Updated Dec. 2018. Australia is a large country just begging for the freedom and adventure of an Aussie road trip. Australia is not considered a budget travel destination but free camping in Queensland and indeed in the whole of Australia is one of the best budget travel tips we know.
Commercial caravan parks provide excellent amenities and charge accordingly, but when you just need a place to park the van overnight, free camping in Australia will save you big bucks and allow you to travel for longer with less worry.
This post has been updated to include some great budget food options – places where we love to eat ourselves. Not every location has one but if you read through you will find our recommendations.
Road trips are a great way to meet some real Aussie characters, and at free camping spots you could wake up to a kookaburra’s laugh, spot a kangaroo in the wild or an echidna waddling across a road. Those memories linger long after the trip is over.
This is our Coromal Caravan that we use free camping in Australia. We’ve changed the car for a new Mazda BT50 which has so much more pulling power – it’s a revelation. Even though our caravan is light, our old car was so sluggish I was reminded of my Dad’s road trip joke when I was little. He would slow down going up a hill and tell us to get ready to hop out and push. He didn’t realise how anxious that made me!
- Australian Travel Journal and Log Book
- Buy your Journal Log Book and more.
- Free Camping in Queensland
- Free Camping Brisbane to Gold Coast
- Free Camping Sunshine Coast
- Free Camping Gympie to Rockhampton Area.
- Chatsworth Rest Area, 564 Bruce Hwy, Chatsworth, 8.1km north of Gympie.
- Torbanlea Racecourse, Lot 32 Torbanlea-Pailba Road, Torbanlea. Qld. 109km north of Gympie.
- Apple Tree Creek, 149 km north of Gympie and 6.5km North of Childers. 1 km south of the Bundaberg turn off on the Bruce Highway.
- Gin Gin Rest Area, Bruce Highway, just North of Gin Gin, Qld. 184km north of Gympie. 268km south of Rockhampton.
- Calliope River North/South Rest Area 50951 Bruce Highway, Queensland. 346km north of Gympie. 103km south of Rockhampton.
- Free Camping Central Queensland (Rockhampton to Mackay)
- Yaamba Rest Stop, Bruce Highway, Yaamba. Qld.
- Waverley Creek Rest Area, Bruce Highway, 171km north of Rockhampton and 11km south of St. Lawrence.
- St. Lawrence Recreational Reserve, 624 St. Lawrence Connection Road, St. Lawrence, 185km north of Rockhampton and 159km south of Mackay.
- Flaggy Rock Cafe, 83978 Bruce Highway, Clairview. Qld. Phone 07 4950 2148. 109km south of Mackay.
- Yarrawonga Park Reserve, Notch Point Camping, Ilbilbie, Qld. 79km south of Mackay.
- Free Camping Mackay to Townsville.
- Free Camping Ingham
- Budget Travel Talk’s Free Camping in Australia Tips
Australian Travel Journal and Log Book
Before starting out on your Australian Road Trip think about how you wish to record it. As a travel blogger it’s imperative that I keep a travel journal. Although it seems impossible in the moment, experiences do become sketchy over time and it’s difficult to remember quite where that beautiful river side free-camp was! Even if you are not a travel blogger it is vital to have a travel journal and log book to refer to.
As well as jotting down notes for future reference the journal has space to attach photos. Personally, I like to draw little mud maps about where we’ve been. This 92 page travel journal comes with a reusable check list, address book, activity pages and kid friendly pages.
This two part book allows you to keep track of the places visited and distance travelled. The front half is dedicated to recording and rating overnight camps/accommodation and the back half to recording distance and fuel details.
Budget Travel Tip: It is handy to record the kilometres covered by your caravan/trailer for servicing and resale value.
Buy your Journal Log Book and more.
Now that you have your travel journal sorted lets get down to business.
Free Camping in Queensland
This post discusses Free Camping Queensland and is divided into sections. Camping in Queensland is at it’s best in Winter when the temperatures and humidity are less, but fellow travellers met on the road are a fun lot no matter the season.
Free Camping Brisbane to Gold Coast
Free Camping Sunshine Coast
Free Camping Gympie to Rockhampton Area
Free Camping Central Queensland (Rockhampton to Mackay)
Free Camping Mackay to Townsville
We’ve driven the 1200km from Townsville to the Sunshine Coast, on the Bruce Highway, so many times we’ve lost count and lately we’ve been driving south to the Gold Coast.
When our kids were small, the amount of stops made depended on the level of squabbling coming from the rear seat. Back then we didn’t own a caravan and collapsed into a Self-Contained Cabin each day when we’d had enough.
