Vandwelling, or living in your vehicle
Living in your vehicle (campervan, 4WD or car) and camping can be a great cost-effective solution to explore a territory as big as Australia.
However, some rules apply—for instance, you can’t just park wherever you feel like camping overnight. A few cities and towns have strict bylaws regarding overnight parking and camping. If you’re lucky and the ranger or manager is in a good mood, you will simply be asked to leave the non-designated area, but you could just as well get a hefty fine (a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars!) for illegal camping.
Choosing a vehicle
Campervans were designed for, well, camping, so you can live in your vehicle fairly comfortably. Depending on its size and layout, you may be able to set up a small kitchen unit between the driving area and the berth (so that you can cook inside the vehicle) or at the back (where you’ll be standing outside for meal prep). The main downside of campervans is that they are not permitted on unsealed roads (unless they are a 4WD), so you have to stick to sealed/bitumen or well-maintained roads.
Depending on the layout, you can set up a sleeping area much like in a campervan. However, many WHV holders opt for the rooftop tent option—it’s exactly that, setting up a tent on the roof of the parked vehicle at night! There are a few downsides, including being easy to spot (a rooftop tent kind of stands out…), potential issues in case of strong wind and heavy rain, and having to climb in and out of it (sometimes in the middle of the night if you need to go pee!).
This type of vehicle is cheaper than a campervan and most are 4WDs. It’s a great option for solo travellers. Couples may find it a bit tight to sleep in—the best solution is often to use a traditional tent or a rooftop tent to have more space.
If you’re going to camp, invest in a roomy tent with waterproof and breathable walls. Remember, the weight isn’t an issue, it will stay in the vehicle, you won’t have to carry it around! The key is to find a tent cool enough to withstand Australia’s heat, yet warm enough when the temperature go down at night (which is common in the Outback).
Are there other options?
WHV holders occasionally travel in smaller, cheaper vehicles, like minivans. Living in a minivan may be difficult, but you can always sleep in a tent.
Camping around Australia, where to park and camp overnight
There are several options available to those who live out of their vehicle.
The mecca of WHV holders who live in their vehicle—they are free! You’ll find free campsites all over Australia but mostly in remote areas and small towns (and rarely on the coast). Some of them only allow self-contained vehicles, i.e. those with their own fresh water tank, waste water tank and toilet.
Towns who offer travellers a free campsite usually hope to boost their economy. Do your part, shop in town, grab a drink, chat with locals!
Free campsites are usually barebones—consider yourself lucky if toilets and a BBQ grill are available.
State forests are usually free to camp throughout Australia. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but remember these campsites are pretty remote and toilets are not often available.
It can also be free to camp overnight in designated rest areas, but check on Wikicamps Australia or Camps Australia Wide before getting ready for bed.
As the name says, the point is to allow drivers to rest for a few hours to avoid accidents, so don’t overstay your welcome—a 12-, 24- or 48-hour limit usually applies.
You will find rest areas along many Australian highways. If you’re lucky, the “driver reviver” shop will be open (usually during holidays and long weekends) and you’ll find a free coffee or tea and a handful of cookies.
Donation-based community campsites and other low-cost campsites
A few towns operate campsites to encourage travellers to stop by and boost the local economy. Toilets and showers may be available. Some of these campsites are donation-based, you’ll put your contribution in a small envelope when you arrive or leave.
Camping in hotel parking lots
If you don’t need a room but simply a parking space, hotels in a few rural areas or small town may welcome your vehicle for the night as long as you grab a drink or dinner in the hotel (prices are usually very affordable). You may also take a shower and hook up to the power for free or for a small fee.
Note that toilets may be closed overnight and that a few hotels only accept self-contained vehicles. You’re also supposed to sleep in your vehicle, tents aren’t welcome.
Casual camping on showgrounds and ovals
Down Under, a “showground” is a place where events occur, from agricultural shows to concerts, from fairs to dirt track racing. As for the “oval,” it’s a venue for cricket and Australian football. But as far as you’re concerned, it’s a potential large, flat campground and some towns agree with your perspective, as long as no event is scheduled.
You may have to pay a small fee. Toilets are always available, sometimes you will have access to showers and power.
In tourist areas, showgrounds can be very popular with campers and spots are limited, so show up early or book when it’s possible.
National parks are managed by state and territory governments, so there’s no national pass. Rules, fees and payment methods vary greatly. You may find toilets (often a dry toilet) and occasional solar-powered showers on the campsite.
