Emma and Stefan’s guide to camping in Australia: Part one

5 April 2020

It seemed like a really good idea at the time, camping our way through Australia. After all, it’s got great facilities, it’s economical, it gets you closer to those landscapes and all that nature and most of all, it’s sunny and warm all the time.

Most of those things are true, at least some of the time. We spent nearly 90 nights under canvas in total and we loved it. So here, for what it’s worth, is our guide to camping in Australia.

It’s got great facilities

There are no two ways about it, Australia is totally set up for a life lived outdoors and it seems that everyone is at it. That means that everywhere is really set up for camping and every conceivable bit of kit is available.

Once we had bought the car we set about kitting it out to provide all our basic needs. The car had come with a fridge and two huge storage drawers but we added an awning that would provide much needed shade from the sun. Ranny and Andy very kindly lent us not only a helper in getting everything set up but also a brilliant tent and two inflatable mattresses to sleep on.

In just one trip each to K-Mart and Anaconda we had everything else we needed and we squeezed it into the back of the car. Everything had its place and was packed in like a giant game of Tetris!

We were almost entirely self sufficient. We carried our beds and all our bedding as well as our lounge. It took us a couple of attempts to get the tent put up right. How we didn’t notice we had the flysheet completely back to front on our first two attempts we just don’t know! But soon we had settled into a finely tuned routine which saw the basics of our camp – tent, bed and awning – set up in about 20 (sometimes quite sweaty) minutes.

We had a great little kitchen set up and quickly got used to cooking outdoors and often in the dark. With amazing foresight Stefan had brought both our head torches from the boat and we definitely needed them for nocturnal cooking and trips to the bathroom! We carried enough water for drinking and washing up. The only things we didn’t have was a toilet or a shower.

But what we didn’t have in the back of the car the public parks, recreation grounds, even simple roadside lay-bys of Australia provided. Anywhere in Australia you are never far away from an area that offers an electric BBQ, seating and shelter from the sun, a water source, toilets and sometimes even showers.

There was always somewhere to to brew up a cup of tea or make and eat lunch and to have a pee ready for the onward journey!

Sometimes in the Outback the loos were basic, often a long drop, but none more basic than at Trilby Station were the loo had no door but a great view across the flood plains of the Darling River. We just hoped that no one walked by and got a view of us!

We stayed at so many different campsites from free camps and small community run sites to big national chains and national parks. Even those with the simplest, most rustic facilities were clean and tidy and felt safe and comfortable. Early on we were told about the Wikicamps app which soon became our go to resource for planning where to go next. All except the free camps (and even some of those) offered toilets, showers and a laundry as well as a camp kitchen and even sometimes a separate fish and seafood preparation kitchen.

It took us a while to discover the value of the camp kitchen as we had grown content with our little stove and washing up bowl but we soon discovered it was a brilliant facility. Some pretty rustic and outdoors but some luxuriously protected from the elements with all modern kitchen conveniences, we soon learnt that the camp kitchen was not only a place to cook and wash up but also somewhere to stay warm and sometimes even watch a bit of telly!

Best of all we had some of our best conversations with other campers in camp kitchens – Australian travel tips at the Menindee Lakes, economics in Beechworth and nuclear waste dumps debates in Coffin Bay.

Our campsites also even offered spaces for exercise and recreation!

The only thing we really missed was a bath. Here is Stefan looking lovingly into the bath at Martindale Hall in the Clare Valley!

It’s economical

Camping always seems like a good way to travel on a budget and Stefan’s memory of camping in Australia was that we might expect to pay about $15 per night for a campsite. His memory didn’t however account for inflation in the 10 years since he last camped in Australia!

We spent on average about $30 per night for a campsite with electricity (we needed this to power the fridge and the heater, more about which later!) but our campsite fees ranged from completely free to a steep ¬£55. The campsite near Uluru seemed very dear at $45 for an unpowered site but is perhaps not surprising given its proximity to one of Australia’s iconic destinations. $55 for an unpowered site on the Hawkesbury River did feel like a rip off until we discovered the swimming pool on a very hot day and suddenly that and it’s wonderful location made it worth every penny!

Overall, and aside from the costs of kitting ourselves out for camping in the first place, with campsite fees and all our other food and grocery costs we were surprised to find that camping in Australia is actually a lot more expensive than living on a yacht in the Mediterranean!

But it was a price worth paying to immerse ourselves deep into some of Australia’s most wonderful landscapes…

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