Since accommodation is very expensive in Australia, many backpackers decide to go camping to save a lot of money. But how safe is camping in Australia with all the poisonous critters and snakes around? And do you really save that much by sleeping under the stars?
In this little guide I will share my camping experience in Australia with you, honestly telling you about the pros and cons of camping in the land of Oz.
1. How safe is camping in Australia?
Camping in Australia is actually not much different from camping in Europe. The most camping places are in relatively safe locations and we didn’t have any problems with animals or insects, apart from the usual battle with mosquitoes and wasps and a few attacks from hungry birds that tried to steal our dinner. We didn’t see any snakes and had no spiders in our tent, even though we used a tent that has the lowest rating and many bad reviews on Amazon, being criticized foremost for the fact that it does not keep out insects. However, when we slept in the jungle, in the summer, surrounded by plenty of bugs, nothing managed to crawl into our sleeping bags with us.
The only place where you have to deal with many scary insects are the public showers on the camping places that are often teeming with spiders, ants, moths and bees that are attracted by the water. Not to mention the mosquitoes that are just waiting for you to get naked… But once the water is running, you are relatively safe from them. On the plus side, you also get to see other wild animals up close, like curious wallabies, cheeky kookaburras and funny turkeys.
One thing that is a bit exhausting though, is the heat and humidity. If you plan to camp in the tropical area of Australia during the hot month from November to March, you have to consider that it stays hot and wet even during the night. It can get a bit stuffy in the tent if you sleep there with more than one person, but honestly, it is still much better than sleeping in a hostel dorm with four to six other people who didn’t bother to shower before going to bed, filling the room with that really special odor that will turn even a marmot like me into an early riser. The fresh air of nature is definitely a plus on the camping side, as is the privacy and seclusion of your own tent.
If you are camping alone, it might be a bit scary to sleep out in the wild by yourself. One night, when we were the only ones on a camping spot in a national park, a strange car pulled up in the middle of the night and stayed in front of our tent for some time without anyone getting out, just a guy sitting in there and watching us. We assumed that it might have been a ranger who checked the place, but had I been alone out there, without my strong boyfriend sleeping next to me with his slingshot beside the mattress, I would certainly have been scared.
When we stopped by a roadhouse in Cooladdie, which is actually the only building making up this “town”, the owner told us about a British girl who was kidnapped from a nearby camping spot by a man who beat and raped her until she managed to escape. The next day it was all over the news and it send a shiver down my spine to camp near a place where a criminal is hunting for young women. However, that is a danger that you will always encounter when you are travelling alone as a girl, no matter in which country. But if you are in a group, it is safe enough to camp even in remote areas. Actually, outback areas are much safer in that regard than cities, because in small towns everyone will remember a stranger passing by and if you tell them your destination, people will start looking for you, if you don’t arrive there. The neighbours also watch each other, so people behave usually better than in the anonymity of the big cities.
Overall, camping in Australia is not bad. It is not more dangerous than anywhere else in the world. As long as you keep your eyes open for snakes at night and shine a torch where you are walking, there is nothing to be afraid of. And spending a few days and nights in nature, in a country where wildlife is still so plentiful and the vegetation so exuberant and diverse, will be an experience that you do not want to miss!
To be completely safe, just follow the Survival Tips that I wrote for Australia.
2. Is it worth to go camping in order to save some money on accommodation?
It depends. There are free camping places, that do usually not include showers and power, so if you use those, you can save 100% of accommodation cost each night. But most likely you will need a shower and a place to charge your phone at least every second day, so you should calculate that into your plans. The campsites with power and water are usually about 30$ to 50$ a night for two persons. There are big differences between the prices of individual sites though, so you should check apps like Campermate or Wikicamps before you decide where to stay. Some spots also require a booking via phone or the internet, so make sure you take care of that while you are still in an area with phone reception or wifi.
For us it was definitely worth saving a few nights accommodation by going camping, as the prices for hotel rooms increase the further you go inland. In the big coastal cities you can get a bed in a hostel for around 20$, but once you travel to smaller towns, you will have to expect to pay around 50-60$ for a single or double room. Camping is therefore a much cheaper option once you are out of the metropolitan areas.