Note that you can occasionally find free campsites in national parks. Otherwise, the fees below apply and they depend on the location and the amenities.
- New South Wales: Free campsites do exist, otherwise the maximum fee charged is $16 per person. You can usually pay on site and book your spot online, over the phone or through a National Parks and Wildlife Service bureau. Book ahead in high season for the most touristy parks.
- Queensland:The fee is $6.55/night/person. You can book your spot over the phone or online using the Queensland National Parks Booking Service. Before camping in a park, forest or reserve, you must obtain a camping permit and pay your camping fees.
- Northern Territory:The fee depends on the campground facilities. Fees for category A and B campgrounds are collected on-site, between $3.30/person and $6.60/person. Category C campgrounds can be booked ahead online, by phone or through the park.
- Western Australia: In popular national parks like King Leopold Ranges, Purnululu, Windjana Gorge and Dirk Hartog Island, expect to pay between $13/person and $20/person. You can book online. In other locations, fees range from $11/person for a campground with facilities (toilets, shower, picnic area) to $8/person for a barebones campground. In less touristy locations, a ranger may come by once a day to collect your fee, or you may have to drop it in an “honesty box”!
- South Australia: The fees range from $9/person to $20/person, depending on the location and the facilities. If you want power and more comfort, expect to pay around $25-$30/person. Spots must be booked and paid online or through an agent.
- Tasmania: The fee is around $13/two people, additional fees apply for extra campers. There isn’t (yet) an online booking system, so you must pay on-site at the visitor centre or drop your fee in an envelope when you arrive.
- Victoria: The fee depends on the season (high, low, shoulder season). Budget around $22-$30/site or $9-$11/per person (but the fee is often per site, regardless of the number of campers). You must book and pay ahead online or over the phone.
Note that camping and accommodation fees are usually in addition to national park entry fees, where applicable.
Private campgrounds and caravan parks
From family-owned campgrounds to large holiday park providers, there are plenty of options. Some campgrounds are dedicated to tourists but others are home to seasonal workers and long-term residents.
Your spot can be powered (usually around $30-$40) or non-powered ($20-$30) and access to toilets is free or paid (in which case you’ll need a key, a code or a card). Some campsites have a camp kitchen indoors or outdoors with a fridge.
The closer you are to the coast and big cities, the higher the fee. Aim for inland or remote locations if you need to stretch your budget.
The fee is usually for one spot for two campers, additional fees can apply if you’re travelling with a group or as a family.
Is living in a campsite while working doable?
Many WHV holders who take up seasonal work choose to live on a campsite. You can potentially save a lot of money if you find a free spot close to your work site. However, a maximum stay often applies, e.g. 36 hours every 30 days. Besides, free campsites rarely have showers, and when they do, you probably won’t get hot water. A hot shower does make a huge difference after a long workday in the cold or under the sun!
You’re likely to be more comfortable in a paid campsite, and many offer a weekly rate (around $100). You’ll get a better overall experience and better facilities (hot showers, camp kitchen, etc.).
Several chains of holiday parks offer a membership option for a fee—every time you stay in one of the affiliated parks, you’ll get a discount and access to various perks:
- Big4: $50 membership for a 10% discount
- Kui Parks: $28 membership for a 10% discount
- Top Parks/Discovery Parks: $50 membership, discount of 10% up to a maximum of $40
Where do I stay if I want to stop by a city?
A few cities do have campsites nearby. You will be in the suburb but going downtown shouldn’t be too difficult using the local public transit system (bus, train, etc.). This way, you can leave your vehicle at the campsite and you won’t have to worry about parking in the city centre.
You could also look for a place with a private parking spot on Airbnb. Rates can be very reasonable if you’re willing to stay in a suburb and if you book ahead. New to Airbnb? Feel free to use this link (or ask around for a coupon code), you’ll get a discount up to €25 on your first night.
Finally, check if you can find a hostel with a parking lot that welcomes campers. You may be able to use the facilities (showers, etc.) for a fee.
Two camping apps to the test
To find campsites all over the country, your smartphone is your best friend. We put the two main apps to the test:
- Wikicamps, a user generated database of camp sites, caravan parks, day stops, backpacker hostels, rest areas and more in Australia.
- Camps Australia Wide, the digital version of the paper guide, a cheaper option if you don’t mind the fact you won’t have the road maps included in the book.
Note that to fully use these apps, you need access to Internet—feedback (price updates, comments are only available if you’re connected). Offline, all you get is a map with campsite locations.
