Hello from Perth, where it is raining so heavily that water is coming UP through the drains, a phenomenon I foolishly presumed was unique to the rainy old UK. Fortunately, we had far better weather for the majority of our recent camping trip up north through Western Australia!
Whereas in New Zealand we felt like we spent nearly all of our time surrounded by other Europeans, our Australian experience has been very, well, Australian. Aussies take their camping very seriously, to the extent that even the most seasoned camper from overseas might find themselves ‘doing it all wrong’ and looking like a hapless tourist. So here is our guide to camping like an Aussie, mate.
You might THINK you know what you’re doing. You might have all the gear, and a fair idea. But I’m afraid that just won’t wash over here. We definitely fell into this category, with our (moderately fancy pants) MSR Mutha Hubba tent, super duper lightweight sleeping bags and thermarests, and (every adventurer’s dream) MSR Whisperlite stove. We were quite pleased with the upgrades to our set up, involving the purchase of two Woolworths camping chairs and a $20 duvet to help with the chillier nights. But I’m afraid we were sadly deluded.
Tents are totally out, unless they are of the rooftop variety.
A campervan really won’t do (what are you, a tourist?)
To really camp like an Aussie, you need an OFF-ROAD CARAVAN. The bigger, and shinier, the better
Of course, you’ll also need a suitably massive 4×4 for towing purposes. Preferably white, with a snorkel exhaust. Ya know, for all the off-roading* and river-crossing you’ll be doing.
*I’m yet to be convinced how many of these actually go more off-road than the gravel tracks to campsites
You will also need to accessorise appropriately. Bonus points for including as many of the following as you can physically strap to your vehicle: barbie (goes without saying), bikes for all family members, hammocks, fancy outdoor furniture (we are not talking $10 Woollies chairs here, a full kitchen/living/dining set up is essential), solar hot water system, solar panels, and don’t forget the satellite dish.
Pets can also come along, but they’re not welcome in the National Parks, which does seem to have curtailed their popularity somewhat.
And your boat. Don’t forget your boat. If you’re already towing, just strap it to the roof of that 4×4, no dramas.
Where to camp
It turns out that our appetite for cheap, rustic camping is fairly well aligned with that of the Aussie camper. Cheapskates may wish to start at the top of this list and work down!
Roadside rest areas (free!): we were nothing short of astounded at not only the existence of these free camping options, but also their popularity. By late arvo, they were absolutely chockers. These glorified picnic areas are provided by the Aussie highways people, and definitely don’t offer a lot of peace (although the main highways in WA more like a British B-road than the M6). But in some cases, they were actually quite nice, with shady off-tarmac areas for the tent people (that’ll be us then. Just us). For anyone following in our footsteps, we stayed at Galena Bridge and Nerren Nerren, and would recommend both!
Free campsites: even more astounding than the roadside rest areas, these bonafide campsites are provided by the local council. True, you don’t get a lot more than a couple of loos and the occasional fire pit, but both of the places we stayed at were absolutely ocean front. Freshwater Point and Cliff Head, if you’re wondering!
National Parks ($6-11 per person): this is a slightly sore point for us, as we couldn’t camp on the shores of the Ningaloo Reef due to everything having been booked online months in advance. These facilities are wonderfully cheap, meaning that people don’t actually bother turning up in many cases….but the National Parks aren’t organised enough to resell the pitches. Boo! We previously had a great time camping at Wollemi National Park over in New South Wales, so it’s definitely an option to investigate. We DID camp at Yanchep National park, but that is a very odd place. Think koalas in a pen, a fairy-lit cave available for weddings, and a PUB.
Station stays (<$30 for two people): in this area at least, many cattle stations have diversified to offer accommodation options. Recommended in the Lonely Planet for providing a ‘fair dinkum outback experience’, we stayed at the 250,000 acre Bullara Station, and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Suffice to say they have plenty of space for campers. Add to that charming facilities, an exceptionally friendly Aussie welcome, a communal fire pit with nightly damper, and obscenely cute orphaned kangaroos hopping around, and we were sold. The snag is that they are usually down long gravel roads, which are off limits to most rental vehicles (at least officially).
Tourist Park ($35-50 for two people): we don’t mind camping at tourist parks. It’s quite nice to have showers once in a while, and perhaps do some washing. It’s been too cold to make use of the swimming pools, but we did like the ‘jumping pillow’ in Kalbarri, and I enjoyed beating Ed at pool in Carnarvon. The latter also offered bowls but unfortunately we arrived too late to join in.
What to do
While we mostly content ourselves with plentiful cups of tea and cooking pasta on our little stove, the Aussie camping experience follows a particular formula. It’s essential to arrive at your chosen camping destination with plenty of time for kicking back in the sunshine with your favourite tipple (beer for the men, wine for the ladies). You’ll certainly be cooking your dinner on the gas barbie that you’ve brought along, but not before you’ve spent a good hour or so spinning a yarn with your neighbours (and we thought the Kiwis loved the chat!) If there’s a fire pit, you’ll have pulled off the highway into the ‘bush’ to stock up on firewood on the way – perhaps you even brought your chainsaw to facilitate this!? In any case, festivities usually wrap up pretty early, or become confined to the inside of those voluminous caravans, meaning a fairly peaceful night for those of us in flimsy tents (bogans permitting).
Ten days left in Australia! We’re heading south tomorrow to visit Margaret River wine region. The forecast isn’t brilliant for the next few days, so we’re booked into a YHA, but keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies and more camping, otherwise we’ll have no money left for Italian pizza. Strewth.