3. What equipment do I need to go camping in Australia?
The essentials for camping in Australia are, as everywhere else: A tent, a sleeping bag, a camping mat and a mosquito net, if that is not included in your tent already. If you want to cook, you need a gas cooker and plates/tupperware and cutlery. Make sure to bring enough drinking water, because most camping spots only provide non-potable water and it takes a long time to boil it over the gas-cooker to make it safe to drink and will use up lots of your cooking gas. So better bring a big canister of drinking water with you. It will also be a lifesaver if your car breaks down on the way to the next camping place or if you get lost and don’t reach your destination in time. That’s really all you need. For some extra security and possibilities, there are of course some other items you can bring.
A swiss knife always comes in handy, a can opener is essential, unless you intend to catch your own meals. Also bring rope (paracord), big kitchen scissors, and duct tape. The scissors can cut rope, plants, bandages, tape, fishing cord, your beard, or whatever else you need to make shorter during your camping trip. With the rope you can hang your laundry or extend the strings of your tent or elevate the mosquito net. You will also find it useful to climb down cliffs or to let your car get pulled by another car, if you happen to get stuck somewhere (streets in Australia are prone to flooding and often the path to the camping spots are only gravel trails that are nothing but a mess of mud after the rain). As everyone knows, duct tape has a million uses: From fixing the tent, to fixing your shoes, to closing the mouth of a crocodile.
Our camping trip from Cairns to Adavale
Before coming to Australia, I had doubts about whether camping is really an option in a country that is famous for it’s dangerous wildlife and hot weather. I knew there were a lot of camping places available, so I figured that people must be going camping over there, despite the dangers, but I assumed it must be mainly desperate backpackers who cannot afford real accommodation.
Coming to Australia, I was just that: A desperate, almost broke backpacker.
When after four weeks of active job hunting no positive reply came to answer our applications, me and my boyfriend decided to head away from the big city to the more remote towns, where we would not have to compete with millions of other backpackers. So we bought a cheap car with the last of our savings, in order to drive somewhere where the grass is greener and the jobs are easier to get.
With the car we also got a free tent and camping equipment that the backpackers who sold it didn’t need anymore, since they were leaving Australia. Camping wasn’t in our plans before that, but since we were pretty much broke and had a tent and sleeping bags now, we decided to give it a try on our road trip down south.
We set up the tent in the garden of the house where we stayed then first, to give it a try before actually going into the wild with a huge 6 person tent that we were not quite sure how to use. I had been going camping before, but only with a simple 1-person tent. This three-part monstrosity that we had to handle now was something entirely different. After three hours of struggling and sweating and getting a sunburn, we finally managed to put it up. It covered almost the entire space of the little yard, reaching from the chicken coop to the porch where it stood with one foot in the fireplace. The neighbours laughed and the dog and the chickens eyed it suspiciously, but we were proud and confident that we now possessed the skills to sleep safely in mother natures embrace.
1.Spot: Alligator Creek
Our first camping location was Alligator Creek, near Townsville. In the tropical area of Australia, where lush rainforest covers the coast we set up our first camp in the jungle.
We arrived at the location in the afternoon, around 4pm, with enough time to set up our camp before dusk. Once we found the place, we realized that you need to make an online booking to use the facilities, so we had to go back quite a bit of the way until we came close enough to a town with mobile reception. Since we had mobile reception but couldn’t get mobile data, we phoned the government service for camping in national parks, that connected us to a hotline where someone did the online booking for us and deducted the fee of 12,30$ for two persons from our bank accounts. We got a number that we had to write on a tag that you can get at the entrance from a little box that we had to display on our tent and car.
After returning to camp there was not much time left before nightfall, so we quickly set up the tent which seemed much easier than the first time we had tried it in the yard. We found some trees that had just the right height to tie the ropes of out tent on and staked the lower parts into the soft ground and then it was done. Then we inflated our queensized air-mattress with a pump that gets electricity from the car and smoked out the interior of tent with mosquito-coils and our nest was ready. The last half an hour before it got dark we tried to catch a fish for dinner, that we hoped to roast over a romantic campfire at the BBQ-spot. The spot near the river was a marvelous landscape and we were happy to have come out to such a beautiful place.
