Location: Grampians National Park, Victoria
Back when we were planning our great Australian road trip, we knew that petrol and accommodation would be a budget killer. We wanted to make our savings last so that we could stay on the road for longer, and the obvious way to do this without siphoning petrol out of other cars at night, was to do as much free camping as possible.
Starting out in Western Australia, I was already in front as I owned a ‘Guide to Free Camping in Southern Western Australia’, and from the time we left Perth to crossing the border into South Australia, Siu On and I didn’t spend a cent on accommodation. However, once we crossed into South Australia the need for a shower started to creep in and we forked out for a caravan park on a few occasions.
Our main problem in South Australia is that a lot of free campsites require four wheel drive access (and we aren’t able to deflate and inflate our tyres), or things had changed with a few towns no longer permitting free camping at all, or imposing a $10 per night fee (National Parks included). Luckily for us, one of Siu On’s friends offered to put us up for a few nights in Adelaide, and allowed us to camp on his parents’ holiday home in Robe.
At this point we started to do a bit more research into free camping spots, since asking at information centers were usually met with a scowl and being told ‘there’s a cheap caravan park here’. Once we crossed into Victoria I was expecting the worse, from what I could find on the forums it seemed like the Victorian Government had stamped out all the free camping areas in the state! I still had to try though, so turning up at the Halls Gap Information Centre I asked the lady if there was any free camping in the Grampians.
“Free camping?” she sneered at us, “yes that’s right” I said.
“Dispersed camping?” she spat out, “that would be fine too” I politely replied.
She reluctantly pulled out a map and pointed half heartedly to a few indistinguishable areas and told us to go down the road and as for more information at the Brambuk Information Center
It made me wonder why free camping is so frowned upon. The fact is that not everyone wants to be packed like tinned sardines at a caravan park, or can fork out big dollars on private accommodation – well, we didn’t. We wanted the space and the sights and sounds of the outdoors, and to save those dollars! So off to the Brambuk Information Centre we went, and luckily the ladies there we much more helpful and recommended the Plantation camping ground, not too far from town.
As we drove to our free campsite, I thought more about why ‘free camping’ is such a dirty word; sure some people associate it with freeloaders who use up local resources without so much as contributing to the maintenance of the area, and yes there are people who do trash free campsites and ruin it for everyone else. However, these people are definitely in the minority. I also understand that by utilising local accommodation (caravan parks, hostels, hotels, etc), it contributes to the community’s economy and employment prospects; however, I choose to support the local community in other ways such as shopping and eating locally.
Personally, I see free camping as the last glimmer of light for urbanites seeking to live a little more adventurous on the cheap. Free camping means I get to experience nature similarly to the way the ancient Aboriginal people once did as they roamed the land; a land that belonged to no one and was the responsibility of everyone to care for. And having said that, if only I could tell that to the party of bogans that have set up in the next campsite over to turn that racket down – I’m trying to commune with nature here!?
Some great free camp sites we stayed at include:
In Western Australia
- Lake Douglas, Kalgoorlie: Sites are behind an artificial dam with some shelter, fire pit rings and picnic tables. It covers a large area so you can get some privacy and isn’t far away from Kalgoorlie.
- Lake Ballard, Menzies: Some shelter, fire pit rings and picnic tables along with a drop toilet and RV dump station, all within meters of Anton Gormley’s ‘Inside Australia’ sculpture installation.
- Bromus Dam, Norseman: Located just south of Norseman, this site has shade, fire pit rings, and picnic tables but no other facilities.
- Rest areas along the Nullabor (Eyre Highway): Pretty much all the signposted rest areas off the highway are free for a night or two. Some have facilities like a drop toilet and picnic tables, others are more spartan Please make use of these rest areas and DO NOT DRIVE TIRED!
- Plantation Campsite, Grampians National Park: Located a short drive north of Halls Gap, is a large area with facilities including a drop toilet, bush shower (BYO water), picnic areas with fire pits and tables. You don’t need to prebook it online either.
Last image by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.