Free Campgrounds for Grey Nomads
There’s an interesting dichotomy in the world of caravanning and camping. At the same time as caravan parks and campsites are investing huge money to add facilities and improve the experiences they offer, caravan builders are making caravans that don’t need any of the facilities being funded.
Just about every caravan to roll off an Australian production line is capable of ‘free camping’ in Australia for at least a night or two. That is, setting up in a campsite that’s devoid of any notable facilities (like a powered site or a toilet block, or even a café!), except for its desirable location. And it goes without saying; they cost nothing to stay at.
For many grey nomads, it’s a way to simplify the experience or find out-of-the-way places. For others, it’s a way to stretch the budget so they can travel longer (or at all), see more things.
In Australia, paid campsites and caravan parks can cost anywhere between $5 to $70 a night, so there are considerable savings to be made by staying somewhere free.
There are free campsites all over Australia, even surrounding most capital cities, if you’re prepared to deal with some traffic noise. The condition varies, of course.
Some of Australia’s best campsites don’t cost a cent, while some are so poorly maintained or in such inappropriate places that the $70 caravan park down the road is worth every cent.
Read More: Top 7 Australian-made camper trailers
In general, camping in Australia is exceptionally safe, and that extends to free campsites. Most of the ones worth visiting are well-known, and some can be exceptionally busy. On the whole, though, the camps I mentioned herein are usually quiet, very pretty and close to great things to do.
If you haven’t done much free camping before, the best thing to do is start small. Camp for 24 hours, overnight, in a well-known free campsite and see how you go. Or book an unpowered campsite at the local caravan park. Did you use much water or battery power? Could you extend that time to two nights next time?
Once you’re comfortable with a couple of nights, assess your power and water needs, and consider adding solar panels and cut down on showering to extend your time off-grid – don’t look at me like that, you definitely don’t need a shower every day when you’re camping. Go for a swim, instead.
Many people have written extensively in ‘everything’ you ‘need’ to go free camping, but really, you just need to know where to go first. Hopefully, this list solves that problem.
Best Free Camping New South Wales
1. Dalys Clearing – Belanglo State Forest
This is an excellent ‘first-timer’ free camp really close to Sydney. The clearing looks over a small dam, is generally grassy and has a few pit toilets.
You can light a fire if you bring your own wood, and although it’s a dirt road in, 2WD vehicles will be fine if it's dry.
2. Samurai Beach Campground – Anna Bay
If you have a 4WD and are confident towing on a beach, Samurai has a neat little campsite tucked behind the dunes at the north end of the beach.
Be warned, the beach is clothing optional, but it also has decent fishing and great surf, so it’s pretty popular.
Bring your own toilet. Fires are not allowed.
Find more information at beachdrivingaustralia.com.au/samurai-beach-new-south-wales/
3. Mays Bend – Bourke
Right on the black-soil banks of the Darling River on the north-side of Bourke, Mays Bend has heaps of space to spread out and get away from it all.
There’s nothing here, except pretty views and poor mobile reception, so come prepared, but you’re only a few minutes from town and some of Bourke’s great attractions.
Note: If there’s even a little bit of rain, the soil turns to sticky clay, so avoid it at those times.
Best Free Camping in Queensland
1. Jowarra Park Area – Sunshine Coast
This is another excellent ‘first-timer’ if you’re looking for a free campsite on the Sunshine Coast. It’s a well-maintained rest area not far off the Bruce Highway often used as a stop-over by travellers.
There are basic facilities, including flushing toilets. It can get busy late in the afternoons, so get in early to get a good spot.
Follow the rainforest walk at dusk, and you might spot a platypus in the creek.
2. Birdsville Common – Birdsville
Just on the outskirts of the famous outback town is a large, flat area in which to spread out, with a few trees to offer some shade.
It’s only a few minutes into town and Birdsville’s famous pub and bakery. You’ll need to have your own toilet, but there are taps spread around the area providing drinkable bore-water.
3. Boulders Camp Area – Babinda Boulders
Within walking distance of the calming and picturesque Babinda Boulders, this grassy, shady, free campsite is perfect for a three-night maximum stay in Tropical North Queensland.
You’re allowed to run your generator between 8am and 8pm, and there are toilets, cold showers, rubbish bins and a playground.
Best Northern Territory Free Campsites
1. Red Lily Billabong – Kakadu National Park
If you’ve got an off-road-ready and compact touring combination, the small free campsites on the edge of Red Lily Billabong are a great place to relax, do some fishing and maybe even spot a crocodile (so no swimming).
Fires are allowed but come self-sufficient. Find out more at parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/stay/camping/red-lilly-billabong-campground/
2. Little River – Carpentaria Highway, Cape Crawford
About 10km west of Cape Crawford, large clearings either side of the Little River are popular camps for travellers of the Savannah Way.
