THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO
CAMPING AUSTRALIA IN A CAMPERVAN
Australia has one of the largest road networks in the world with over 900,000 kilometres. Approximately 350,000 km’s of those roads are sealed, which means a lot of travelling if you wanted to drive down every single road!
So with such a large range of possibility, why not travel Australia by camping in a camper van!
But before you start your big lap of the land down under, there’s so many things you have to answer. For example, why camping Australia in van makes sense, the different ways to camp in Australia, how to find camp spots around Australia, what do I need to know about camping in the outback, and where are the best places to free camp in Australia.
We’ve put together this epic guide to help you understand everything you need to know about camping in Australia in a van.
On another note, if you’d like to see how people are currently living in a van around Australia, check out our Nomads Around Australia interviews at NomadsAroundAustralia.com
What is a Camper Van?
A camper van is a motor vehicle, typically a van, that has been fitted out with a bed, storage and cooking facilities. The difference between a motorhome or Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) and a campervan is that a campervan tends to be smaller and less costly. Due to the smaller space, many camper vans do not have a shower or toilet on board.
A campervan could be a van conversion done by yourself, like many are doing with vanlife, or be a professional fitout. The low cost, small space and mobility of camper vans could be a reason why van life has become so popular over recent years.
Just buy a van! Just buy it, live in it, chuck a bed in it! You can take each day as it comes. Time literally has stopped for me.
Types of Camper Vans
There are many variations of what people consider to be a campervan in Australia. The following is a summary of different types of camper vans:
FIXED ROOF VANS
As the name implies, these are vans with a fixed roof. That is, a roof that does not go any higher, like a pop top van. Common brands in Australia are Toyota Hiace, Ford Econovan, Mazda Bongo (haha!!), and Mitsubishi Express.
HIGH ROOF VANS
High roof vans are vans with a high roof that does not pop up. These are handy because there is normally enough room to stand up inside the van. But you do need to be careful of the extra height for low lying branches or carports. Common brands are Sprinters from Ford, VW, Mercedes-Benz, and high roof Toyota Hiaces.
POPTOP CAMPERVANS (Outside of Australia they are also know as rising roof campervan)
Poptop vans have a roof that you can push or wind up that gives you more head room than a fixed roof van. This is handy because you get the best of both worlds from a low roof when driving, and having the extra head room when parked. One draw back of poptops is that the walls are usually made of canvas, which means sound and heat can easily penetrate the walls. Also, make sure you fold down the pop top before hitting the road!!
Common poptop campervans in Australia are Toyota Hiace, Ford Econovan, Mazda pop top, and of course the VW Kombi.
Four wheel drive vans or 4WD vans are awesome, but quite rare! If you have one of these puppies, you can drive on the beach, backtracks, or most places a normal fourby will get you!! And when you get to where you’re going, you’ll also have your van set up! There’s not many late model 4×4 vans around unless they have been customised aftermarket. But if you’re keen to try and find one, do a search for Mitsubishi 4×4 Delica, Mitsubishi Express 4×4, or Toyota Hiace 4×4. For that matter, you could also do a search for any other brand van with 4×4 or 4WD.
CLASSIC CAMPER VANS
There is not a more classic camper van than the VW Kombi! Nowadays, VW Kombi’s are quite rare and highly sought after. So if you’re looking to join the Kombi club, be prepared to fork out your dosh!
As for other classic camper vans in Australia, a pre-1984 Toyota Hiace still hold some charm, but to be honest, there’s probably not a lot more I can add here!
A demountable camper is one that you can take off your vehicle. Typically you’ll need a ute and the camper slides on the back of it and bolts down for when you’re driving. I remember my nan and pop had a yellow WB Holden Ute Camper. They would use it to tour South Australia for months on end each year.
Recently the popularity of demountable campers have decreased, but you can still get them for most makes of ute’s like Holden, Ford, VW, etc…
Useful Campervan Accesories (Checklist)
Regardless of the type of camper van you decide on, when you’re on the road travelling Australia in a van, there’s a few important accessories to consider having onboard to make life easier. Here’s a few ideas:
Advantages of Travel in a Camper Van vs Tent, Bus or Caravanning
Every Aussie traveller has their own preferences including what they believe are the advantages of travelling Australia in camper van.
Here’s a few reasons why a van might be preferred over a tent or to caravanning:
- Easy to setup when camping – This is true for both setting up a caravan or tent!
- Cheaper fuel costs than a caravan or bus
- Get to free camping sites – To get to some free camps you might have to travel off the beaten track! Unless you have a 4×4 caravan or bus, this can sometimes be tricky. Although the same can be said for a van, you can generally get to more places in a van than a bus!
