Camping in Australia tips: Five things first-timers need to know

With international borders closed, there's never been a better time to try out camping here in Australia - and newcomers are booking out campsites across the country.

"As soon as people could travel, our sales skyrocketed" says Steven Wright, chief executive of BIG4 Holiday Parks.

"People are looking for the outdoor experience, they're looking for the road trip… they can't go overseas, so where else to go but for a camping holiday to the fresh air of regional Australia?"

Traditionally, camping has had a reputation for being uncomfortable and inconvenient. However, many newcomers are discovering it's anything but, as operators move to resort-style models and van-share arrangements like Camplify take off.

From beachside campsites with kangaroos who get into your camp kitchen to campsites with heated floors, claw-foot bathtubs and baristas manning coffee carts, there's something for everyone in the camping sphere – even the most reluctant naysayers.

"I think a lot of people in their 40s or 50s probably remember caravan parks when they were teenagers. There weren't many facilities, there would be run-down toilets, showers with hot water if you're lucky – but there's been a total transformation in the last 15 years" says Wright.

And while the grey nomads have been the loudest adopters and the #vanlife Instagram trend remains influential, there's also been another unlikely group converted to camping.

"There's been a huge surge in camping in the last ten years driven by music festivals", says Wright.

"We're now starting to see that generation, as they get older, start moving into camping because they've had experience before".

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While disco waterslides, kids club and on site cafes might not fit everyone's idea of camping, apps like Hipcamp allow those after a more traditional experience to book camping on private farms, properties and land across the country.

But before you invest heavily in a brand new bell tent and sub-zero sleeping bags, it's worthwhile finding out if sleeping under the stars is right for you.

Ease in

If you're camping, try to head out with friends who have done it before and can show you the ropes, or choose a campground with permanent tents where everything is set up for you. Most gear can be borrowed from friends or picked up second-hand online, and once you're on the ground, you'll find people around you are helpful if you magically forget something you need,

Get planning

Camping rewards practical planners, list makers and conscientious souls. Many campsites book out months in advance or operate on a ballot system for peak periods so it's best to do some research and checkout the sites available so you avoid ending up next to the dump point. There are plenty of what-to-pack lists available online, but try to take only what you need. It's also worth checking if everything will fit into your car before you head off - it will help you work out if you really need that inflatable flamingo for the river.

Sort your pantry

Food is one of the biggest things to put some planning and effort into. Camping doesn't have to be all sausage sangers, but it's important to consider how you'll store and refrigerate your food (and drinks), and it's critical to check whether you'll need a gas BBQ or camp stove, if there is a camp kitchen available or if you're able build a campfire (remember a total fire ban means no toasting marshmallows). If this feels like too much hard work, remember there are campsites with QR codes where you can order food from the on-site café, and get a text message to pick it up when it's ready. Have a little cash on hand as well; some campsites are visited by everything from food trucks to locals selling fresh oysters. And of course if you're in town, shop local and eat local as much as you can.

Be social

While camping is a great option for social distancing, camping is social by nature. Expect to get invited to sundowner drinks, have to borrow something, or lend a hand. At most campsites, community trumps anonymity, and it's this friendly factor that makes camping an attractive holiday option for some (and not so appealing for others). Expect tyre-kicking amongst the grey nomads and lots of socialising between kids (be sure to have enough snacks and toys to share). Being social also involves being considerate - this means cleaning up after yourself in shared areas, leaving nothing behind, and keeping the noise down after 10pm.

Slow down

Kids tend to roam free range on scooters around campsites, so be extra diligent when driving and stick to the general 10km/hr limit.

Five great locations for first timers:

Cockatoo Island, Sydney

COCKATOO ISLAND, NSW:
In Sydney's early European history, prison wardens thought that waking up to harbour views was a punishment. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Cockatoo Island has done time as a convict prison, dockyard and a reformatory school for naughty girls. Now, the largest island in Sydney Harbour has cafes, picnic spots, a thumping art scene and runs convict escape tours and a haunted history tour.

Photo: Ethan Rohloff/Destination NSW

A UNESCO World Heritage site accessible by ferry from the Sydney CBD, Cockatoo Island has campsites as well as permanent tents with camp beds and a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. See cockatooisland.gov.au

The Basin, Sydney

A short ferry ride from Palm Beach, The Basin has a beautiful calm swimming area, bushwalks and indigenous rock art nearby, as well as lace monitors and wallabies who saunter through the campsite like they own it. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

North Star Holiday Resort Hastings Point

A short run from Brisbane, North Star sits across from the beach and has options from huge apartments to private en-suite camping sites with hot water showers, waterslides, kid's club and an adults-only zone with pool and spa. See northstar.com.au

Tidal River

Photo: iStock

The main campsite at Wilsons Promontory National Park is popular for good reason, with a choice of beach or river swimming, campsites or cabins, and wombats pottering about at night. See parks.vic.gov.au

Binna Burra

Located in the Gold Coast hinterland and with a new access road, Binna Burra has rainforest campsites and permanent safari tents available for visitors, with access to Lamington National Park, bushwalks and waterfalls. See binnaburralodge.com.au

See also: Secret's out: 18 of Australia's best hidden beaches

See also: The 20 things you must do on a summer road trip

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