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Free camping, budget camping, freedom camping, primitive camping- it goes by many names and I guess in many people’s eyes the definition varies a little.
I like to refer to campsites that are free or low-cost with basic facilities as ‘Budget Camping” as nothing is ever free! In most cases I am happy to throw a few coins in a donation box to help with the upkeep of budget camps, especially if there are some basic facilities like bins and a toilet. Often, the donation will go towards the community in some way.
In Australia we are lucky to have many budget style camps often located in stunning spots with glorious views. Often they are near a beach, river or dam, but also often found in reserves and simply in the bush or in the middle of nowhere.
We feel that budget campsites offer many advantages to travellers and campers. They are:
1- Like I just mentioned, they are often in fantastic spots that provide great views.
2- Often, they are located outside of town away from the noise and traffic making your stay a little more peaceful and relaxed.
3- They are fantastic options for your budget allowing you to spend money in other areas (usually spent around the township on other things like meals, groceries, fuel and gifts)
4- Freedom to set up camp the way you like it with more room to yourself without feeling like you are on top of each other. (Although in some popular campsites, crowding can be an issue too).
5- Fellow campers are more relaxed and seem friendlier when budget camping. This makes a more pleasant environment to meet other campers and enjoy ‘happy hours”.
6- Budget camps with basic facilities let campers and travellers get back to basics. A chance to be resourceful and use all our gadgets that we brought along for creature comforts.
7- Not everyone needs the conveniences that caravan park provide and budget camps offer an alternative to those who are self-contained.
In my view, caravan parks play a very important role for campers and travellers too. They provide a safe and secure place to leave your caravan during the day whilst you explore the area. They also provide the comforts like 240v power, fresh water, hot showers and a laundry. They are usually located closer to the town and attractions making them convenient for many especially families who can benefit from playgrounds, pool etc. We tend to use both caravan parks and budget camps. A lot depends on what we are after, where we are and how healthy our budget is at the time. Many caravan parks are becoming too expensive and their choice to charge for children is making the option of staying out of reach for many. I agree a small fee is justified for children but anything more than a few $$$ is a bit greedy.
We do agree though that budget campsites co-existing with caravan parks is a very delicate issue. As travellers, we value the importance of budget campsites but we also recognise the impact they have on caravan parks. Caravan parks have huge overheads, pay big money for prime real estate and need to abide by a strict code of OH&S laws. Budget camps are often located on government or council land and as caravan parks pay rates- many park owners see that these budgets camps are a conflict of interest and an unfair facility that competes for the caravan parks customers.
I dunno, I think you either want to choose a Budget Camp OR choose a Caravan Park. People who choose to budget camp usually would not want to stay at a caravan park- therefore the caravan parks are not missing out on customers (they were never going to be a customer in the first place). I think in most cases their argument is pretty much invalid.
There will always be two types of travellers. Those who prefer caravan parks and those who don’t. Therefore we need BOTH options and as Aussies, we should have the right to choose where we stay as long as we aren’t having negative impacts on the environment and respect the locals and their towns!
Unfortunately, over the past few years we have seen many budget camps close down and not many new ones open. Councils, government bodies, business chambers and the caravan park industry all have their own motives for either supporting or opposing these budget camps in their regions. Often money will speak the loudest. This is a shame as its has been proven that in towns where a budget camp is provided, the local small businesses benefit from an increased trade of nomads with their travelling dollar.
Here are the reasons we feel are behind the closure of many budget camping areas:
◾The misuse of such places. Vandalism, rubbish and public nuisance plays a big part in why these camps get shut down. They can be expensive to maintain and adds fuel for residents to put pressure on councils to close them.
◾Overstaying time limits. Although time limits seem a bit strange, reasonable time limits are a fair way of ensuring everyone gets a chance at enjoying the campsite and stops people becoming to “comfortable” in their campsite and creating a squatter-style environment. Time limits also provide rangers with a legal reason to evict campers who are causing problems.
◾Pressure from residents and caravan park lobbies. As I said above, they feel that budget camps are unfair to their business. Some locals feel that their rates are subsidising the campers stay. It’s a shame they don’t also see the benefits the nomads provide to the local economy.
◾Some councils feel that budget camps pose issues of waste management and public liability. Some councils feel that it is easier to not have these areas rather than investigate the feasibility of establishing a budget campsite and welcoming travellers to their town.
These are only a few reasons, I’m sure there are plenty more.
So- as many current travellers and future travellers will want to enjoy budget camping for many years to come, we need to make sure we are responsible and do the right thing. Pay a fee if that is requested, take your rubbish with you, remove your waste and don’t cause trouble. Dont give the authorities an excuse to put a gate up and erect “no camping” signs.
It’s also a great idea to promote the towns that offer these camps and support the local businesses. Tell the shop owners that you love the budget camp and make it known that you would have kept driving through if the camp had not existed. Hopefully that will help councils see the true monetary benefits of such camps.
Finding budget camps is a pretty easy task these days. The help of the ever popular Camps Australia Wide book (CAW) is never far from our side. Its a fabulous resource for finding camps that exist along our planned route- sometimes the location of these camps can help solely determine our route! Our Hema Navigator has the CAW app installed which we use often to find camps, caravan parks and toilet dump points.
Other resources such as dedicated Facebook pages, other travellers and smartphone Apps such as ‘Wikicamps’ can also be useful.
Some of our favourite budget camping spots we have stayed so far are:
Curtin Springs, NT (Lassiter Hwy)
Cleaverville Beach, WA (near Karratha)
Warroora Station (40 Mile beach), WA
Quobba Point, WA (near Carnarvon)
Cosy Corner, WA (near Albany)
Port Gibbon, SA (Eyre Peninsula)
Point Lowly, SA (near Whyalla)
Speeds Point, SA (near Streaky Bay)
Johanna Beach, GOR Vic
Carcoar Dam. NSW (near Blayney)
Stockton Lake, WA (near Collie)
Meredith Park, Vic (near Colac)
Thats only a few!!!
If you are planning on utilising budget camps on your travels, it is wise to have some form of portable toilet (if your van doesn’t have one fitted already). Some 12v lighting is handy and so is having plenty of fresh drinking water.
Being self-sufficient also usually means having a way of replenishing power such as solar panels, wind power or generators (used with courtesy of other travellers of course).
Safety and security is often a concern that travellers have regarding budget camps. If a campsite is unoccupied, many people don’t feel safe when leaving the belongings whilst they ‘sight-see’. This is fair enough too. If there are many campers around, its good to make it known to some that you plan on being out for the day. Its amazing how powerful the ‘neighbourhood watch’ mentality is amongst fellow travellers. Use your gut instinct, make sure you put away and lock up valuables. Just remember- caravan parks can make you just as vulnerable as there are many more people about, closer to towns and they can trick you into having a false sense of security and you may find yourself getting a little complacent with security.
We hope that budget camping can stay a apart of the Aussie travelling lifestyle for many years to come. We of course hope that many areas who have not yet embraced a budget camping option or “RV Friendly” approach to their town will soon have a change of heart.
It is up to everyone as travellers, to spread the word of the financial and tourism benefits that budgets campsites provide. Do the right thing and campaign responsibly.