11 Tips to successful Australian outback camping
Outback camping in Australia is one of the best ways to see all the wonders that Australia has to offer while on a road trip. The distances between attractions can be vast, so in some cases, you may have to stop and camp overnight in the middle of nowhere. It’s important to know how to set up your camp properly, and everything we’ve discussed here is based on our personal experience.
Pick a safe camping spot
When travelling, there are endless options for setting up your camp, but it’s important to choose a suitable spot as it will serve as your home for the next few days.
When setting our camp, you always look for:
- protection from sun, wind and animals. You want to stay safe and comfortable while camping, so finding a spot with natural protection or setting up some kind of a shade can help.
- a water source. Always carry spare water, but if there is a natural water source nearby, you can use it for washing dishes or even taking a refreshing swim.
- an even surface. A flat, even surface is essential for a comfortable sleep. You don’t want to roll sideways or have rocks digging into your back.
- a beautiful setting. A scenic view or a unique natural feature nearby can enhance your camping experience.
In addition, it’s important to avoid camping near big gum trees, which can drop branches unexpectedly, or dead trees that could pose a danger to your car or tent.
If you are in a crocodile-infested country, such as Northern Australia, it is crucial to set up your camp at least 100 meters from the water’s edge. In the past, crocodiles have attacked tourists who camped too close to the water.
To ensure your safety, it is advisable to go for a walk around the area and look for any signs of crocodiles, such as drag marks, footprints, or broken bush sticks. Avoid camping near spots where fishermen’s camps are present, as fish scraps can attract crocodiles, especially at night.
When collecting water, it is essential to avoid river banks if there is a possibility of crocodiles living there. If you need to go to the water’s edge, it’s important never to go to the same spot twice as crocodiles are intelligent pattern readers and can recognise repeated behavior.
Furthermore, it’s highly recommended not to swim or fish in Northern Australia waterways unless there is a clear indication that it’s a “croc free zone.” Always exercise caution and be aware of the dangers of camping in crocodile-infested areas.
Desert Outback Camping
Set up your camp before dusk and, if possible, collect firewood for a campfire on the way. After choosing a spot for a night camp, open the car bonnet to allow the engine to cool down quickly.
It is common for mice to seek refuge inside your bonnet to keep warm at night, and while inside, they can chew on your cables, causing significant damage.
Before going to sleep, ensure that all food and garbage are secured and properly stored in sealed containers or bags, and keep them away from your tent. This will prevent nocturnal animals like possums from raiding your campsite.
Make sure you cleaned and stored away plates, cutlery, dishwasher sponge and SHOES – don’t leave them outside!
If your tent zip opens easily with your finger, use a shoelace (if you have shoes inside the tent) or a piece of cord to secure the zip and prevent it from opening. This will help keep unwanted visitors, such as dingos, out of your tent.
It’s important to invest in a warm sleeping bag when camping in the desert, as temperatures can drop below zero in the wintertime. Condensation can also be an issue, so consider purchasing a tent with breathable fabric to prevent moisture buildup.
When venturing into the desert, it’s crucial to have a GPS navigator and desert maps. The constant winds can cause sand to fly around, obscuring tracks and making it easy to get lost. Having reliable navigation tools will help ensure a safe and successful adventure.
Before deciding to camp on a beach, make sure to research the rules and regulations for beach camping in the area you plan to visit, as it is not allowed everywhere.
If you are new to driving on the beach with your 4WD, it is essential to read some hints and “how-to” articles before hitting the sand. Getting stuck is common, so bringing recovery gear is necessary. Additionally, ensure that you are permitted to drive on the beach.
If you are driving on soft sand, deflate your tyres to 15 psi to avoid getting bogged down. While beach camping can be a fantastic experience in perfect weather conditions, it’s important to remember that weather conditions can change quickly, so always be prepared for strong winds or storms.
It’s good to find natural shelter, such as dunes or bushes, when beach camping. However, windy nights can make it difficult to sleep. Additionally, it’s important to keep an eye on the tides and predict how high they may rise. You definitely don’t want the ocean washing through your bed!
Recently we drove to Burrum Coast National Park. We entered the beach that is very wide on a low tide. We enjoyed our time and later decided to drive a little bit further from the dedicated exit at the Burrum Point Campground.