As the sun began to set, it started to rain, and we hadn’t caught any fish, I wanted to quickly take a shower and climb into the safety of our cozy tent. But since we didn’t have dinner yet, my boyfriend decided that this would be the time to test our new (well, second hand) camping cooker. The only place with electric light were the showers, so we sat down with our cooking equipment in front of the toilets. I complained about all the bugs that were attracted by the light and jumped into our faces (especially the grasshoppers) and I would have been happy to go to bed without a meal, but he wanted to cook his spaghetti and was not to be convinced otherwise.
I felt like a silly girl, being scared of bugs, when I was the one who wanted to go camping in the first place, so I tried to get myself together and enjoy the adventure of cooking outside at night. Until he came with mushrooms.
Mushrooms that he had picked around the camping place. All sorts of funny, most likely poisonous, jungle mushrooms were spread out in a little carton and he was about to add them to our pasta just like that. There I was complaining again: “It is not safe; we don’t even know what they are; we will die a terrible death if we eat those!” So I used up the last bites of my mobile data to look up Australian mushrooms and we ended up throwing away all of them, except for one kind, the white, round, puffy ones, that we were certain enough to identify as edible. Most websites didn’t even bother to distinguish between different kinds of Australian mushrooms and just advised to never eat ANY Australian mushrooms since they are all likely to kill you in a horrible way. So I had still my doubts and secretly picked them out of my pasta afterwards. However, we were not the only hungry creatures at the national park.
While we cooked, the treetops above us filled with more and more birds that made a ruckus that was almost deafening. They were kookaburras, big and loud birds that are not shy towards humans at all. They even came to sit on the fence beside us, and, given their number and size and their reputation for stealing people’s food, I was getting quite nervous that we would have to fight with them over our dinner. When the first one came swooping down at me too close for comfort, we hastily grabbed our tupperware full of pasta and fled to the safety of our car. Inside we could enjoy our meal in peace, while the birds were howling and crying outside.
Shower time was another challenge. As the showers were so full of spiders, mosquitoes, hornets, moths, ants and strange, caterpillar-like bugs, I did not dare to enter them alone. So we ended up sharing the slightly bigger shower compartment for disabled people (we were the only ones on the camping grounds, so nobody would have cared). We removed the spiderwebs with a stick, sprayed some insect repellent and took a very quick shower with not very nice smelling water. As soon as we turned it on, small frogs and big toads started to crawl in from under the elevated walls and hopped around in the shower. Luckily I am only scared of bugs and fine with frogs, so that was no problem, but it sure felt surreal to take a shower under such conditions.
Clean and fed we then turned in to have a good nights sleep.
It took a while to fall asleep with the howling of the kookaburras that surrounded the tent like an angry mob, but we felt safe enough inside with all the flaps closed. But suddenly, in the middle of the night, I woke up from bright lights shining against our tent. Startled, we opened the door to see who or what it was and half expected to see aliens exiting from an UFO to kidnap us, which would be the expected story line when a couple eats strange mushrooms and camps all alone in a dark forest. I also had to think of “Blair Witch Project” for a moment. But as we peered out, a big 4-Wheel-Drive stood close to our camp, its headlights directed at our spot. Inside sat a single man, whose face we could not see in the dark. We assumed it must be a ranger and tried to go back to sleep, but the car stayed for much longer then it would take to check the number tags on our car… My thoughts drifted to movies like “Saw” and “The Forest” until the car moved a bit further away to park in the dark under a tree. Tired as I was, I fell back asleep. A bit later, suddenly a loud “pop” woke me up and I felt myself sinking slowly down on the hard, stony ground. The mattress had popped. I knew we had a spare one in the car, but we were both too sleepy to get up and inflate it, so we just spend the rest of the night lying on the hard surface of mother earth until the sun rose again.