Our latest caravan, with it’s solar panels/battery, shower and toilet enables us to enjoy free and low cost camping. Camper-vans/trailers are often purchased or hired by overseas travellers and sometimes the cheaper option of a Station Wagon also works because the rear seat converts to a flat sleeping area.
Many free camps have flush toilets, BBQ’s and Picnic Tables, but keep in mind that the tap water may not always potable.
Small towns usually make their show-grounds available for overnight or longer stays for a small fee, which can rely on facilities used.
The smart phone App, Wikicamps, makes locating these parking/camping spots easy and the comments left by previous users give a good idea of what to expect. Charges are quoted if applicable. The App costs a very reasonable $7.49. Try the free 14 day trial, or be like us and just purchase it straight up. Wikicamps has revolutionised our road trips.
Below are some camps we’ve stopped at on Bruce Highway from the Sunshine Coast to Townsville (listed South to North) and Sunshine Coast to Gold Coast.
Free Camping Brisbane to Gold Coast
Free Camping Beenleigh Hugh Muntz Park
About half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is this lovely grassy and treed park, wedged between highway, creek and shopping centre. There is a house and a tree break between highway and camp area which sits lower than the road. The shopping centre on the other side of the park and camp is screened by trees and creek, but is super easy to visit for supplies. Roof top tents are allowed.
It’s a great little spot for free camping near Brisbane. There are covered Tables, BBQ’s with light, modern Toilets but not that clean by afternoon and no light at night. There could be a trouble maker resident here but we didn’t encounter him.
FREE. 72 hour limit or 3 nights in a 30 day period. Dump Point. TV and Mobile reception.
Free Camping Sunshine Coast
Belli Creek Park, Eumundi-Kennilworth Road, Belli Park
Clean Toilets, No Showers, Grassed Area for pitching tents, Busy after 6pm, Clean Toilets (bring torch), the bridge makes noise when trucks drive over it so park as far away as possible, dogs allowed, no drinking water, bring own container to wash dishes in, suitable for wheelchairs, picnic table, campfires allowed, shared walking track.
This is an entrance point to the West Cooroy Forest Walking path.
Six Mile Creek Rest Area, Bruce Highway Glanmire, Gympie.
Just south of Gympie and 50 km north of the Sunshine Coast, this is a beautiful 20 hour stay camping spot. Although it is close to the highway it has grassed sites with good access, clean toilets, drinking water, open fire pits, dump points and at 4 pm in peak season (early Winter i.e. early June) it was filling fast but with about 4 good sites still left. It is a pretty spot surrounded by trees and overlooking 6 mile Oval now renamed as Ray Warren Oval.
Free Camping Gympie to Rockhampton Area.
Chatsworth Rest Area, 564 Bruce Hwy, Chatsworth, 8.1km north of Gympie.
This is the closest and best we’ve found for free camping Gympie on the northern side.
FREE. 20 hour parking limit. Clean toilets. No Showers. Well maintained area including a Children’s Playground. Fairly close to Highway so road noise can be expected. Dogs Allowed.
We used this as a toilet and lunch stop only, but were impressed by how well maintained it was. The toilets, situated beside the kids playground, are a fair walk from the overnight camp area and closer to the day parking area. I foresee problems with traffic noise and campers who overstay, restricting the amount of spots available.
Torbanlea Racecourse, Lot 32 Torbanlea-Pailba Road, Torbanlea. Qld. 109km north of Gympie.
CHARGE. Maximum stay 7 days. This camp is well-positioned on a quiet road away from the railway line. Charges are on a sliding scale of – $5 Toilet, $10 Toilet and Shower, $15 Toilet Shower Power. Dogs Allowed. This small town has some nicely restored old buildings and homes. We suggest a walk from the racecourse, across road/railway crossing and down to the Miner’s Arms Hotel (cheap counter meals) and back home via railway overpass (Kookaburras).
Apple Tree Creek, 149 km north of Gympie and 6.5km North of Childers. 1 km south of the Bundaberg turn off on the Bruce Highway.
FREE. 24 hour parking limit. Clean Toilets. No drinking water but is close to the Apple Tree Creek Tavern. There is a park with BBQ’s between the road where everyone camps and the highway. Tall Trees and a small billabong behind and on the southern side an well kept oval.
The owner of the Tavern has a long grey beard and is a friendly chap who loves telling the history of the Tavern. He offers free camping out the back for patrons.
Gin Gin Rest Area, Bruce Highway, just North of Gin Gin, Qld. 184km north of Gympie. 268km south of Rockhampton.
FREE. 20 hour parking limit. Two Clean toilet blocks. No Showers. A sometimes driver/reviver site and a sometimes commercial coffee van site. Spacious grassed park with very tall trees and lots of natural shade. Access to river. Covered and uncovered picnic tables. Walking access from rear of park 1650m to Gin Gin’s CBD. The park is large with camping spots toward the back affording less road noise.