Wikicamps ($8, available for IOS, Android and Windows devices)
We love: Australia’s top app for campers offers current, accurate fee listings and there’s plenty of recent feedback on campsites. It’s a great app for the latest info, including facilities available or nearby (showers, washing machines, etc.), parking spots and sights.
Meh…: The filter system is efficient but it lacks a price filter—the only option is “paid” or “free” campsite. Parking spots and sights are hard to find and read on the app—sometimes, you have to check all the dots on the map to find what you’re looking for.
Camps Australia Wide ($9.99 available for IOS and Android devices)
We love: You can filter campsites based on your budget—“free,” “low cost,” etc. Unlike with the Wikicamps app, you don’t have to click on each campsite to know the fee.
Meh…: There’s much less feedback than on the Wikicamps app. Prices aren’t always accurate, they can be higher or lower once you get there. The app focuses on campsites and doesn’t mention shower availability and sights (which are in the paper version of the guide).
And the winner is… Wikicamps, the most comprehensive app. Sure, the filter system could be improved, but you’ll get all the info you need to live in your vehicle and traveller feedback is great for the latest news.
I’m a camper, I need my campfire!
Australians love campfires and as long as it’s not bushfire season (which is often a total fire ban), you can usually have a campfire.
Campfire safety and rules apply, check before you get the matches out. Fires are not permitted in certain places and at certain times of the year or under specific weather conditions. Sometimes, you can only use the fire pit available on the campsite.
Always bring your own wood. Cutting or collecting wood in national parks is absolutely prohibited and you will be fined. The removal of fallen trees and deadwood can lead to soil erosion and loss of vital habitat for native animals, birds and insects.
Where do I find showers, power and Internet access on the road?
Taking showers on the road
In some towns, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a public shower next to the public toilets. Showers can also be available on the beach (cold water only). For outdoors shower, only expect the privacy of a changing room nearby!
You can also find paid showers in service stations (“roadhouses” Down Under). Hostels and public swimming pools may open their facilities for a fee. The Wikicamps app has great info on where to find showers.
Paid campsites almost always have shared bathrooms with showers and hot water.
No showers available around? Skip the not-so-eco-friendly wipes and freshen up with a wet cloth. Stop by a paid campsite once in while to take a real shower, you may find it’s worth it after a while.
Powering up your vehicle and charging devices
You can use one of the following three options:
- A powered campsite: You’ll pay more than for an unpowered spot, but you will be able to hook up the power to your campervan or vehicle. If you’re using a tent, bring an extension cable for outdoor use and a multi-socket plug adaptor to charge your devices. A few campsites, especially those with a camp kitchen, will let you plug your device for a few hours, while you’re cooking, for instance.
- A secondary battery: Installing a dual battery system in your campervan will give you power without draining the starting battery, and it charges off the vehicle alternator.
- Charging while driving: While you’re driving (otherwise it drains the battery!), you can plug your devices into a USB port or a converter in your vehicle.
Outside your vehicle, you may find plugs in coffee shops, fast food places and public libraries. Always bring a multi-socket plug adaptor to charge several devices at the same time!
Finding Internet access
Public libraries may have an open Wi-Fi network but it may be limited for non-members.
Malls, coffee shops and restaurants can be good spots for free Wi-Fi access. The following chains have free Wi-Fi: Bunnings, Hungry Jacks (limited access), OfficeWorks and Starbucks (few locations outside of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane).
In McDonalds’—aka ”Maccas” Down Under!—, you can connect to “Macca’s Free Wi-Fry.” You have to register (it’s free) for unlimited access, otherwise you’ll get a 30-minute time limit.
If you have a plan with data, you can use your smartphone as a hotspot to connect your laptop to the Internet.
Telstra customers can enjoy Australia’s largest Wi-Fi hotspot network, Telstra Air. With the Telstra Air App, you’re automatically connected to the nearest hotspot in range. In cities and towns, the hotspot is often located in public phones, look for the pink ones with the Wi-Fi icon.
A word of warning on public Wi-Fi: stay safe and protect your privacy on unsecured networks, especially when checking your bank account.
Main articles about the WHV to Australia
16 Good Reasons to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa
The Working Holiday Visa Adventure as a Solo Traveller
Applying for a Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417) To Australia: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide with Screenshots
Globe WHV insurance policy highlights
Your first steps in Australia with a Working Holiday Visa
15 Tips for a Successful WHV Experience
Working in Australia: Opportunities, tips for backpackers and job search advice
Fruit Picking Jobs in Australia: What, Where, How (and Why!)
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