Local authorities grapple with free camp conundrum

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Wingham Riverside Reserve
That was then: Overnight camping is prohibited at Wingham Riverside Reserve until a risk assessment has been carried out. PIC: Manning River Times

With grey nomads starting to hit the open road again within their own states, many are starting to wonder when all free camps are going to re-open again.

Caravan parks are being allowed to open subject to strict regulations surrounding hygiene and social distancing being put in place. In states like Victoria, van park visitors are allowed to use the toilet facilities but not showers.

While the management and monitoring of shared facilities in some free camps obviously presents challenges in the short term, some travellers are concerned that the pandemic and the economic hardship it has created will have longer term impacts.

Already, the Shire of Plantagenet in southern Western Australia has announced that its recreational vehicle parking area in Mount Barker will remain closed for at least six months in an effort to support local businesses in the wake of the financial carnage caused by Covid-19. The decision was made following a presentation from a local caravan park.

There are already indications that other local authorities in WA may take a similar approach.

In New South Wales, the MidCoast Council says it is conducting risk assessments in its camping areas before a decision is made on when to re-open to travellers.

The council operates a number of camping areas at showgrounds and several free camps in Wingham, Bulahdelah and Gloucester. All of these areas are currently closed.

The risk assessments are required to ensure the camping areas can be operated safely and in accordance with Covid-19 requirements, including social distancing and appropriate hygiene controls.

The Great Lakes Advocate reports that the council is also working cooperatively with several businesses that are interested in providing camping facilities to travellers.

The newspaper says that to operate a camping ground a development consent must be obtained under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, and an approval to operate must also be obtained under the Local Government Act.

“We know free camping areas are important for local communities and for local economies, so we are working with several organisations to ensure they have the correct approvals in place,” council’s liveable communities director, Paul De Szell, told the Advocate.

  • Have you heard of any free camps that are officially open again … or others that are being closed long-term? Comment below.
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32 Responses to Local authorities grapple with free camp conundrum

  1. We like to free camp while travelling and then stay in a caravan park when we want to stay a few days in a particular area. If they won’t open the free camps then we will stay home. We are better off than some since we live in a holiday area only couple of minutes walk to our local beach

    • Agree Totally. The council are a mob of dictators and presume that we are mostly well off (not) and can pay the high fees that some C Parks charge. I usually spend one or two nights a week to catch up with necessity’s or such. I wouldn’t be able to venture if I had to use Parks all the time and lets face it the majority of travellers luv living off the grid..
      Open the camps please.

  2. If you are a self contained free camper. There is probably no more risk involved than staying in a caravan park and using your own toilet and shower. There will be a difference to local businesses that benefit from free or low cost campers. The caravan parks may pick up a bit more business but other businesses In town will probably miss out. When we travel we use both van parks and free camps. But if free camps are closed we can’t afford to travel. We are probably not the only ones in that situation. Let common sense prevail, trust in the older Australians being careful and leave free camps open.

    • Well said everybody – we can be self contained and don’t free camp but prefer low cost options like Showgrounds and the designated $10-20/day spots councils may provide like town riverside or near sporting grounds. Or National Parks if we really like the area. Caravan parks are a last resort too expensive and crowded. We are all busting to get out there and we spend the money to support regional businesses!

  3. I think councils are foolish to keep the free camps closed. Many people who would otherwise travel will stay home. Caravan parks will be well supported, and everyone spends money in the towns.

  4. I think why they are keeping the free camps closed is a hygiene issue regarding the drop toilets.

    • If dump points are closed, l can see people disposing of their waste on the sides of the road. What other choice have they got. As well you will see more Van’s parked up in truck spots, in shopping center car parking and at servos. Most people are going to be sensible no one want to catch covid especially the older people.

    • what about those who are fully self contained ,we don’t need to use anynoe else’s toilets only the dump points

  5. I noticed the free camp in Killivan, Queensland had a sign saying that the camp was now open again for campers. Great News.

    • Yay to Kilkivin, great camping spot even though it’s a bush caravan park and reasonable prices. Great spot and nice owners. Have spent some time there and luv it.

  6. I can’t afford to stay in a caravan park, even if I wanted to, as I am a pensioner. I freecamp and spend my money around the town, I can do this as I am not paying caravan park fees. I dont’ stay at caravan parks for several reasons: squashed in like sardines, unnatural environment, noisy, and too many people. I like to be spontaneous and find a free camp as and when I want to stop, preferably wild camping in a bush setting or by the sea, away from crowds. All I need is water, I am fully self-contained so absolutely no need to be in a caravan park where i would be more likely to catch Covid than wild camping due to the proximity with others. If, free camps are closed down, my travelling Australia days are over.

