When chatting with the manager of an excellent (paid) bush camp site, as our trip neared its end, we were asked for our feedback on our camping experience. ‘What makes a good bush camp site?’ wondered the manager. She wanted to know how she could make her site more attractive to prospective campers, and what to avoid. Would we come back? How could she get other people to keep coming back? Our feedback, to the manager’s delight, was very positive: your campsite is great, because it’s like a National Park, only better.
National Parks across Australia offer an incredible camping experience. Natural beauty, wildlife, wilderness and well managed facilities. Unfortunately, because they are National Parks, they also have to set certain rules and regulations because of their primary role as protector of vulnerable landscapes, flora and fauna; and that’s completely understandable. No pets allowed. Very often no campfires. And National Park campsites can often be very busy, with campers tightly packed during busy holiday periods. Good bush camp sites can offer a similar experience to that of the National Parks, but also offer more. This is especially true for ‘fully self-contained’ campers who don’t need to be tied down to fixed (and expensive to provide and maintain) facilities such as toilets and showers.
The best bush campsites are often adjacent to National Parks. They offer campers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the same Australian bush, the same landscapes, and provide a base for people to explore the wider area, while they can be a bit less stringent with rules and regulations. Bush camps near the coast obviously have the advantage of cooler temperatures and access to the beach in warmer weather. Good bush camps in inland areas often provide campers with some sort of access to bodies of water, such as rivers, creeks or dams, where they can cool off and also quietly enjoy the wildlife that water attracts. In arid and semi-arid areas some feature in the landscape that offers shelter from wind and dust storms is usually very welcome.
Space is a critical factor. Bush campers don’t want to be squeezed in next to one another, like sardines at a caravan park. They want to have the space to be able to be on their own, if they feel like it. Groups of friends and families may want to camp adjacent to each other, but they don’t want to be forced to do so. Sites should be far enough apart so that campers won’t be disturbed by the sights, or sounds, of other people.
Yes, pets are annoying. Our four-legged friends are usually best left at home; but practicalities and yes, sentimentality, means that increasingly we want to bring them with us. National Parks are out, so good bush camps will have a robust pet-friendly policy. The unfortunate fact that many modern pets are spoiled and poorly trained is also an important factor in the spacing of sites; nobody wants a yappy pup right next to them.
Good sites offer a mixture of sun and shade: sun so that campers can charge their batteries; shade so they can escape the worst heat of the day. They need to be free from dangerous overhanging branches that can fall and decimate campsites. They also need to be:
- Reasonably level – they don’t have to be as perfect as a bowling green, but they can’t be so steep that campers can’t get comfortably level; and
- Have short grass or a cleared area – again, doesn’t need to be bowling green perfect, but brush needs to be cleared over a wide enough area to keep nasties such as ticks and snakes at a safe distance
The ability to have a campfire is critically important to many bush campers. It’s the very essence of camping: sitting around a crackling fire beneath a clear night sky, letting your gaze drift deep into the flames, while the only sounds to be heard are the sizzling of burning wood, the songs of the crickets, and the love poetry of the frogs from the nearby creek… Not possible in high summer when fire bans are active, of course, but the ability to have a campfire extends the camping season through those cooler months.
Fire pits are welcome, but not absolutely necessary. Many campers these days carry their own portable fire pits. Firewood is always welcome; it’s good to keep campers informed upfront on its availability, whether they’ll need to stock up beforehand or whether they can buy it on site.
Information and facilities
Fully self-contained campers don’t really need any facilities. They’ll certainly find information on where to find local water supplies, dump points, points of interest, etc., useful. Other than that, they usually just want to be left alone to enjoy nature and immerse themselves in the landscape. They expect to clean up after themselves and leave little trace of their presence. Less, in the case of bush camping, is often more.
The best bush camps we’ve been to have been run by people who have a genuine respect and duty of care for the landscapes they manage. Income from bush camping helps them to practice low-impact and sustainable land management. We like to think that bush camping can have a positive effect on the landscape rather than a negative, exploitative mindset.