It was all blissfully peaceful, except for the raucous five o’clock wake up call. But that’s life on the Murray, where we were camped last weekend. The river near Cobram is one of our favourite camping spots with wide sandy stretches of riverside beaches, surrounded by the peace of nature. Oh, and noisy birds.
“A shared adventure is a better adventure”
This time we went with friends and family, ten of us in total over the course of the weekend, not including horses and dogs. That’s the beauty of finding a spacious, free camp spot by the river.
We had a fabulous time, swimming, walking, eating, relaxing, watching the occasional boat sail by, stargazing … the simple joys of camping where the biggest decisions are usually “what shall we eat” and “should we go for another swim”?
Throughout Australia there are thousands of places to camp. Yes there are caravan parks and recreation grounds but there’s also secluded bush, beach and river sites where you won’t pay a cent. We’re blessed with an abundance of State forests and National Parks and, even though some have been severely scorched by the fury of bush fires this summer, there are still many safe and beautiful places to free camp. The Murray is just one of them.
Here are seven more of the best in Victoria
Chinaman’s Campground – Mt Cole State Park
Mt Cole State Forest is a bit of a hidden gem. It was once a timber harvesting area but today the forest offers secluded camping, bushwalking and adventurous four wheel driving. There are even designated horse yards. Chinaman’s campground is one of many campgrounds within the forest. It has a shelter, picnic tables and plenty of room to spread out.
Wine buffs can stop off at the nearby vineyard at Mount Langi Gihran and the town of Beaufort isn’t too far away. Yet, when you’re here amidst the sounds of croaking frogs you feel like you’re a world away!
Frys Flat – High Country
Oh, how I love this place. Frys Flat, 25kms north west of Merrijig holds special memories with numerous trips here over the years with family, friends and our four legged friends. It’s tranquil, lush, spacious with loads of charm and appeal.
There’s Fred Fry’s historic hut to explore, the gorgeous Howqua River to cool down in, the Howqua Hills historic walk nearby and plenty of room to simply soak up all those high country vibes.
Minne Ha Ha Falls Camping Reserve – South Gippsland
Tucked away in the hills behind Yarram is some of the prettiest countryside in South Gippsland. And close to tiny Hiawatha is the Minne Ha ha Falls. Sound like some sort of Indian tribal place? In non peak times you could easily have this place to yourself. The waterfall and it’s amazing swimming spot is the focal point of the campground.
Less than twenty minutes away is Tarra Bulga National Park, an oasis of lush, giant fern gullies, and towering mountain ash. Walk along the swing bridge (jump and make it wobble) and feel immersed in nature, amidst the rainforest canopy. It’s a place to free your inner child. Growing up Tarra Valley was one of my favourite day trips!
Vennells Campground – Big River
There’s something special about camping by a river. Whether it’s the Murray, the Jamieson, the Goulburn or the Big River, time seems to slow down when you’re camped near flowing water. There are loads of free campgrounds in the Big River State Forest, which is about 130kms north east of Melbourne, with the Big River being at the scenic heart of most of them.
Racecourse and Recreation Reserve – Port Franklin
“And they’re off and running …” It’s been a long time since this place has seen a throughbred, let alone hosted a horse racing event, but once this was a thriving race track. Now it’s a peaceful camp ground for those travelling through South Gippsland with shelter, picnic tables and toilets available.
Less than two minutes away is the pretty seaside fishing village of Port Albert. Here you can explore the historic buildings and at the Wharf you can enjoy some of the best fish and chips on the coast.
Poplars Reserve – Noojee
The area around Noojee is filled with picture perfect waterfalls, the historic trestle bridge, a couple of great pubs and two top camping spots, here at Poplars Reserve and nearby at Toorongo Falls Campground. Don’t miss the loop walk to the stunning Toorongo and Ampitheatre Falls.
Lake Crosbie – Pink Lakes
Lake Crosbie in the Murray Sunset National Park would have to be one of my favourite spots for star gazing, pristine wilderness and getting back to nature. It’s about six hours from Melbourne, and Victoria’s own outback. Picture a wild arid landscape, with salt lakes, historic relics, wildlife and stunning flora, bushwalking and remote four wheel driving. There’s even self propelled wind surfing adventures on the salt lakes if conditions are right! There’s nothing here but vast wilderness and unlimited freedom.
That’s the beauty of camping. A whole lot of nothingness can turn into a world of something quite extraordinary.
Whether it’s adventure or enlightenment you’re after, when you go camping in the great outdoors you find space and you find yourself. And there’s no greater feeling.
The latest edition of Free and Low Cost Camps Guide 2020-21 is available now and in it I go into more detail on each of these campsites, plus a whole heap more.
This annual publication, produced by the team that publishes On the Road Magazine (where I write my regular column) is a great source of inspiration on places to camp around Australia.
Here’s to finding that freedom and space, relishing nature for all her fickleness and beauty and enjoying the moment.
Wherever you are, enjoy the journey.
In light and love
“I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not someplace you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.” ― Richard, from the movie The Beach