Start scouring the net for advice on camping around Australia and you could quite easily lose ten hours of your life and miss three meals. Our guide to camping in Australia was written not only to inspire and advise but to have your planning, booking and equipping tools stacked neatly in one place.
What is it about camping in Australia that’s so great?
Australia is a place of mind-boggling landscapes, friendly people, bizarre animals, and dark, fascinating human history. It’s also a country that embraces and encourages an outdoor lifestyle. This is clearly illustrated by the ease with which you can plan, book and equips your camping trip online, the variety of campgrounds, caravan parks and camper-friendly locations on offer, and how inexpensive camping is when compared to brick-and-mortar alternatives. The answer to why Australia is an incredible country for camping is all of these things, and then some.
Less tangible though arguably more important is the fact that leaving the stressors of your routine behind to spend time out in our clean air, glorious sunshine and natural environments is good for you mentally and physically. Whether or not there’s enough evidence to support the various ways nature might contribute to a person living a longer, happier, healthier life, we here at CamperMate can offer another view on the matter. If camping makes you happy, do more of it. Simples.
Camping in Australia: everything you need to know
If you haven’t ever had an Australian camping experience beyond the insights of Russell Coight, it’s fair to say you might be feeling a little daunted about where to start.
- Out of all of Australia’s vast 7.6 million square kilometres, where will you go?
- Of the hundreds of different gear combinations and camping set-ups there are to choose from, which one will you pick?
- And if you take the rumours for the gospel, how on earth you will actually survive your camping experience in the great, deadly animal-filled, boiling hot Down Under?
These are just some of the questions we’ll be covering in the coming paragraphs. But if you’re less of a reader and more of a doer, you can get stuck into buying your camping gear on Outdoria and booking your campsites on CamperMate – all from the comfort of home or your mobile device.
Best times to camp in Australia
To have the most comfortable and enjoyable camping trip possible, you’ll want to avoid Australia’s climatic extremes. For this reason, a rudimentary understanding of our geography is essential.
Tasmania and the alpine regions of Victoria and New South Wales are cold, snowy and blizzardy in winter, while the tropical regions in the northern third of the country experience heavy rainfall, cyclones and electrical storms in summer.
While coming face to face with the raw forces of nature can be an invigorating experience and a great way to avoid crowds and peak season prices, the most practical advice we can offer is to stay south for the summer and head north for the winter.
By sticking to this advice you’ll have the best chance of avoiding road, track and park closures caused by extreme weather such as snow, flood and bushfire, as well as many of Australia’s not-so-friendly inhabitants, such as summer’s saltwater crocodile influx, and the plagues of deadly stinging jellyfish that arrive at our tropical reefs with the first of the wet season’s rain.
On the flipside, you might want to plan your trip not to avoid certain times of year, but to coincide with certain seasonal occurrences. Think migrating humpbacks, whale sharks and manta rays, outback wildflower displays and monsoonal waterfalls.
At any given time of year, somewhere in Australia is always enjoying its prime camping season – that’s the beauty of visiting the world’s biggest island.
Where can you go camping in Australia?
Every region across Australia is pretty well set up for camping one way or another. Campgrounds in national parks, council-run campgrounds and reserves, state forests, station stays, pub stays, free camping in RV-friendly towns, and the hundreds of privately-owned caravan parks and campgrounds on CamperMate mean that the better question is: where can’t you go camping?
This is a very good question to ask because the truth is you can’t just throw your tent up anywhere. In Australia, it’s important to camp legally, in designated areas, and to follow campground’s guidelines – not only to avoid a fine but to make sure our incredible wild places stay in tip-top shape for future generations. Camping can be low-impact, but it’s never no-impact.
Where you are permitted to camp will vary from state to state and region to region, which is why it’s so important to put a bit of effort into the planning phase. You can find tonnes of inspiration from real-life adventurers on blogs, as well as use apps, guidebooks and good old fashioned information centres.
As well as having loads of accommodation options, the Australian landscape varies immensely. Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of environments you can expect to encounter when heading into the great outdoors.
Australia’s beaches are some of the most stunning in the world. One of the reasons they’re in such pristine condition is because camping and lighting fires on beaches are widely prohibited. That said, there’s an abundance of formal campgrounds and caravan parks so close to the beach you can feel the salt spray from your tent. Whether it’s swimming, surfing, paddling or fishing you’re into, camping oceanside is a no brainer.
The crisp, cool temperatures at altitude make camping in the mountains a great hot weather escape, while snow coverage can mean you’re in for a real adventure during the ski season. If snow sports aren’t your bag, hit up the hills in summer when the ski runs turn into mountain bike and hiking trails.
Stake out a grassy riverside campsite to enjoy fishing, waterskiing, kayaking and swimming in some of the country’s most scenic waterways. The beauty of exploring Australia’s rivers is the countless creeks, basins and tributaries branching off them, ensuring that safe, shallow swimming spots where your toes can touch the sandy bottom are never too far away.
