The best way to see the vast outback is through Australian bush camping. But since the great land down under has a bit of a reputation (snakes, spiders, and crocodiles — oh my!) it can be a little unnerving to start planning a trip when you don’t know what to expect.
I did an overland tour of the Australia Outback from Darwin to Alice Springs via the Kimberley region, Broome, the entire West Coast of Australia, Perth, the Nullarbor, down to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, and through to Alice Springs by way of Uluru and Coober Pedy.
There was a lot of red dirt and am still scrubbing out of some places, it feels like. I planned my trip meticulously because I am not a camping girl and bought a new pair of hiking boots, a fly net, and a hefty travel insurance policy before I left.
I also have friends that have set out with their boyfriends to do a lap of the Aussie continent with a pair of flip-flops, a few cans of green beans, and a dream.
There is no “right way” to experience bush camping in Australia. If you’re new at it, a tour might be a good fit to get your feet wet and explore the remote areas with the support you need. If you are a pro and grew up in the backcountry, you might even be wild enough to go alone.
It’s all up to you. But here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get about my trip.
What is Australian Bush Camping Really Like?
This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series.
^^ read about the adventures (and horrors) of spending so much time in the middle of nowhere as a gal who doesn’t do well without a warm shower and fluffy bed.
Where do you sleep when you are bush camping in Australia?
There are a lot of different options for camping around Australia. When you are in the outback, you might wild camp. When I crossed the Nullarbor, we did it for two nights. People in the Kimberley area and even some other parts of the Red Centre wild camp as well.
Wild camping is basically just pulling over at a spot that looks good and setting things up for the night. In some parts of Australia, this is illegal as you must be in a designated camping area, even if it’s free.
But if you are bush camping, the nearest one is hundreds of miles away, so you are safe to get park wherever. You can sleep in your car, as a lot of people have kitted-out vans with mattresses in the back. You can also sleep in a tent or even just in a swag, which is an Aussie camping roll.
It’s like a canvas bag with a small mattress inside. You slip a sleeping bag and pillow in, zip it closed around you, then fall asleep staring up at the stars. This is what we did for most of my tour in Australia, although for a few nights, we were at campsites in national parks that had permanent tents for us.
Where do you go to the bathroom when you are Australian bush camping?
I took a poo at Uluru. We had woken up to watch the sunrise and I enjoyed seeing the glow of the red rays heat up the rock. It had also been about 45 minutes since breakfast. Suddenly, it was time. But there were no bathrooms at the viewing platform. I started panicking. What was I supposed to do?
I ask my tour guide how much longer we would be in the area. “Ten minutes, maybe,” she said. “Then it’s about a 30-minute drive over to the start of our hike. There are bathrooms there.” But I knew I couldn’t wait that long. So I panicked.
Could I really? Out here in the open?
When nature calls, it calls. And karma works quickly because while I had my pants down a dingo walked about ten feet behind me. I truly thought it was the end.
All this to say is that the toilet situation can really vary when Australian bush camping. Some of the campsites I stayed at had flushing toilets. Others had drop toilets that I sometimes used and sometimes didn’t because they smelled so bad the bushes were preferable. On other days I managed to hold it until we got to a gas station (this was a miracle each time).
My friend had to change her tampon standing behind a tree. Australian bush camping is wild and wooly. Embrace it!
Are there showers available in the outback?
Yes and no! Depends on where you are at. Some campsites have showers (most paid ones do!), other times you might need to get creative and shower at a truck stop (not free), local swimming pool, or community centre (if you are near a town, that is), or even just hang a hose in a tree like I did one night.
Showering was important to me, but I would have been wise to bring some wet wipes with me on my trip. Just in case.
What supplies do you need when camping in the outback?
I wrote a comprehensive list of things that you need when camping in the outback.
However, the supplies you bring vary greatly based on whether you are going on a tour or not. For example, if you go on a tour, you might need a fly net, a headlamp, and good pair of hiking boots. But if you are going with your boyfriend or a group of friends, all emergency management will be on you, so plan for extra water containers, a gas stove, a first aid kit, etc.