This spacious camp also makes a lovely lunch/toilet break with loads of picnic tables and shade. We have camped overnight twice at the back beneath shade trees, which in the morning were full of King Parrots, Kookaburras and fig birds. A great park for tree and bird lovers.
Where to Eat in Gin Gin.
If you’re a pie lover look no further. We have a pie here every time we pass through. I love the curry beef and Marty the steak and kidney (eek). Best pies ever.
Best Curry Beef Pie in Queensland
Gin Gin Bakery, Bruce Highway, Main street of Gin Gin.
Calliope River North/South Rest Area 50951 Bruce Highway, Queensland. 346km north of Gympie. 103km south of Rockhampton.
FREE. 48 hour limit. We’ve used the North rest area as a lunch stop twice. Access is from behind the Historical Village on the Bruce Highway. The site has beautiful big grassed areas, trees and views over the river to the Southern rest area. The South camp is on river level with vehicular access from the old Bruce Highway, but a foot bridge connects the two camping areas. No Drinking Water. Dogs allowed. The nearby Historical Village only charges $5 per person entrance. Boat Ramp.
Calliope River is the most popular free camping Rockhampton Region. As such it is important to arrive as early as possible in the day, especially if you want river views. Having said that the area is huge so don’t panic. If staying for 48 hours and don’t get a great position on arrival, keep a look out the next morning and grab a prime spot as vans depart. We arrived at lunch time and did get a spot by the river with a view.
Free Camping Central Queensland (Rockhampton to Mackay)
There are some good free camping choices in the 364 km between Rockhampton and Mackay.
Yaamba Rest Stop, Bruce Highway, Yaamba. Qld.
At 37 km north of Rockhampton this is the closest free camping Rockhampton Region site we’ve found.
FREE. 24 hour limit. A sometimes Driver/Reviver Stop. No drinking water. Plenty of room in this paved truckers stop beside a grassed park surrounding clean toilet block. No Showers. Tents can be pitched in the park. Truck generators are noisy at night and there is highway noise. It has a country pub next door for drinks and meals and a servo across the highway. There were plenty of Trucks, Caravans, Camper Vans and Tents during our overnight stay and there still remained room for more. Dogs Allowed.
Yaamba Rest Stop is the best free camping near Rockhampton for us when travelling north from the Sunshine Coast. If we leave home around 8.30 a.m. stopping for morning tea and lunch we arrive here late afternoon.
Waverley Creek Rest Area, Bruce Highway, 171km north of Rockhampton and 11km south of St. Lawrence.
FREE. 24 hour limit. No Drinking Water. Paved Site with separate areas for caravans and trucks. Toilets including disabled. Shade. Tables. Close to Highway. Tent Area. Mobile Reception. Dogs Allowed.
St. Lawrence Recreational Reserve, 624 St. Lawrence Connection Road, St. Lawrence, 185km north of Rockhampton and 159km south of Mackay.
CHARGE. 7 days Maximum. I’ve blogged about St. Lawrence previously. Since last here the charge has risen to $10 payable by Parkmobile App or at the Council Offices, located minutes away by car. $1 for a 3 minutes hot shower. Dogs Allowed. Drinking Water. Situated on a quiet country road. For more information click on link at the end of this post.
Flaggy Rock Cafe, 83978 Bruce Highway, Clairview. Qld. Phone 07 4950 2148. 109km south of Mackay.
This is the closest and best we’ve found for free camping Clairview. 11km north of Clairview.
CHARGE. 24 Hour Limit. $5 or FREE if a meal is purchased at the cafe. Dogs Allowed. Self contained vehicles only. No amenities. If gate is closed after 4 pm, call 0456001682 to be admitted. We’ve eaten at this cafe twice and the owners are lovely. We’ve not stayed overnight. Close to highway so there will be road noise.
Yarrawonga Park Reserve, Notch Point Camping, Ilbilbie, Qld. 79km south of Mackay.
FREE. 7 Days Maximum. 4 WD only. No Facilities. Fires allowed. No Drinking Water. Sandflies, Mosquitoes and Crocodiles. We weren’t bitten by insects (or crocs lol) during daylight hours nor inside our van at night. Crocodiles are a fact of life in North Queensland. Beautiful Spot which I’ve blogged about here. Boat ramp. Australiana abounds. There are dog baits laid so leave fido at home. Cattle graze through the camp.
If you’re looking for extended free camping near Mackay, Notch Point is a good contender.
Notch Point Campground – have this view from your van.