Australia’s dams make beautiful backdrops for a lake-inspired camping trip. Often they’ll have sandy beaches and easy launch points so you can go for a kayak or take a dip, while the biggest of our lakes are even open to jet skis and boats. Without the strong currents of the ocean or large rivers, lakeside camping is a great option for smaller kids. Many of Australia’s dams and lakes are stocked for recreational fishing, too.
Australia’s outback is like nowhere else on earth. Enormous star-spangled skies, fiery sunsets, ghost towns and unique country pub ‘hospitality’ are just some of the reasons you’ll want to head inland for an outback camping trip at least once in your life.
The Australian bush is incredibly diverse and differs from region to region. But if sleeping to a chorus of frogs and crickets and waking up to bird song is your cup of tea, going bush is what you’ll want to do. In most tracts of the Australian bush, you can also expect phenomenal wildflower displays, thundering waterfalls and networks of walking and cycling trails to name a few.
Camping in New South Wales
With mild weather and the chance to camp anywhere from the outback to snowy mountains to the beach, the window for camping in New South Wales is open all year round. You’ll find many of the state’s highlights at the end of 2WD roads, with a relatively high concentration of towns, cities and rural communities to ensure the perks of civilisation are never too far away. Emphasis on relatively, mind you.
Camping in Victoria
Victoria is Australia’s second smallest state, yet packs a heck of a lot in. Here, the capital of Melbourne is hemmed in by countless national parks, with the surrounding villages offering up camping experiences to suit everyone’s needs. The drives through Victoria are some of the most scenics in the country, with dramatic ocean cliffs and deep mountain valleys reigning supreme.
Camping in Tasmania
With a landscape closer to New Zealand and nothing between it and Antarctica, Australia’s only island state is a special one indeed. The cities here are small, quiet and quaint, and with much of Tasmania’s landmass made up of pristine wilderness and national parks, it’s a bloody nice place to camp. The only environment you won’t find here is desert, but the mainland has more than enough of that to go around.
Camping in South Australia
When it comes to exploring South Australia, it’s hard to look past the dramatic cliffside camping to be found along its peninsulas and the Great Australian Bight. But look elsewhere and you’ll also find exquisite beaches, golden outback and the odd mountain range to boot.
Camping in Western Australia
Some of the best remote beach camping to be found in the country is amplified by Western Australia’s wide, undeveloped tracts of the desert that, in many regions, come right up to meet the vibrant turquoise sea. Inland, relics of a once thriving, pioneering past are the prize for adventurous, unrestricted off-roaders willing to go the distance.
Camping in Queensland
Tropical rainforest, the biggest coral reef in the world, countless beautiful beaches and an oft-overlooked outback scene are the highlights of a Queensland camping spree. There are few other states where the sun comes out as often, so if you’re a fair weather camper, Queensland is the place to be.
Camping in Northern Territory
Exploring Australia’s most remote and sparsely populated region leaves a lasting impression for precisely those reasons. With the infamous Red Centre at the core and a monsoonal top end characterised by dense rainforest and spectacular gorges, camping the Northern Territory is its own reward.
Types of Camping: best set ups
When it comes to your camping set up, you’re limited only by your imagination. Some people carry their camping gear on their back, some on their bike, others in their canoe. If you’re into snow camping you can drag your kit on a sled. For an extended mission on a stand up paddle board, you can use dry bags and strap your tent on your board.
Some of the more popular and most versatile types of camping include:
Car camping means you can drive into your campsite and pitch your tent or swag next to your vehicle. It’s a great setup for families with small kids because you can bring as much as you need and don’t have to move it far from the car. Other benefits of car camping include:
- You’re not restricted by weight/size of your tent and gear
- You can ‘glamp’ because you can pack as many creature comforts as you like, such as a full-size inflatable mattress.
- You can set up for a week and do day trips exploring the region in your car
Backpacking to walk-in campsites
Hiking to your campsite while carrying everything on your back is incredibly rewarding. You get a tonne of exercise, sure. But more importantly, you can reach true wilderness campsites where only the most intrepid campers are willing to go. Reasons people love backpacking include:
- You can get away from the crowds especially at busy times of year
- You’re forced to think ‘minimal’ because you’re carrying all your gear
- You’re totally immersed in nature, often with few or no modern conveniences of any kind except for what you can carry
Towing a trailer or caravan
Long term travellers camping their way around Australia often favour caravans and camper trailers because of the additional space, comfort and security that these rigs provide. These setups are especially suited to families with kids or retirees who’re after a ‘home on the road’ with no end to their travels in sight. With a camper trailer or caravan you can:
- Enjoy more space with separate living and sleeping quarters
- Unhitch your load at the campground so you can explore the area in your vehicle
- Reach campgrounds that aren’t on sealed roads if you have an off-road model
There are loads of vehicles out there with enough space to have a bedroom conversion in the back. Troopcarriers and 4WD vans are popular among solo adventurers and couples looking for a no-fuss setup that can be taken on any unsealed road. Van and 4WD conversions are great if you’re looking to camp discreetly using free overnight parking in towns, or roadside rest stops. If you want to maximise storage space in your 4WD, you could use a rooftop tent instead. The biggest benefits include:
- Reaching remote campgrounds on 4WD-only tracks
- Minimal campsite setup when you’re sleeping the car
- Flexibility to camp with tent/swag, or in the car
Camping with pets
For a lot of people, what they’ll do with their furry family members while they’re away can be a huge holiday hindrance. If you don’t have a generous friend or neighbour to pet sit for you, paying for kennel services (or not going at all) can seem like your only options. But now more than ever, camping is becoming an all-inclusive activity.
