We all remember them. The balmy days in your favourite caravan park, lounging under an annexe with a view of a long white beach and a point break too good to resist.
The problem is that parks are a pot pourri of choice. Add in the occasional free or bush camp and the decisions are mind boggling.
After all, the variety of campsites range from nothing but level ground with a view up to resort-style parks with jumping pillow, Wi-Fi, fancy swimming pool and coffee shop.
But cast aside your despair of choosing a park — it’s not as tricky as it seems.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Most parks these days have their own websites. But, as there are over 1600 parks around Australia, planning your next getaway could mean ploughing through enough websites to make your eyes water.
Thankfully, there are booking and information sites such as Turu.com.au that try to conveniently condense everything in one place, enabling you to do your homework before you leave home.
Some caravan park chains have also tried simplifying the choice. For example, about four years ago Top Tourist Parks rebranded as Top Parks. That rebranding saw Top Parks’ offering divided into three logical and helpful categories; caravan parks for straight-up minimalists; holiday parks for young families who want just a little more such as a simple pool for the kids; and a resort category for those folks who have more cash to splash on a park with all the on-trend bells and whistles such as a coffee shop selling smashed avo on toast with cold-dripped coffee. This classification recognises the fact that travellers want different experiences on their holidays and have different budgets, too.
If the simple life is for you then search out parks that are listed just as caravan parks and don’t contain words such as ‘resort’ or even ‘family’ in their advertising. These are more traditional and most likely to evoke memories of yesteryear.
Consider ones such as Fossicker Caravan Park at Glen Innes, an hour south of Tamworth, NSW. This park is suited to Grey Nomads looking for nothing more than to experience a friendly smiling face, and are satisfied with clean amenities, level sites as well as welcoming and informed customer service from owners and managers.
These parks are usually cheaper which is great news if you’re travelling on a budget. When you find the right traditional park remember to keep it and your site clean by cleaning as you go and be friendly and greet fellow campers. These are just two ways you can enhance the experience for everyone.
If you are looking for a holiday with the family, location is key and clean amenities are essential. Plus you need a little something extra to keep the kids happy and create amazing family memories.
Take Sapphire Beach near Coffs Harbour, NSW for example. With its beautiful location, this park is typical of the sort that attracts the attention of all ages including family groups. The key when searching out a park such as Sapphire Beach is to look for those little extras including a camp kitchen for communal cooking, basic children’s playground, games room, picnic area and perhaps a wading pool for the very young.
When it comes to family adventures, this should get you started. Young families should concentrate on the park or attractions nearby so you don’t need to take too many toys but should have a few favourites to keep the kids happy.
Sometimes it’s good to go a little old school and take some books to read. And consider taking headlamps for a little old-fashioned ‘possum spotting’. These things cost little but potentially give so much. Similarly take a few pencils and drawing or writing books to stimulate growing minds of young storytellers or artists. Let them record their thoughts or ideas in a diary.
When it comes to the kids, always make sure they understand the rules of each park you stay in and remember you are all sharing with a whole lot of other travellers. That means being mindful of noise.
Perhaps the best tip for family caravanners is to be organised. Consider using a basic itinerary so you know where you are heading and perhaps what you might be doing. Have games, music or movies for the kids during wet weather or when driving — it might help keep the grips and groans to a minimum.
RESORT STYLE LIVING
Newer resort-style parks mean you’re paying for access to a whole holiday menu of possibilities from tennis courts and woodfired pizza ovens to snazzy swimming pools, on-site restaurants and much more.
Perhaps bridging the gap between a holiday park and a fully-fledged resort style park, Alivio Tourist Park Canberra, ACT, features basketball and tennis courts, swimming facilities and more.
The trick here is to remember that whether you use the facilities or not, you’re paying for them in the fee structure. If this is your cup of tea then check out online reviews, or talk to caravan club members to decide if parks such as Alivio offer the facilities you want and are likely to use.
When it comes to enjoying luxury facilities, the biggest tip is to be mindful of other campers. Luxury facilities also means top-notch cleanliness, so leave the facilities as you found them or better.
