Wednesday 29 July 2015

Caravan Parks Vs National Parks Vs Free Camping

Caravan parks

By far our most popular choice of place to stay! We find caravan parks to be convenient, comfortable and (most of the time) safe places to stay. Caravan parks can be sourced online and booked well in advance, meaning if you like to be organised you can pretty much be planned and paid for before you even leave home.  We have stayed at a range of caravan parks, some are very basic with toilets showers and laundry and that’s it. These parks are usually ‘council’ parks which are run by the local councils. They are generally quite cheap to stay at and have a maximum of three nights stay. The majority of parks we stay at are Big 4, Top Tourist and Discovery parks. All of which we have paid annual memberships to, meaning we can save 10% off our stay. When you’re travelling six months this can really add up. With a laundry, playgrounds, swimming pools, showers and toilets, BBQ areas and campers kitchens; these caravan park stays are really comfortable!  They are a good place to ‘base’ yourself if you are in a town and want to explore. Most of the chain caravan parks have boom gates and security, so you feel that bit better about leaving your home and heading out for the day to do touristy things. Most have little kiosks that sell ice, milk and bread and some of the bigger ‘resort’ type parks have restaurants, and a caravan park on the Gold Coast even has a kids clubs so we can drop the kids for half an hour and have some kid free time! These parks make it so comfortable in fact, you don’t want to leave!

one of the hundreds of pools we have been! 

Set up for four nights on the Gold Coast, Queensland 
The Daly Waters caravan park, this is how closely they were packing people in!, this was taken at 1pm and by 4pm the place was full!

Coconut Palms Caravan Park, Cairns Queensland

The biggest downside to a caravan park is the cost. You get what you pay for, and unfortunately to have use of these facilities you can pay anywhere from $28 (our cheapest)- $97 (our most expensive to date) a night for a family for a powered site.

Another downside to caravan parks, I have found, is that sometimes they pack you into sites like sardines. A few of the busy coastal towns like 1770 in QLD and Coral Bay in WA have sites no bigger than 6x6 square and they are packed so tight your neighbours are right on top of you. Some of these places you can hear the old man next door snoring at night, you trip on other peoples tent ropes when you are walking to the toilets, and some sites is impossible to park the car near the camper. If your husband is being a dickhead and you want to yell at him a caravan park is not the place to do it as everyone will hear your conversation and may try to console you in the toilet block and tell you that ‘marriage is hard work’ (true story!)

National Parks

Look to be honest I don’t love bush camping and staying in places with no power or water. But if you want to have an experience then National Park (NP) camping is the best. Some of our favourite times on this trip have been when we have camped in NP’s. This type of camping allows you to get up close to natural wonders, like Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory, where we camped only a few hundred metres from the beautiful swimming hole and Wangi Falls. And camping under thousands of stars beside the beautiful Windjana Gorge in Western Australia was magical. You cannot get these experiences when you stay in a caravan park.

Probably the biggest pro for NP camping is the cost, with prices being around $25 a night for a family in WA and around $15 a family in NT. With our budget for six months being $50 a night it can be a great saving to stay a few nights here and there in NPs. There is also not a lot to spend money on while staying in these camps so our daily spending is usually next to nothing.

There is a real sense of ‘community’ when staying in a NP camping site. People share camp fires and stories and everyone is there for the same reasons, to enjoy the surroundings.

The biggest downside to staying in NP camps is that the showers and toilets are usually not as clean or well kept as a caravan park. Or sometimes there are no showers and toilets at all. We have a chemical toilet which has been a great purchase and has saved my girls (and me) having to pee in the bush at night. Some NP now days actually require you to have a chemical loo because they discourage people from using the bush as a toilet. As for a shower, well the kids are small enough to bath in a plastic tub in our ensuite tent. Craig and I are happy to have a ‘bush’ shower for a few nights (any longer and I demand a caravan park!)

There is no power and lots of the time no water, which is ok for us for three nights or so. Most NP require you to take away your rubbish with you, which isn’t a biggie, but just means you need a tub with a lid to store all food scraps etc so wildlife doesn’t get into your campsite. Another hard thing is being without a washing machine. I remember hearing in the middle of the night ‘Mummy I wee the bed’ when we were at a NP camp along the Gibb River. With no washing machines, I found myself hand washing sheets and doona in a plastic tub, then hanging them on a makeshift clothesline in the trees!

NPs were easy to use in WA and NT as they have a box at the front where you fill in your details and put your cash payment. The box is cleared daily by a parks officer who checks regos etc. The NPs in QLD in our opinion were bloody stupid. The only way to stay is to book ahead online, or by phoning. All well and good unless you are half way up Cape York Pennunsula with no mobile phone reception! Its also hard to predict when and where you will be so booking ahead for a NP can be a gamble if the weather turns bad or if you are running behind schedule.

Watching the sun set over the gorges at Windjana National Park, Kimberley Western Australia

National Park camping, Windjana Gorge Western Australia

Being that close to nature can mean snakes, frogs, lizards and lots of mozzies. As there are more dangers for the kids I am not as relaxed with them wandering off to play when we stay at NPs.  I think as a family we will do more National Park camping as the kids get older, and we plan to buy solar panels and a shower so we can stay for a week at a time.

Free camping

Before we left home to come on this holiday I couldn’t imagine myself free camping! Although I do love  stuff for free it is a hard concept to be ‘roughing’ it for any length of time. We haven’t done a great deal of free camping mainly based on the fact that we don’t feel that safe in a lot of places. Our soft floor canvas camper is not lockable and it takes a long time to set up and pack up. I think if we had a caravan we would have done heaps more free camps because you can lock your door and you can stay hooked on and leave if anyone gives you trouble. The best free camps, we found, were in WA and they are well off the road, grassed by the river type spots with toilets and sometimes with fire pits. They are a great place to stop for a ‘one nighter’ if we are travelling big distances between towns and want to break it up into two days.

Free camp at Robe River, Western Australia
The free roadside stops in NT were mostly dirty, graffiti amenities and bins over flowing. They were close to the road and were frequented by local people who may or may not hassle campers for money and booze. QLD free camps are mostly designed for people in caravans. Stops are bitumen, meaning its impossible to set up a camper, and spots are hard to get into as the ‘oldies’ stop around lunchtime and take all the space. The few spots we have stopped at have had toilets but they are of the cleanliness you would rather use the chemical loo. We have found some great little free camps using the WIKI camps app, but free camping is mostly only in the remote areas, as local councils in towns are closing down a lot of the free camping, making caravan parks an obvious choice if you are staying in towns.

Overnight set up at free camp found on WIKI camps, just out of Georgetown in far North Queensland 

Similar to caravan parks, we have spent a few nights at Station Stays when travelling in remote areas of Western Australia and Far North Queensland.  We enjoy staying at the stations as there are usually facilities such as toilets and showers and some even have a washing machine or BBQ. Prices are around the $25 a night to stay.

Set up at Ellenbrae Station Stay in the Kimberley, Western Australia 

We have also stayed two nights in motel accommodation in the Daintree and Mareeba QLD due to us being sick one night and raining the other. These stays break the budget but are unavoidable on occasion.

 I think when it comes down to it, you could camp all around Australia for free or in NPs if you had the right set up and were happy to rough it. You could also stay in Big 4 parks the whole way around and pay top dollar but have comforts of home. It depends on your budget, your rig, your timeframes and your willingness to camp in these areas.

Us? Well we like a bit of everything and have found a mix of Caravan parks, National Parks and free camping to be the most effective way to travel.

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