    • How very true.

    • Pip
      I like your way of thinking and yes when this virus is over then on can travel around Australia again.

    • It is time to open our free camp sites ; I am a gey nomad an I have travel around this beautiful county for the last 10 years “I fully self contained ” an cavan parks don’t like us “for that reason “we have stayed at parks .Yes found it noisey..an i can say us nomads ar very rspondsable to our environment .

    • Agree on this one, free camp has to meanings, free to use and you are free from hustle and bustle.

  7. Talk about cutting you nose of to spite your face. A area in the sunshine coast has calculated how much money free campers bring to their area it’s amazing. For the sake of one business the hole area will loose. We free camp and try to support town that welcome us it may only a couple of cups of coffee and a couple of meals or a tyre etc but the next town will be shopping . It’s my money and we’ll support the town that supports us

  8. Same here, we normally travel the country free camping but spending at least $500 a week on food, fuel and tourist activities, if we have to stay in crowded caravan parks we will just stay home near the beach.. As well as we travel we also do what we have seen others do, we pick up rubbish to keep our great country clean. We are now aware and trained in social distancing and this is easier to practice while free camping.

  9. A few years ago we drove past a closed free camp (closed due to a caravan park opening near by) people beaped car horn waved and kept driving. The whole town now miss out on money coming into it pockets.

  10. This makes me so angry caravan parks forcing people to stay in there parks l do a lot of caravanning free parks and caravan parks if this is what it’s going to be like then l will be giving it away

  11. Free Camps are not going to help the economy keep them closed.

  12. Free campers spend money in towns fuel, groceries , souvenirs, etc cars and caravans parts.

  13. The problem with many caravan parks is the owners are simply rent seeking. There is no reinvestment into the infrastructure
    Poor 1970s toilet blocks and high density occupancy doesnt make for a pleasant camping experience. Australia’ population is going to increase to 40 million over the 20 years., which will increase the vans and campers on the road. We have to increase the free camping areas and put in proper toilets. People are going to free camp regardless, despite what the councils and caravan parks want. There will be acres of toilet paper strewn throughout the bush if we don’t improve the free camp and roadside stop facilities.

  14. I can understand van parks wanting free camps closed at the moment so as to recover some income, but if they want one to pay to stay in the park then all facilities should be available, if not a reduced price ie, $10 to cover site and toilet use.

  15. Pip, I am exactly in your situation, no c.van parks for us ever, due to costs. We do the same, both when by bicycle with the dog, which makes it hard to stay in c.van parks anyhow,, and by c.van touring. I stealth camp mostly by bike, and maybe 90% of the time by caravan. When I need water when bicycletouring I buy it, or use my purifier for creek and puddles that I come across. In the van, we buy it, or just get it where we can. Food obviously we buy, and then we buy other things in a local town, including maintenance of our vehicles etc. Without free camping would not be able to travel.

    • Richard, Love it “ stealth camping” Have done it plenty of times in the bush, and now it has a name.

  16. No free camp = I don’t stay there = I don’t spend money there. Simple.

  17. Kendenup WA Campground, 18k north of Mt Barker, has been open all through, catering to several travellers unable to move during the lockdown.
    We are open, find us on Wikicamps & the like, for a cheaper option.
    Ian…. host.

  18. I would rather use showers in a caravan park than be mixed up with the 1000’s of protesters

  19. We have been on the road for 2 years and have free camped, used low cost camps and caravan parks. However we too have been impacted financially due to the virus and whilst I am happy to support Caravan Parks the cost can be quite prohibitive – this means that if we have to pay top dollar for a Caravan Park (many with reduced services) then we do not have the extra money for some of the touristy things that we would normally do. I know it is a catch 22 but there needs to be some balance in all of this and Caravan Parks need to reduce their fees to assist the nomads to be able to return to travel, spend additional money in the town and slowly build things up again. Since the borders here in WA have started to open we have found ourselves having to pay top dollar to stay in near empty parks as it is “peak season” as we travel north. We are having to stay in overnight rest stops wherever we can as we just don’t have the money we used to have.

    • Gee bit rough paying top rate in empty park. No wonder people avoid c.p

  20. Just a thought, if the protests on the weekend were allowed, does that mean people’s rights are greater than the virus. And if so, are people’s rights to travel all over our country without restriction greater than the virus?

  21. Caravan Parks lost us when they started attracting school holidaying families with unruly children. We want a quiet space to camp that is not full of screaming, TV blaring, bicycle riding, pool hogging, laud music playing kids. Yes I was young once, but we had respect for other folks privacy and space.

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