Responsible free camping in Australia

australia road to outback
Gareth Meade
22 Sep, 2021
5 min read

Camping for free in Australia is possible, but be a clever Koala

Freedom camping is a great way to travel without breaking the bank. If you’re planning to free camp in Australia, there are a few things you really need to know. Make sure you avoid fines, stay safe, and leave the country better than you found it with the information below.

What is free camping?

It’s pretty straightforward, really: free camping involves parking up overnight in a place that’s not officially designated as a camping spot, or in a free campsite. Australia has different laws regarding free camping depending on which state you’re travelling in but regardless of the specific regulations which might apply, the guidelines below should stand you in good stead.

A white campervan parked on the side of the road.
A person with their feet up looking out the window of a van at a kangaroo sign.

How to free camp responsibly

First off, make sure that the site you’ve picked to stay the night actually allows free camping. In the next section we’ll explore in-depth how to find legitimate free camping spots but to start with, know that it’s not safe to assume you can stay overnight just anywhere in your rental car/campervan. But there’s a lot more to responsible free camping than just picking the right spot. Read on for a few guidelines that will help you have a great free camping experience, allow others to do the same, and keep you on the right side of the law.

Australia has all kinds of weird and wonderful wildlife which you might come across when free camping.
  • Unless you have a self-contained motorhome with its own toilet facilities, do your best to free camp near a public toilet block. If you’re in a remote part of the country and this is just not possible, dig a hole at least 30cm deep and bury your waste, including any toilet paper. Never leave human waste or toilet paper uncovered.
  • When cleaning the dishes or washing, make sure you’re a decent distance away from any nearby waterways. If soap or detergent gets into the water, it can be very harmful to all kinds of water life. Get rid of any resulting ‘grey water’ by pouring it on the ground, where it can be filtered through the soil. Note that this applies to water only - any food remnants should be gathered up and taken with you for later disposal.
  • Many free camping sites don’t have waste disposal bins - this doesn’t mean that you can leave behind your refuse, even if it is “biodegradable”. Leave the space just as clean as you found it, and take away all rubbish with you when you depart.
  • Bringing a lot of water with you is crucial for your safety when travelling in the Outback, but regardless of where your road trip is taking you, it’s good practice to bring your own water when free camping, as there may not be any available at your camping sites. Any water provided in remote areas should be carefully conserved, as it’s very scarce and may run dry otherwise.Visit the green-clad Bruny Island during your Hobart holiday.
  • It’s generally not safe to just pull up on the side of the road and camp for the night. Instead, keep your eye out for rest stops, truck stops, and bush camps. These will usually be slightly off the road and are less prone to crime than roadside camping.
  • Be considerate of other campers when it comes to noise levels, especially if you arrive at your free camping site after dark.
  • To be on the safe side, keep your motorhome doors locked at night.
  • Take extreme care when lighting fires. If you can avoid using an open fire, it’s best to do so. Many self-contained motorhomes will have their own cooking facilities - even if you’re travelling in a small sleeper-van, you can use a portable gas cooker instead.
  • Some free campsites have time restrictions. These will generally be around 24 hours, which is more than enough time to catch 40 winks, have a meal and be on your way. Other sites allow you to sleep but not set up camp (camp chairs, awnings, tables, etc). If you’re unsure of the rules, ask other campers.
  • Many free camping sites have a voluntary honesty box where you can leave a donation that goes towards the maintenance of the site. Obviously, you don’t have to donate, but it’s a nice way to show appreciation and ensure that free camping sites remain open for years to come.
  • Australia has all kinds of weird and wonderful wildlife which you might come across when free camping. It’s important to remember that these animals are wild and shouldn’t be approached, for your own safety and theirs.
Australia is a vast country and one road trip will not be enough to uncover all its wonders.

Where (and where not) to freedom camp

There are many, many places in Australia where it’s fine to free camp, but there are also areas which will net you a large fine if you’re discovered camping overnight. It pays to do your research to make sure that your free camping experience doesn’t become an expensive camping experience.

In general, public land in remote areas is fine for freedom camping, but avoid sleeping overnight in public spaces when you’re in an urban or suburban environment, as many local councils have bylaws restricting freedom camping.

It’s important to note that while you can camp in most national parks, the majority will require you to purchase a camping permit. If you’re intending to spend some time in Australia’s gorgeous national parks (which we’d highly recommend) it’s best to visit the park’s website to find out about the rules around camping, as well as top places to visit and things to see.

If you’re still stumped about where you might be able to free camp in Australia, it’s worth asking at the local tourism office before you head out into the wild.

Above all, remember that with the freedom granted by holidaying in a motorhome comes the responsibility to be a conscientious traveller and leave Australia just as beautiful as you found it.

A right facing white campervan.

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