Free Camping Mackay to Townsville.
Bowen to Townsville.
Legitimate free camping Bowen is near on impossible to find. The day picnic and parking areas are strictly policed to stop overnight parking. Guthalungra at 63.5 km north of Bowen is the closest designated spot we’ve found.
Where to Eat in Bowen.
We were delighted with the budget prices and fresh fish and chips at Bird’s Fish Bar. Google Maps will take you straight there. This fish bar is very popular with locals at lunch time so if you’re in a hurry call ahead to order. There is a covered eating area at the back of the shop overlooking the Marina where you can eat your meal. They also do great fish burgers and prawn salads (with six peeled top quality local prawns $10). Yum!
Bird’s Fish Bar, Henry Darwen Drive, Bowen (07) 4786 1188.
Guthalungra Rest Area, Lot 86 Coventry Road, Guthalungra, Qld. 250km north of Mackay. 63.5 km north of Bowen and 141 km south of Townsville.
FREE. 24 Hour Limit. Drinking Water. New Amenities. Central park with BBQ’s and eating areas with more around the outside of the circular road/parking area. The parks nearest the amenities block are further from the road hence quieter. Wood burning BBQ’s (bring your own wood) and Service Station sells food. Dogs Allowed.
Bluewater Park, 41790 Bruce Hwy, Bluewater, north of Townsville. Qld.
This is the best and closest we’ve found for free camping Townsville. Read our tips on fun things to do in Townsville and Magnetic Island here.
FREE. 48 Hour limit. Dogs Allowed. Bordered on one side by Bluewater Creek, another by the Mt. Spec water pipeline/highway and a third by a landscaped tree-scape complete with walking tracks, this camp is a mix of Aussie bush (think possums and kookaburras), manicured parkland, undercover eating areas and kids playground. Loads of space, which fills up quickly and reticulated town water to connect your van to. The toilet block is basic with an open-air shower outside of the mens. The nearby community centre welcomes visitors to their Friday Social Night 6pm till late. Located on the left side of the Bruce Highway on the northern side of Bluewater Creek about half an hour north of Townsville.
Bring ear plugs to dull the Rooster wake-up call!
About the same amount of time north of Townsville is the final free-camp in this post.
Saunders Beach, 2 Reef Street, Saunders Beach. Qld.
FREE. 48 Hour Limit. Dogs Allowed. Situated beside the beach and close to a mangrove creek. A picturesque spot with views to Magnetic and Rattlesnake Islands. Free undercover electric BBQ’s and picnic tables, playground, basic toilet block. The camping area is not large so arrive early to grab a spot. Come prepared for mosquitoes and sandflies. Crocodile warning. This area is used as a parking lot for day trippers and as it’s proximity to Townsville makes it popular on week-ends.
Free Camping Ingham
Read about the trip from Townsville to Lucinda here.
Tyto Self Contained RV Parking
LOW COST CAMPING. $10 per van per night. 59 Townsville Road Ingham. 48 Hour Limit. Dogs Allowed. Drinking Water. Dump Point. Drinking Water. Must be self-contained. There are toilets in TYTO Information Centre but only when centre is open. Bird Wetlands.
Budget Travel Talk’s Free Camping in Australia Tips
Spend money in nearby shops, pubs and service stations. Even a small purchase helps keep these free camps operating.
Free camps are often cleaned by local Council workers. Clean your immediate area on departure to keep Locals on-side and the camp operating.
Turn taps off securely when free camping in Australia as water is scarce.
Bring Washing Up bowl so precious water is not wasted washing dishes under a running tap. Also there is quite often only one tap for everyone to use.
Bring mosquito nets and insect repellent if sleeping with van or vehicle doors open. I have seen many backpackers covered in painful looking mosquito and sandfly bites. See the photos of Yaamba rest area above, to see how the nets can be used in vans and station wagons. Click the link below for Aussie Made Mosquito repellents and after bite care or make your own Once bitten Twice Shy – DIY remedies here.
Bring torch or mobile phone for light.
Arrive early to get a spot at popular camps and to have dinner eaten and cleaned up before dark. Eating under lights in the Australian bush means your dinner will have the extra crunch of bugs that are attracted to light and end up in your food.
Bring Personal Water Bottles. Reticulated water is safe to drink in Australia so fill your water bottles and carry at least one litre of drinking water per person.
Peg-less Clothes Line.
Bamboo Eco Coffee Cup. Will save you money when buying take-away coffee (50 cents less in places) and save the planet too.
Note: If travelling on deserted outback roads increase this to up to 10 litres per person depending on conditions.
Many of the above items can be purchased by clicking the image link below.
Pin for Later.
Read more about Queensland.