We’ve always camped, from expeditions with our parents as children, to summer holidays with our own children when they were younger. It therefore went without saying that our travel journey would include camping. When we began our plans, which you can read about in ‘The Big Trip‘ and ‘The Final Countdown‘, we weren’t quite sure how much we’d camp during the Australian leg of our travels. However, after seven months on the road we’ve spent 80 nights in our tent across 40 different locations. We’re writing this post now, as although we haven’t finished our Australian journey yet, the rest of the time is planned out without camping. We’d never intended to lug our gear overseas, so our camping adventure is at an end for the foreseeable future.
The Kit & Kaboodle
We won’t go into too much detail about all of our camping equipment. We find that a camp set up tends to be quite personal and everyone has to experiment a bit to find out what works for them. However, here’s a brief overview of some of our main pieces of equipment.
Putting up our tent is a Cinch
We spent many summer holidays camping in the U.K. With the British climate you needed to be prepared to spend more time inside the tent than outside. We therefore had a series of large tents which could accommodate a family sitting round a table, playing cards as well as sleeping compartments. Coming to Australia allowed us to downsize our camping set-up considerably so in the last nine years we’ve had a number of smaller tents. Easy set-up is a prime factor for us so we were really pleased to discover the Cinch tent when it was launched through a Kickstarter campaign a few years ago.
The Cinch pops up like one of those children’s play tents but is a capable shelter with dual skins to protect you from whatever nature may throw at you. We’ve camped through electrical storms, tropical rain and wind strong enough to blow our table across the camp site. In all of these conditions, the Cinch performed admirably and we stayed warm and dry without a single leak.
If you’ve had experience of pop up tents you’ll be aware that there is a knack to putting them away. This is certainly the case when your Cinch is large enough to accommodate four people. However, with a bit of practice and help from the videos on the Cinch website, it soon becomes second nature. We could easily set up and pack up our entire camp including bedding, chairs, table and cook stand within 15 minutes. We always pitch our tent on top of a porous ground sheet which you can buy for $20 or $30 from many outlets including 4WD Supacentre. It gives an extra layer of protection between our mattress and the ground.
Our Cinch is the largest model which is great for us spending a lot of nights in it. You could technically fit four people in it but you probably wouldn’t want to do that for 80 nights (unless you were very good friends). They also make smaller versions and pop-up living pods that can link multiple tents together. You can find out more from their website here.
Pack up your troubles
Apart from the tent itself, we use a Queen size inflatable mattress and 3 season sleeping bags that can be zipped together. For cooking we have a simple wire cookstand and use the cheap burners that can be purchased from outlets such as Kmart and BCF. We like our food so have a pretty extensive store ‘cupboard’ of herbs spices and other ‘essentials’ such as vinegars, oils and sauces.
By cupboard we actually mean durable kitbags. We use Wander Oz Bags and find them to be fantastic. We have one for food, one for cooking utensils, plates, cutlery etc., and a final one for camping kit and car spares. Within the bags we separate equipment using the dry bags and packing cubes you can buy in camping stores. We find kit bags are better than crates as they squash a bit in the car boot but are durable enough to keep everything together without breaking.
Power to the People
Food preparation tends to require refrigeration and that requires power. We find it is worth investing in a decent reliable fridge, not least to keep the beer and wine cold. We have a Waeco Dometic CFX35. It’s not the cheapest model out there, but it has been an excellent investment. With a 35 Litre capacity, the size is just right for the two of us. To keep it fed with electricity we have a leisure battery separate to the starter battery in OTIS. This is housed in a battery box that can plug into the car to recharge the battery when we’re driving, or to mains electricity or solar panels. The box has a number of inputs including a standard electrical socket, USB, Anderson and cigarette lighter style socket. We can therefore also run LED lights and charge our devices from the battery.
For the times when we want a bit of protection outside from the sun or the rain we have an awning attached to OTIS the jeep. At our first couple of campsites we religiously set it out when we pitched up. However, we rapidly realised it was a little surplus to requirements so haven’t really used it since then.
We’ve got an app for that
For finding campsites, the WikiCamps App is an invaluable tool. It lists all types of sites and campgrounds with reviews by people who’ve actually stayed there. We’ve used it extensively and can’t recommend it highly enough. The sister app ‘Fuel Map’ is also very useful for sourcing the cheapest fuel around.
Our favourite Australian camps
In our 80 nights of camping we’ve stayed at a variety of types of location. There was only really one we didn’t enjoy. That was when we were sprayed by irrigation jets at Underbool truck stop. It did at least provide a good story as you can find out by reading ‘Wheat Silos and Churches’. However, of our remaining camps, we did like some spots a little more than others, and they fall into three categories as you can find out below.