The beach surface looked hard to drive by suddenly it changed to a very soft sand. When I stopped the car I got stuck immediately.
Fortunately, the sand was only 15 cm deep and I was able to reverse by turning on the low range gear.
And the tide was coming back…
Its not a good idea to drive on the beach beyond a dedicated exit point.
Free Outback Camping
We love free camps, not just because they are free (although that is important too), but because they often provide the best camping experience.
Who wouldn’t enjoy the complete freedom to choose your own spot, surrounded by nature and wildlife, with no one else in sight? We have a list of such places in our “Must camp there if close by” list.
When camping in the outback, free campsites don’t need to be pre-booked. However, if the campsite is in a popular location or along a busy route near a highway, it’s best to stop early in the day to secure a spot for the night. These campsites can fill up quickly!
A few tips for free outback camping:
- Leave no trace: When camping in remote areas, it’s important to leave the site as you found it. This means packing out all your trash, avoiding cutting down trees or damaging vegetation, and not disturbing wildlife.
- Be self-sufficient: Free camping often means no amenities like toilets, showers, or electricity. Make sure you bring enough water, food, and fuel to last your trip. Also, consider investing in a portable toilet and solar panels for power.
- Check fire restrictions: Many areas have fire bans during certain times of the year, so make sure to check the local fire restrictions before starting a campfire.
- Be aware of wildlife: Outback camping means you’re in the habitat of various animals, so be sure to secure your food and garbage. Also, avoid feeding or approaching wildlife, as it can be dangerous for both you and the animals.
Animals and insects while camping
Speaking about animals. Well… it is Australia. Everything here is a potential danger. But what is important to remember:
- Always make sure to close your tent or caravan – Never leave a tent open (even for a short period of time), crazy painful ant bite or hairy legs of a hunter spider on our face at night have told us it’s not a good idea.
- It’s important not to leave food or valuables outside. Keep an eye out for hungry birds perched on nearby branches, especially Kookaburras, or wild turkeys casually strolling through your camp. These animals may attempt to snatch your food or even your car keys (I’m speaking from experience).
- Snakes – can be spotted, especially when hiking early in the morning. It is better to assume that most of them are dangerous. Pythons should be fine, but don’t leave your small dog with them for too long. When spotted, snakes may move back or stay still, but that’s not always the case. I for example wear long walking shoes and do not allow my daughter to walk in front of me. We have a rule while hiking that Nell walks in the middle.
- Australian mosquitoes – There are around 300 species of mosquitoes found in Australia, and it seems like I’ve met all of them in person. So far, my worst encounter was definitely at Kakadu National Park’s beautiful Muirella campground.
- Flies – These are the “‘Outback’s pets”‘. They follow us everywhere, and in some places, we carry them in hundreds on our backs. They are very “friendly” and will get to our ears, eyes, and nose if there is a chance. If someone doesn’t have at least one of them buzzing happily around, the rest of the family looks at that person suspiciously.
- Midges – These are tiny, bloodsucking flies found near ocean mangrove trees. I hate those suckers – they’re so small that it’s hard to see them. They sneak into tents and through nets. I always have a strong allergic reaction, so outback camping in places where they exist is a big challenge for me.
- Dingo – The dingo looks like a dog but is not a domesticated dog. It can be dangerous when spotted in a pack. Please don’t feed them and keep an eye on small kids when dingoes are close by.
- Crocodiles – There are two types of crocodiles in Australia: freshwater and saltwater (commonly called “salties”). Freshies are small and timid, but salties are a completely different story – do not come close, and do not take selfies with them. They are opportunistic and deadly machines.
- Goannas – They are con artists and will find a way to access locked ice boxes or jump from trees to reach items that look safely stored. Keep small children and pets away from them.
- Kangaroos and wallabies – I love these fluffy and beautiful creatures, except for Red Kangaroos – they are be big and can be aggressive. I’m always wary around them.
- “Drop bears“ – are a predatory version of koalas that supposedly attack people by dropping onto their heads from above when they walk beneath them. While this hoax may seem legit, it is not true – it is designed to scare tourists. While koalas do exist, it is very uncommon to spot them while camping.