Remember, while the restaurant or cafe at the luxury park might be superb treats, there’s still much enjoyment to gain from an inexpensive cook-up in the camp kitchen or around the resort BBQ areas — and you’ll save a few dollars, too.
WHAT ABOUT FIDO?
The trouble with finding a perfect park is that it is not the end of the problem if you
are travelling with pets. If you spend a little time pounding the keyboard before you leave home you’re more likely to have a successful holiday.
Among these resources is turu.com.au. Filter your search with the word ‘pet’ and you get a long list of pet-friendly parks. Knock the list down a little further by narrowing your search by state or region and you’ll soon have the park you want.
You will also improve your chances of a great travelling experience by following up with a phone call to your chosen park. That’s because some parks have pet policies in place that require certain pet and owner behaviour conditions to be met. Fail to meet such requirements for your pet and your holiday won’t be the howling success you’ve been dreaming it would be.
Remember not all parks have the same rules — whatever might be allowed in one park may not be permitted in another. Rules might include keeping your dog on a lead and cleaning up their doggy doo, or being required to take them with you when you’re away from the park.
Consider this story about a pair of pet parrots from the crew at Neurum Creek Bush Retreat by the D’Aguilar National Park, north of Brisbane. Park rules insists caravanners take their pets if they leave their van.
Park manager Simon Gavin recalls one couple who arrived with two corellas and left them in their cage on a picnic table while they went for a walk. The couple returned to their van only to find two six-foot lace monitor lizards had smashed the cages and helped the two hapless parrots to shuffle off this mortal coil.
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
MEET DR BOB
When travelling, veterinarian and University of Queensland lecturer Bob Doneley says camping with dogs means taking responsibility for your pet. Doneley advises those travelling with dogs to be responsible for their medication, to clean up after them, and to be aware of local hazards such as ticks once you are in the park.
Doneley also recommends that owners use a tie-up chain that will allow the dog to exercise without wandering freely around the park.
Sometimes, a caravan park experience just won’t do. Author of Budget Rest Areas, Paul Smedley has toured Australia several times over, motoring about 50,000km every year seeking out rest areas and bush camps.
“First-time bush campers can find the idea a little bit daunting because they are out in the bush, in the middle of nowhere on their own,” he says. “So, they should try national park or state forest style camping grounds where they have a limited range of facilities and more than likely a few people around.”
Smedley says when caravanners get used to camping in those areas they can “venture further afield and try the out-of-the-way stuff when they’ll be a bit more on their own”.
You can find a good site, he advises, by looking for somewhere shady, especially in hotter months but branches sometimes fall off trees, so never park directly under them.
“Generally speaking, look for a site that’s clean, comfortable and quiet then enjoy yourself and leave it the same way you found it,” he says.
Some years ago, I came across George and Kay Sandeman hunkered down in a leafy campsite just north of Brisbane thinking about the caravanning they’ve enjoyed since their retirement.
Kay reckons the key to bush camping with their large fifth wheeler was to plan ahead. And George agrees. “We check all the sites ahead first,” he says. “If we are familiar with them there is no problem but if we are not familiar with them we look at them on the internet, especially Wikicamps.”
Caravanning guru Barbara Rutherford and her husband Bob said some of the best experiences have come quiet isolation somewhere where few others ever venture.
Bob’s advice is simple: “The further out of town, the better.” He says that’s because the troublemakers who might cause you some concern “are not going to travel a long way from town just to see if someone is there”.
With that in mind, both agree that you should always be aware of your surroundings and if you’re worried, don’t unhitch. Stay hitched and ready to drive off if necessary.
Happy bush camping requires enough food for a few days — and water is essential. Some bush camping old hands reckon a pump to draw water from a creek is worth considering. And, when it comes to food, make sure you have a good supply of fresh ingredients as well as tinned or bottled goods. That means you'll enjoy nutritious and affordable meals and an opportunity to enjoy local produce.
Top tip — make sure your vehicle and caravan are properly serviced and ready for the trip before you leave home. Another small but handy tip is to take a collapsible laundry bag and use it as a rubbish bin by lining with a garbage bag, and secure it to an awning pole with velcro.