A guide to freedom camping on the east coast of Australia

 In Australia, Backpacking, Budget Travel, Roadtrips

You’re on an Australian road trip. You’ve got the sunshine beating down onto the dashboard and you’re heading for the ocean. Your surfboard is in the back and you’ve just a few bikinis and beers stashed into a weekend bag. But, you don’t need much, just the company of your friend in the passenger seat and the open road ahead. You’re heading for a freedom camping adventure and you’ve not a care in the world.

Sound like somewhere you’d like to be? Get yourself over to Australia. It’s a thing.

Road trips in Australia are every bit as dreamy as Instagram tells you they are. I’ve done a few now and daydreaming about the time I’ve spent on the road down under is not an uncommon occurrence. Particularly so as I sit here in the depths of the English winter, where both daylight and temperatures are at an absolute minimum.

See all my road trips in Australia here. Check out my packing list for embracing a road trip here.

If you read my last camper guide, ‘Hiring a camper in Australia and New Zealand’, where I answered your most commonly asked questions, you’ll know I’m the biggest advocate of life on the road. It’s all about indulging in the little things…

Video: A Great Ocean Road road trip from Melbourne
The Great Ocean Road: A planning guide and 5-day itinerary

Hiring a camper van and living van life in Australia is one of the most sought after adventures down under.

Van life gives you the ultimate freedom to see the main touristy spots, but it also allows you to go completely off of the grid and dig deep into the little pockets of Australia that not all tourists have the time or the means to get their hands on. You get the chance to create some pretty special moments. However, if you’re travelling solo in Australia or you try booking a camper van last minute, it can also end up being a very expensive adventure to go on. The best way to save money is to team up with some friends. That way, you can split the cost between you!

Get a camper van hire quote and check out the most competitive rates here.

Once you have hired a camper van in Australia, there are so many way to save money and keep your costs low on the road. Most vans will have a kitchen set up, meaning you just need to buy groceries. Then you can cook and eat wherever you pull up (saving money on eating out). By driving yourself, you remove the need to book buses, trains, planes and hotels or hostels too.

If, like me, you’re a bargain hunter through and through, then ‘freedom camping’ is also the one for you.

Top tip: Booking a campervan is like booking flights, the longer you leave it the more expensive it will become… Click here for top tips on booking your transport in Australia.

A guide to freedom camping in Australia…

What is freedom camping?

First of all, as the name suggests freedom camping (also known as ‘free camping’ or ‘bush camping’) is often, but not always, free. You, therefore, don’t pay for your pitch for the night. It’s the most inexpensive way to travel Australia and it will take you to the most magical destinations. 

However, some National Parks require camping passes to stay overnight. The passes are mostly super affordable ($5 – $30 AUD) and the money generated goes back into helping the National Park conservation programmes. 

Secondly, you get that sense of being ‘free’ – just you, fellow travellers and the great outdoors. Camping off the beaten track means that you don’t need to worry about electronic devices, signal and the fast-paced environments we often become engulfed within. It’s so important to take those special moments to appreciate the now and freedom camping under the stars definitely gives you exactly that!  

Why freedom camp?

Whilst you are travelling you become very money savvy and look to save money wherever possible. By freedom camping you’ll save yourself money instead of paying out for accommodation in hostels.

Not only will you discover secret spots, you can also wake up to some amazing views and really connect with nature. This is without a doubt one of the true treasures of Australia; there are some beautiful spots to be discovered.

Check out this east coast Australia bucket list for adventures to add to your road trip!

What are the rules of freedom camping?

Wherever you opt to freedom camp for the evening, the golden rule is to NEVER leave a trace.

Leave nothing but footprints and take only memories!

Leave no trace means: ‘dispose of waste properly, respect wildlife, don’t tip liquid waste into lakes or rivers, double-check your campsite and always respect cultural heritage sites.’

Next up, get used to where you can and can’t park up for the night. There are lots of designated rest areas where you can legally stop for the evening. There are also off the beaten track sites that will allow you to go a little further into the Aussie bush, which will take you closer to nature. 

Half the fun of freedom camping is discovering the spots for yourself as you drive. However, to give you a head start, I’ve enlisted the help of Sammy at RatPack Travel, who has driven the full circuit of Australia (literally). I’ve given him the challenge of plotting his favourite campgrounds on the East Coast which you can find in the super useful map below…

If you are thinking of hiring a camper in Australia (or New Zealand for that matter) I’d urge you to get in contact with my good friend Sammy at RatPack Travel… I booked my Great Ocean Road campervan through them.

They can help when it comes to finding the perfect campervan to travel Australia (or New Zealand!). Let them know your travel dates and they will find you the best deal (submit your travel dates in here.) Once he knows your pick up and drop off locations he will compare all of the online rates and get back to you with the most affordable option. He will then discount the direct rate by at least 10% (using my code MOLLIE10) making it cheaper than actually booking direct! 

Click here to send RatPack a WhatsApp message (+61 450381801) and to get the ball rolling.

What’s off limits?

In touristy areas and major cities sleeping roadside is often forbidden. Avoid, at all costs, sleeping where it states ‘no camping’. Councils are permitted to issue on the spot fines for ignoring the rules.

Also, respect local residences. Parking across someone’s driveway or at the bottom of a farmer’s field is definitely not the way to go!

How do you shower on the road?

Australia has facilities like you wouldn’t believe, so make use of them. Every beach town has outdoor showers and toilet facilities. They are all free to use, so make use of them before heading off to your wild camp spot for the evening.

Some even have enclosed showers within small public buildings like you’d expect to see at the local leisure centre. 

Top tip: If you do make use of the outdoors showers, be sure to use 100% natural soaps (or no soap at all), as the water often goes straight into the closest river or ocean. Shop natural soaps here.

Top tip: Try to use a ‘reef safe’ sunscreen to protect your skin whilst you are snorkelling or surfing! Buy yours here.

And the dreaded question… What if you need a bathroom?

If you don’t have a camper with a self-contained bathroom, have no fear! Australia’s public toilets are great, so definitely make the most of those if you’re out and about! You should be able to find them frequently, but a local playground is a good shout if you’re not sure where to find one. If you have to use the “bush loo”, go in a hidden area and take all your toilet paper with you. Remember… leave no trace!

It’s also wise to carry a shovel to bury any bowel movements. Bury your toilet waste at least 15cm deep and 100m away from away water, to prevent contamination.

Top tip: Certain areas in New Zealand require freedom campers to have a self-contained vehicle, which means you have a bathroom and access to fresh water for three days. Check the rules before you park up!

What about power while you’re freedom camping?

It goes without saying that to charge up your van, you’ll need a paid campsite. Depending on how much power you need (for things such as charging technology, etc.), you may need to charge your van every 2-4 days.

The Great Ocean Road: A planning guide and 5-day itinerary

Ready to hit the road? Sammy at RatPack Travel (a discounted booking platform) can help when it comes to finding the perfect campervan to travel Australia. Let them know your travel dates and they will find you the best deal. Don’t forget you can use my code MOLLIE10 for 10% off any booking you make.

Have you been freedom camping in Australia?

Where are your favourite freedom camping spots? I’d love to know!

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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A guide to freedom camping on the east coast of Australia
A guide to freedom camping on the east coast of Australia
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