Our next stop was in Bivouac, near Charters Towers. After driving not as far as expected that day, we had to find a camp spontaneously and the closest place we could find that wasn’t too expensive, was the Bivouac Holiday Camp.
We came during a time of drought and the big river beside the camp had almost completely dried out. The further we drove inland, the dryer and more sandy the landscape became. Arriving in Bivouac, we were sure that we had officially entered the desert.
We phoned the landlord of the resort who was not there at the time we arrived and got a powered site for the two of us for 20$. Again we were the only people in an otherwise deserted place and got to chose the best spot. The best spot in this case was the spot with the smallest amount of ant-nests on the ground. Of course you expect ants on a camping place, but the ground was literally covered with them everywhere. That is why we decided to sleep in the car this time. In our Holden Commodore Station Wagon there was enough space for us, if we put all our stuff on the roof of the car at night. It was quick to set up our bed inside and we had some time left to go fishing again. After storing our food in the freezer of the public kitchen and filling up our water bottles at the rainwater tank, we headed down o the river, or rather to what was left of it.
In the twilight we startled a group of peacocks that were taking a walk on the river bank. They skittered away in a colorful whirl of green and blue feathers and hid between the trees. We arrived at a spot where big, white, twisted trees covered the bank and tried our luck fishing there. While the sun set, painting the river water orange and pink, we got a few nibbles and bites, but didn’t manage to land any fish. When it became too dark to see the fishing lines, we decided to call it a day and headed back to our car.
We cooked a nice meal in the outdoor-kitchen that provided electricity, chairs, a table and a fridge and ate while moths swirled around in the light over our heads and toads hopped around our feet under the table.
The night was very quiet. No Kookaburras crying, no cars coming, no mattresses popping. Not even mosquitoes could bother us inside the car, whose windows we had sealed with the mosquito net, so we could let in some air without letting in insects.
In the morning we were surprised to find that the showers were wonderfully clean and relatively insect-free, compared to the bathrooms at Alligator Creek. Only a hornet came to get some water while was taking a shower, but it came in peace and flew away after it took what it needed.
When we had breakfast in the kitchen, a chicken showed up and walked around the table eyeing us intently, as if it was inspecting the new people on it’s camping place. We joked that maybe the chicken acts as a watchdog while the owner is away and will attack us, if we attempt to leave without paying the fee. So we fed it with some cereal to get on it’s good side, just in case. While I did my morning workout beside the kitchen, my boyfriend put some laundry in the washing machine and asked me to collect it later.
When I went to the bathrooms where the washing machine was half an hour later, I discovered something that made me really glad that we did sleep in the car tonight:
On the red wall, beside the entrance to the showers, there was a huge spider! One of those Australian monsters that you see in videos on youtube where men try to catch it with a cake cover, wearing a motorbike helmet and knife for protection.
It’s legs were thick and hairy and the eyes on it’s yellow body were so big that you could see yourself mirrored in them. I froze, uncertain whether running or screaming would provoke it to jump at me. But it just looked at me and I looked back and then I said “bye” in a shaking voice and left. After the first shock of seeing it however, I got brave and fetched my camera to take a picture of it, to send to all my arachnophobic friends in Germany. It rested calmly on it’s wall while I moved close to take a picture and it seemed to enjoy the attention rather than to react scared or aggressive. I suppose a huge deadly spider is so self-confident that it is not bothered by a little human that it is obviously trembling with fear.
Despite the disturbing discovery, we really liked the place. It had a nice and relaxing atmosphere, the owner on the phone had been really friendly, as was the gardener who came later to collect the money from us, giving us a discount because we were the only people there on that day. The river is great for fishing and hadn’t we been in a rush to get to a job in a town that was still 1331 kms away, we would probably have stayed for a few more days. If you don’t want to sleep in the car, you can even rent a little cottage there which is not too expensive.
3. Spot: Sapphire
Our third camping location was near the area called The Gemfields. This area is popular for it’s fossicking opportunities. There are many spots where you can dig for rubies and sapphires for a small fee and, with a bit of luck, go home with a precious gem. We were just looking for a place to sleep though.
