RV Lifestyles: How To Get The Most From Free Bush Campsites

by : Bill Revill

The ever-spiraling cost of RV lifestyles -- plus those increasingly crowded tourist parks -- is prompting many RV travelers to consider overnighting on free bush sites. Sure, no real surprise there, but paradoxically, very few of our fellow travelers actually follow through on the idea.

And that's a pity. After all, those who for valid and various reasons choose to remain with mainstream RVing miss out on much that this lifestyle has to offer. That's certainly true in terms of outdoor enjoyment, and the sense of freedom that comes with a night or two of self-reliance.

As it happens, help is at hand: Not only can RV bush camping be a safe, hassle-free experience, the extra gear required is negligible. Indeed, getting onto a site deep in the backblocks can be far easier than squeezing your caravan or motorhome into a crowded tourist park. And depending on how adventurous you choose to become, you probably already carry the equipment that's needed.

So, if we press ahead with the notion that bush camping might at least be worth a try, your earliest thoughts are likely to focus on how to assess the suitability of any potential free site that you chance upon during your travels.

Checking potential bush sites

Given that safety and comfort are high priorities for all of us, the most important step in utilizing a bush site is to have a careful look over it while there's still plenty of daylight. This upfront assessment should include (1) the condition of the track going in, (2) the overall practicality of the site, and (3) whether you'll be able to get your RV out of there in the event the track peters out, or if rain sets in later. In the majority of cases, the best method of weighing it all up is to check it out on foot -- before you commit to an unknown sidetrack.

If your tow vehicle is 4x4, one or two track deficiencies should present no problem, but with conventional transport extra caution might be wise. Be absolutely certain, for instance, that the track is wide enough for both vehicle and caravan/trailer, keeping in mind extended mirrors, tight bends, and close trees or overhanging branches. Is there sufficient clearance underneath the RV? Are wheel-ruts in the track likely to result in dragging the bottom? Any mud, rocks, or steep sections? Could the drive in be made easier with some minor track repairs?

If you do locate a viable site, what's it like overall? For example: Is it fairly level? Is there enough room to maneuver and turn your outfit around? Does it appear to be the local gathering place for motorized sleazoids? Is the site polluted beyond easy clean-up? Are there fences close by, or farmhouses within earshot? Is it far enough from passing traffic? Look up: Is there sufficient clear space to avoid parking the RV beneath overhanging branches? And if you're set up for solar power, will panels receive enough sun? In forested areas, what's the current fire danger status? Is the site adequate considering the length of stay you have in mind?

Yes, that's quite a raft of questions. In fact, in your early days of bush camping a pocket checklist is not a bad idea. After a while, though, this whole 'assessment' process won't take much longer than the walk in. Negatives tend to leap out at you!

Getting onto the site

OK. Everything looks pretty good so you decide to drive in.

Next rule: Take it slowly. If possible, have someone walking alongside to watch for any nasty surprises. Decide in advance what hand signals and yelling are meant to indicate. Nonetheless, the driver is the person in the hot seat, so tricky decisions are, ultimately, his or her call -- within reason, of course.

As you negotiate a bush track in an RV, try to think in four dimensions: above, below, left and right. Visualise where the wheels are going -- or where you want them to go -- and what the rear of the RV is likely to do. Take the corners as widely as surrounding vegetation permits. If potentially damaging branches obstruct your path, get someone to hold them aside or, as a last resort, remove them.

Despite all this caution, if you get boxed in, don't panic. Back up if possible, very carefully, and under the watchful eye of your outside guide. A caravanner's worst-case scenario might involve unhitching, then re-hitching at an acute angle, with the vehicle now facing the preferred direction of travel. Not a lot of fun, but a long way short of dangerous. Besides, it's all part of bush camping in an RV!

