No room in the national parks?

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Camping at Yuraygir National Park, NSW.
Get in quick ... Yuraygir National Park, NSW.

The growing popularity of the grey nomad lifestyle means that many national park camping grounds are full to overflowing in peak season … and that obviously means some travellers struggle to get a site when and where they want.

Of course, Australia is not unique in having this ‘demand outstripping supply’ problem and an alarming new trend is emerging in Canada that may yet rear its ugly head here … campsite ticket scalping.

In Canada, some campers in national parks are booking sites for a long of time, staying for a couple of days, and then selling the remaining days at a huge profit to campers who arrive without a reservation. The central issue is the same as it is here. During major holiday periods, sites at popular camping areas sell out exceptionally quickly and that’s why they can be booked online for up to 12 months in advance.

For spontaneous travellers like grey nomads though, it is nearly impossible to plan that far ahead. Many don’t even know where they want to be the following night.

“How can one guarantee that you’ll make it there on time, and what happens if one doesn’t,” complained grey nomad, Allan G. “Motor vehicle or caravan failures of various types or even human illnesses can hold a participant up from arriving at any given location along the road.”

For travellers who want to be free to change their plans as the mood takes them, the advent of the online booking era for national park campsites has been a further ‘complication’ reducing their flexibility, and many long for the days of the old ‘fill out the form and put money in the box’ system.

The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) concedes that many of its campgrounds sell out during peak periods, but insists this has always been the case.

“We do acknowledge though that, with the introduction of an online booking channel and seven-day phone channel, the majority of our campgrounds and accommodation have increased their number of bookings taken annually,” an NPWS spokesperson told the GNT. “We encourage customers to plan and book in advance.”

This though is of little comfort to grey nomads who don’t want to be tied into a schedule. But does this situation mean Canadian-style profiteering could occur here? “To the best of our knowledge, ticket scalping does not happen in Queensland’s national park and state forest camping areas,” said a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson. “And rangers patrol camping areas regularly to promote compliance.”

While there are no easy answers to satisfying huge demand for campsites from people who do want to plan ahead while keeping spontaneous travellers happy, former national park ranger, Peter Mills, said Australia could learn from the overseas experience.

“In USA National Parks and State Forests in many places one can book online,” he said. “But they know about spontaneity, and reserve some of the sites for tourers.”

If nothing is done, he sees problems ahead.

“I can see many back roadside campsites springing up with disenfranchised travellers who cannot spontaneously camp in a national park,” he said. “So, what about just increasing the number of campsites?”

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