The first time I went camping I was 19 years old.
Thom had been going with his family for his whole life and took me along for my first ever trip. I was pretty nervous going on this trip because I just didn’t know what to expect. I couldn’t picture where we would be going or staying, or what I might need to take, or what we would do when we were there.
It turned out to be so much fun (much less scary than I was imagining) and I actually had a great time on that first trip with Thom’s family.
Ever since then, Thom and I always try to spend at least one weekend each summer at the river with our friends or family to unwind, relax and spend some time outside in the sunshine.
Even though we go up to the river quite regularly and Dad also goes camping often with my uncle, we had never been as a family and mum and Laura had never been before at all! So over the weekend we went on our first family camping trip, to introduce Mum, Laura and Sophie to camping in the bush.
Although it had been nearly eight years since that first time I went camping, I couldn’t help but think about it as I was helping Mum get ready for her first trip. It can actually seem like camping is part of a whole different world that you don’t understand if you’ve never been before, but once you get into it you will find out that it’s not that scary and can be a lot of fun!
So if you’re planning your first camping trip, here’s a guide from an original non-camper to make your trip and planning process a little bit easier.
Why choose a camping trip?
Although I thought I would miss the creature comforts of nice accommodation on my first trip, there are some things about camping that I absolutely love that you just won’t experience staying in a hotel:
- You spend almost all day and night outside, soaking up the sunshine and only going inside when it’s time to go to bed.
- It’s a complete technology detox. Many remote parts of Australia have limited reception if any at all, so it’s a great time to put down your phone and laptop and have a weekend without any screens whatsoever.
- You get to see and experience things you just wouldn’t see if you stayed in a caravan park or the city. On the weekend a kangaroo with a baby joey hopped through our camp looking for some dinner!
- You get to spend some real quality time with your family and friends.
- It can be a cheaper and more economical way to see new parts of Australia that you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.
Choosing where to go for your camping trip
Sometimes people choose camping because of where they’re going, and others choose to go camping and then think about their destination later. The time of the year you’re going might play a big part in choosing where to go camping, as well as what activities you want to do while you’re there. You should definitely spend a bit of time researching the area you’re going to stay so you have a better idea about what you might need to take and prepare for.
We love camping in the summer months, when the weather is nice and hot, the sun is always out and you can stay outside all day without getting cold. Generally, we go to Yarrawonga on the Murray River, which actually acts as the border between Victoria and New South Wales.
Yarrawonga is only about a 3 and a half hour drive from Melbourne, making it an easy place to get away to even if you only have a couple of free days, and the weather is perfect and sunny for most of the year.
Things to research before your first camping trip
After you’ve decided where you’re going to camp, make sure you do a little bit of extra research into the location itself. Some important things to find out are:
- What facilities are provided?
- Do you need a camping, driving or fishing permit while you’re staying there?
- Can you drive you car right up to your campsite or will it require you to walk from your car to your campsite?
- Do you need to pre-book a campsite, even if it’s a free camp or in a remote area? (This is especially important to know when camping in National Parks).
When to go on a camping trip in Australia
The weather in Australia changes depending on where you’re visiting and what time of the year you’re visiting. Australia is a HUGE country and the weather differs between states and territories, as well as the northern and southern parts of the country. Some part of the country – particularly up north – will have more of a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons, while the southern part of Australia generally just goes through normal summer and winter seasons.
If you have a choice of the time of year you can go, it’s always a good idea to avoid the peak seasons – like public holidays and school holidays. During these times, normally quiet areas can be overrun with people looking for the perfect spot to camp, and not only can it take you hours to find somewhere free to camp, but you’re often surrounded by noisy families and kids, with not a lot of room to yourself. Not particularly relaxing…
Your choice will more than likely depend on what activities you’re going camping for. Personally I love camping in summer, when you can be outside all day and night without getting cold and your day is mostly spent running in and out of the water.
The Different Types of Camping
When you start to actually get into the specifics, there are actually quite a few different types of camping you can experience around Australia.
Bush camping is usually free and gives you the opportunity to get right up close with nature. Generally camping in the bush is free, but means you’re staying somewhere with no facilities, so you’re really roughing it. If you’re lucky you can often find a campsite completely away from other people.
Beach camping is super popular in Australia with so many beautiful beaches around Australia’s coast to choose from. Only a few beaches in Australia allow camping actually ON the beach, so often camping on the beach means in a designated free or paid campground or grass site right next to the beach. Some of them will have facilities, while some can be just a grass site and no facilities around. It is important to take note of all signs around beaches in Aus, and make sure you’re not parked in a no camping zone to avoid fines.
