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Imagine yourself sleeping in the back of a Van or on the roof of your car (with a roof-top tent). You wake up at night and stare through the window or your mosquito net. The sky is pitch-black but lightened up by thousands of stars shining in the Milky Way. You feel so rich having this immense experience. Costs: AU$0! Sounds almost too good to be true right? Yet, it is possible while free camping in Australia!
The ultimate backpackers guide for free camping in Australia
- What is so good about free camping (besides the fact that it is free)?
- What can I expect from a free camp?
- What do I need for free camping in Australia?
- Where and how can I find free camps?
- 9 tips for free camping in Australia
What is so good about free camping (besides the fact that it is free)?
Free camping, really means free camping. Absolutely no costs involved. Drive to the campground, park your car, enjoy the scenery, make friends, play music, stay the night, or multiple nights and enjoy. FOR FREE! Yes for FREE! But this is not the only reason free-camping is so good, there are many more reasons!
Come and go whenever you want
When you stay at a paid campsite, you pay as soon as you arrive. If, after a couple of hours, you don’t like the place, that’s your bad luck. Most of the time you don’t get your money back and you feel kind of obligated to stay.
With free camping, you are free to leave whenever you want. Did you already park your car and used the facilities, but after all, you don’t like the place? Pack your stuff and go. Find another free camp where you do feel good. No need to inform someone and no need to give a reason, just go.
No need to book
Don’t know your plans yet? You don’t have to pre-book a free camp. So make your plans last minute and see where you end up. Ultimate freedom!
Sleep on remote places
Another way you can feel freedom is when you hit a free camp where you are all alone. Play your music loud, dance naked and get drunk without bothering anyone. Sounds good right?
Meet like-minded people
People on free camps just seem to be more relaxed. Open for a conversation and a laugh and sharing marshmallows at a campfire. No need to invite people or ask for an invitation, just bring your own chair and beverage and enjoy the free-camp-life together.
What can I expect from a free camp?
A free camp can be anything and anywhere. A parking lot behind a gas station, a beautiful park with large grassy spots near a lake or beach, a simple gravel pit or anything in between. Some have many facilities, some have absolutely no facilities at all.
Most of the free camps in small towns are maintained by local people on a volunteering basis. With the free camp they want to attract travelers to their town, hoping to spend their money in local shops and restaurants. It would be nice to have a look around in town and do your groceries at the local supermarket or eat your dinner at the local pub. This will help them a lot to maintain the free camp.
A lot of free camps where we have stayed were maintained very well and provided a clean toilet. But there are some free camps that aren’t that nice, with disgusting toilets and smelly sites. You can either skip these campsites or just stay for a night, to save some accommodation costs.
Facilities on free camps vary from camp to camp. Most free camps are very basic, but some have some more to offer. During our two year round-trip in Australia, we never had an electricity point at a free-camp. So if you are in need of power, you should check in on a powered campsite.
Best case scenario, you will find a free camp with large spaces to park your car. There are bbq’s available to prepare your meals, a clean toilet to do your business and a warm shower to refresh yourself. Don’t count yourself rich yet, as there aren’t many of these around.
Most free camps are very basic and don’t even provide a toilet. These free camps are only allowed to camp for self-contained vehicles. This means you have your own portable toilet on board. No worries, there are plenty of free camps where you can stay without such a toilet in your car.
Out of the free camps that do provide a toilet, most offer a separate one for men and women, but sometimes you have to share it. Most likely there won’t be cooking facilities and if there is a shower it’s probably cold.
Most free camps provide large parking spots, next to a river or a lake. Sometimes you can go fishing or swimming. Some are very busy and some are not. The free camps next to the highway are often most busy and you have to arrive on time to make sure you have a spot for the night.
If a free camp is located near a gas station or restaurant, count on a normal parking space. Still a perfect spot for an overnight stay!
Free camping in Australia is going back to basics, but this is what makes it an adventure! To make the best out of it make sure you read the following part!
What do I need for free camping in Australia?
As you have read, the facilities at free camps are very basic. A toilet is most of the time the only facility you get. But how do you survive free camping with so little facilities? By taking your own facilities with you!
