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Being close to water can make a campsite perfect, here’s how to get it right, with lessons we have learned from waterside free camping.
Finding that perfect waterside free campsite isn’t difficult when you only need to do a bit of research using one of the many camping apps and publications available. While prices for these resources range anywhere from a few dollars upwards, some are even free; and they’ll certainly save you a stack of effort in locating some amazing waterside camps. Don’t discount the knowledge you can gain from talking to other travellers either; they too are a great source for recommendations. Sweet-talk them, and they might even just share that secret waterside campsite location with you!
Besides the usual set-up criteria such as flat ground, shade, sun and wind direction, there are a few other things you can consider when camping by water to take your free camping to another level.
Camping by the sea has its own risks so be aware of the tides, as you may need to pack up and make a quick exit if the weather changes. Camping in northern Australia can be a real highlight, but be aware of crocodile locations as they’re not all signposted!
There is no doubt that having water in direct view outside your door is really relaxing.
It may look picture-perfect camping up close, but soaking sullage hoses and buckets of washing water need to be kept well away from a watercourse whether it is above or below ground.
Check the area where you plan to set up because you might just be making camp in the pathway of animals that use the watering hole nightly. It also pays to look up, as trees can be home to birds, possums, bats and other animals.
Love Thy Neighbour
Remember how quiet it was when you set up camp? Things can quickly ramp up with visitors on weekends and holidays if you’ve set up at a popular water sports location – and you might just end up with more neighbours than you ever anticipated!
While you don’t need to be camping by water to experience insects, the blighters will often thrive in a waterside environment and make you want to duck for cover. An hour before sunset is generally when they begin to come out, so cover up beforehand by wearing light-coloured clothing to prevent unwanted bites. Soft-coloured LED lighting at camp can also help reduce their numbers, and covering lights with yellow Chux dishcloths or some cellophane can further act as a deterrent. Something simple – like smoke from a small campfire and scented candles – can also help keep them at a distance. For an interior anti-bug camp light solution, click here
Many people are comfortable just to soak up what a waterside camp can offer from the water’s edge, but there’s something special about getting on the water itself… as it provides a completely different experience to what you get on land. The small recreational boats of today come in various forms, so whether you’re looking for something that collapses or inflates, or something bigger such as a tinnie or car-topper, there’s a range of options available. Be mindful that you’ll need a boat licence if you’re considering travelling with a boat that has a motor.
As not all waterways require a motorised boat, carrying a canoe or kayak that can be loaded on your vehicle’s roof is an excellent lightweight alternative. Silently gliding through the water is a major benefit here – and you might just find this option can get you closer to the wildlife. But if fishing floats your boat, imagine how good would it be to simply drop in a line to catch a feed that’s all within a hop, skip and jump of your campsite. Some would say it doesn’t get much better, and being able to stretch your food longer by supplementing it with your catch could easily mean you’re not having to pack up because you didn’t bring enough food.
While camping by water can be the ultimate outdoor experience, it’s still an environment that comes with risks. If you think that the water looks good enough to drink, you might still consider treating it before quenching your thirst. Not everyone you travel with may have a cast-iron stomach, and cutting short your camping trip because of contracting a stomach bug can be a real fizzer.
Beachside camping too has its own risks, when seaside waves and rips/undertows can quickly become life-threatening; and while freshwater rivers can look calm, hidden pockets can be fast-moving and contain snags. Sometimes river banks can be likened to quicksand. Approach and evaluate any unfamiliar waterways with caution… and especially keep an eye on children.
Five Waterside free-camping ‘must-haves’
Wear good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare when the sun reflects off the water.
You don’t need to be a professional photographer these days to take good shots, so travel with a camera of some sort to capture nature at its best.
All sorts of wildlife are attracted to water, so keep a set of binoculars in your kit to take advantage of their visits.
4 Insect spray
Don’t let biting insects ruin your waterside camping. Travelling with good repellent is essential. For tips click here
5 Your favourites
It could be a comfy chair with a book or magazine, or simply a floating device to get you out on the water. Travel with whatever it is that takes your fancy because the fact you’re next to water adds many more options.
Whether you like swimming, water sports, fishing or simply love nature, camping next to water can really take free camping to another level. So the next time you’re planning your travel route, why not incorporate a few days waterside? You never know, you might just find that after your first experience… you’re hooked.
Words and images Grant Hanan and Linda Bloffwitch.
Read next: Free camping is not a cost-free option