We discovered bush camping in the days when you could just rock up somewhere, plonk yourself down and use a self-registration envelope to pay the fees. It was convenient, easy and gave us the flexibility we needed when we were touring around the country.
How things have changed.
First, Queensland introduced a compulsory booking system a couple of years ago. The camping fees were reasonable, particularly for families, but what do you do when you have to book a campsite and you don’t have mobile phone coverage?
Then New South Wales adopted the Queensland system and started putting their parks on an online booking system. Now, the online booking system is one thing but the way camping fees are calculated is very different – and affects mainly families.
Instead of charging a set price per night, the fee is based on the number of people, which is not in your favour when you have three or more kids. Last year, we toured northern NSW for six weeks and on average we had to pay $35 a night – at least they didn’t charge the baby.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind paying for a place with nice facilities such as hot showers, flush toilets, drinking water, etc, but in several cases we had to pay $35 per night for a pit toilet and a fireplace. It makes a caravan park look rather attractive because if we add another $5 per night we can have all the luxuries, and maybe a playground.
Of course, it was going to be only a matter of time until Victoria caught on and as of July 1, 2014 all national parks in the garden state have to be booked online. Even places like Cobboboonee NP – which were free before July 1, 2014 – now must be booked and attract a fee of $13 a night.
We embarked on the Big Lap six years ago and enjoyed it so much we kept travelling for two years. During that time we only had to book certain caravan parks (eg. in Kununurra and Broome), but otherwise we were free to go wherever we wanted without having to worry about booking ahead.
I can understand the reasoning behind the booking systems and the fact that maintaining campgrounds is expensive. However, it leaves no room for spontaneity and extending your stay for another night because you like the place so much. Chances are your campsite has been booked by someone else or you have to move your rig to another spot – which is not advisable when you have a soft top camper like we do.
Some campgrounds in NSW have special sites for people who rock up without a booking so they can park their rig and then make the call to pay for the site. Parks Victoria hasn’t adopted this strategy so if there are no sites left you have no choice but to move on.
Late last year we camped at Ben Boyd NP and the site next to us had been double booked. The person who rocked up last was in for a nasty surprise but could thankfully find another spot. When we asked the local ranger about the online booking system he didn’t have much good to say about it but he was hopeful they would sort out the teething problems.
So, what do you think?