Recently, we completed a 2 month odyssey from Sydney to Perth and return. Our intentions were to be free camping all the way across to Perth, but didn’t get to do it as much as we wanted.
The reality of our situation, and other events which impacted on our trip, provided us with an education about travelling. There were some very valuable lessons which we have learnt. Accordingly, in readiness for our next set of adventures, we are going to change what we ended up doing last trip.
Free camping (or low cost camping) was something which I had heard something about, and once I started travelling and participating in this living culture I realised the joys of such a life.
The ability to travel at your own leisure and pull up when it suits is a dream way of living, and perhaps some people think of it as a dream. However, there are some things to consider, things which many will take for granted and other issues which will never bother most people. Here are some issues for which you should be prepared:
- Animals of the “wild variety”
- Animals of the human type
- Popularity of some camp sites
- The community which uses free camping
- Prepared meals
Animals of the “wild variety”
During one of our early trips we arrived at a free camp, near a service station, motel, hotel complex and found what we thought was a perfect site to set up the tent (this was before we went to a camper trailer) and promptly set up camp.
Once we were set up, our minds turned to food and the nice looking outdoor BBQ area near the motel. Suffice to say that we wandered over and enjoyed a fantastic meal, with a few drinks and some music when it came time to “hit the sack”.
Upon our return we noticed an emu roaming around other people’s camp sites and we headed straight for our tent.
We only had a 4 man tent under the awning of our vehicle which made us a bit concerned if the bird decided to join us. No dramas, get into bed, go to sleep and all will be well!
At around 1.00 am we heard this scratching noise outside the tent, and then the side of the tent (my side!) folded in, and preventing me from getting my leg free.
Yes, you guessed it, the emu had decided to sleep next to and on the tent.
With a bit of wriggling, gentle prodding and good luck I was able to get free and move over. Our sleep was a bit less secure for the rest of the night.
We woke up to find the emu still asleep, but as I was unzipping the tent it decided it was time to investigate this intruder on her camp site. She was very protective of the area for some reason, didn’t know why but she was.
The reason I say I didn’t know why was that if there is nesting to be done, it is the male emu which gets the job. We were told by the caretaker at the free camp that the only emu in the camping area was a female.
We had a few very interesting moments when trying to pack up but fortunately a little dog became her obsession, good for us not so for the dog (but it was not harmed).
Animals of the human type
During our two month trip to Perth and return we did not encounter any of these types of person in the flesh, but we did the results of their stay in a camping site or two.
In one instance we saw a large area littered with rubbish and only 20 metres away was an empty garbage bin.
Obviously, we didn’t see these people as the rubbish was there when we arrived, right on darkness. Fortunately, for us, the rangers were there in the morning cleaning up the mess. I spoke with them about this and how often it occurs.
The rangers said that they had a regular “slot” booked in to visit this site and several others after Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with most days they would spend up to an hour cleaning up the mess.
They also advised us that if we ever caught people in the “act” of dumping rubbish, we were not to confront them in any way but if we could get descriptions of the people, their vehicles etc and let them know.
This was the only time that we have seen rangers visiting free camping areas.
Popularity of some camp sites
When we first started travelling we would try to stop for the night by between 3 and 4 pm daily (when driving) however it is hard to tell if any other campers will arrive to share the camping with you. On occasion, we have been the only people in a camping site for the night, and while we didn’t move on at any time, there is cause to consider that as an option.
After a while we decided to arrive a bit later in the day, usually after 4.30pm and found that if a site was still empty that we would continue on, and look for a busier camping area. It is not that we have been afraid of camping alone, but safety in numbers is important.
Usually, as you drive in to a camping site it is quite easy to tell if there will be much interaction between campers or if it will be a quiet night by ourselves.
Quite often, on arrival we have seen groups of people talking, a good sign as far as we are concerned. Camping at these sites is generally a fun and enjoyable time.
The community which uses free camping
One of the great things about the free camping community is that everyone knows what is like to have a great camping environment. Therefore, they are more willing to lend a hand with setting up, providing some advice on other great camping places or help out with a cup of coffee or a friendly chat.
On this trip we were not totally self-sufficient, meaning that all of our free camping needed to be done where there were toilet facilities. On only one occasion, we could not camp where wanted because of this issue, it didn’t upset us because we had arrived early, so we moved on.
However, there were others already camped and they advised us that they saw a fantastic camping spot around 20 kilometres in the direction that we were going. They were going the other way and had driven past, stopped and had a coffee. What better recommendation than that!
I have camped in more remote places than the Nullarbor, however there is nothing more eerie than camping just off the Nullarbor’s highway, with no other campers nearby and hearing the sounds of dogs howling, strange noises in the bush when it is totally and utterly pitch black. Glad we had torches.
Every sound is multiplied in magnitude because of all the reasons above, and it is on these occasions that I would advise those who have concerns about camping like this, to move on. For your own sanity!
On the occasion about which I am talking we decided to stay the night, but we got up really early and left. We laughed as we went past a free camping site just 20 kilometres down the road, with around 10 others camping.
Most of my camping has been done previously in groups of people and not really for periods more than a week, two at the most.
All of our meals were prepared on these occasions each and every day, because that was the easiest way to do it.
However, we soon found out that when travelling and setting up camp at night that needing to prepare a meal after driving all day, then setting up became harder and harder to do.
We will on future road trips, and even weekend camping, be taking with us pre prepared meals,
“cryo-vacced” (I hope this is how to spell it) and frozen a fridge set aside for frozen food duties.
The people we met on the trip
During this Perth trip we met great people in the most unlikely places, like McDonalds in North Perth, where we met Walter McGuire who is a wonderful person beating the odds. Walter is an ambassador for the Aboriginal culture and has set up a business providing tours for non-indigenous people around sacred places, lands and beliefs. His business has been recognised by the Tourism Industry in Western Australia and his website is to be admired.
Another fellow we met who was just as impressive but from a totally different perspective was Adrian who had just completed the Cape to Cape walk of around 150 kilometres ending at the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. This had been Adrian’s dream for many years, finally he achieved this long awaited goal. Well done Adrian.
The proprietor of the Nillup General Store, Natasha Woods is another person who we met along the way and who is achieving great results from the business she is running. We had a wonderful half an hour or so with her, sampling some lovely cakes and enjoying a great coffee. The store is in the “middle of nowhere” yet the effort she puts into showcasing her store is nothing short of amazing.
The range of people we met was fascinating, younger families taking their children for the BIG Lap. Oldies (yep older than us) who take their time, and travel from town to town, stay a week or a month, look around at their leisure and plan their next stop.
The one common theme we found with everyone we met was that they were intent on seeing as much of Australia as they possibly could, in their allocated time.
Most people would also give ideas about things to see, road conditions ahead and were quick to lend a hand with anything. This is an amazing trait that all Australians have, especially when they are “out and about”. Magnificent.
Any person who has the dream to get out there and see Australia by car, caravan or campier trailer, my advice is to just get out and do it. You will have a ball.