Free camping in Australia is one of the best ways to save money when you’re travelling around the country on a budget. Not only is it great for counting pennies, but it’s also really fun and all part of the adventure that you wanted when you booked your plane ticket over! Read this guide crammed full of campsite recommendations and tips for finding your perfect spot!
There are no two ways about it – Australia is an expensive country. There are easy ways to stick to a budget though, without compromising too much on comfort or hunger pangs!
Buying (or hiring) a vehicle and finding campgrounds to stay at during your road trip is hands down the best way to explore Australia.
Living the van life is really a once in a lifetime opportunity so extending your trip for as long as possible by saving on camping fees is the best idea.
Don’t think that you can turn up with a tent and hitchhike thousands of kilometres. I mean, you could do that but there’s only one way those horror stories end and it’s with you in the boot.
People do it but I just can’t think of anything weirder than getting into a stranger’s car, in a foreign country, on a road where you might not see another human being for 100 miles.
You need to be a bit savvy when you buy a car so that you don’t whack down thousands of dollars on something that breaks 2 weeks into your trip (yes, this happened to us!) but usually it’s an investment that really pays off.
Hiring a car or campervan is a safe way to make sure that you get from A to B without running the risk of having to spend money on repairs.
If you’d rather take the Greyhound route and bus-hop from city to city, that’s also a fun way to travel (especially if you’re on your own) but you could be missing out on the adventure of a lifetime by sticking to hostels!
We highly recommend doing plenty of research (starting with this article!) and planning your route so that you can keep your accommodation costs low on your trip. Here is everything you need to know about camping in Australia for free!
What Is Free Camping?
Are you really asking that question!?
Okay, I suppose there are actually a few more specific rules to it than just pitching up a tent in the middle of the woods.
In Australia, there are laws preventing you from doing this. That means you wouldn’t be safe doing it – think of all the crazy killer animals in Oz! – and you would get in trouble with the local rangers if you were caught.
There is also absolutely no reason to break the rules here because there are some incredibly stunning, remote and spacious designated free campsites all across the country.
Free camping essentially means that you don’t have to pay to stay in a designated spot. These places are usually well-kept, but facilities are likely to be non-existent or very limited.
However, if you are driving around in a campervan, the only things you’ll really need are access to toilets and maybe a shower. Lots of campgrounds have these but don’t expect anything fancy. It’s FREE guys!
We met lots of backpackers and ‘grey nomads’ at free campsites on our trip (we ended up travelling around 14,000km) and everyone had a different set up.
At first, we towed a caravan and drove a 4×4. Then, we hired a campervan from Travellers’ Autobarn.
We saw people living in old cars with a mattress in the back, huge 5-wheeler motor-homes, 4x4s with attached rooftops tents and 4WD trailers being pulled by a family car.
One guy even turned up to a site on his motorbike, unpacked his tent from inside the seat and slept snugly in the knowledge that he was definitely the most budget-savvy of us all.
As long as you have a vehicle of some description, you can make your way around Australia and spend next to nothing on accommodation.
If you end up at a free campsite near a small town, then it’s a nice idea to support local businesses by buying a few essentials, lunches or even just a beer before you leave!
So many places in Australia are extremely remote and the locals are often grateful for your dollars!
If your budget really can’t stretch (that’s why you’re free camping!) then give them a tag or a shout out on social media to boost tourism if you get the vibe that they rely on it!
Where Can You Go Free Camping in Australia?
There are different types of free camping, and different rules for every single site that you visit. Make sure that you read and follow them so that you don’t get in trouble and give other campers a bad name!
In our experience, the best state to find free camping was Queensland, but we found the best and most enjoyable ones in Western Australia!
Along the main highways in Australia, you’ll find lots of rest stops and rest areas that you can pull into. A rest stop is usually just literally somewhere to stop, maybe have lunch and stretch your legs for a bit.
Sometimes they have toilets, sometimes they don’t. They’re handy if you need to check your engine, adjust your safety straps in your van or swap drivers.
A rest area is usually bigger and is where people park up for the night to split up a long drive. These will have toilets – sometimes they’re just a seat with a drop, sometime they flush and sometimes they even have toilet paper and a sink! Don’t expect big things, but be grateful that they exist!
You might even be lucky and stumble across an area with insane views, free firewood or a public bbq area.
