outdoor lifestyle

Everything You Need To Know About Free Camping In Australia

by Rose Foster

Blessed with stunning scenery and year-round warm weather, Australia really lends itself to the outdoor lifestyle. With the vast country spanning over 7 million square kilometers, there’s plenty of space to enjoy it too. While staying in caravan parks is a great option for comfort, if you want to wake up with the sound of the waves lapping the shore and watch the sun set in the remote outback, free camping is one of the best options.

What is Free Camping?

As the name may suggest, free camping is all about being free (both in a monetary and physical sense). The ultimate bush experience, free camping means being one with nature, setting up camp away from the amenities and facilities of a caravan park and enjoying some of Australia’s most beautiful natural wonders.

Although you’ll generally have no access to power or other amenities (other than a toilet in some cases), free camping offers a way to stay on Australia’s beautiful beaches, under the outback stars, by trickling streams and among all the other natural environments around the country.

While staying at a caravan park allows you to be close to sites and attractions, free camping immerses you in the experience meaning you don’t have to wander too far to enjoy the area. You can simply while the days away outside your caravan and exploring the world around you.

Are Free Camps Actually Free?

In terms of costs, as the name suggests, free camping is generally free! That said, there are some places, namely National Parks which do have a fee attached. Although they aren’t ‘free camps’ in the traditional sense of the word, they can be discussed here as the same rules apply.

  • QLD – $6.65 per person per night, or $26.60 per family per night (see more)
  • NSW – Site fees are set on four levels depending on location and facilities, from $0 – $16 per person, per night (see more)
  • VIC – varies per location, from $5- $29.90 per person, per night (see more)
  • SA – from $12.50-$21.50 per couple, per night (see more)
  • WA – $8 (no facilities), $11 (basic facilities), $15 (additional facilities), per person, per night. Sites in Windjana Gorge National Park, Purnululu National Park or King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park are $13, $17 and $20 (see more)
  • NT – $3.30 (basic facilities) and $6.60 (moderate facilities) per person, per night (see more)
  • TAS – varies per location, many parks are free (see more)

It’s important to note that you can’t just pull up and camp anywhere you want. You can only stay in ‘legal’ free camps. And since there are thousands of dedicated free camping spots around Australia, there’s really no need to camp somewhere you’re not supposed to!

What Kinds Of Places Will I Find Free Camps?

Beaches

When you think about free camping, or if you’ve ever searched instagram for Big Lap inspo, you’ve undoubtedly got an image in your mind of waking up with the sand and sea at your doorstep.

Australia’s beaches are the setting for some of Australia’s most incredible free camps, allowing you to embrace that coastal breeze and unobstructed sea views. many beach camps are National Park or council-run so make sure you check the rules before pulling up for the night.

National Parks

National Parks free camps come in all shapes and sizes. From the middle of the outback to beachfront on Fraser Island, the number of National Park free camps in Australia is vast, and if you’re looking for a good ‘bush camping’ experience, heading to a National Park is a great idea.

Most National Parks will require that you book a pass, even if there’s no charge to stay. The facilities at each one also vary. Some have no facilities, some have toilets and showers. Some allocate spots, some allow you to park where you please.

Rest Areas

Australia was made with travellers in mind. Along every long highway, there are rest areas for weary travellers to rest their heads. Whilst these rest areas are usually nothing flash, and not worth travelling to or for, they do provide a free place to park up for the night.

Each state and territory manages these roadside rest areas and the conditions to stay and availability vary.  Many service stations have parking facilities which are usually popular with truck drivers who need somewhere to stay overnight, but they’re free for anyone to make use of. That said, there are specific truck-only rest areas so make sure you don’t park in one of these unless you want a rude awakening by a tired truckie!

Most rest areas have toilets but some, especially the ones in the car parks of service stations, have showers too. BBQ facilities, picnic benches and firepits can be found at some.

Don’t get too comfy here, most rest stops have limits of 1-2 nights.

