Finding places to camp on private land: There's an app for that

Before social distancing was a tool to deter a deadly virus, escaping to the great outdoors and pitching a tent under the stars helped forge a different type of escape from the thrum of a big city and its people.

In 2013 Australian-based YouCamp pitched the idea of offering campsites on private land, launching the country's largest booking platform, offering about 1000 properties representing 50,000 campsites.

Now YouCamp has joined forces with San Francisco-based Hipcamp, a booking site offering more than 420,000 campsite listings, including glamping, RVs, tiny houses and yurts on land in the US, Canada, and Australia.

The co-founder and managing director of the now re-named Hipcamp Australia, James Woodford, says he wants to help people reclaim the sort of camping experience that has somehow become lost over the years, as crowded caravan parks and camping grounds took the place of the old-fashioned outdoors experience.

"We like to think we are re-claiming the right for people to have the kind of camping experience they choose. A platform like Hipcamp Australia is the 21st century equivalent of knocking on a farmer's door and asking to roll out a swag in the back paddock."

Woodford says there has been a boom in bookings as domestic properties start to open up after the COVID-19 lockdown.

"Compared to the same period last year we're up at least double the number of bookings we would normally see in our slower winter season ... Christmas and Easter are traditionally the two biggest camping weeks of the year. Post 'lockdown 1' we have seen every week like that for about three months," Woodford says. 

"This kind of uncrowded family-based tourism offered on Hipcamp properties is one of the very few, safe tourism opportunities that people can now enjoy."

Popular sites include Misty Mountain Nightcap Forest in Kunghur in NSW's Northern Rivers. It offers bush cabins and hundreds of hectares of space.


He says it's up to guests and hosts as to how much interaction with each other takes place, though many offer farm tours or activities such as camp oven cooking lessons.

"It's not compulsory but good old-fashioned country hospitality is the glue that holds private land camping together. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic we've asked hosts to avoid some of the usual courtesies like shaking hands."

While Hipcamp sites tend to be on private land only, the US includes public lands as well. Together the two platforms now list more than 420,000 campsites.

"We are proud of the fact that Hipcamp Australia will be run out of regional NSW [in Moruya on the far South Coast] and will continue to provide our hosts with extra income through droughts, the ups and downs of the prices of farm produce and now the economic challenges posed by the pandemic."