Outback camping in Australia is one of the best options to see all Australian wonders while driving. The distances between the attractions are sometimes huge, so in some cases, you have to stop for the night in the middle of nowhere. It is important to know how to set up your camp. Everything we covered here is based on our experience.
Pick a safe camping spot
When travelling, there are endless options to set your camp. However, It is important to set it properly 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
- water source – you should always carry spare water, but if you have a natural water source, you can use it for washing up dishes or swimming
- even surface – you don’t want to sleep and roll sideways
- the beauty of the camping spot – that is a bonus if you can get it
Moreover, try to avoid camp spots with big gum trees as they can drop branches unexpectedly, or what’s worse, dead trees close to our car or tent.
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If you are in a crocodile-infested country (Northern Australia), you also set our camp at least 100 meters from the water edge. It happened that crocs attacked tourists in the past, who camped too close to the water edge.
You can also go for a walk around and look for any signs of crocodiles (drag marks, footprints, broken bush sticks). Avoid spots where there is a fisherman’s camp nearby as fish scraps can attract crocks, especially at night.
Also, you never collect water from river banks if there is a chance crocodiles live there. If you need to go to the water edge, you never go to the same spot twice.
Crocodiles are good pattern readers and can recognize repeated behaviour. You do not swim or fish in north Australia waterways if there is no clear indication that it’s a “croc free zone”.
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 the mice may come inside your bonnet to warm up for the night, and while inside, they can damage your cables.
Before you go to sleep, check if animals can carry nothing away. I mean plates, cutlery from dinner time, dishwasher sponge and SHOES – don’t leave them outside!
It’s pretty normal that if you leave anything outside, it will be taken by nocturnal animals.
If you press your tent zip and it opens easily with your finger, use your shoelace (it’s handy to have shoes inside the tent) or a piece of cord to close the zip, preventing it from opening outside.
Dingos love to visit camps, and during our Simpson Desert adventure, they were very committed to getting inside our tent.
Invest in a warm sleeping bag. Nights in a desert are cold. The temperature can drop below zero in the wintertime. Condensation in the tent could also be an issue so buy a tent with breathable fabric.
Purchase GPS Navigator and desert maps. It is so easy to get lost in the desert. Constant winds cause sand to fly around and hiding tracks.
Camping on any beach is not allowed everywhere, so plan your trip and do your research before deciding to the beach camp.
If you never took your 4WD to the beach, make sure you read some hints and “how-to” articles before you hit the sand. There is a big chance to get stuck, so recovery gear is necessary. And make sure you are allowed to drive on the beach.
If it’s a soft sand beach, deflate your tires to 15 psi to not get bogged. Beach camping could be a very nice experience during perfect weather conditions, but you often find ideal weather the first day and crazy winds after.
You always try to find natural shelter – dunes or bushes. We always struggle to sleep during windy nights. Keep an eye on the tides. Predict how high they can go up. After all, you don’t want the ocean running 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…
Never drive on the beach beyond a dedicated exit point.
Free Outback Camping
We love free camps, not because they are free (yes, that also is important), but because it is often the best place to camp you could think of.
Who doesn’t like the complete freedom to choose your spot, where there is no one to be seen and lots of birds flying around and kangaroos coming to your camp to see who arrived this time?
You have many places like that in our “Must camp there if close by” notebook. When doing outback camping, free camp spots don’t need to be pre-booked, but if the camp is in a popular spot or busy route near a highway, then stop for the day early to secure a spot for yourself. Places like that fill up quickly!
Animals and insects while camping
Well… it is Australia. Everything here is a potential danger. What is important to know:
- 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.
- Don’t leave food or valuables outside – Look for hungry birds on the branches (Kookaburras in particular), or strolling casually across your camp wild turkey as they can “steal” your meal or car keys.
- Snakes – can be spotted especially when hiking early in the morning. It is better to assume that most of them are really dangerous. Pythons should be fine but don’t leave your small dog with them for too long. When spotted, snakes move back or stay still (black, red belly), but that’s not always the case. I wear long walking shoes and do not allow my daughter to walk in front of me. We always had a rule while hiking. Nell was always walking in the middle.