Some of Australia’s most beautiful and remote attractions are located in National Parks. Generally National Parks do allow camping close to the highlight attractions in the park, like waterfalls and waterholes, and have some facilities you can use such as running water and toilets, while some of the bigger sites might also offer a shower block.
They are often in the best locations to visit beautiful waterfalls, stunning attractions and magnificent mountain ranges. Campsites in National Parks are generally only between $5 and $10 AUD per night, which you can leave in a locked box at the campsite for the ranger to collect.
Hiking Camping also occurs in National Parks and is generally when people choose to go on a long hike or trek and stop to camp at different places along the way. I would recommend doing a lot of research into camping this way before you go, particularly with the state’s National Parks website to make sure you don’t require permits or passes to camp this way, and also to make sure there are no places where camping is not allowed along your trek that you might get caught in.
If you choose Caravan Park style camping, there are a few different options as caravan parks range around Australia from budget to super luxury. You can choose from a powered or unpowered site to set up camp and the parks will normally offer facilities such as toilets, showers, washing machines, camp kitchens and sometimes playgrounds, swimming pools and themed nights with entertainment. They generally range from $15 to $35 AUD per night for a grass site with no power, but they can also be in epic locations, like right next to beaches and stunning waterfalls.
For the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on bush camping in hot conditions in the summertime in Australia. If you’re planning to go camping in colder conditions I would definitely recommend doing some extra research into what else you might need to pack and think about for cold conditions.
Packing for a camping trip
What you need to pack for your camping trip will definitely differ depending on where you’re going. For example, if you’re camping in a caravan park or beach camping park with cooking facilities then you won’t have to worry about bringing everything you need to cook on. And if you’re travelling in cold weather you’re probably going to need more thermals than bathers and shorts. These are the basic essential items we generally take with us when we’re camping in the bush in summer with absolutely no facilities.
Essentials things to remember
Something to sleep in and on – a tent or swag, sleeping bag/doona, pillows, foam or air mattress/sleeping mat.
For your campsite – chairs, a table to prepare food, lights to light up the site (we particularly love festoon lights to make the site look cute as well as providing a lot of light), a couple of torches, a gazebo to give you some shade, matches or a lighter, garbage bags, some kind of toilet situation and toilet paper, a shovel.
Kitchen supplies – something to cook on/with (a camping BBQ is our fav or a gas stove is very handy), cups, plates and bowls, knives and forks, cooking utensils such as tongs and a spatula, cleaning supplies for washing up after cooking – a sponge, paper towels, washing liquid.
For survival – to survive the harsh Australian summer, make sure you’re always covered in sunscreen and insect repellent. In case you’re not covered enough, sting/bite cream and aftersun is always a good idea, as well as a small first aid kit for emergencies.
Food you should take
I find it easiest to try and keep my eating habits while camping as similar as I can to the way I eat when I’m at home. I find that this way I am less hungry, I don’t binge on unhealthy snacks or meals, and my body feels better for it.
Basics – you’ll need a fridge or esky to keep things cool and fresh – such as meats, salads, drinks and fruits. Don’t forget about WATER – easy to forget but you will need to bring in all your drinking water if you’re camping in the bush. A slab of water is a great way to do it – less than $10 AUD for about 24 bottles from the supermarket, you’ll always have a water there ready to grab and go. Or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can buy a large 15-20L water container with a tap which you can use to refill and reuse water bottles.
Food – up to you and depends on your dietary requirements and general food tastes. We like to bring eggs and bacon or muesli for breakfast, salads, wraps, meats (normally steak, chops, chicken, skewers or hamburgers), fresh fruit – like grapes, strawberries and watermelon that we can grab on the go, carrot sticks and hummus or nuts for snacks, wholegrain bread and spreads to make a quick sandwich.
Basic condiments – salt and pepper, cooking oil, all seasoning, tea, coffee, Milo, sugar, sauce, Nutella, peanut butter.
Clothes to pack for a camping trip
Remember, these recommendations are for camping in the BUSH during SUMMER. Please do some extra research if you’re camping in colder climates.
It’s generally a good idea not to bring anything to the bush that you love too much or would hate to see dirty.
For the daytime – shorts, t-shirts, singlets, loose dresses, jumpsuits or over-swim kaftans, nothing tight, whatever you’re comfortable in – it’s going to be HOT. A hat to keep you protected from the sun and extra undies and socks are a must.