Basic outback camping equipment
Below are basic equipment items when you are outback camping with a tent:
- A tent
- A sleeping bag
- A portable bed or air mattress + air pump or sleeping mat
- Camp chair and table
- Camping stove + gas bottle, matches
- Basic kitchen equipment – plates, cutlery, pot, pan, mugs, sharp knife
However, everyone has different needs, and the equipment you bring may vary depending on where you go and and what type of activities you have in mind.
For example, if you need to travel a long distance from Brisbane to Darwin and get there in 3 or 4 days, it may be best to pack only the essential equipment. You can mount a rooftop tent, pack chairs, a portable table, a gas bottle with a single gas burner, sleeping bags (left inside the rooftop tent), a backpack with kitchen equipment, a thermal pot, a cast iron pan and pot, and a first aid kit. This example list of equipment is quick to set up and even quicker to pack.
However, if you plan to stay in one place for a longer period, you may want to consider adding extra items to your pile of equipment, like a gazebo, or second table, maybe two-burner stove, solar panels, and other useful things.
Although crocs were already covered, there are still more dangers to watch out for in the waters of Australia.
- Be shark smart and crock smart – While saltwater crocodiles normally live in estuaries and rivers, they can also travel along the shore, so you don’t want to be mistaken for lunch, especially in places like Port Douglas. In fact, during the summer months there is a constant monitoring of the Four Mile Beach by helicopter to spot crocs.
- Another thing to watch out for is stingers and box jellyfish, which appear in the waters of Queensland and the Northern Territory when the ocean turns warm. These creatures can be deadly, so it’s important to take appropriate precautions, such as wearing a stinger suit.
- Cone snail – while it may look beautiful with its striking shell, it is actually extremely venomous. There is a small chance you may come across one on the beach, so it’s important not to touch anything you don’t recognise.
- Pufferfish – some people may not find them aesthetically pleasing, but they are actually quite interesting creatures. However, it’s important to be cautious around them as they are poisonous.
Outback camping without a campfire does not work for us. A campfire is a must-have in every place we go (except when it’s a total fire ban).
Even though we may be tired after a long day of driving or hiking, we always find the energy to build a small campfire and spend some time together, watching the bush TV.
I love spoiling my family by cooking or baking something special while we sit and enjoy the warmth of the fire. Whether it’s a delicious damper, hearty beef stew, or sweet raspberry shortbread, the possibilities are endless. It’s a great way for us to bond over good food and even better company.
It’s always a good idea to carry enough water when camping.
When we used to travel with a camper trailer, we had a 120L tank filled with water. In addition, we carried a 20-litre can and a 10-litre water bottle to top up our smaller water bottles in the car. We always assume that there would be no water available in the area where we planned to stay, so we made sure to have enough water with us.
When you are outback camping, it is important to remember that you are a visitor in nature. It’s essential to leave the environment in the same state or even better than when you arrived, so when you are ready to hit the road:
- leave everything as you found it
- take all your rubbish with you
- don’t cut trees. There is plenty of dry firewood everywhere
- don’t drive on dunes
- use existing fire rings
- don’t use detergents near waterways
Here you can find our 21 Best Tips to Australian off-road driving adventure.
Our best campsites (free and paid)
Below we list our favourites campgrounds. We list them here for remoteness and uniqueness. If you are around make sure to stay a night or two.
Outback Camping at Diamantina River Bushcamp (QLD)
The campsite has basic facilities, including toilets, showers and fire pits, and there are several walking trails and picnic areas in the vicinity. It’s an ideal destination for nature lovers, birdwatchers and photographers.
One Arm Point Aboriginal Community, Cape Leveque (WA)
The One Arm Point Aboriginal Community is a unique and culturally significant campground located on the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia. It is owned and operated by the local Bardi Jawi people and offers visitors an authentic and immersive Aboriginal experience. The campsite is located on a beautiful beach, and visitors can go fishing in the crystal-clear waters.
Outback Camping at Seven Emu Station (NT)
The Seven Emu Station is a working cattle station located in the rugged and remote Barkly Tablelands of the Northern Territory. The campground has basic facilities, including toilets and showers, and there are several walking trails and scenic drives in the area.
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