Showgrounds

Showgrounds are a hidden gem in terms of free camps. Most of the smaller towns have them and many of provide a free or cheap place to stay during your Big Lap.

Bushland

Under the gumtrees, alongside a river, in a clearing. Australia’s bushland provides the setting for some of the most amazing free camps. Many bushland free camps are National Parks but there are plenty of council-run, private-owned and random spots that you’ll discover. Keep your eyes open as you won’t find every awesome spot online or even on WikiCamps. Sometimes, the best free camps are places you come across on a whim.

Station Stays

How To Find Free Camps

These days, finding free camps is really easy. With Big Lappers sharing their experiences on Instagram, ever-updated apps and comprehensive guides, finding somewhere incredible to stay is not hard at all

WikiCamps App

Most Big Lappers have the WikiCamps app downloaded. This is by far the most popular camp-finding app among Big Lappers as it is an incredible resource for finding free camps. Perhaps one of the best things about WikiCamps is that it is crowdsourced, meaning that every time a user finds an awesome free camp, they can add it for you to find!

But that’s not all. Because of its interactive interface, Big Lappers can add their own reviews, comments and photos to help give other people travelling Australia a betting understanding of what the place is like.

Not only does it show you where these camps are, it also provides information about the amenities/facilities and gives you booking information. This can be invaluable as if you need certain facilities, it’s better to know whether you’ll have access to them before you commit to it.

Camps Australia Wide

If you want something a bit more tangible than an app, the Camps Australia Wide guide book is another option which is really popular amongst Big Lappers as it contains information of over 5,000 caravan parks, free camps, community camp stays, national and state parks and station stays.

This guide has is now in its 10th edition and has been the go-to guide for Australian travellers for some time.  Each site comes with GPS co-ordinates and information about facilities etc.

Check Out Our Top Picks

You can also find our top picks for free camps by state here:

What To Expect From Free Camps

It may come as no surprise to you that your camping experience at one of Australia’s many free camps won’t be the same as staying at a caravan park. But what you lose in facilities, you make up for in other incredible ways.

Here’s what you can expect from free camps in Australia.

No Power

Generally, free camps do not have powered sites (or access to power at all). So, being self-sufficient when you stay at free camps is quite important. Many free campers have solar panels or battery systems to help them free camp for longer.

Limited Amenities

Free camps vary in terms of the facilities they offer. The very basic free camps have no facilities, meaning you have your own toilet OR commit to bush-toiletting. It should be noted though, that not all free camps allow you to just do your business wherever you please: some require you to have your own toilet.

Some free camps have toilets (somes drop toilets, sometimes flushing toilets) and few have showers. It may come as no surprise that there are usually no more advanced facilities than that! No pool, no laundry, no handy kiosk. But hey, it’s free, right!?

Beautiful Scenery

If there is one thing that is almost guaranteed at a free camp, it’s that you’ll be surrounded by some amazing scenery. Some spots are obviously more spectacular than others, but even if you’re not waking up beachside or going to bed overlooking Uluru, you’re sure to be treated by some amazing scenery.

Tips For Free Camping Like A Pro

Free camping is an incredible experience but there are certain things that you can do to make sure you get the most from your trip.  Follow these free camping tips and you’ll be well on your way to free camping like a vanlife pro.

Before You Go

Ever heard the saying, ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’? Well, that sentiment certainly rings true when it comes to free camping. Making sure you’re prepared before you go can make the difference between enjoying your free camping experience or not.

Here are some things you need to consider before you go.

  • Drinking-Water: Make sure your water tanks are full.
  • Toilet Paper: You never know when if the toilets where you’re going will have toilet roll (or if there will be a toilet at all!)
  • Fill Up Gas: You don’t want to run out of your cooking fuel!
  • Mozzie Coils: Don’t let pesky bugs cut your fun short.
  • Lighting: Make sure you have torches (with charged batteries!) and ample lighting so you can find your way around free camps with no facilities.
  • Shopping: Shop smart before you go. Ensure you have enough non-perishables to last as long as you need them to!
  • Empty Your Toilet: There may not be a dump point where you are so, if you have a toilet, make sure it’s empty before you go.