- Easy to park around towns or shopping centres
Cons of Travel in a Camper Van
Ok, so we’ve just talked up why travelling Australia in a van is the bee’s knees, but what about the cons of campervan travel!! Here’s a few challenges you might have in a van as an Aussie traveller:
❌ Small space – A fully converted campervan is small and compact. This means living in a small space, which may take a bit of getting used to. Being tidy, packing your things away, and only having absolute essentials onboard makes things easier – especially if you’re two on the road!
❌ Rainy and cold weather – This follows on from the previous point, but imagine being couped up in rainy and cold weather in your campervan for three days straight!! Well, in Australia, it can and often does rain for days on end!
❌ If the camper is not a 4wd sometimes it’s hard to get to certain places – Although a van might give you more flexibility than a bus, if it’s not a 4WD, then you could still be limited in getting to some places…
…like driving on the beach for example!
Where to Camp
There are so many options for camping in Australia
Most towns around Australia have a caravan park, and some towns even offer free camping (look for RV Friendly Towns). Camping in National Parks around Australia is also popular, and if you’re game enough you could also try stealth camping (but be aware that sleeping in your van in non designated areas is not legal in Australia).
Later on we cover how much camping in Australia costs, but the different types of camping options in Australia are:
Paid campgrounds in this context could also be called caravan parks, holiday parks or tourist parks. While all paid campgrounds include showers and toilets at a minimum (although some do charge extra for hot water in the shower!!), the few chains of caravan parks in Australia are the most likely to include facilities such as a pool, water park, jumping pillow, and camp kitchens. They are also the most likely to have the least amount of trees and be the most expensive camping option. Independently run holiday parks are still quite common and for me they each offer a more unique experience.
A private campground is a place to camp that might be offered on a person’s private land. Each ground is different and you’ll have to research the facilities that are offered, but some of these will be in the most beautiful spots! To find these private campgrounds you could use an app like FullRangeCamping.com.
Camping in showgrounds in Australia is offered by many towns. Again, camping facilities at showgrounds in Australia vary from one to the other, but in general you can count on toilets and showers. Powered and unpowered sites are usually available, and while many offer a kitchen or cooking area, not all of them have one.
Showgrounds are normally close(ish) to the local town, maybe a kilometre or two walk, and they typically close fairly early so make sure you call ahead to book in if it’s close 5pm or 6pm in the evening.
There are more than 500 national parks around Australia and many of them have campgrounds. In the interest of protecting local native fauna, dogs and cats are typically not permitted in national parks. So if you are travelling with a dog or cat, national parks are not an option. National parks do offer some of the most amazing places to camp all across the country. Many national park campgrounds are located right beside the beach or lake giving you uninterrupted waterfront views! Toilets can normally be found, although many are the dreaded ‘long-drop’, and showers (if there are any) are normally cold. Also, be aware that a lot of national parks toilets don’t have lights in the bathroom. Barbeque’s are quite common, but fresh drinking water can be hard to come by in national parks. So make sure you bring your own drinking water.
RV FRIENDLY TOWNS
An RV friendly town is a town that readily accepts travellers by offering them a free camping area. Most RV friendly towns offer camping areas within walking distance to town, and let you stay for free for a day or two (although some allow a week or more!) You’ll have to do your research on toilets and showers as this varies. Please be respectful and clean up after yourself if you stay in an RV friendly town. Many RV friendly towns are located inland (that is, not near the coast), and have some interesting things to learn about. So if you do decide to stay in an RV friendly town, make sure you take some time to check out the local area.
For the most part, stealth camping is not legal in Australia. So if you do decide to stealth camp on the side of the road, be prepared to get woken up and handed a fine at some stage!
Having said this, however, if you’re determined to stealth camp in Australia, you can try the following things to give you the best chance of not getting caught (although no guarantees they will work):
- Have a van that doesn’t look too obvious
- Don’t sit and/or cook in the same place as you park
- Get great curtains that don’t let light escape from the inside
- Don’t park in the busy streets
- Don’t park out the front of someone’s house
- Don’t park places that have “No camping” or “No overnight parking” signs
What is the Best Time of Year to Camp in Australia?
The best time of year to camp in Australia depends on where you are. Australia has an area of over 7 million square kilometres that spans a latitude from 41 degrees South in Tasmania to 11 degrees south in Cape York. This means that you could travel from the winter snow fields of Kosciuszko National Park to Darwin’s dry season with a few (hard core!!) days of driving.
