Great ideas & info for your first or next camping trip
For many Australians, camping is a passion. Whether they go on an occasional camping trip or spend every weekend and holiday out in the bush, camping is a cheap way to get away from it the stresses of everyday life. This article provides some great ideas and information for your first or your next camping trip.
The focus here is on car camping. While there are also lots of opportunities to go hiking and camping, not everybody is into this. Also, if you are just starting out camping, then car camping lets you get used to sleeping in a tent before going the next step.
Why go camping
Ultimately camping is about getting out into nature. Whether the location is near for far from the city, great camping locations having lots of activities at or near the campsite. This usually means swimming, hiking as well as various commercial outback attractions that might be nearby. When not doing other things you can be sitting back and relaxing with a book while your kids play outdoors. In every campground, you will also meet friendly people who are happy to talk and share their experiences.
The biggest appeal for many people is that it is very cheap to go camping. Other than the bigger cities, it is possible to camp in nearly every town or regional city in Australia. Even when you can't find something where you need it, there is usually a campsite not that far away.
There is a lot of expensive and elaborate equipment that you can take on a camping trip. But if you are starting out, then you just need some basic equipment, which is often very cheap.
Experienced campers have lots of gear, but you don't need much to start camping
The main thing you need is a tent. I usually recommend dome tents as your first tent. They are cheap, light, fairly easy to set up and takedown, and while there are better tents, some of them pack up too large for most cars or smaller SUVs. Also, dome tents are freestanding, which means you can easily set them up anywhere, including on sand or concrete. For 1 or 2 people, a 3 or 4 person tent is a good option. If you want to be able to stand up in your tent, then you definitely want a 4 person tent. Of course, there are lots of options with tents, from pop-up tents, gazebo tents, classic canvass tents and even inflatable ones. Find the one that is right for you.
For a good nights sleep you need a bed of some sort. The most basic are air mattresses. For added comfort consider the double layer air mattresses. Some people prefer camp cots or foam mattresses, but remember these don't pack up that small.
The next thing you need will be a camp cooker. A great cheaper starting option are those little butane canister stoves. Not only can you use them when camping, but they are great at home as well. If you are getting serious about camping then a larger gas bottle stove is a must. Because you can refill the bottles, they are much cheaper in the long run. But remember, many campsites have wood or gas barbecues, and at others, you can cook over an open fire.
Let's not forget the chairs. There are lots of camp chairs available. Personally I have sat in cheap through to expensive folding chairs and there isn't much-added comfort in the more expensive chairs, while the cheaper ones tend to fold up smaller.
Don't forget to buy a camp table. I have a slatted table that is great for 2 people, folds up small and is light. But the ones that fold up flat are usually bigger, cheaper and make a great table for use with parties at home. Some people just bring their garden table which can fold down. Camping should involve some innovation.
After your tent and mattress, the next essential item is a camp shelter. The tent is normally just for sleeping, so it is useful to have a gazebo or marquee so you can sit out of the sun or rain, and greatly increases your camp comfort. For convenience, the popup marques are great, but they often don't fold down small enough to fit in your a typical cars luggage space. Look for the best shelter you can find that fits in your car. Also, once again, remember these often get used more at home for parties than for camping.
If you are taking fresh food with you on your trip, you will want to keep them cold. For overnight trips, I have just used a supermarket cooler bag filled with frozen bottles of water to keep meat cool, while for longer trips we have been able to keep meat frozen for over a week with food stored in a huge esky. You can also buy a variety of camp fridges, but that is something you might work up to later.
Overall, there are a lot of great camping equipment, but you don't have to spend a lot of money to have a wonderful camping trip. Kmart, Big-W and Aldi all sell a range of cheap and very useful camping supplies. While being wary of the very cheap tents is always wise, with most other equipment you can start with the cheapest for your first trip. The best reminder of the reason not to buy overly expensive items is how often you see top of the line outdoor gear being sold secondhand because they never use them.