Everyone knows Australia is huge, but what is difficult to get your head around until you’ve experienced it is the distance between some towns. We regularly drove for hours and hours on end without seeing a proper town, and the only feasible place to stop was a rest area.
Lots of people stay there so you feel pretty safe even though you’re in the middle of nowhere. The main thing that you have to watch out for is the wildlife, especially at night time!
We once stayed at a rest area called Attack Creek. Not only did this give us the heebie jeebies from the beginning, but on a 3am toilet trip we heard so much scuttling around I genuinely thought it would be our last resting place. It was probably just a wallaby – at worst a kangaroo – but the swallowing darkness intensified things tenfold!
Most rest areas are just set a little way back from the road, so you might hear the road trains thunder past during the night.
Australia’s National Parks are absolutely stunning, and you can’t take a road trip without staying at one at least once! They’re not all free to stay in, so always do your research but you’ll definitely be able to find some gorgeous places to stay without paying a cent.
The rules are strictest here because Australians understandably want to protect their land, wildlife and beaches. It’s really important that you follow the rules and don’t take the piss – just because there isn’t a ranger there right now doesn’t mean that there won’t be at 6am telling you to get out immediately!
Many places allow you stay for a certain amount of time, and then you need to move on to give room for other people.
A lot of the time, the campsites in National Parks are’t manned 24/7. It means that you have to leave on time without being told – so don’t be that terrible person who hogs a space for a week!
New South Wales and Victoria are the only states with free camping spots in their National Parks. Usually for everywhere else, you have to buy a park permit (still cheap) and pay a small camping fee. Even if you do find a park that you have to buy a permit for, they’re usually affordable – in the $5-6 range per person.
Watching the sun set with a cold beer in your hand on a beach is literally the epitome of backpacker life. It’s also really easy to do and every bit as enjoyable as you’re imagining.
There are beaches that, as long as your vehicle is capable of reaching them, you can stay on and relax for an evening or two.
It’s important that your car or campervan can actually get there – sometimes you might have to drive a kilometre or two to reach the sand and the tracks can be bumpy and uneven on the way there.
More often than not you’ll find toilets and shower facilities nearby too.
Just be careful not to park too close to the water – you don’t want to wake up and find yourself floating away in the Pacific.
If you have hired a campervan from a company like Apollo or Traveller’s Autobarn, then the chances are that your insurance will NOT cover you to travel on unsealed roads.
There will be maximum that you can drive on in order to get to a campsite (we could only go 500m).
You could risk it but a) there’s a reason for the limit and if you get stuck then you’ll be paying a lot of mula and b) even if nothing bad happens, the mechanics check the vehicle when you return it and if they think that you have been travelling down unsealed roads for half of you trip the they’ll charge you anyway.
I wouldn’t recommend this as a solid plan, but if you find yourself without somewhere to stay for the night then try to park up somewhere as inconspicuously as possible and leave as soon as you can the next day!
On our second day, we drove 600km to the Sunshine Coast, ready to stay for free in a campground. When we arrived, we realised that the campground in question didn’t exist anymore.
We couldn’t keep driving around as it was beginning to get dark and our caravan lights had already failed us. We bit the bullet and parked up in a swimming centre car park for the night.
At 5am, we were woken to literally hundred of runners on their weekend park run – so we quickly strapped everything up and left before someone could tell us off!
It’s really not an ideal solution, but don’t put yourself in danger by driving in the dark (those pesky kangaroos are insanely dangerous from dusk until dawn).
Leave as early as you possibly can, leave no trace of ever being there and wait until another campground opens to be safe!
How To Find The Best Free Camping Spots in Australia
Finding a free camping spot is half of the fun – there are so many different places to choose from, with amazing scenery or facilities nearby. There are some really good resources both on and off-line to find the perfect place to camp.
We found that the best thing to do was choose a place and then cross-reference the reviews + information on a couple of different sites and apps to make sure everything was up to date.
Here are our favourite ways to find free campsites across the different Australian states:
This is the best app that we used on our 3 month Australian road trip. It’s free to download, which pushes it’s rating higher immediately!
It’s also available to use in New Zealand so super handy if you’re moving on from Oz.
You can easily filter the different type of accommodation you’re looking for, and what facilities are deal breakers to you. This part is also really handy because you might just need to find a public toilet or a launderette nearby and you can filter those too.