We ended up at the Sapphire Caravan Park, where we booked a powered site for the two of us for 33$. Even though it was a bit difficult to set up our tent, because the ground was covered with concrete, we managed to fasten it between our car and two big flowerpots. Surprisingly the facilities were extremely good and we had two fully equipped kitchens, super clean showers and toilets and electricity at our site. So we cooked ourselves a nice meal indoors and ate in the kitchen and then went for a long, hot shower before going to sleep. When we returned to our tent in the dark, a group of raccoons who had been trying to get inside, rushed away as we turned our torchlights at them. They climbed up a high cedar tree and kept rustling around the tent later at night, but they didn’t steal anything and didn’t really disturb our sleep.
I can really recommend this camping site, as the facilities were great, while the price was still very reasonable.
4. Spot: Cooladdie Foxtrap
Coming closer to our destination in the middle of Queensland, we deeply entered into the outback. After hours of driving through desolate landscapes, where there were more cows than people, we were hoping to reach Adavale before nightfall. We underestimated the challenge of driving with a Holden Commodore on a dirtroad though, so we got stuck in the outback after sunset. Slowly we drove down the road to a place called “Foxtrap” where the Campermate-App told us there would be a roadhouse where you can camp for free and use the showers and toilets without a fee.
Before we got there, a big kangaroo suddenly crashed into the side of our car, damaging the right frontlight and leaving a big dent beside the tire. We rolled onto the parking lot of Cooladdie, still in shock and feeling sorry for the suicidal kangaroo, when we realized that Cooladdie was in fact no town, but only a single building in the middle of nowhere. With trembling legs I went into the roadhouse to ask if they have rooms available, since we didn’t really feel like camping after that. Besides, the whole place was invaded by crickets that were hopping around all over the ground. But they were booked out for the night.
I took a look at the toilets while my boyfriend tried to fix the car with the help of the roadhouse owners. The bathroom was filled with crickets – dead and alive ones – so that they were crunching beneath your shoes with every step. Even worse, every move you made send up startled crickets that jumped or flew against your head.
Back at the roadhouse pub I was told about a British girl that was kidnapped and raped in this area just a few days ago. They offered to sell us a gun to make us feel more safe, but that didn’t really help to make us feel better. We didn’t want to stay there. Though the owners of the place were very kind and helpful, and it would probably been a good camping spot under different conditions, at that time it appeared to us like a nightmare and we just wanted to have a shower and a bed without crickets under the mattress. So we thanked the roadhouse owners for their help and drove on to Quilpie, where we hoped to get a room for the night. It was a two hours drive through the dark, with the fear of hitting more kangaroos in the back of our minds, but we made it safely without another accident.
5. Spot: Quilpie
In Quilpie we took a room at the caravan park, where little metal containers, so called “dongers”, are rented out like cottages. For 60$, which is much more than we usually spend on accommodation, we got a donger with two beds, a fridge and air-conditioning. It felt good to sleep in a real bed and it turned out to be a very good decision, as a thunderstorm hit at night that would have blown away our tent had we camped outside.
In the morning I discovered that Quilpie is in an area, where they get their water from an artesian bore, which means that it comes from an underground water reserve. It smells like rotten eggs, because sulfur in the earth dissolves into the water. It leaves a slimy film on your skin that makes you feel dirtier than before taking the shower, but it is the only water you can get out here, beside rainwater, which is consumed as drinking water. Apart from that, it was a good stay. The bathroom is big and clean, the room was good and the owners friendly. And the place definitely has real “outback flare”.
Overall, our camping trip was a little adventurous, but not too exhausting and we had a lot of fun, too. If you are not as whimpy as me and don’t have a fear of bugs and snakes, then camping in Australia is a great thing to do. You save a lot of money on accommodation, see much of Australia’s nature; you are free to move around and explore even remote places that are far away from the usual tourist spots and it will give you a lot of funny stories to tell. We would – and will – definitely do it again. In fact, we just bought an old caravan that we are fixing up now to take with us for the rest of the trip. Hopefully, I will soon be able to tell you more about many camping spots in Australia!