I used to think of camping as something of a ‘whim’ weekender; an always-there-for-you option that, provided you have the right gear, would see you jet off to a forest clearing with little to no preparation of pre-planning. I was wrong.
Nowadays, and with camping more popular than ever as people seek an eco-friendly and affordable way to reconnect with nature after a year spent indoors, finding a campground that’s actually available is harder than booking an holiday house over a public holiday weekend. And that’s saying something.
After recently investing in some camping gear, I decided to book a camping spot for a last-minute weekend. I checked the National Parks website for available campgrounds and found absolutely nothing within a three-hour drive of Sydney. I even called up the hotline and spoke with a very kind and patient man who did his best to manually seek out a spot for me. Still, nothing. In fact, all around NSW, most camping spots through the government website are booked out on weekends for the rest of the year.
Now I’m no rule breaker, so while I wasn’t prepared to just rock up to a campground and pitch my tent illegally without making a contribution to the National Park, I still wanted to go camping for the weekend, and I wasn’t about to give up. That’s when I discovered something that would change the way I camped forever: private camping sites.
It works like so. Farmers, rural dwellers, people on property; they all have a lot of land and thus, plenty of spare space. Should someone with a grassy clearing, private spot of grass or empty paddock wish to make a little extra cash, they can list their campground on private camping sites for people like you and me to book. It’s basically Airbnb for camping sites.
In Australia, Hipcamp is the most popular platform for booking private campgrounds. Originally YouCamp, the Aussie start-up was absorbed by the San Francisco company, and now the booking platform has hundreds of thousands of places to book, from campsites and tiny homes to RVs and yurts.
Co-founder and managing director of Hipcamp Australia, James Woodford, told Traveller that Hipcamp is “the 21st century equivalent of knocking on a farmer’s door and asking to roll out a swag in the back paddock”.
And that’s almost exactly what I did when I booked a campsite in the Hunter Valley region a few weeks ago. I rocked up to a farm less than two hours north of Sydney, drove through a series of cow-spotted paddocks and vineyards and all the way through to a private clearing at the rear of the property.
My campsite provided free firewood, was flanked by a red creek — with a resident platypus! — and was the absolute perfect spot to set up camp for a night away. Even better, it was just $25 to book. While my campsite allowed a small number of guests at the same time, every party kept quiet and kept to themselves, though I hear you can contact the host to book out a spot in its entirety (bush doof, anyone?).
Another pro for private camping? Most hosts will allow you to have a fire when the same cannot always be said for National Parks. Of course, this means you need to exercise caution and follow area-specific fire regulations.
For the most part, though, the only rule is that you respect the land and the rules of the host. That means picking up after yourself, taking away all rubbish, and soaking any remains of a fire before you leave.