Enjoy great views and vibrant birdlife. Bins are provided, and fires are allowed.
3. Curtin Springs – Lasseter Highway
About an hour from Uluru, Curtin Springs Roadhouse is a great stop-over for people visiting the iconic Red Centre attractions in the area.
Unpowered camping is free, or you can book and pay for a powered site.
Toilets and water are available, and fires are allowed if you bring firewood. Find out more at curtinsprings.com/wayside-inn/accommodation or call (08) 8956 2906.
Best Western Australia Free Campsites
1. Lake Ballard
One of Australia’s most distinctive artworks, by Antony Gormley, is walking distance from this campsite at Lake Ballard.
Camp here for free and see his ‘Inside Australia’ sculptures, which dot the dry lakebed, part of “Australia’s largest outdoor gallery”.
Find out more at lakeballard.com
2. James Price Point, The Kimberley
Stretching north from Broome in the Kimberley, the Dampier Peninsula is dotted with stunning, beachside campsites.
The iconic red dirt (pindan), turquoise blues and scraggly greens of the vegetation create an incredible backdrop. Campers must be self-sufficient and will require a 4WD to access most camps.
Find out more at thekimberleyaustralia.com/blog/camping-dampier-peninsula
3. Knobby Head, near Dongara
Just north of Lake Indoon, road side on the Indian Ocean Drive, a few clearings near Knobby Head, right on the beach, are great spots to settle in for a few nights (maximum of three).
There are no facilities, and you may need a 4WD for some sites (it’s all on mostly compacted sand). Bring a fishing rod.
Find out more at dongaraportdenison.com.au
Best South Australia Free Campsites
1. Bunda Cliffs Lookouts – Nullarbor Plain
Where else can you camp right on the edge of the world? At several spots along the Nullarbor, you can camp right on the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the Southern Ocean.
Through winter, spy southern right whales nursing young in the waters below, or just enjoy looking out to Antarctica.
Most have no facilities, and take precautions if you're prone to sleepwalking.
2. Drummond Lookout, Eyre Peninsula
On the western coastline of the stunning Eyre Peninsula, you’ll find many free campsites on the beaches or clifftops – and if you’re prepared to pay just $10 a night, there’s even more!
Drummond is a level clearing, looking west into the Bight with no facilities but an incredible view. Turn west the Eyre Highway at Point Drummond Road and drive till you hit the coast.
3. Cape Northumberland Lookout, Port MacDonnell
Port MacDonnell is a quiet fishing and holiday town south of Mt Gambier and close to the SA/Vic border.
This 24-hour free campsite is an excellent stop-over with stunning coastal views.
There are no facilities, but the Port MacDonnell Foreshore Tourist Park, up the road, is a top spot if you like the area and want to stay longer.
Find out more at www.dcgrant.sa.gov.au/discover/planyourvisit/accommodation
Best Victoria Free Campsites
1. Genoa Rest Area
For those taking Highway 1 between Melbourne and New South Wales, this community-run campsite in Genoa is a great little stop-over.
Donations collected help the locals maintain the campsite and its basic facilities, which include toilets, barbecues, bins and picnic tables.
A 72-hour limit applies to stays here.
2. Snowy River Roadside Rest Areas – Marlo and Orbost
Most people know the Snowy River for the ‘Man’ that came from it, but it actually meets the ocean at Marlo in Victoria’s Gippsland.
Between Orbost and Marlo there are a handful of great free campsites right on the river.
Usually, the western shore (Lochend Road) is quieter, but the eastern shoreline camps (Marlo Road) give better access to Marlo’s attractions.
3. Collendina State Forest, near Yarrawonga
I’ve singled out Collendina (which is actually on the NSW side of the Murray), but almost everywhere along the Murray River, between Albury and the SA/Vic border, camping at clearings on the rivers’ banks is free, and often well signed.
Not many have any facilities, but it is easy to get away from a crowd and enjoy the quiet.
Find this one about 15-minutes east of Yarrawonga, near the corner of Spring Drive and Fergusons Road.
Best Tasmania Free Campsites
1. Swimcart Beach, Bay of Fires Conservation Area, Binalong Bay
Along one of the most spectacular stretches of Tassie’s east coast, some free campsites are available, right on the beach.
Facilities are limited to basic toilets, but there are 28-night limits to stays, so you can settle in to enjoy the surrounds.
Find out more parks.tas.gov.au
2. Lagoons Beach Campground
This is one of the most popular campsites in Tassie because it’s right on the beach and easy to get to.
There are good toilets, pets are allowed and so are fires. Avoid it during school holidays, when it can be bustling.
Within this historic town along the Midlands Highway, two campsites near Lake Dulverton are available to travellers for a small donation.
Camp on the banks of the lake or in the shade of the historic Oatlands Mill while you explore the town.
A 72-hour limit applies to stays, water is available, and public toilets are nearby.