When You Arrive

  • Find Flat Ground: there’s nothing worse than setting up only to get into an uneven bed at the end of the day. Since most free camps don’t have specific spots, they are generally not level, so it’s up to you to find somewhere that it… or have some way to make it level yourself.
  • Don’t Camp Under Trees: gumtrees and palm trees are two iconic Australian trees, but unfortunately, they’ve got a nasty habit. Both of these tree types like to drop branches, even in non-inclement weather. So, make sure you don’t park your caravan or set up your tent under trees if you can help it.
  • Find Somewhere Safe: While most free camps are safe, if you don’t feel safe in an area, trust your gut and move on.

During Your Trip

During your free camping experience, you’ll soon come to learn that you need to be conservative with your resources. While you’ll come up with your own hacks and tips, here are some things that you’ll want to consider.

Power

Power is one of your biggest limitations to the longevity of your free camp stay. Most campers, when they run out of power, will need to head back to civilisation to charge up again. So, you’ll end up doing everything you can to preserve power and make sure you don’t run out for the duration of your free camping adventure.

  • Turn It Off: if you’re not using it, turn it off. This goes for lights, chargers and anything in between!
  • 12v Cooling: In the heat, you won’t be able to run your caravan’s airconditioning, but you may be able to use a 12v fan or cooling system of some sort. This will, obviously, mean you run out of power quicker.
  • Solar: If you want peace of mind that you will never run out of power while free camping, investing in solar is a good option.
  • Generator & fuel: Generators are another option when it comes to power but they’re not the most popular option, partly due to the fact that they’re usually bulky and they’re not permitted in National Parks due to the noise. Even in camps where generators are permitted, your neighbours might not be too happy about listening to your generator all night long!

Water

Water is also a resource you’ll constantly trying to conserve. Depending on how long you take in the shower and how many times a day you wash your dishes etc, you’ll begin to understand how long your water tanks will last. And empowered with that information, you’ll be able to make informed choices about your water usage.

While this doesn’t mean you’ll have to embrace the dirt (although there’s nothing wrong with that!), it does mean you will need to be more conscious about how much water you’re wasting and how much you actually need!

Cooking & Food

As with everything at free camps, it’s important to not assume when it comes to free camp cooking. While you may want to cook on an open fire, for example, campfires are not permitted everywhere. So, make sure you are set up to cook using your own equipment and that you have everything you need.

Free Camping Etiquette

Since there is generally no on-site park manager to keep travellers in line and make sure people are following the rules, it is down to the travellers themselves to ensure they’re doing the right thing.

Leave No Trace

Perhaps the most important rule of free camping is ‘leave no trace’. It is a privilege to be able to travel the country and experience the pristine outdoors as nature intended them to be, so it is your duty as a traveller to ensure it stays that way.

So, if you’re going to stay in free camps, you need to adopt the ‘leave no trace’ mindset. Take all your rubbish with you, don’t feed the wildlife, don’t empty grey water (or god forbid, black water) into waterways.

The goal is to leave the spot as if you were never there, both so the natural eco-system continues functioning as normal, and so the next set of travellers can enjoy it in its pristine beauty too.

Camp In Legal Spots

As mentioned, you can’t camp wherever you want. You must camp in a designated free camp or area, rather than pulling off to the side to the road or just staying in a car park. You can receive fines for staying in areas that you are not supposed to!

Be Neighbourly

With no park management keeping travellers in order, it’s down to each camper to ensure they’re being neighbourly with one another. That means, no late-night blaring music (unless all the neighbours are invited!) and being considerate about the space you’re taking up!

Only Light Fires In Designated Areas/If Allowed

As you know, bushfires in Australia are serious business, so it is absolutely vital that you don’t light fires in areas where they are not permitted. Some free camps have designated fire pits, so make use of them where you can.

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