Camping in rest areas … what should the rules be?

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rest area Ballina
Paradise lost! Should free campers be allowed to stop here? PIC: Google Maps

It may not be the quietest place to spend the night and its days may be numbered, but a rest area on the Pacific Highway south of Ballina in northern New South Wales has become the latest flashpoint in one strand of the free camping debate.

The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), which has plans to build a service centre on the site near the Teven Interchange next year, has upset some grey nomads by erecting a ‘No Camping’ sign.

Solo traveller, Trevor Gallagher, 63, told the Northern Star newspaper that he had only just spent $300 on supplies in Ballina when the signs went up. Having travelled in his self-contained caravan for the past four years, he said he was disappointed to have to move in.

“I just love the lifestyle of free camping,” he said.

The Northern Star reports that the large rest area had plenty of parking for trucks, as well as free campers.

However, a spokeswoman for the RMS said rest areas were provided to encourage drivers to take regular short breaks of up to 24 hours.

“Visitors who camp for consecutive days at rest areas limit the amount of parking available to other motorists who may need to take a short break and can put constraints on existing amenities such as water and waste,” she said. “Long distance motorists wanting to stay more than 24 hours are encouraged to plan their journeys and investigate accommodation options available in local towns.”

She said rest areas which were known to be regularly used for stays of more than 24 hours have had No Camping signs installed to “remind visitors they are in a designated rest area and not a camping area”.

“This is intended to maximise access to rest areas for all road users,” she said.

Some long-term grey nomads agreed with the stance being taken by the RMS.

Commenting in the Northern Star, grey nomad Phil Jones said he had zero sympathy for those who wanted to stay for several days in rest areas.

“Highway Rest Areas are not de-facto caravan parks and should never be considered that way,” he said. “There are plenty of non-caravan park stopping places around Oz, but highway rest areas definitely are not those.”

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12 Responses to Camping in rest areas … what should the rules be?

  1. Road side rest areas are just that, rest areas. Most of the roadside rest areas are provided to ensure that heavy vehicles operators, “Truck Drivers” comply with extremely rigid rules in relation to rest and work times. As a truckie, when going into “Rest Areas” to find Ma an Pa fully extended and expanded right in the middle of a “Rest Area” gets my goat. There are hundreds of alternative areas to stop for extended times.
    If you don’t like sharing the road with truck drivers and using these areas for the purpose they are designed for, stop buying stuff. Stuff will then no longer need to be delivered and the roads will be free of those pesky trucks.
    Across the Nullarbor there are many more ares that are truck restricted but always Caravanners, and I will not just sway “Grey Nomads” insist on stopping in these areas.

  2. Caravanners are the only travelers who are expected to pay wherever they stop for the night. Truckies don’t and they have huge areas put aside for them. A car can pull over anywhere. I don;t believe in pulling in to a roadside rest area for more than one night.If a sign says no camping one would assume that means no overnighters either.. In some places the distances between rest stops are huge but there are signs to tell you to take a break. But where?

    • I agree ‘no camping’ seems to say that you cannot stay overnight in a motorhome or caravan. If the authorities mean something else, why not say so. Sure, the argument that staying in a motorhome or caravan overnight is Not Camping can be put, but it is better not to have argue.

    • Yep stop every two hours the signs say but where can a big rig stop. And then if you can you mostly have to poo on the ground like a dog….

