It’s not often you can get something for nothing, but if you live in Australia you’re in luck. We have some of the most spectacular landscapes you’ll find anywhere and most of it’s there to be enjoyed whenever you want. Of course if you’re planning on getting out there for more than a few hours you’ll need to think about where you’re going to stay, and that’s where it stops being something for nothing again.
Camping’s always been a cheap way to get away from it all, but even that has its costs these days. Most camping or caravan sites charge fees and the more facilities on site the more it’s likely to be. It’s one thing if you’re setting up a big tent with all the luxuries, but paying someone just so you have a space to crawl into your swag can get a bit dull. Free camping is still an option though, and if you drive a 4wd you’ve got everything you need to do it in style.
Naturally free camping has a price tag – what doesn’t? – but it depends on the level of luxury you can’t do without. A good 4wd or Ute can carry a load of gear to make you feel at home in the wildest terrain but we all have different tastes. Some people like to have a portable shower and a multi-burner stove to cook elaborate meals, before settling down in a roomy tent or awning. Others are happy grilling a couple of burgers over a fire then rolling out a swag beside the vehicle. Just decide what you need to keep you happy. Also think about how independent you want to be. Complete self-sufficiency isn’t that hard, but you need to be carrying more. Water, fuel and food can take up a lot of space in your vehicle. If you plan to stay out for a while you might want a solar shower – which needs more water – or even a shower tent with a pump that runs off your battery. Alternatively you can use the facilities on a campsite for a small fee. Some campsites even work on an honour system where you drop in a donation. That’s worth doing – it helps keep them available for everyone.
There are some places where you definitely can’t camp free. Truck stops are one. They’re for truckers, and you probably won’t be welcome if you turn up and start setting up home. Most of them have showers though, and you can use those for a small payment. Don’t ever camp on private or indigenous land without permission either. You can have more luck with national parks, but before camping there check up on the rules. You’ll probably have to pay a small fee or buy a pass but it’s often cheaper than staying at a normal campsite. The scenery tends to be nicer too.
Wherever you decide to do your camping you’re going to need the right kit. It’s easy enough to supply yourself with all the luxuries – satellite internet? No problem – but the essentials are shelter, food and water. There’s no shortage of shelter options on the market. Starting with standard tents and swags, you can also get a tent kit for your vehicle awning or even go for a rooftop tent. These are great if there’s not a lot of space or if you don’t like the idea of sharing the ground with the creepie crawlies. They’re often easier to set up, too.
The food you carry depends on your cooking gear and personal taste. A portable fridge full of stuff is great. Then again if you’re happy with ramen noodles a dozen packs of them are fine, too. Just make sure you have enough to last you until you hit the next town, with a bit in reserve for if you get stuck. The same goes double for water. Water’s important; even if you have the kit to collect and purify your own it’s best to have a couple of containers as an emergency supply. You’ll appreciate it if the wheels fall off and you end up having to walk.
With the basics out of the way it’s time to decide what luxuries you want. For many people half the fun is getting back to basics, but others prefer to be a bit more comfortable. There’s a lot of stuff you can take along to help with that. We’ve already mentioned portable showers, and you can get chemical dunnies too. The alternative to these is a walk into the trees with a shovel and a roll of biodegradable paper, and that’s not for everyone. Check the rules on that too – some areas don’t allow it.
However you plan to cook make sure you have plenty of fuel with you. Even if you’re planning on using a fire it’s a good idea to carry a couple of days’ supply of wood. At some popular camping sites there’s a shortage of deadwood, and cutting wood from trees is frowned on. Live wood doesn’t burn well anyway. Pay attention to local fire bans, especially in summer.
How you go about free camping is up to you, but there’s plenty of fun to be had out there. Just follow the rules and make sure you have the right gear with you; you’ll be able to spend days on the go for little or no accommodation costs. That’s what 4wd touring is all about – getting out there.