There’s also a section that highlights local deals so you might even be able to grab a budget night in a campsite that you’d usually have to pay a lot for.
Free Camping Australia
This doesn’t have an app but the website is incredibly helpful.
It lists the free campsites by state and quickly tells you the necessary information such as accessibility, whether there are showers or not and if there is potable water.
Some of the campgrounds were added to this site a few years ago, so it’s best to double check on another site or Google Maps to see if it still open!
Check out the site here.
Free Range Camping
Another great website with the added bonus of an app, Free Range Camping helped us find some awesome campsites. The filters are good and the directory is huge!
You don’t have to pay to use the site but there is a premium membership feature which includes discounts + an offline version of the app which is handy in the outback of Australia!
We didn’t upgrade because we always used more than one website to cement our plans but I can see why it would be a good investment.
Click here to take a look at the website.
I didn’t think of searching Facebook for somewhere to stay until we were recommended a group by some seasoned campers.
In actual fact, there are loads of groups dedicated to sharing amazing places people have found, updates on accessibility (especially when it torrentially rains and you’re not sure if you can still drive up the mud track leading to the campsite) and information on things to do in the nearby area.
We used this Showground Recommendations group the most and found some really cool places to stay from it. Just type in what kind of campground you are looking for (and location) to find the best groups for you.
This is the app that everyone raves about, and although it can be helpful, we didn’t find it as good as Camper Mate.
You have to pay – only about $4/$5 though and sometimes they offer a free trial. They have recently updated the app though and it does seem to have improved.
The review system is good but take some of the comments with a pinch of salt because there are a lot of grumpy travellers out there who expect the world for free!
This is a basic but helpful free site. You can browse by location or create a route plan from A to B and pick the best campsites along the way.
Click here for the website.
National Park Websites
The two states that offer some free camping in their National Parks are New South Wales and Victoria. Click on the links below for their official parks website and filter through their awesome campsites.
Country Pub Camping
One thing you’ll notice about Australia is that everyone loves a good pub! There are a lot of places across the country who let you park + stay for free in their grounds. You might be expected to buy a meal or a pint in return but it’s a great way to cut costs when travelling on a budget. Sometimes there is no expectation and you can just stay for free.
This website is specifically designed to find opportunities like that. Be sure to call ahead though because there usually isn’t a huge amount of space so it’s likely that there will be a first come first served system.
Best Free Camping Sites in Australia
There are literally thousands of amazing places to stay in Australia without paying anything at all, so it can be a little overwhelming to try and find the very best ones!
We’ve picked fourteen campsites that we think you should make your way to. We didn’t stay in all of them but we definitely would if we came back!
Free Camping NSW
- Tooloom Falls Campground
- Gum Bend Lake
Free Camping QLD
- Saunders Park
- Carmila Beach Rest Area
Free Camping NT
(*Good free camping is actually hard to find in the Northern Territory! There are plenty of rest stops but don’t expect anything fancy, and there are also some amazing low-cost campsites in National Parks that it’s probably worth paying for!)
- Curtin Springs Station
- Gunn Point Campground
Free Camping WA
- Ngumban Cliff Lookout
- Cliff Head North
Free Camping SA
- Narung Jetty Reserve
- Redbanks Conservation Park
Free Camping VIC
- Scott’s Beach Camping Area
- Paddy’s Ranges State Park
Free Camping TAS
- Cosy Corner Campground
- Northeast Park Free Camp
Being A Responsible Camper
When you’re enjoying your trip, it can be easy to forget that there are still rules that you have to follow to be a responsible and moral traveller.
The main two things to remember are to not camp in illegal places, and to leave no trace.
I mentioned earlier that we stayed in a car park after searching for a non-existent campsite.
It’s obviously not ideal so I think that the only exception to this rule is when you would put yourself or others in danger if you had to try and find somewhere else. As soon as you’re able to, leave the site and plan better next time!
A couple of extra ways to be respectful are:
Only having fires in designated spots
Australia is notorious for its bush fires, and the bans are there for a reason. If a sign tells you not to have a fire, it’s for your own safety, as well as the protection of the local environment so don’t be a dick and have one anyway!
Some rest areas we visited had free firewood and fire pits for use, and some national parks had fire places but you had to bring your own wood. Either way, check the signs around the site to see what is allowed and what isn’t.