To make free camping in Australia a fun and memorable experience there are some things you should always have with you:
A place to sleep
Obviously, when you go free camping in Australia you need a place to sleep. This can either be in the back of your Van, on the top of your car in a roof-top tent or in a tent you set up next to your car.
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The night temperature depends on the season in Australia. Winter time (Jun-Sep) are commonly the coldest months. Summer time (Dec-Feb) are commonly the warmest. The more you go inland, the more you will notice the desert climate with cool nights all year round.
Even in summer time, you can have really cold nights. So, make sure you bring an extra blanket, to stay warm at night. Other nights will probably extremely warm and you want to leave your doors open. Be prepared and bring a mosquito net which keeps mosquitos and other crawling animals outside.
As you will rarely find barbeques on free camps, you have to make sure you can prepare your own meal. Bring a small gas stove which you can put on a table to cook. Also bring pots and pans, a lighter and food, of course, to be able to prepare your meal.
Plates, cutlery and a mug are also handy when it comes to cooking and eating!
In Australia, you can’t drink all the water from random taps. A sign will always tell you when you can not drink the water. And often on free camps, there is no drinking water available. The only water there is, is potable water which is conserved in large tanks. You have to boil it a couple of minutes before you can drink it. So, this is good for cooking, but not for drinking.
Bring a jerry can with drinking water with you, so you always have some on hand. You can fill your jerry can wherever there is drinking water. On som rest areas along the highway, gas stations or paid campsites.
To make your stay a bit more comfortable, you might like to bring a table and camp chairs. At Bunnings you can get a camp chair from AU$5 and a camping table for just a little more. This will allow you to sit back and relax, watch the sunset while your dinner is cooking on the stove. Easy!
If you really want to free camp your way all around Australia, it might be nice to invest in some kind of shower. The solar showers are really handy when it comes to camping. It is kind of a large black plastic back with a hose on it. Fill it up, lay it in the sun during the day and at the end of the day you have a really nice warm shower. Be careful, because the water can get really hot!
Do you have electricity in your car, check out a 12V shower. Hang the pump in a bucket of water (or your jerry can), plug it into your 12V system and voilà, you have a real shower! Boil part of the water in your bucket and you have a lovely warm shower! Out of experience, I can tell you, this is amazing!
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Want a bit more privacy? Get a pop-up shower tent. This is a small, but a high tent, where you can stand in upright. Hang your shower on the top and you have a lovely private shower.
NOTE: The pop-up shower tent will probably not work with a solar shower, as the bag is too heavy for the tent and the tent will collapse.
Then there is some small stuff you want to have with you when you go free camping in Australia.
- Garbage bag: Collect your garbage in a garbage bag. Although most free camps have a place to dump your trash, it will save you a lot of walking!
- Toilet paper: Most free camps provide toilet paper, but you don’t want to be that one who needs it most when it isn’t there!
- Flashlight: To find your way around the free camp when it’s dark.
- Earplugs: Some free camps are situated close to the highway or train tracks. You won’t notice the noise with some earplugs!
Where and how can I find free camps?
Did you like what you read so far and are you ready to rock your free-camp-around-Australia adventure? Then you probably want to know now where and how you can find them!
There are several possibilities when it comes to finding free camps. Some are free and some will charge you a little fee. (This fee is absolutely worth it!)
Free camps app
Wiki Camps is the nationally known app when it comes to free camping in Australia. Not just free camping, but you also find points of interest, paid campsites, backpackers hostels, caravan parks, information centers and more.
The price varies a bit from time to time, but it will cost you between AU$5 and AU$10 for an unlimited prescription. Sometimes you get a 14-day free trial. Filter on free, paid or donation / accessible with 2WD or 4WD / facilities and much more.
From each campsite in the app, you can see the facilities, comments and pictures from people who have stayed there (who will tell you if the camp site is clean, busy, quiet, noisy etc.). It is a really handy app when it comes to free camps. The only disappointment: it only works when you are online.
Free camps book
When you are out of reach and can’t access the Wiki Camps app, there is a free camp book. There are many different books of this kind, but they will all tell you the same: Where you can find (free) camps in Australia.
