraries are not only a wonderful resource for information but in most cases they have work stations where you can recharge laptops and other electronic devices while traveling. Wi-fi is also becoming more readily available in many locations across Australia.
Water is a precious commodity in Australia and a vital resource. Water quality can vary significantly from place to place and both the quality and supply can be be determined by recent weather conditions or the season. Typically, it is recommended to allow for an average of 5 litres of water per person per day. This covers, drinking water, kitchen cleaning, meals and meal preparation and personal hygiene. Here are some options for keeping you and your crew clean and well hydrated.
- Carry a supply of bottled drinking water, particularly while traveling in remote and outback Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia where water in some locations may not be potable.
- Check your on board water capacity. If you are purchasing a rig, consider upgrading the on board water capacity in your recreational vehicle (RV), or inquire about the water capacity of different models before hiring to ensure the supply meets your needs.
- Purchase an inline water filter. These can be installed for use in your RV or attached to food grade hoses that you use to fill your water tanks in your RV.
- Carry water purifying tablets
3. Lighting and Technology
Lighting, communication and resource management tools are handy and at times vital accessories for successfully getting off the beaten track. Check out these suggestions for beating the dark and staying in touch.
- Many travelers carry multiple electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets that require regular recharging using a USB port. Ensure you have at least one USB port in your recreational vehicle or buy a USB battery bank
- LED lights are the most energy efficient compared to the output they provide and are a great choice due to their longevity
- Traveling off grid often means staying in locations with minimal lighting facilities. A head torch is a great piece of gear for traversing a camp site safely and using park facilities after dark
- Battery Management Systems (BMS) and electronic water level indicators are expensive technology but can take the guess work out of calculating vital information on power and water supplies in recreational vehicles, particularly when traveling remotely
- A GPS has become one of the most essential and affordable travel companions of the 21st century. They are ideal for navigating city traffic and common off road areas. However, it is prudent to carry a hard copy map of the area you traveling through as a back-up.
4. Kitchenware and Food
Housekeeping such as meal preparation, washing and cleaning are necessary activities whether traveling or not. Having the right gear here can save you plenty of time and money.
- Smaller electric or gas fridges can be a feature of many hire campers, caravans and trailer set-ups. A mid to large sized fridge / freezer combo can be an expensive purchase however it is a good investment if you are traveling for any extended period of time in Australia where you can store bulk food supplies and protect perishables from the elements.
- Hard plastic boxes with lids are a cheap item that help to protect food from ants, insects and other invaders. They also keep food fresher for longer
- A bucket is a handy item with multiple uses and the collapsible or foldable varieties store easily. Like a spade, a bucket has multiple uses and can collect water, catch kitchen waste, soak clothes and wash odds and ends to name a few.
- Carry UHT milk if only for emergencies
- Reusable shopping bags when not used for carrying food and groceries are useful for storing and protecting non perishable food, kitchen hardware and other general purpose items.
- Matches are necessary for getting the stove cranking for meal time and to light the fire on cold nights. Waterproof matches reduce the awkwardness of being cold and hungry in the event wet weather drowns your party
- Melamine tableware is lightweight, durable and perfect to use in all travel set ups, particularly when camping off grid in very informal surrounds
Tip: Use activated charcoal in fridges and ice boxes to avoid or remove unwanted food odours.
Here is list of some small general purpose odds and ends (not in any order) that have proven themselves to be most useful over the last 10 months on the road.
- Rubber bands
- Ocky straps
- Cable ties
- Cleaning cloths (microfibre)
- Zip lock bags
- Small spirit level
- A small block of wood
- A large mat - marine carpet
Never compromise on the health and safety of you and your family. When you are traveling it is advisable to always have access to a first aid kit and know how to use it. As a minimum carry a portable first aid kit with you in your car or backpack. It is an essential piece of gear when undertaking any walks or trips away from your main camp. A more complete first aid kit should be housed in your RV. Similarly, a fire extinguisher should be fitted to all vehicles.
Respect the environment..
Where possible and practical use and support products that minimise harm to the environment and always consider the comfort and enjoyment of future travelers when staying in free camps. We can all do our bit to protect and conserve the earth's land and waterways by disposing of all rubbish and waste correctly and thoughtfully.