If we take the Northern Territory as an example, the temperature stays relatively consistent throughout the year. What changes though is the amount of rainfall and hence the humidity!
- Wet Season – November to April
- Dry Season – May to October
- Summer – December to February
- Autumn – March to May
- Winter – June to August
- Spring – September to November
How to Find a camping Spot?
There are plenty of options to find a camp spot in Australia.
Depending on the type of camp you’re looking for (see above for the different types of camp spots) you can find a place to stay in your van by any of the following ways:
WHILE DRIVING KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR A REST AREA / REST STOP OR PETROL STATION BY THE HIGHWAY.
There’s heaps of rest areas beside or near highways and freeways all around Australia. These normally have toilet facilities (many are water toilets, although there are still a fair share of long drops out there!!), but don’t expect soap nor drinking water. These rest areas are designed to house the weary traveller for a night so they can rest up. So setting up camp at a rest area for a few days is probably not going to work, but you should have no problems with an overnight stay.
Some major petrol stations also have designated places to camp overnight in your van. Keep an eye out for where truck stops are and you should be in luck. These petrol station rest areas may also provide shower facilities either free or for a fee. Normally you have to ask at the register.
National Park Campgrounds
Depending on which state you are in you can visit one of the following official websites to find a campground:
- New South Wales (NSW)
- Victoria (VIC)
- Queensland (QLD)
- Western Australia (WA)
- Northern Territory (NT)
- Australia Capital Territory (ACT)
- South Australia (SA)
- Tasmania (TAS)
App or website
Probably the easiest way to find a camp spot, whether it be free camping, an RV friendly town, a caravan park, or national park, is to use an app or website. There are a number of different apps out there, but you could start with Full Range Camping. The free version provides search options. There is also a paid version that provides offline access, a travel diary and discounts to useful products.
Essentials for Camping in a camper van (Checklist)
Sometimes you can find yourself in remote and far away places when you’re camping around Australia in a van. Whether it be mozzie spray, wine glass coolers or your cozzies, make sure you have everything you need to camp Australia with our Essential Aussie Camping Checklist. You can use the Essential Aussie Camping Checklist to plan your camping trip and make sure you don’t forget anything.
In the meantime, make sure you have the following five essential items for living in a van in Australia:
How Much Do Camp Sites Cost in Australia?
The cost of camping in Australia varies considerably depending on the type of camp spot you stay at, the location, and time of year. In general the following price ranges can be expected during normal (off peak season) times:
There is a lot of variability from one park to another and across different states. Some National Parks will charge per person, typically around $12 per person (although I have recently paid $7 per person), while others will charge per site. Per site prices range from $20 per night without power to $43 and over with power.
Private campgrounds are those in which someone who owns their own property has listed part of their property for short term stays. Facilities at these type of camp spots vary, and accordingly so do prices. You should expect anything from $15 per person upwards. I have come across announcements for $10 per person per night, although these prices are increasingly rare!
Caravan Parks / Holiday Parks
These camp spots are easily the most expensive option out there, but they also have good facilities such as toilets, hot water, shower, and kitchen. Non powered sites generally range from $28 to $42 per night, while powered sites can be as expensive as $53 or more per night. You may also come across sites that have their own private bathroom. In this case expect to pay anything something around $80 per night.
This lesser known option for camping in Australia is often worth a look. Many towns offer camping accommodation at their local showground. Facilities generally include a kitchen, toilets and showers. Prices range from $20 per night to $35 per night for two people (and this might even include power!!).
Bowling clubs and pubs
Some Bowling Clubs and Pubs around Australia offer cheap accommodation options. Prices start anywhere from $5 per night per person (unpowered) and $10 per night per person for a powered site. Most of these accommodation options include shower and toilet facilities and have a maximum stay of two or three days. Staying at a bowlo you also get the bonus of being close to a restaurant, and all of the Sunday barefoot bowls action!
Free Camping in Australia
Ok, so now that we’ve looked into paid camping options, let’s have a look at free camping in Australia. Camping for free is allowed in Australia in designated areas. When free camping you should always be considerate of your surroundings. This means keeping noise to a minimum, being respectful of the environment and not leaving any rubbish behind when you leave.
Here’s are a few different options for free camping in Australia:
RV friendly towns
There are many towns, (normally in land and not on the coast), that readily provide free camping areas for travellers. Many RV friendly towns permit you to set up camp for two or three days at time. A lot of the time, the free camp is close to the town centre, giving you the option to explore the area on foot, and access toilet facilities.
