FREE CAMPING AND REST AREAS IN AUSTRALIA

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Recently we talked you about how to buy a van in Australia, in the post you can find here. If you are planning to go to Australia and you’d like to buy a van and travel on-the-road, we suggest you to have a look at it before coming back and read this article.

If instead you already own a van and you’re looking to knowing more on how to fully enjoy your Australian adventure, look no further!
Here we tell you how and where to find free camping and rest areas in Australia, in which to stop both by day and by night when travelling by van.


TRAVELLING ON-THE-ROAD

We introduced how travelling on-the-road can be a great way to reduce costs, other than being an adventurous life style. Waking up at dawn in the woods, sipping a cup of coffee sheltered in your van when it rains outside, driving kilometers through national parks in the wilderness, dining at sunset with a seaview, before falling asleep in your home on wheels, cradled by the sound of the waves.
Things that can all be done in one day only and for free in Australia!

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The gorgeous coast of Queensland


FALSE MYTHS ABOUT AUSTRALIA

Many associate Australia to extreme costs and unreachable life styles. It’s clear that if you wish to dine by candle light with a bottle of wine and views over the Sydney Opera House, you’ll spend at least a couple of hundreds of dollars. However one size does not fit all.
Due to its immense dimension, Australia is the ideal country where one can get away from urban centres and head out exploring boundless territories in the middle of nowhere.
You are just spoilt for choice when it’s about the destination to reach or the itinerary to follow. The tropical rainforest in the north, the golden beaches in the east, the dozens of national parks, the spectacular coasts in the south and west, without mentioning the Red Centre or Outback which becomes more and more intense and dominates the inner part of the nation.

Fill up your van with supplies and the only other expense you’ll have to face will be filling up your fuel tank every 500-600 km’s. And here another myth falls down: in “super expensive” Australia fuel sometimes costs only 1.25$ a liter, which is 0.75€ cents!

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Free camping in Australia’s backcountry, where the land becomes red


TRUE MYTHS ABOUT AUSTRALIA

Nature is a big pride for Australia and Australians, its nationals parks are proper sanctuaries that are carefully protected. Here flora and fauna host species that can’t be found anywhere else on our planet, in a one of a kind ecosystem.
It is possible to free camp a bit everywhere in Australia, both outside and within protected areas.
As you may know the bushfire crisis that affected Australia for several months across 2019 and 2020, has devastated hundreds of hectares of land everywhere in the country, the worst event in the last couple of decades.
Despite the large size of damage and loss suffered, Australia has been able once more to defeat bushfires and start all over again.

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A forest in southern Queensland


FREE CAMPING IN AUSTRALIA

Let’s now go back to free camping and rest areas in Australia, and talk about it in details.

There are both free areas, with basic services as bathrooms, tables, bbq’s and sometimes showers too, and pay areas where you can find on top hot running water, sinks, cured lawns, grey water dumping spots, etc. Pay areas normally require little costs, like 5 or 10$. Obviously traditional caravan parks exist too, with all due services and comforts.
Some free areas are nothing but parking grounds next to a service station, other are neat spots next to the woods or along the beach. Some more offer hot showers, bathrooms and camp kitchen for free and it’s possible to leave a donation to support the caretakers.
Australia is the land of campers!


TYPES OF FREE REST AREAS

Here we divided rest areas into 2 main categories and 4 minor ones:


FREE CAMP OUTSIDE THE CITIES


WHERE TO STOP BY DAY OUTSIDE THE CITIES

Depending from the type of trip you are willing to do, you’ll spend most of your time in remote areas far from main urban centres.
It’s easy to find green areas, parks, beaches, and thousands of free camping spots everywhere in Australia, in which to stop with no worries.

In the countryside there are plenty of locations, some next to towns, other more far off. Any place will be ideal for a pic-nic or a break for you and your furnished van. Free parking areas are always well indicated by road signs and generally well looked after, toilets are cleaned daily and trash bins emptied regularly.
Services are pretty good in this kind of areas. They can be located along rivers, the sea, or close to recreational centres in smaller towns, and are usually equipped with restrooms, sinks and taps, tables and gas bbq’s.
Being day areas only it is forbidden to stop here at night time.
Each of them has signs by the entry which list what is permitted or not to do, and whether it is possible to camp for the night or not.

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A quiet free camping zone in Australia


WHERE TO SLEEP OUTSIDE THE CITIES

The areas in which to free camp during the night are located further from towns, typically at least a couple of km’s away.
They are more frequent closer to points of interest, and more sporadic as you drive away from them.
For example, when driving along secondary roads, it may be quite common that each area lies one hundred kilometers from the next. This kind of isolated spots are a sort of relief area, still clean, welcoming, in the middle of nature, and free.
They are thought particularly to suit campers needs, i.e. people with their own supply of food and drinks, and to provide them with an ideal place where to have a good night’s rest. Due to their remote location, there are hardly ever food sellers around.


SERVICES AND RULES

Other free camping areas situated in the proximity of busy areas, such as along the coast or around national parks, are true oasis, considering they are free of charge.
Here nothing is left to chance, if you are lucky there are even free hot showers (in not too hot states like New South Wales and Victoria). Normally showers in Australian camping sites are at ambient temperature, since the average is about 30°C most of the year (we advise not to camp in Victoria or Tasmania in Winter time if you are not geared up for cold weather!).
From time to time there may be donation boxes in the prettiest areas, not compulsory, in order to help cleaners.
Their only limit may take place during peak season, when these areas can get very busy.
Sometimes a maximum stay of 48hrs, 72hrs or a number of days per week is allowed, to avoid that people sit in the same spot for too long, without leaving a chance to other upcoming travellers.
Be always respectful and don’t think of yourselves only.