  3. I personally do not like the “No Camping” signs but rather a sign that says 24hr Stop or 48hr stop. I stayed overnight there on the way back from our Brisbane to Perth trip return. Trucks had their designated bays and there was plenty of room around the outside for the campers. A lot of people will not stay there with trucks coming and going, highway noise it is not the flash place to stay. We did however did enjoy the Stop after a lot of driving and seeing Fatigue accidents are very high up there, I think all Councils should provide a rest area in the interest of Road Safety. I would prefer 48hr to 72 he rest stops but being a Tourist area 24hr is okay as well.
    We got there about 4pm in the afternoon, Glad toilets were available, had dinner in our caravan, just after we pulled in it rained all night.
    We still had another 3 hours to get home to Brisbane and we did not want to arrive home in the dark with the Van to disturb the neighbours and still get dinner. We got an early night, slept well, had breakfast fed our pets and left around 11am to get petrol down the road. We were refreshed and arrived home in the afternoon, much easier to back the van in to the yard.
    If a sign says 24hr limit or 48hr limit then fine those people who stay longer. But people on their through need fuel, groceries, maybe bills to pay at a Post office, it is money in to the local economy. I personally would like this site to stay, it breaks the journey and we travel with pets.
    We actually stopped at a Major Service Centre on the Hume highway on the way home, they said we could have a rest over there. The traffic at night on the Hume was incredible and it was pouring rain so dangerous. So we stopped for 2 hours could not sleep for the highway noise so we gave up and kept driving to our relatives in Penrith, arrived 6am and slept in our van out front till 10am.

    • We never travel at night we aim to be on the road only between ten and two. Two many trucks and animals make driving at night way to risky…

  4. If you read the original newspaper article it says “He came to Ballina to catch up with a mate for some fishing, and had plans to stay a week at the rest area,” Sorry but the guy gets no sympathy from me, rest areas are not holiday camps and these sort of “campers” just bugger it up for the rest of us.

  5. At what point does pulling into a rest stop become “camping”. I ask this because we will be travelling from Brisbane to Melbourne soon and had planned to alternate between caravan parks and free camping. The alternative is not more caravan parks, but longer driving hours. Longer driving hours will be a fatigue factor. If the trip wasn’t for family reasons, I would be happy to stay on the Queensland side of the border and spend our money in our own state.

  6. I think the initial article has quoted something that was dated back in mid to late 2014. Since then, the RMS has put a complete ban on “camping” in NSW Rest Area’s.
    The areas most affected have already had signs erected, with other sites to follow, such as the 7/11 at Pheasants Nest, SB.
    Whilst supporting the NSW Centre for Road Safety, RMS advises all road users that managing driver fatigue is their own responsibility. In order to do this, RMS and Local Councils have provided Rest Area’s along NSW Roads. Most of these also cater for Heavy Vehicles, who are bound by Federal Laws to take compulsory rest breaks. Some of these breaks are from 10pm to 6am. Drivers who fail to adhere to these Laws can face fine exceeding $6,000.00, and/or 5 years in gaol. This can be enforced for a period of 7 years after the initial offence.

    RMS is currently working on a Statewide Strategy in Rest Area Management and use. This will be finalised and published in mid 2018.

    Traveller’s who are looking for an overnight stopovers are required to find accommodation in local area’s and townships.

  7. I don’t mind free loaders, however whilst travelling in northern NSW we couldn’t stop at a toilet site. Because it had been raining for a few weeks and free camps not available, so they took up the whole toilet break site. Not the only site on way up north

  8. I disagree with the no camping sign. Perhaps they could have a sign the saying 15 hour rest stop. Stay longer and expect a fine.

  9. Hello all. I have been campaigning for more and better rest areas for truckies for years, but I recognise there are more and more vanners on the road as well. If we could work together to get both more and better designed rest areas and we can educate you about our needs and try to lessen the us versus you debate that the media enjoy, then perhaps we can get a better outcome for all. I am currently in the USA on a Churchill Fellowship Study tour and have stopped in some rest areas. They are signed for cars in one area and trucks and campers in another. There is a major shortage of rest areas here (and in the UK as well), but I cannot fix it alone and I honestly believe, we need a national rest areas strategy, to see the problem attacked at all levels. None of us want tired drivers on the road, so how do you think we can get something done? Have any of you seen the “Sharing rest areas” video we did? I would welcome your comments. Safe Travelling, Rod Hannifey.

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