Caravan parks, in particular, are recognising the modern traveller’s need for pet-friendly, low-cost accommodation. Not only are the majority of powered and unpowered sites in privately-owned parks pet-friendly, what we’re also seeing is an uptick in ‘doggy daycare’ services provided by caravan parks. This allows travellers to freely explore nearby attractions and national parks where pets might not be permitted.
You’ll also find many caravan parks are extending their pet-friendly accommodation to cabins, villas and bungalows. Remember, all you have to do is ask!
Camping with kids
Camping with kids is incredibly rewarding. Being in nature with no electronic distractions brings people closer together, and can be the source of many life lessons, too. But it can also be the source of much whining.
Kids, especially the littlest ones, get bored, they get tired, and they get grumpy. Being in remote places with no facilities is a goal you might want to work up to. For first-time camping trips, caravan parks are a real win-win.
You can camp in designated tenting areas surrounded by trees, while having playgrounds, jumping pillows and even onsite entertainment close at hand. With all the other kids running amok, chances are they’ll make a holiday friend or two as well.
As well as asking about the kids’ facilities on offer, consider the layout before booking your camping trip and choose your site wisely. A central cafe or communal area within eyeshot of playgrounds and swimming pools means you can relax while at the same time supervising your kids. You’d be surprised how many new parks out have taken these factors into account.
Camping Gear: what to take with you
A person’s basic human needs can be summed up as food, shelter, water. But bare essentials don’t necessarily equate to a fun camping trip (unless of course, you’re on a mission inspired by Body Hack or Man vs Wild.)
That said, packing too much is just as problematic as taking too little. Finding the best combination of camping gear will require some trial and error, and may differ from trip to trip due to the aforementioned variations in environment and weather.
We’ve got a comprehensive checklist that’s worth eyeballing every time you’re planning a cold weather camping trip, but feel free to tweak it for any season. It covers the need-to-haves as well as some nice-to-haves. Packing based on these two criteria will mean you’ll have a comfortable trip without burdening yourself with everything but the kitchen sink.
Whether you’re using a hammock and a tarp, a swag or a tent, there are thousands of tent brands and shelter designs to choose from. You’ll need to choose a shelter with the correct seasonal rating and sleeping capacity, while also factoring in price, weight and how easy it is to set up. These points become even more important when you’re looking for an appropriate hiking tent. Every gram you carry increases your fight with gravity and uses up precious real estate in your pack, so choose wisely. Buying guides like this one can be tremendously helpful.
Sleeping bags and mattresses
Temperature rating and fibre content will be your two biggest considerations when choosing a sleeping bag, and both will impact the price. Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper than down, and retain thermal performance when wet. Down however is powerfully warm, lightweight and packs small. Again, climate and environment will have a say in your choices here.
More important is what you place between your sleeping bag and the cold ground. That’s right, camping mats do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to insulating you from the elements. Also, consider camping pillows – they pack smaller than the bedroom kind. Sleeping bags are a pain to wash, so a sleeping bag liner is always a welcome bit of kit.
Planning and prepping will ensure you get the calories you need to keep you going – and feeling happy – when you’re out amongst it. Knowing whether your heat source will be a campfire or a portable stove, as well as what you’ll be eating are just two of the questions you’ll need to ask. Beyond that, our beginner’s guide to camp cooking equipment and top ten tips for cooking at camp will give you plenty more pointers.
Day to day we tend to lose sight of how much water we actually use, but you can always count on camping to put water consumption back into perspective. Water, aka life fuel, may or may not be readily available at your campsite. Moreover, you’re always going to need more water than you think, so either bringing your own reserves with you or identifying fill-up points before heading off is crucial to your trip planning. Water containers or hiker-friendly bladders, as well as a means to purify and sterilise water so it’s safe for drinking ought to be top of your packing list.
Get out there
Download the free CamperMate app
So what the hell is CamperMate? We’re basically a bunch of travel addicts who love the outdoors, which is why we’ve created one place where you can book caravan parks, rent campervans, as well as share your experiences and stories. Whether you’re planning your next Australian road trip or camping adventure don’t forget to download our free app before you go, to find everything you need when you’re on the road.