Free camps search options for free
Don’t want to spend your money on a tool to find free camps in Australia? Not a problem. Here are some tips to find free camps on your route:
- Visit the national park site of the state/territory you are in to see if a national park where you are nearby, provides free camps.
- Check information centers in towns you pass. Information centers are situated in almost every civilization, no matter how small.
- Ask locals, in shops or at gas stations. They might be able to tell you where you can stay the night without breaking the law.
- Along the highway, you will find plenty of free camps. They are always marked 2 or 3 times aside of the road before you reach them.
- Keep your eyes open. In many towns, you will find free camps. As long as it doesn’t say that you are not allowed to camp there, you should be good. But have a look around to make sure there is no sign anywhere close to the parking space! Sometimes they just plant one little sign that counts for the whole area.
9 tips for free camping in Australia
To make free camping in Australia an ultimate experience, we have some tips for you. These will make sure you are ready for all-case scenarios!
1. Always bring toilet paper!
Just in case you know… Sitting on the toilet, doing your thing and then figuring out there is no toilet paper, is literally shitty! Put a little pack of tissues in your pocket and you are always fine to do your business!
2. Drinking water
Not all free camps in Australia provide drinking water. Make sure you always have a full jerry can with water that you are able to drink and that you can use for cooking. This will save you some extra kilometers to the nearest gas station (which can be a couple of hundred kilometers away!)
3. Don’t camp where it says “no camping allowed”
Seems pretty obvious, but I would just like to warn you one more time. Fines for camping on spots where it is not allowed are expensive! If you get caught it will probably your most expensive night ever!
Also, don’t camp where it says rest-area or truck-stop. The rest areas are only day-use areas where people can stop over to have a brake or use the toilet. Truck-stops are for trucks, and not for you! Respect them, as they have fewer places to stay than you.
4. Arrive on time
Free camps can be crowded, especially during high season. The later you arrive the smaller your chances of having a spot. If camps get crowded you will most likely find this information in the wiki camps app, so make sure to check it out.
Always make sure to have a back-up spot in mind. If a free camp is already filled up, you can go to your back-up camp.
5. Bring a flash-light
There are very few free camps that light up the walking paths when it’s dark. Make sure to bring a flash-light or a headlamp when you go free camping. You are able to find the toilet block without bumping into trees or stepping on snakes!
6. Be honest and donate
Some free camps are maintained with donations. If so, you will see this in the Wiki Camps app. When you go to such a free camp, make sure to make your donation in the donation box. It will help your fellow travelers to stay at the same place!
7. Be fire-minded!
It is absolutely amazing to start a campfire at night, sit around it, drink a beer, eat marshmallows and share travel stories. But keep in mind that Australia is an extreme DRY country! If it says no campfires, don’t start a campfire. If a campfire is allowed, don’t make it too big and make sure it is 100% extinguished before you leave to bed.
8. Respect wildlife
Free camps are often situated in the middle of nature, which is absolutely beautiful. Just keep in mind that you are a guest on an animal’s territory. Respect their natural habitat and give them the space they need. You can do this by:
- Leaving absolutely no food behind, also no little food scraps.
- Only pie on the toilet! You don’t only confuse animals with doing this, but you also leave a terrible smell behind for the next visitor! Australia is a dry country, and waiting for the next rain shower to wash it away can take months!
- Close your doors and windows at night (or make sure you have a proper mosquito net installed). This tip is not necessarily for the animals, but more for your own sake.
- If you see an animal (snake, iguana, wallaby, koala, crocodile or whatever you can think of), remain quiet and let them pass by. As long as you stay quiet and relaxed, the animal will probably not even notice you and just follow his journey.
9. Respect your fellow free-campers
Respect your neighbors and keep free camping a fun thing for everyone.
- Turn your own and your music volume down
- Don’t shine your flashlight through windows
- Be quiet if you pass other cars to go to the toilet
Easy as that!
Hopefully, you are ready for your free camping adventure in Australia. If you have any experience with free camping or if you have a question, please leave a comment below.