FREE CAMP WITHIN THE CITIES


WHERE TO STOP BY DAY WITHIN THE CITIES

It may occur to you to stay in a city for few hours or a couple of days.
If you are not familiar with Australian geography yet, you should know that big cities, meaning with over 100,000 inhabitants, are less than 15 nationwide (for example in Italy there are over 50, and Australia is thirty times wider…). It will then be an uncommon thing, but you’ll surely drive by cities as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, or Cairns.
It is more complicated to get into cities, rest areas are fewer and rarer, and it’s harder to handle traffic. Especially in metropolis like Sydney and Melbourne you need to be several km’s out of the central business district to find free spots.
Residential areas often have city parks with restrooms, tables and chairs, running water and large parking.

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Lunch break by the park


SHOPPING MALL PARKING

If you have a smaller van or one with a pop-up roof like ours, it’s a great idea to park easily and usually for free in undercover parkings within shopping malls, which will allow you to walk around the city for some hours. Some parking areas by large supermarkets let you park for 2-3 hours or more for free.
Clearly you can’t camp within a parking lot, but you can find a nearby green area where to have a lunch break.
TIP: take advantage of weekends, when parking in the cities is free for the whole day (Saturdays, Sundays and holidays).

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Free parking within the city (mind the max. height!)


FREE TIME LIMIT PARKING

Some city zones around schools, parks or cultural centres often have free parking for 2-4 hours, perfect for a break.
There’s plenty of free parking in Australian cities, however most of the time they have a time limit. We are talking about areas marked by “2P” or “4P” signs, where the number stands for the amount of hours you can leave your vehicle freely for.
Time limit hours are usually between 9am to 5pm, after which parking is totally free. Also, you can leave your van there by night, but not sleep in it, as we explain in the next paragraph.

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Signs stating free time limit parking


WHERE TO SLEEP WITHIN THE CITIES

Lastly, let’s talk about night time in the city.
Precondition: sleeping in a camper-van in the city at night time whilst parked in non-allowed areas is illegal in Australia, and fines are hefty, starting from 200$.
It happened to us once in a particular case (don’t report us!) to stop late at night time within the city in Cairns. We slept in the van and left soon at dawn, just to rest for a few hours and avoid driving by night.
There are that many nice free areas available that it’s useless to risk fines, other than not comfortable being forced to stay put in the van with no chance to get space on a lawn and no use of a toilet and running water.

Therefore, always look for a suitable spot where to stop for the night, avoid isolated areas and no-camping neighbourhoods, for safety reasons too.
In small-medium cities, you could find free, legal areas some ten kilometers from the city centre, basic areas with only a couple of toilets and a tap, but still free.


ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS

A cheap and safe option within the cities are hostels that offer a spot where to park your van and the opportunity to use bathrooms and kitchen from the hostel, while spending the night in your vehicle in an enclosed zone.
In Australia’s 5 metropolis (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide) it’s hard to find such hostels, your only solution will more likely be heading to a classic caravan park.

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An authorized rest area in the city outskirts


WIKICAMPS

Now that we talked thoroughly about free camping areas in Australia, the fateful question arises.
How to find rest areas where to free camp? Worry do not, we have the answer!

An app called Wikicamps, the best of its kind in Australia, suggests on its maps every single rest area available in the whole country, including detailed info about characteristics, services, possible costs, and also reviews made by other travellers. Our bible when we travel by van.
Users reviews are particularly useful to highlight pros and cons of each area: personal opinions of whom was there few days earlier help understand if it’s actually a nice rest area, clean, spacious, or too busy, perhaps with no mobile network coverage. Sometimes the fact if it’s infested by mosquitoes is pointed out as well, or whether you have to be aware of hungry possums by night, or even if some people there are too noisy and/or dangerous.


CAMPING BEHAVIOUR

Generally speaking, campers are respectful and peaceful folks, but as in all circles there are always exceptions. Personally we never had any trouble, we’d rather park next to sweet grey-nomad couples and their caravan than close to large groups of guys with their 4WD’s and tents, who might be partying till late (yes, we are old inside!).

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With Penny somewhere in New South Wales


ONLINE APPS AND OFFLINE MAPS

To conclude the matter, Wikicamps is an app that costs 8$, a one off payment giving you the chance to take advantage of its services both online and offline. We suggest to buy this app because it’s really worth it, you’ll thank us later when Wikicamps will help you finding a rest area in the middle of nowhere after driving for long hours! There’s a free-trial version to test for 14 days. You can find the link to download it here.
Shouldn’t you like it, there are several websites, blogs, other free apps which indicate camping spots, but they are not as detailed.
Lastly, for the most nostalgic of you who love printed paper, it’s possible to buy classic guides and maps featuring precisely all free camping areas in Australia, other than paid ones. Here’s our recommendations.

Let’s wrap up our guide to free camping in Australia, as usual feel free to write us in the comments if you have more questions to ask!

Read here our sum up post about our 1-year-long travel on the road in Australia.

Have a blast free camping in Australia!


HOW TO RENT A CAR OR A CAMPER-VAN IN AUSTRALIA?


DO I NEED A TRAVEL INSURANCE?

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