One requirement that many RV friendly towns have is that you have a self contained vehicle. This means that you have an onboard toilet and contain your waste water. Keep your eye out for signs in the RV friendly town you are staying at.
There are many free rest stops in Australia. Most are near major highways, and typically allow one to park for 24 hours. These are a great option for free camping, but you will have to move on every day. It works as a ‘first in, best dressed’ basis, so if you’re arriving late at night, there might not be any places left. Most likely there will be toilets, but no showers. And depending on how close the rest stop is to the highway, they can sometimes be noisy.
Staying the night in your van on the side of the street, beach carparks or shopping centre carparks is typically not legal in Australia. Normally it’s the local council who enforce the law and you can get a fine for sleeping in an area not designated for camping.
Having said this however, there are ways you can reduce your chance of getting fined such as:
- Looking for signs that say “No overnight camping” or similar, and DO NOT stay in that area!
- Keeping noise to a minimum
- Don’t stealth park in front of someone’s house
- Don’t be obvious when parking. For example, don’t set up the table and chairs and crank up the BBQ!
Australia is a large island, and generally speaking, if you are sensible and respectful about pulling up for a night of stealth camping, you should be ok.
Showers and toilets in Australia?
Toilets are plentiful although many are still the good ole ‘long drop’ (basically a holding tank with a toilet on top). And it’s very rare to find soap to wash your hands in these, so make sure you have your own! Pretty much all petrol stations have toilets (although it’s best to avoid 7Eleven as they are notorious for not allowing customers to use their toilets or having their toilets out of order!). Fast food chain’s like Macca’s or Red Rooster have toilets, and you can also try the local library or bowling club.
Free cold showers are plentiful around beaches, but please don’t use soap in these showers as the run off can easily pollute the local area. Free hot showers however are a little harder to find. You might find that some truck stops will have hot showers at a minimal cost (around $5), or you could go and workout at the gym and then use the showers there!
BBQ’s, Barbeques, Barbecues!
Cooking while living in your van around Australia is made so much easier when you have local barbeques that you can use for free! Many of these free bbq’s around Australia are in picturesque locations beside the beach or lake, and are perfect for you to take advantage of!
But again, be respectful of others, keep your area tidy and put your rubbish in the bin or take it with you when you’re finished!
Insurance is just one of those things in life! Following is a description of a few insurance related items you need to think about when living in your van in Australia or doing campervan travel in Australia. Make no mistake how important insurance is, and be sure to do your own research and due diligence for your unique insurance needs!!
Compulsory Third Party (CTP) Insurance
Regardless of the state or territory, you are in, if you own a vehicle in Australia you are obligated to have Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance. This is something that is sorted out when you register your vehicle and you have to pay this before you are able to get rego for the camper van. Google search “CTP insurance” and you will find a massive list of providers.
Third Party Insurance
Third-Party insurance is interesting if you are on a tight budget and can’t afford Comprehensive Insurance. In the case of an accident, Third Party insurance will cover the other person’s vehicle, but not your own.
Now you might be wondering why you would even bother with Third Party insurance at all? Well, what if you have an accident with a HSV GTO Holden that costs over $100,000 and you have to pay for the repairs! If you’re covered by Third Party insurance, the repairs to this expensive vehicle will likely be covered (even though the repairs to your trusty old van aren’t!).
Third Party insurance generally isn’t very expensive and you may also be able to tack on cover for Fire and/or Theft. Having said this, however, no matter what insurance you get, you need to do your own research to get a thorough understanding of your insurance policy as each company’s terms and conditions are different.
If you’re living in a van in Australia or camping around Australia in a camper van, I highly recommend getting roadside assistance! Although not strictly insurance, the way road side assistance works is, that you pay a yearly fee and if you break down, get a flat tyre or have any troubles with your van, someone will come and help you. There are a number of providers and they generally have different membership levels depending on your budget. Prices range from $150 per year upwards.
If you’re travelling long distances, I suggest you go with the premium membership option or the one that offers towing over the largest distance. That way if you break down in the middle of nowhere and have to get towed, you avoid a hefty bill! Premium memberships might also cover emergency accommodation and travel. I use NRMA, but you could also check out RACQ, RACV, or do a Google search.
Two Great Spots for Free Camping in NSW
There are many places to go free camping in NSW (let alone Australia!). Below are two great free camp spots in New South Wales that you might like to check out.
Free Camping Bulahdelah
Just under 3 hours north of Sydney, free camping on the water at Bulahdelah is hard to beat. Bulahdelah free camp is a Lion’s Club initiative designed to attract Aussie travellers after the Bulahdelah highway bypass went through a few years ago.