Setting up camp

Without doubt, you could strike one or two potential hazards, but most often you'll reach the site without drama. Nevertheless, once you're in there, still more decisions confront you! After checking once again for overhanging branches, where's the best spot for the RV? If you want to use an awning, will it fit in the space available? With privacy in mind (ie, visibility from passing traffic), which direction should the outfit face? Does the site provide natural run-off in the event of heavy rain? Where might a campfire be set up to avoid filling the RV with smoke? Should RV or vehicle be positioned to form a windbreak?

Well, finally, you have the rig in position! However, if you need to get it level -- for optimum performance of LPGas refrigeration -- first check its side-to-side attitude (using a spirit level). If it needs to come up on one side, the quick solution is to drive (or tow) it onto suitable blocks of wood.

Having double-checked side-to-side, now check for level front-to-rear. To get this right, caravanners may need to resort to anything from complete unhitching, to minor elevation of the tow hitch using the jockey wheel (after setting van and vehicle handbrakes).

The point is, bush sites aren't tourist parks. The job of leveling an RV may take a little time but is worth the trouble, not just for the fridge, but for your general comfort, too.

Finally, lower the stabilizers firmly onto (more!) blocks, chock the wheels if the site is sloping, and drop the step (if necessary). Now it's time to take a well-earned break!

Getting comfy

Once you've recovered from the adrenalin surge, you might give some thought to making the camp comfortable. Most often, top of the list is an awning -- and with an outside shelter in place, you'll really start to feel at home. (By the way, on bush sites a full caravan annexe is rarely an option, no matter how good the site may be.)

A small garden rake is handy about now so that the area beneath the awning can be cleaned up a little, perhaps in preparation for some type of 'floor', such as a section of shade cloth. Obviously, for a stay of only one or two nights, you probably won't bother. But with a floor down and a bit of camp furniture set up you can get yourself quite comfy.

Another job you might have to think about is the sullage outlet hose. A single-night stay presents no problem, but beyond that you don't want kitchen water (and food particles) accumulating beneath the RV, attracting every ant and critter from miles around. It's best to run the hose to a small pit covered with leaves or grass to give water a chance to soak away -- while the flies are kept at bay.

Some other improvements to consider (though also time-dependent) might be:

· Establishing a bush toilet (and an obstacle-free path to it).
· Positioning a bush shower.
· Where to string a clothesline.
· Location for the generator.
· TV antenna.
· A campfire and firewood.
· Barbecue or outdoor kitchen.
· Rubbish container for non-burnables.
· Door mats (inside and out).
· Ant deterrents (plus removal of branches resting against the RV).

Other issues

In some parts of the country it is entirely possible to set up your RV for quite lengthy stays on bush sites. But there are a few issues that, while hardly worth considering for just a night or two, do increase in probability with the passage of time. No doubt the two of concern to most travelers are security and bad weather.

Security. Provided the site is reasonably concealed from passing traffic, and appears to hold little interest for others, all should be well. In any case, you might prefer to remain in 'departure mode' for the first night, avoiding the use of jacks, awnings, and so on. Also, if the main road is close by, keep lights and fires to a minimum, while maintaining a low profile but high awareness. Of course many travellers continue to rely on their trusty canine friend. Nevertheless, keep in mind that, in the bush, you are probably far safer than you ever were back home!

Bad weather. If you prepare for extreme weather before leaving home, you already have it beaten. By rigging awnings with adequate guy ropes, pegs and tensioners, having extra tarps on hand to cover anything stored outside, and by keeping a small mattock or shovel handy to redirect any pooling rainwater, inconvenience will be minor. Of course it does pay to keep up with local weather reports in an effort to stay one step ahead of these particular gremlins. And if the exit track becomes a little shabby, early departure may be the smartest option when foul weather sets in.

Like most bush campers, you'll no doubt find that the first time is the hardest; so much to think about, so many minor concerns buzzing around in your head! Next morning, though, as the sun peeks through the trees, warming this private piece of real estate, I can guarantee that you'll feel much better about the decision you made the night before.

From that point on, each bush camp just gets easier.