Australia is a vast, rugged and beautiful land, with so many worthwhile places to visit that you could easily spend years travelling around. It’s little wonder that it has become known as a perfect destination for long road trips and camping out in nature.
With these long distances between towns and ever-increasing prices for fuel and holiday parks, a campervan trip can quickly break the budget. Luckily, there is a decent network of free campsites in Australia, and if you know the rules and where to go, you can find yourself in some mind-blowing places without spending a dollar.
We’ve put together this mini-guide to free camping in Australia to give you some ideas for your next Aussie road trip!
Tips for camping in Australia on a budget
Before you park your car or caravan or go hiking with all of your gear on your back, there are a few tips and rules you need to keep in mind about free camping in Oz.
You can’t camp anywhere you want
There’s a common misconception among international travellers that you can simply buy yourself a campervan and park anywhere you want for the night. It’s not true, and unless you have a four-wheel-drive and are going remote, you’ll have to do your research to see which places actually allow you to camp for free.
If you find yourself parked in a no-camping zone, don’t be surprised if you have a ranger come knock on your door during the night and ask you to move on, or even issue you a fine.
Download an app to help you plan
Now that you’re aware you can’t camp everywhere, you’ll have to set some time aside as you travel to find out exactly where you can camp legally. Luckily, there are a number of phone apps that will help you do just that.
Some of the most popular are Camping Australia and the NSWParks app, but our personal favourite is WikiCamps. It’s a premium app at $7.99, but with user-generated information being regularly updated and reviewed, it’s by far the best way to determine where to camp on your travels around Australia.
Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos
As a responsible traveller you most likely already do this, but when it comes to free camping the point needs to be reiterated.
Whether you’re hiking, cycling or car camping, make sure you follow the principles of Leave No Trace. This includes never leaving behind food scraps, as they may get taken by local wildlife that isn’t used to that diet and/or that may encourage wildlife to seek scraps from that area.
While you should always use a toilet (many free campgrounds require campervans to be fully self-contained), if you are in the wilderness and there aren’t any facilities, make sure you properly bury your personal waste and do not ever leave toilet paper or any other foreign items behind.
Top 5 free camping spots in Australia
Without beating around the bush, the most scenic and easily-accessed campsites in Australia often cost money. But with a bit of study you will find that there are quite a few camping spots that are not only free but also beautiful.
Mulwala Campground, NSW
The Murray region bordering New South Wales and Victoria is one of the lesser-known jewels in the country, but with word spreading about the spectacular national parks and diverse wildlife, it might not stay that way for much longer.
Lake Mulwala is one of the best-kept secrets in the area. River red gum trees are scattered amongst the water, leaving an eery but picturesque impression on visitors. The fishing, water skiing and kayaking are fantastic, and best of all there are a couple of free waterside campsites right on the edge of the Murray River or by the lake itself.
Located in Murray Valley Regional Park, Mulwala Campground has drinking water available and plenty of great hiking trails nearby. It’s suitable for cars, caravans and tents, and bookings aren’t required. If that one is full, keep driving towards the town of Mulwala and there’s another lakeside spot near DC on the Lake.
Bay of Fires, Tasmania
Tasmania is home to some of Australia's most spectacular landscapes, but perhaps because of the wild seas that separate it from the mainland, somehow it has remained as one of Australia’s last frontiers when it comes to off-the-beaten-path travels.
Tasmania has some of the best free beachside campsites, that don’t require a four-wheel-drive, in the whole country. While there’s no shortage of spots to choose from, one definitely rises above the rest to be one of the best free camping spots in Australia: the Bay of Fires Conservation Area.
The Bay of Fires is a haven for fishing, swimming, bushwalking and diving, and with the town of Binnalong Bay a short drive away for supplies, you can easily spend the entire four weeks that you're allowed to camp here in comfort.
Cliff Head, Western Australia
Keeping up with the beachside theme, you’ll find it hard to come across a free spot right by the ocean in Western Australia (unless you’re driving a 4x4). However, only a few hours north from Perth is a spot called Cliff Head that ticks all the boxes a freedom camper would want.
Besides being right next to a stunning, sandy beach, the Cliff Head Campground is dog-friendly, has toilets to use and a decent road coming in. There’s room for everything from big caravans right down to tents.
Visitors are limited to 72-hour stays.
Plantation Campground, Victoria
If you live in Melbourne and want a great city escape that won’t stretch the budget, head up to the Grampians and grab a spot at Plantation Campground near Halls Gap.
This free campsite is a great base for outdoor adventures. Some of the Victoria's best hikes, rock climbing routes and mountain bike trails weave their way around the Grampians National Park, just a short drive from the Plantation Campground.
It’s a spacious, leafy campground with basic facilities. No bookings are required, but you must bring your own drinking water.
Babinda Boulders Campground, Queensland
Definitely one of the most iconic and unique free campsites in Australia, the picturesque Babinda Boulders campground is found in tropical North Queensland, where you can park the van and easily spend a few days relaxing in paradise.
6km from the quaint town of Babinda at the end of a sealed road, this campground is a short walk from the stunning Babinda Boulders waterfalls, a perfect place for swimming and chilling out with friends and family.
If you’re travelling with a dog, the nearby Babinda Rotary Park is pet-friendly. Make sure you check with locals before swimming at the falls if there has been heavy rain recently, as they can be dangerous.