- Australian mosquitoes – There are around 300 species of them found in AU. I think I meet all of them in person. So far, my worst encounter was definitely Kakadu National Park – a beautiful Muirella campground.
- Flies – Outback pets. They follow us everywhere, and in some places, they sit in hundreds on our backs. They are very “friendly” and will get to our ears, eyes, and nose if you allow them. If someone doesn’t have at least one of them buzzing happily around, the rest of the family looks at that person in a really suspicious way.
- Midges – Tiny, bloodsucking flies found near ocean mangrove trees are around. I hate those suckers – so tiny that it is hard to see them. They sneak to tents and through the nets. I always have a strong allergic reaction, so outback camping in places where they exist is definitely not for me.
- Dingo – looks like a dog but is not a dog. It can be dangerous when spotted in a pack. Please don’t feed them, and keep an eye on small kids when dingo is close by.
- Crocodiles – There are two types of crocodiles in Australia, freshwater and saltwater (commonly called salties). Freshies are small and timid. On the other hand, salties are a completely different story – don’t come close, don’t shoot selfies with them. They are opportunists and machines designed to kill.
- Goannas – they are con artists, will get too locked ice boxes, jump from trees and access stuck up high stuff that looked safely stored. Keep small children and pets away.
- Kangaroos and wallabies – I love them, fluffy and beautiful, except Red Kangaroos – they are big and could be aggressive. I’m always wary around them.
- “Drop bears“ – predatory version of koala, it can attack people by surprise that walk beneath them by dropping onto their heads from above… Seems legit, but fortunately it is not – that’s just a hoax designed to scare tourists. Koalas exist, but it’s 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
Everyone has different needs, and you also have a different setup depending on where you go and how fast you have to get there.
For example, if you need to travel a long distance from Brisbane to Darwin and get there in 3 or 4 days, you take and pack only basic equipment to make it easier. Mount rooftop tent, pack chairs, portable table, gas bottle with single gas burner, sleeping bags (leave them on the roof tent), backpack with kitchen equipment, thermos cooker, cast iron pan and pot, first aid kit. It is quick to set it up and even quicker to pack.
If you plan a holiday where you want to stay longer in one place, you add extra things. You add to the pile of equipment: a gazebo, a second table, two-burner stove, solar panels and a few other things that could be useful where you go (like fish rods when bush camping close to the ocean), generator and toilet tent (if you were planning deep outback camping), fan – if it is in the middle of hot summertime somewhere in tropical Queensland.
Crocs were already covered, so that it? Unfortunately not.
- Be shark smart and crock smart – saltwater crocodiles normally live in estuaries and rivers, but they can travel along the shore. You don’t want to be taken for lunch by mistake, e.g. in Port Douglas. They patrol the four miles beach by helicopter in summer to spot crocodiles.
- When the water in the ocean turns warm – stingers and box jellyfish appear in Queensland and Northern Territory waters.
- Cone snail – looks beautiful and has a beautiful shell, but it is extremely venomous. There is a small chance it will end up on the beach in front of us, so don’t touch anything you don’t recognise
- Pufferfish – I’m not too fond of it, that fish is ugly, everything you touch is poisonous, and it’s notorious for picking our hooks when you go fishing…
Outback camping without a campfire does not work for us. For us campfire is a must in every place we go (except when it’s a total fire ban).
Even though we are tired after an all-day drive or hike, we always find enough strength to build a small campfire and spend some time together, watching bush TV…
I like to spoil my family and try to cook or bake something while you sit and watch the flames. It could be damper, beef stew or raspberry shortbread. Possibilities are endless.
Always try to be water independent (at least to some extent),
When we travelled with a camper trailer, we had a 120L tank full of water. We also carry a 20-litre canister and a 10 litres water bottle to top up our small water bottles in the car. You always assume there is no water in the proximity you plan to stay.
Remember, when you are outback camping, you are only a visitor, so let’s make sure nature is happy when you leave, so when you pack:
- 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)
One Arm Point Aboriginal Community, Cape Leveque (WA)