We’ve been free camping for many years – all round Oz! It’s a great way to offset the cost of fuel, especially towing a caravan on a long haul. On one trip taking in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland we met a grey nomad couple at Prairie Lions Free Camp in Far North Queensland. This was to be only their second free camp and being first to arrive they were mightily relieved to see our intentions to join them for the night.
I was reminded of my concerns in our early days of free camping. Security was always first on my checklist although the Other Half cracked hardy. I must admit up-front that we’ve never had a single negative experience in terms of security. There have been three occasions when the hairs went up on the back of my neck simply because of the vibe of the place. Twice we moved on, but once the Other Half refused to budge and we got about as much sleep as parents of new-born twins. So, if for no other reason I would say trust your instincts or you’re in for a long night.
I still feel more secure if at least one over-nighter joins us at a free camp. Best of all are those popular spots like Burra Gorge in South Australia and Rollingstone’s Bushy Parker Park in Qld where over thirty rigs pull in and you’re instantly welcomed into the grey nomad set – but get there early for a good spot!
One of the reasons some free camps are very popular is that toilets are provided either by councils, National Parks, service or sporting clubs. To these providers I say a hearty thank you!
Now you have to remember that free camping sites don’t provide power – at least not usually. On this trip we found power provided at Kumbia (donation appreciated) and Wallumbilla on the Warrego Highway. Generally though you have to be independent. For some travellers this means a campfire and a torch or candle – which is okay outside the bushfire season.
Some travellers take a generator especially to keep the freezer going. If you’re camping in a National Park check first if genies are okay. Another option is to harness solar power to keep a battery charged and run a 12 volt set-up.
We find that we can manage just with a deep-cycle battery to power our needs for three or four days. We run our three-way fridge on gas. On a vegetarian diet we don’t have much to freeze. Then we go to a caravan park to re-charge the battery, do the laundry and have a swim in a pool. Really, your lifestyle will guide your choice of power source.
You need to do your research to see if water will be available at a free campsite. Sometimes there is mains water from a tap; or a tank which may or may not contain rain water; and other times there is water for washing but not for drinking.
We always take some water with us just in case. If we have a long distance to travel we take on water at the town closest to the campsite to save carrying weight and using more fuel. Even so, we have found this risky as water is sometimes scarce in towns and not available to travellers.
One of the great advantages of free camping is that the family pet can often come too. They are usually prohibited in National Parks and some council sites.
In order to maintain this privilege please keep your dog on a lead if required; or if other people, wildlife or stock are around – and pick up their droppings.
Locating Free Camps
So, how do we know where the free camps are? We have four main sources of information. Firstly there is the grapevine – that communication network among travellers that may be word-of-mouth through a conversation overheard in a laundry. Caravan and four-wheel-drive magazines are another way to learn about free camps, and you can see photos of what to expect.
Then there are the Information Offices for each region that publish brochures on what’s available in their area, and others too. These days we rely largely on a publication called Camps Australia Wide which is updated regularly and gives information on the facilities available at each campsite.
A Model-Free Camp
On this trip we came across our ideal free campsite! It is at St Lawrence in Queensland. Why is it so great? It is a large area at a recreation ground divided into two halves. One half is for travellers with generators and the other half is for people who value peace and quiet. It has toilets and showers – with a coin feed for a hot shower and hot water at the basins. All is immaculately clean!
Then there is a port-a-loo dumpsite, and a clearly signed potable water outlet. There is a large covered area for rainy days, even a fenced and shaded area for children to play on the lush manicured lawn. The night we visited there were forty-three overnighters. For councils or other providers interested in setting up a free camp surely here is your model!
Free camping is the way of the future to off-set soaring costs. What better way for small and medium-sized communities to benefit economically from the travelling grey nomads. We are an expanding group and this is a great way to keep us travelling further and attract our dollars. Even the larger towns and cities are losing caravan parks due to high costs on valuable land.
For those travellers yet to try free camping rest assured there is an entry level to suit any comfort zone. A little research is all you need.