Australia is expensive – that is one of the first challenges that backpackers and other budget travelers discover when they arrive in this country.
Accommodation usually takes the biggest share of the daily budget so that is good place to start saving money. One good way to save in accommodation costs is to work for it: either work for a hostel or do some wwoofing or helpX. But if you are on a road trip and cannot or don’t want to work, free camping is an excellent way to save in accommodation costs.
There is a lot of free campsites around Australia where you can camp legally for a short period of time. The quality and available facilities vary a lot in these sites, some are just roadside rest areas and some are proper campsites located in a nice area.
If you want to do free camping the one and only tool to find everything you need is WikiCamps app. You can set from the filters the map to show only the ‘free sites’ which makes it easy to navigate.
Most of the time free campsites don’t have much facilities, except toilets and water taps in some. This makes the free camping sometimes a bit challenging when you have to find all the things you need from somewhere else than where you are staying. It’s not actually hard when you know where to look and personally I consider this to be a part of the adventure. You also learn to appreciate things you normally take for granted like hot showers.
Finding the facilities
Luckily, Australia has a lot of good quality public facilities which makes it relatively easy to find all things you need. At least for me the things I need on the road include: toilets, showers, laundry, water, food, power plugs and WiFi.
Most of the free campsites have some kind of toilets, but especially in the roadside rest areas they can be quite nasty, so you really don’t want to use them unless absolutely needed.
There is a lot of places for public toilets like beaches and parks. I have found that shopping malls usually have the cleanest ones. Shopping malls are convenient places to go in the morning after sleeping in a rest area – they have good toilets and you can buy some coffee and breakfast to get your day started.
You can find public showers from the beaches but these are almost always cold. Cold shower is fine if it is summer, but in cooler weather it can be a bit uncomfortable.
Some service stations have free hot showers mostly designated to truck drivers but some welcome also travelers. Also some information centers provide free (usually hot) showers for travelers. I have found also free hot showers from very random places with the help of WikiCamps so sometimes you can get lucky by exploring a little. You can get really cheap hot showers from swimming centers that usually let travelers to use the showers in return for a small fee (1-2$).
Finding a laundry is easy since there are coin operated laundromats located in almost every town. The machines usually take 1 or 2$ coins most of the time only 1$ coins so bring some change. Usually the washing costs 3–5$ and drying about 2$.
You will need water for drinking and washing dishes. Water taps are easy to find and the are commonly located in parks, beaches or campsites.
Storing fresh food can be a bit problematic, unless you have a van with a possibility to keep fridge on all the time. You can buy ice, but it doesn’t last very long and is sold annoyingly only in huge 4 kg bags – a bit too much for a small esky. It doesn’t really help the situation that all food is sold in huge packages.
One solution for cold storage problem is to buy food that requires cold storage from deli desks in Woolworths and Coles. There you can buy only small portions so there is no waste. Quite often I buy lunch/dinner ingredients from deli and go to a park to cook it on a barbecue. Perfect way to get cheap and delicious meal! Also 5$ Domino’s is a savior if you are too lazy to cook.
Power plugs & WiFi
This is really a ‘first world problem’ but for us young backpackers used to having smart phones and laptops around it becomes really an issue when you don’t have power plugs to charge your devices. Phones can be quite easily charged from the car with USB charger plugged in the cigarette lighter, but this only works when you are on the move. If you are staying in one place or want to change your laptop, you will need to find a place that has some power plugs.
Few of the public parks do have power plugs available, but these are quite rare. I have found that libraries are quite nice places to hang out and charge your devices, especially if it is raining. Libraries have power plugs, free WiFi and quite often some comfortable couches for chilling. Also for WiFi McDonalds is quite popular and they do have good WiFi’s most of the time.
TIP: Portable Power Banks for charging phones have turned out to be really useful.
5 of my Favorite Free Campsites in Australia
1. Bay of Fires – Tasmania
There are four campsites located right next to the beach on the famous Bay of Fires in Tasmania. Because of the incredibly beautiful location this goes to the number one spot. We stayed in the second camp spot. Not much facilities except toilets but the beach is amazing.
2. Marrawah – Tasmania
Tasmania offers some good quality free camping. This place is one of my favorite free campsites because of the beachfront location and good surf. The beach has clean toilets, water taps and cold outside showers.
3. Kangaroo Valley – NSW
Located in a beautiful valley and there is A LOT of my favorite Australian animals wombats strolling around the camp. Well maintained spot, clean toilets and water taps.
4. Meroo Head – NSW
A bush camp located near beautiful Termeil Beach. There is camping fees during school holidays but otherwise it is free. The campsites are only for tents and located in the forest next to the beach. Only facilities are toilets but they were clean.
5. New Italy – NSW
It is pretty hard to find decent free campsites from this part of the east coast. New Italy is conveniently located between Yamba and Ballina, right next to the highway. Otherwise the camp spot is not so special but they have good coffee, clean toilets and interesting Italian museum.
Remember to always clean your mess, take the rubbish and leave the place as you found it.
If you are traveling the east coast I have to say that roughly between Sydney and Sunshine Coast there is not too many good legal free campsites so in some areas you may have to rely on other options.