You should also check for fire and weather warnings. If the land is too dry, there is a high risk that a spark could cause extreme damage so make sure that you are well-informed about the local area if you decide to build your own fire.
Australia is currently suffering from the worst bush fire season it has ever seen. As of January 2020, 28 people have died, 10.7 million hectares of land has been lost and over a billion animals have perished. It is NOT the time to be freely playing around with your own fires – imagine contributing to the horrific loss of land and life during this time.
Stay in places with nearby toilets
No one – NO ONE – wants to step over your business whilst they’re setting up their camper for the night. Unless you have a fancy self-contained van, filter your apps to only show you the ones that have toilets and use them!
Keep the noise down
People might not have paid for their camping spot so you might be inclined to think that you can make as much noise as you like – who is going to tell you off? Well, actually there are plenty of rangers around in certain free camping spots who might ask you to leave if you’re being inconsiderate.
Secondly, if you’re up late into the night guzzling goon and loudly playing Cards Against Humanity until 4am, you can bet that the early risers won’t be too careful with the slamming of their doors as they leave!
Donating to the honesty boxes
Obviously we all love a freebie, but these campgrounds and national parks do appreciate a little contribution now and again! Pay it forward when you can.
Tips For Cheap Camping in Australia
If you can’t find the perfect free camping spot, then the next best thing is a cheap camping spot.
There are lots more of these than completely free areas, and it means that more often than not, you’re paying for facilities like showers or electricity.
In some states, you can’t camp for free in National Parks because you need a permit and then you also need to pay a camping fee per person.
The costs can add up for some of the fancier campsites but there are lots that are really cheap and it’s worth spending a few dollars to for incredible view or a few hours of power.
Obviously one of thee best ways to cut costs on your trip is to cook for yourself, but sometimes when you’re on a hike or you’re just exploring the local area, that can be tricky.
Luckily Australia is a bbq haven and you’ll find plenty of free electric barbecues dotted around national parks and along the main tourist trails. Pack up a lunch fit for a grilling king or queen and laugh at everyone else’s measly sandwiches.
We were vegetarian whilst we road tripped which made things a) cheaper and b) easier to store food. The Mexican bean burgers in the picture above are THE BOMB – get the recipe here.
Showgrounds are also really great places to stay if you’re on a budget. When there isn’t a show on, the ground are often opened up to campers and we spent some fun nights in a couple of these.
Look on Facebook for these types of sites as they’re usually run by locals who aren’t using the big apps for their advertising.
Consider going off-grid for a day or two.
The rental vehicle companies recommend that you plug in every 2 – 3 days usually, so we would find free or budget campground for 2 nights and then splurge on a proper caravan park the next day to charge everything up and enjoy hot water!
If you are planning on paying for caravan parks or campsites each night, check the apps for the best places to stay but also visit the websites of where you’re thinking of going.
A lot of the time, if you book ahead you can get a discount if you stay a certain amount of days. Even if they don’t usually offer it, it’s always worth asking, especially if you’re planning on staying for at least 5 days.
I recommend buying good vehicle insurance – not only will it help you out if your van breaks, but some of the big companies offer accommodation deals too. For example, we were NRMA members so we got a discount of 10% off a stay in any of their parks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is free camping in Australia safe?
As long as you’re a responsible camper, you should be pretty safe even if you’re free camping. Only stay at designated areas for overnight stays, and keep essentials in your car like a first aid kit, head torch and plenty of drinking water.
It’s just important to keep your wits about you (especially for solo travellers) so keep your doors locked at all times and don’t get so drunk on goon that you can’t remember which way the toilets are!
At night-time, lots of animals come out to hunt and play, so be aware of that if you’re in a rural area.
Is free camping legal in Australia?
Yes, it’s completely legal! The only thing you need to make sure of is that you’re staying in an actual assigned free camping spot, otherwise you would be breaking the law.
What is the best app for free camping in Australia?
I personally think that the best app to use is Camper Mate because it’s free and there are lots of lesser-known camping spots on there which means more chance of a space!
Do you have to have a vehicle to free camp in Australia?
You’ll need a car or campervan of some sorts to get from A to B. Also, some places don’t like you to camp in a tent so you have to have a vehicle to actually sleep in.
Are you planning on an awesome free camping adventure soon? Let us know where you want to go or if you found even more cool spots!
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