For anyone who went camping as a kid, they will probably remember things like sausages and marshmallows roasted over an open fire or damper cooked on the coals. The best advice I can give for camp cooking though is that you want a combination of things that are easy to cook and special foods that you will only have when camping.
I have some friends who learned this the hard way. The first camping trip I went on with them, they packed cans of beef stew that they had bought on special. While canned stews aren't a bad idea, after a couple of days of the same thing for dinner, it becomes even less appealing. The next camping trip they planned a wide range of great foods, and while the foods were great, for several days in a row it rained heavily at dinner time. If you have ever tried to cook sausages in a pan on a little hexamine stove, you will hope for beef stew in a can.
From there, they really started to build things up. So we did things like roast chickens over the coals. This tastes great but takes 5 hours to cook. On another trip that I didn't join them on, they ended up so tired at the end of the day, that everyone was asleep before dinner was ready.
Putting together a great combination of easy and delicious food is not that hard. Packing things like packets of couscous, instant noodles and some canned food means you can quickly and easily prepare meals even in the worst weather and when you are tired from a day of outdoor activities. There are lots of other long life and easy to take foods you can take as well, such as long-life flatbreads and tortillas.
Of course, there is the joy of cooking over the open fire. A simple grill that you can put over the fire is a great way to cook meats. A popular option is roasting sweet potato in the coals. Just wrap them up in aluminium foil and put them in the fire. There are so many great camp cooking ideas, I won't even try to get into them here.
Most people who want to get out into nature care about the environment, so it stands to reason that you want to be an eco-camper.
Taking your rubbish with you is just one part of eco-camping
The primary principle is to leave no trace. In other words, take only photos and leave only footprints,
Take all your rubbish with you. That includes food scraps as well.
The thing about the footprints, is you want to minimise those as much as possible. Stick to designated camping spots, don't attach things to trees, if you are camping on grass, move your tent every couple of days to avoid killing the grass.
Yes, some campsites are pet-friendly, but dogs need to be on a leash at all times. Even if they don't kill wildlife, they can distress them because by chasing them or just nosing around.
Thanks to advances in batteries and solar power, there is no need to bring diesel generators. You can easily harness the power of the sun.
Think about the equipment that you bring when camping. There is a lot of equipment that embraces the eco-philosophy, especially those made from recycled materials.
Focus on reusable gear. For example, many people buy the reusable silicon bags to portion out food instead of using disposable plastic bags. I like to repurpose old plastic jars, such as peanut butter jars, to store things like powdered milk.
Where to camp
Camping locations range from well equipped commercial campsites with toilets, hot showers, a camp kitchen, a shop and other facilities, through to essentially just random locations in the bush. Some campers only go to the most remote places, while others are happy to camp wherever they can, depending on the trip.
When most people think of camping locations, they think of National Parks. Their main appeal is that they are often the cheapest places with facilities and are within natural reserves with the most spectacular swimming holes, views, waterfalls and hikes. These generally charge per person, rather than per tent. Which is great when you have a group of people all bringing their own tents. The thing about national parks in Australia is that they are not actually run nationally, but are run as separate state-based organisations, each with slightly different rules and charges.
National Parks usually have the best hikes, waterfalls and other attractions
Many local councils also operate campsites as well. The local council campgrounds are usually located within a council-run nature reserve. These tend to be less interesting than national park campgrounds, but are often a little closer to town and with enough nature to keep things interesting.
There are many more Commercial Campsites around Australia than national park campsites. These can vary widely in terms of facilities and styles, but they are usually set in bushland areas, often there is a creek or other natural swimming spot, and may have a range of commercial activities available, such as horse riding, kayak hire and so on. The biggest issue with most commercial sites is that they tend to charge per tent. Some families like to have separate parent and kids tents, which you will be charged more to set up than if you have 1 big tent with 2 or more rooms. Of course, the people who run these sites are usually the friendliest and nicest people, and if you call and ask, I am sure that they can be accommodating.