Getting back to nature
Some of our favourite camps have been when we’ve stayed in natural campgrounds rather than commercial tourist parks. These sites don’t normally have the full range of facilities but this is compensated by outstanding surroundings and normally, great stargazing. Two of our favourites were in Opalton, Queensland and at Gillards Beach in New South Wales.
Opalton, about 100km south of Winton in Queensland is home to Opal miners seeking their fortune. The community has created a camp site which you can stay at for a small contribution to the honesty box. For a bush campground, the facilities are amazing. There’s a number of large shelters where you can eat or play cards. There are also flushing toilets and hot showers. The hot water, however, requires you to light a fire underneath the ‘donkey’ boiler. This was one of our favourite nights in Australia as you can find out if you read ‘Trains, Planes, Automobiles……. And Dinosaurs’.
At Gillard’s Beach we camped right on the ocean in a National Parks campground. The facilities were limited to drop toilets but this was more than offset by the awesome environment. Our marsupial neighbours were very friendly too as we wrote about in ‘Tracking Down the Man from Snowy River’.
Campsites with character(s)
Across Australia, people are turning their land into places for campers to stay. Many of these are listed on the website YouCamp. However, we’ve found that the service charges added by YouCamp can make the camping quite expensive. In general therefore, we prefer to go directly to the campsite owner. As you might expect, the folks that are willing to let people camp on their land tend to be fairly interesting themselves. We found this to be especially true at Corryong on the NSW / Victoria border and at Wyandra in Outback Queensland.
Corryong was home to Poet’s Paradise, a campsite built by Maurie Foun, an award winning bush poet. Maurie serenaded us with his poetry under the stars as you can read about in ‘Tracking Down the Man from Snowy River’.
Wyandra was a perfect place for us to stop as we drove south through Queensland. The campsite is just off the highway and is owned by Mary who also runs the local pub. We wrote about our stay in ‘Trains, Planes, Automobiles………. And Dinosaurs’.
Whilst staying in Wyandra we got chatting to Shawn, one of the locals. He told us how he used to be a cameleer and had walked through the country with Noodles, his pet camel, who ultimately had a tragic end. We wondered if this was a bit of a tall story so did a bit of research after our chat. It turns out he was straight up as you can read about here . The sad case of Noodle’s death is still under investigation, if you’ve got a strong stomach, you can find out more here.
Camping for cheats
Although we love getting back to nature, there are times when you want a few more creature comforts. This is particularly true when the weather is looking a bit inclement. One of the great things about Australian campsites is that many of them have well equipped camp kitchens. These can be an excellent place to spend an evening if sitting under the stars isn’t an option. Admittedly some tourist parks can make you feel a bit hemmed in by caravans and concrete. However, there are many with well maintained landscaping and spotless amenities. Two of our favourites were the Wine Country Tourist Park in the Hunter Valley NSW, and Cooktown Holiday Park, Cooktown, Queensland. We wrote about these, respectively, in ‘Swallow Don’t Spit: Chapter 2’ and ‘Ants Bums, A Sexchange Hotel and The Sisters of Mercy’.
Anyone can camp
We know that as committed campers we are a bit biased. However, we think that camping is a great option for anyone visiting Australia. We see many tourists who hire camper vans and we’re sure that if they hired a car instead, and invested a little in camping gear their holiday could be more cost efficient (and possibly more fun).
You can buy tents very cheaply at outlets such as Kmart and Big W. However, we’d recommend spending a little more at a dedicated camping shop such as BCF. Even then, you should be able to buy a reliable two person tent for under $100. Most of the rest of your equipment can be purchased at discount retailers. We’d also recommend having a look round The Reject Shop and charity shops for bargains, particularly for cooking equipment. As a minimum we’d suggest the following kit list should suffice for an Aussie road trip.
- Tent (it’s worth buying some heavy duty pegs rather than relying on the ones that come with it, and a decent mallet)
- Inflatable or self-inflating mattress
- Cheap foldable chairs
- Sleeping bags appropriate to the seasons you’re camping in (its easy to follow the sun in Australia so a 1 or 2 season bag should suffice)
- Gas burner (you can also cook at the free electric barbeques which are everywhere in Australia)
- A large frypan and medium saucepan. You can use the pan for boiling water for hot drinks, or use kettles provided at camp kitchens.
- Basic cooking utensils
- Plate / bowl / mug / cutlery
- Cooler – you can pick up second hand fridges on Ebay or Gumtree. However a cheaper alternative is an ice box or esky. You can also use fridges in camp kitchens at many campsites.
And, as we wrote in one of our early posts you should never be without the camping essentials; Duct Tape, Zip Ties and WD40
This whole list could be purchased for around $300 and you may be able to sell some of it at the end on Ebay or Gumtree.