And it is something quite special! Located about a 1 minute walk from town centre on the banks of the Myall River, Bulahdelah is a quiet little town with some great coffee shops, a regular market, great butcher shop, pub, bowling club, golf club and plenty of things to do within an easy drive. This is also a free camping close to the beach, with Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest on the beautiful shores of Port Stephens only a 25 minute drive away. The nearby National Parks are magical and include the Grandis Picnic Area that houses NSW’s tallest tree at about a 20 minute drive.
The camping is free, but you are more than welcome to make a donation in the Lion’s Park Donation box near the water tap. This park offers fresh drinking water, and a boat ramp onto Myall River is right next door (you can access Myall Lakes from this river too!). A dump station is only about 1km away at the showgrounds.
Free Camping Bulahdelah Details
Location: Bulahdelah, New South Wales, Australia
Click for Google map location
- Town: 100 metre walk
- Pets: Yes
- Maximum stay: 72 hours
- Water: Yes
- Power: No
- Toilets: 100 metre walk over bridge
- Showers: No (but you can pay at the campgrounds or go to the local swimming pool)
- Telephone reception: Yes
- WIFI: No
- Other: Dump point about 1km away in the showground
Free Camping Bingara
Bingara is nice country town located in the New England Region of Australia. It’s just under a two hour drive north of Tamworth and three and a half hour drive west of Grafton. Waterfront free camping in Bingara is available on a first serve basis on the banks of the Gwydir River. While there are no facilities available, this is a really nice place to free camp and there are also a couple of other free camps nearby.
With a seven day free camping limit, you’ll have plenty of time to check the local town, go to the Batterham Lookout, and swim around in the Gwydir River.
About a 20 minute drive is the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial site which is a testament to the victims of this massacre, and reminder of the ugly side of Australian history.
Bingara also hosts the Bingara Orange Festival around July each year.
Free Camping Bingara Details
Location: Bingara, New South Wales, Australia
- Town: 3km walk (unless you cross the river and then it’s about 2km)
- Pets: Yes
- Maximum stay: 7 days
- Water: No (but you can access water in town for a small price)
- Power: No
- Toilets: No
- Showers: No
- Telephone Reception: Yes
- WIFI: No
- Other: Dump point about 3km away in the showground
CAN YOU CAMP ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA?
The short answer is no, you can’t just pull up and camp anywhere in Australia. Having said this however, there are tonnes of designated places you can camp. National Parks, caravan parks, and free camping spots are all legitimate places where you can camp in Australia.
CAN YOU CAMP FOR FREE IN AUSTRALIA?
Yes, there are heaps of free places to camp in Australia. They are designated areas and normally have a maximum time limit to stay. Free camping in Australia can be found in RV Friendly Towns, rest stops by the highway and free camping spots all over the country. There are a few apps that you can use to find free camping in Australia like the WikiCamps Australia app.
IS FREE CAMPING LEGAL IN AUSTRALIA
Is it legal?? Yes, but only in designated areas such as rest stops, RV Friendly Towns, bush camps, etc… You can always try your luck parking on the road, but be aware that many local councils enforce this rule and you may be rudely awakened by a Ranger with a fine!!
IS CAMPING SAFE IN AUSTRALIA?
Yes, camping is generally safe in Australia. You do have to be aware of your surroundings though. For example, if you’re in the bush, be aware that there could be deadly snakes and poisonous spiders around. In a question of security, you should always take normal precautions like locking your van and not leaving valuables in the campervan. In general, campers and van lifers look out and support each other, and overall, camping in Australia is safe.
HOW MUCH IS CAMPING IN AUSTRALIA?
Camping in Australia varies considerably depending on where you want to camp, the type of campground and time of year. You could choose to stay in camping areas that are free, or camping grounds that have all the facilities including toilets, showers, and water parks! In this case you could pay anything from $30 per night (maximum two people) unpowered to $85 per night (maximum two people) for a powered site with onsite bathroom.
CAN YOU LIVE IN A VAN IN AUSTRALIA?
Yeah for sure, no worries! You could also live in a caravan, campervan, motorhome, bus, boat, station wagon among other things! Living in a van to travel Australia is a great way to keep costs low and give yourself the freedom of living life the way you want to.
Although there is nothing illegal about living in a van in Australia, you do need to consider where you are planning to park your van as there are some restrictions as to where you can legally stay overnight.
While there are many challenges to living in a van, whether you can live in a van in Australia, really comes down to having the right mindset. Being flexible, open to learning and willing to experience new things are good traits to have when living in a van anywhere in the world, not only Australia.
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