For swimming – if you’re planning on swimming in rivers make sure you bring only BLACK swimwear. While the water is clean and leaves you feeling fresh, it can sometimes leave a bit of a stain on white and lighter clothing. After ruining a couple of pairs of bathers that I loved I quickly learnt my lesson to always only wear black bathers and clothes in the river. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a towel to dry off!
For the nighttime – it can sometimes get cold at night time in the bush so it’s always a good idea to bring a pair of trackpants and a jumper, and something comfortable to sleep in. I like to bring a pair of UGG boots for the night time – they keep my feet clean from the dirt and make me feel generally cleaner overall.
Top tips for your first camping trip
Before You Go – Before you leave on your first trip it’s always a good idea to try out everything you’re taking. That means, setting up your tent, trying out torches, lights, gas stoves, etc, pumping up air mattresses and floaties and even pulling out your chairs and tables and making sure they’re all good. There’s nothing worse than arriving to your campsite and realising that something you brought is broken or doesn’t work – especially if you’re in a particularly remote area and there’s not really anywhere to grab more supplies.
Camping with Dogs – Again, will definitely depend on where you’re going. Around the Murray River in Victoria it’s okay to take your dog along with on your camping trip, but there are definitely restrictions on dogs in many beach camps, National Parks and caravan parks. If you’re taking your dog with you on a camping trip always make sure to take a leash and some of their familiar things from home – like their bed, water bowl or a favourite toy, so they feel comfortable in such a new environment.
Make sure you always keep an eye on them while you’re camping to make sure they don’t wander off, and especially to make sure they are not around any potentially dangerous or poisonous creepy crawlies that are prevalent in the Australian country, like snakes and spiders.
If temperatures are super high make sure they keep hydrated and drink enough water and try and get them to go for a swim to cool down! It’s also important to remember that even though you love your dog, strangers probably will not appreciate your fur baby running through their campsite and jumping on them.
Keep a close eye on them to make sure they aren’t running up to and annoying other campers in the area and more importantly, so they don’t get lost.
Fire Safety – Camping in summer time can bring on some extremely high temperatures and fire ban days. In Australia a fire ban means absolutely no fire what so ever including a campfire, BBQ and often a gas cooker. Having a fire on these days can lead to deadly bush fires and can be extremely dangerous. Make sure you keep up-to-date with fire alerts for the area you’re camping.
First Aid – No one likes to think about things going wrong, but things can happen in the bush. It’s a good idea to always travel with a first-aid kit with some basics that you might need in an emergency. Some things you must include are bandages, bite and sting cream and after sun lotion for sunburn.
Minimise Your Impact – There’s nothing worse than coming away from a weekend of camping with ten bags of rubbish. Think about what you’re using and how you can dispose of it. Anything that can be burned in the campfire – like paper towels, left over food scraps or paper plates and cups – throw it in there! It will be completely gone in a few minutes and minimises the amount of rubbish you have to take with you when you leave.
Showers – if you’re camping in the bush most of the time there are no facilities and definitely no showers around. While it might be okay for a weekend, if I’m camping for longer than a couple of nights I need a real shower – a river shower just isn’t going to cut it to make my hair feel clean. Most caravan parks will let you take a hot shower and use their facilities for about $5AUD if you ask them nicely. Nothing better than feeling all fresh and clean again!
The Toilet Situation – Completely a personal choice and up to you. There are lots of different toilet solutions that you can find at your local camping store. Personally, I am not a fan of chemical toilets – I do not want to empty that out later. We generally dig a deep hole, put a toilet chair over the top and cover it up with a toilet tent for privacy. Then when we’re leaving we fill the hole in and take everything else with us.
It’s up to you what you choose but could I suggest please, please don’t go to the toilet in a different place every time and leave a bit of toilet paper behind a different tree every time you go. Even though the toilet paper will probably break down eventually, it looks terrible and is just plain gross – especially if someone else wants to camp there after you.
Leave Your Campsite The Way You Found It
The most important thing to remember, especially if you’re camping in the bush, on a beach or in a National Park, is to leave your campsite exactly the way you found it and leave minimal impact on the environment.
Take every piece of rubbish with you.
No one is going to come and clean up after you, it’s no ones job to clean the bush, and not only is it damaging to the environment if you’re leaving rubbish behind, but it can also be life threatening to wildlife that might come past and try and eat it or get caught in it.
When you’re leaving your campsite it should look like no one had ever been there, the same way it looked when you arrived.