Caravan Parks, Free Camps, Homestays and More: Where To Stay During Your Big Lap

by Rose Foster

When it comes to travelling Australia, the type of accommodation you choose will depend on three things: your personal style, your budget and your car/van set up.

Knowing your options will help you properly budget and make a plan for what your Big Lap will actually look like. Your choice of accommodation might do more than influence where you sleep, it can influence the types of places you visit too.

So, let’s take a look at your options for accommodation during your Big Lap of the map.

Caravan Parks

Perhaps the most obvious choice is to stay at a caravan park. Caravan parks really vary in the types of facilities they offer, but generally, you’ll be able to choose between a powered or unpowered site, depending on your needs.

Some parks are mini holiday resorts with water parks for kids, restaurants and swimming pools. Others offer just the basic shower and toilet blocks.

If you want to stay in caravan parks every night of your Big Lap, you’ll largely be restricted to sticking to main roads and tourist routes. And while some caravan parks offer amazing views, many don’t offer the beautiful scenery of other options, such as free camps and national parks.

Out of all of your Big Lap Accommodation options, caravan parks are your most expensive option. These days, you won’t see much change out of $40 per night for a powered site, with some parks charging upwards of $70 per night. Generally, in each town, you’ll find parks of varying standards of park, meaning you’ll be able to choose to stay in a cheaper park with basic facilities or a more expensive park with all the bells and whistles.

One thing to be wary of is seasonal price changes. During Summer and Easter Holidays especially, some parks hike their prices and impose a minimum stay (sometimes up to 2 weeks). During these times, the availability of sites at caravan parks also diminishes, meaning you may be stuck with the more expensive option if you don’t book ahead.

Pros: Good facilities, ability to book ahead

Cons: Most expensive option

Free Camps

Another hugely popular option when travelling Australia is free camping. As the name suggest, free camping involves staying at camping sites outside of paid caravan parks which incur no cost.

The number of free camps across Australia is staggering. Some are remote, some are just off main, most are low key, with basic or no facilities. If you’re going to stay at a free camp for a good amount of time, being fully self-sufficient is generally necessary; with no toilets, running water or power, most people wouldn’t be able to last more than a few days. That said, you can find some free camps with better than basic facilities, but they are few and far between.

Since free camps aren’t managed businesses like caravan parks, you have to dig a little deeper to find them. Big Lap app, WikiCamps has made it easy for people travelling Australia to not only find free camps, but rate and review them for other travellers too.

Pros: It’s free to stay

Cons: The facilities are nil or basic

National Parks

National Parks are usually the step up from free camps. They’re still relatively basic in terms of facilities but there is often a fee attached to them. In comparison to most free camps, camp rounds in National Parks are maintained by the State so they are usually clean and well-maintained.

Much like free camps, being self-sufficient is an advantage but at least with National Parks, you’ll at least find toilet blocks!

If you’re planning to camp in Australia’s National Parks, here’s a rundown of the costs per state:

  • 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)

Pros: Stay in Australia’s beautiful National Parks, relatively cheap or free

Cons: Minimal facilities, sometimes off the beaten track (possibly a ‘pro’ though)

Roadside Rest Areas

While this can probably be grouped into the ‘free camp’ bucket, we thought it was worth a mention. There are thousands of roadside rest areas throughout Australia which offer travellers a place to rest their head overnight. Usually, these are just small areas on the side of the road, or an allocated place in the car park of a roadhouse.

The main difference between roadside rest areas is that you’re generally only permitted to stay for 24 hours as they are designed for people passing through the area who need a place to rest on a long journey. So, it’s best not to plan your trip around staying at roadside rest areas!

Pros: A place to lay your head on a long journey, free

Cons: 24 hour stays, minimal facilities

House Sitting

If you fancy a little home comfort during your trip, there is always the option of house sitting for a little while. There are a few websites, such as Trusted House Sitters and Mind a Home, here where homeowners can list their homes and house sitters can apply to ‘sit’ for them.

Some need people to watch their house for a few days, a few weeks or a few months. Sometimes, you’ll need to look after the homeowners animals, or do a little garden work whilst you’re there, but usually it’s a worthwhile pay off.

Pros: you can stay in a nice home for free

Cons: unpredictable in terms of dates and locations

Live-In Positions

While this isn’t an option for everyone, there are so many jobs around Australia which require people to ‘live-in’. From caravan park managerial roles to on-island hospitality work, looking for a live-in position can provide a good way to save some money on accommodation while you earn for the next leg of your trip.

You’ll find live-in positions on major job sites like Seek.com and Indeed.com

Restrictions of Your Set Up

Depending on the car/van/tent you are travelling with, you may be limited in terms of where you can stay.

Generally, no matter your set up, caravan parks are your safest bet. From powered sites for caravan to simple tent sites, caravan parks give every kind of traveller a place to rest their heads. With facilities such as showers, toilets, laundry facilities etc as standard, even if you don’t have the latest caravan with all the bells and whistles, you’ll still be quite comfortable in a van park.

At the other end of the spectrum is free camping which largely does require you to be somewhat self-sufficient. Depending on the camp, you may not have access to toilets or running water and therefore, unless you’re happy to bush-toilet for the duration, you may need to ensure you have toilet facilities in your rig.

It’s worth noting that even if you are happy with the idea of bush-toiletting (which does often come with the territory of big lapping!), some free camps won’t allow you to set up there if you’re not self-sufficient, so it’s worth checking those things before you arrive. WikiCamps will help you figure out if each site is for you.

What’s more, the physical capabilities of your car/van to actually reach your accommodation can be a factor. While you’ll generally be fine with caravan parks as they are usually easily accessible from main roads and highways, some free camps and national park camping grounds are only accessible by 4WD… and that means your van needs to have off-road capabilities too!

So, what are your plans for accommodation during your Big Lap? Let us know in the comments and ask any questions you may have!




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