Many commercial campsites also include caravan access, cabins, and more and more now, glamping. But they remain different from what we normally think of as a caravan park, which tend to have lots set aside for caravans. But even caravan parks have a few spots for tents as well. While a bit of dirt in the middle of essentially a caravan parking lot doesn't sound that appealing, it can be a cheap option for staying near or in the centre of town. Of course, not all caravan parks are created equal. The best example that comes to mind are the caravan parks on the Sunshine Coast, many of which reserve a grassy area facing the ocean for campers.
Camp kitchens make cooking easier and dining more comfortable
For the longest time, showgrounds were the secret spot to camp in many towns and regional cities around Australia. One time when we stayed at a showgrounds where we didn't even bother setting up the tent, just slept under the cover of one of the show pavilions. In recent times they have become the popular place for the grey nomads in caravans to stop. This has led many local agricultural societies to make them caravan and campervan only locations. But there are still many showgrounds you can set up a tent. Camping in showgrounds is available in most regional towns.
One little known place where you can find campsites are the scouts & guides campgrounds. These are often located in the outer suburbs of various cities around Australia, so are a great place to find a campground that isn't out in the countryside. While hardly an escape from the city, they provide a great option if your road trip is passing through a city that doesn't have campsites. Booking usually involves calling them to check whether the grounds are free and available.
But you don't have to restricted to official campsites. Across much of northern Australia people seek to find any sort of campgrounds. Not only because of the remoteness of the areas but also that many rivers and river banks are all crown land. Because of the seasonal wet seasons up north, you will often find that there are plenty of rivers that have 2 sets of banks, the normal one for the dry season, and a much wider and higher set of banks for the wet season.. Which means you can effectively camp anywhere along the river. Though please avoid camping on the river bank when The Wet rolls around, unless you enjoy being swept away in a flash flood. Of course, right around Australia, people do set up camp in other unofficial campsites.
Nice spot to camp, but definitely not an official campsite
There are an increasing number of indigenous run campsites around Australia. Some of these are national parks which have given the traditional custodians control over management of both the park and they also run the campgrounds. Most of these initiatives are quite new, but what we are seeing is additional funding to help develop business, tourism and job opportunities. So these campgrounds range from very basic remote area sites to more developed businesses with more facilities than you would find in other national parks.
How to get to the campgrounds
If you are enjoy heading to the bush, then a high clearance four-wheel drive opens up a lot of places for you. Of course these days many people have SUVs with 4 wheel or all-wheel drive. While these lack the clearance of a decent off-road vehicle, they can still go places that a normal car can't go and usually have some features that make off-roading easier. There are still lots of campsites that are accessible with regular cars and some that have bitumen all the way to the campsite.
Whatever vehicle you have, you want to check the road conditions before you leave. After all, I have helped people dig out Landcruisers that were bogged up to their axles in mud. Of course, also make sure your car is up to the task. A friend needed to be towed off a beach because the first time they tried to use its all-wheel drive capability, it didn't work.
You can also get to some campsite with public transportation. This works better when your gear is portable. Think of the gear you might take hiking, but as you are not carrying it far then it can be a little heavier and bulkier. However public transport accessible campsites are not that common, but there are a few great ones around Australia.
When camping the rules are mostly common sense.
Unless rubbish bins are provided, take all your rubbish with you. This includes food waste.
Follow all signs at campsites. They are there for a reason. Any bans on fires should be something that you should definitely follow.
Noise is the most annoying thing for many people. Sound systems are usually frowned upon and remember when camping, midnight is 9 pm as people like to go to sleep early and wake up early too.
Share the space with others. I have seen some campers rope off a section of an open campsite, basically blocking most of the creek access for everyone else.
Be friendly with other campers. You are usually in an open space and on holidays, so say hello.
Camping is great with friends, family, as well as for short trips or exciting adventures. You can save money and have special experiences with a camping trip, though some people spend way too much on fancy equipment that makes their life more comfortable. But to start, you just need some basic equipment and a love of the outdoors.