Free or bush camping in your hired campervan
You can save money by free-camping in your hired campervan. Free-camping may also be known as bush-camping, but it does not always involve being out in the bush. Essentially it's staying anywhere other than a caravan park. The term free-camping is as much to do with freedom as it has to do with lack of expense -- most designated camping grounds, especially in National Parks, charge a small fee, but this is still much cheaper than staying in a caravan park.
Designated camping grounds
Most National Parks in Australia, as well as a variety of state parks and other areas, have designated camping grounds that are suitable for a hired campervan. National Park campsites generally have more facilities than other types of camping grounds, and they usually cost a little more, although the rates are generally reasonable. Different states and territories have different requirements re booking and payment of site and entry fees -- have a look at the website for each state/territory parks authority before visiting. Some allow the purchase of a pass for extended periods -- annual or for a number of months -- which can make for a very cost-effective option.
Bush camps that are not designated camping grounds generally have no facilities and so are suitable only for those people whose campervan is fully self-contained. Some people just find an open space and set up camp, I prefer to find a location that is listed in a camping guide book as an appropriate camp site. Your campervan hire company may provide you with a camping guide book as part of your rental.
There are many rest areas, particularly on major highways, established by state roads authorities. The rules for how long you can stay in these areas vary from state to state, and even from council area to council area. Some are for day-time use only while others are suitable for overnight stops. Personally I'm not keen on staying in these areas unless they're well off the road and the more hidden the better. I do, however, often stop in them to break the drive and make a cup of coffee.
Some camping grounds will be nothing more than an open area where you can park anywhere you like, however many will have one or more of the following:
- Individually marked sites.
- Fireplaces or an area in which to build a campfire (which can vary from a circle of rocks, a metal enclosure or grate, or just a cleared space).
- Toilets of some description, usually nothing more than a "drop" toilet.
- Rubbish and/or recycling bins.
A few of the more popular will have:
- Flush toilets.
- Shower facilities (with or without hot water).
- Potable water.
- Picnic tables.
- A small convenience store.
- Wood for free or for sale for use in cooking or for a campfire -- although most will advise you to bring your own.
In the more popular camping grounds at the most popular times (generally school holidays, in particular just after Christmas and at Easter) you may need to book your site in advance.
As the facilities and amenities provided at these areas vary considerably you are generally limited by:
- Size of your vehicle.
- Amenities or facilities in your van.
- Supply of fresh water.
- Power -- propane gas and/or house batteries.
- If relying on house batteries, a means of recharging such as solar panels or generators -- note that generators are not permitted in most National Parks and some other areas.
- Means of storing grey water.
- Toilet facilities.
The facilities in a hired campervan will generally mean that you are restricted to only a night or two at any location. Most hired vans won't include solar power so you will need to drive each day, or find a powered site, to recharge the house batteries in your van.
Appropriate camping behaviour
Some important things to consider, regardless of whether you're camping in a designated camping ground, bush camp or rest area.
- Leave nothing but footprints -- take nothing but photos.
- Don't camp in no camping areas.
- Obey signs, not necessarily what's in your camping book.
- No camping on private property.
- Camp in well-used sites.
- Generally best away from road, best if other vans nearby, not too close to towns.
- Don't park under gum trees -- they're known to drop branches.
- Camp away from water -- especially if there are crocodiles!
- Don't damage soft surfaces.
- Don't disturb wildlife -- especially no feeding as human-food can make them sick.
- No pets in National Parks.
- Don't damage plants.
- Light fires only in fireplaces.
- Take all rubbish with you.
- Remove waste water.
- Use dump points.
- Keep your noise down so you don't disturb others.
If you're considering bush-camping I'd strongly recommend that you read the following articles on the CMCA's website :
- Leave No Trace Scheme
- Leave Only Footprints
- CMCA Bush Camping Code
- Overnight Parking Etiquette
- Our Bush Camping Rules
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