Is it safe to go bush camping in Australia alone?
There are two answers to this question. Australia is generally a safe country. If you are by yourself, the likelihood of something wild happening like a carjacking, kidnapping, assault, etc. is pretty low. Especially while you are out in the middle of nowhere.
What you really need to be worried about is the elements.
The Australian heat
The Australian Outback is a vast and remote region that covers much of the country’s interior. It is known for its extreme temperatures, arid landscapes, and vast stretches of uninhabited land, which can make it a very dangerous place for those who are not properly prepared.
One of the biggest dangers of the Outback is the extreme heat. Temperatures in the region can soar to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), and in some areas, temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer months. This kind of heat can cause dehydration, heatstroke, and other heat-related illnesses, which can be life-threatening if not treated ASAP.
The Middle of Nowhere
Another danger of the Outback is its remoteness. Much of the region is sparsely populated, and there are vast stretches of land where there are no towns, roads, or other signs of civilization. This can make it difficult to get help if you run into trouble, and it can also make it challenging to navigate your way through the area. This remoteness means that you need to be self-sufficient and prepared for any emergencies that may arise.
In addition to the extreme temperatures and remoteness, the Outback is also home to a range of dangerous wildlife, including snakes, spiders, and other venomous creatures. It is also prone to bushfires, which can be devastating and unpredictable.
So if you are alone, with no one to call for help, and something goes wrong, you are in a heap of trouble. I would never recommend going traveling in the Outback completely by yourself.
Even at Uluru?
The only exception to this would be in the area just around Uluru. The resort town of Yulara is perfectly safe for solo travelers because of how built up it is. It is reasonable to fly into Yulara or Alice Springs and drive you Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to explore. There are always so many other people around that you could get help if you need it. There is also good cell phone coverage in the area to call for help in emergencies.
But any vast amount of overland driving? I wouldn’t recommend it as a tourist.
Should I take a tour of the Outback or go bush camping with friends?
Choosing to take a tour of the Australian Outback means that you always have an experienced guide with you. It also means you are not solely responsible for your safety, the itinerary, or getting around. It can be a relief to just pay for the trip, show up, and experience the wonder that some of the most remote places in the world have to offer without the stress and responsibility of making sure you have enough food, water, and know what to do if you are bitten by a snake.
But group tours are not for everyone. While I enjoyed my overland trip and was able to get along with most of the personalities on the bus, some people hate the idea of spending ten days with strangers and would rather set off with a group of friends and their partner.
To each their own, but think a few things through before you start your trip.
Here are the best questions to ask yourself:
Can you change a tire?
You need to be able to change a tire totally unassisted or have someone in your group who can before you can do any Australian bush camping.
Even on a guided tour, we had three flat tires while camping in the Australian outback. Many outback roads are just dirt and there might not be help around. I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been (and expensive) to be towed hundreds of kilometers to the nearest mechanic for something as simple as a tire change.
Can you jumpstart a car?
The battery in our SUV also died.
It’s unrealistic to carry around a whole extra car battery with you (dude those things are expensive!) but if you’re going to be alone in the outback in your car or a rented vehicle, you need a pair of jumper cables. Who knows, maybe you’ll also get to be a good Samaritan along the way and give someone else a jump.
But again, a flat battery is easily fixable, so it’s important to know how to handle it if you are setting out on some sort of Outback road trip.
If you break down DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE!
Make sure you have enough food and water to keep you going for a few days, and stay with your car. People die not because they broke down, but because they left their vehicle and got lost, or died of thirst or exposure. Your car will always be found before you.
Do you have significant medical conditions that might require immediate care?
My mom is diabetic. I would feel uneasy taking her to the Outback just the two of us because if something happened with her blood sugar or medicine, I would need help handling the emergency. Yes, the Royal Flying Doctors will swoop in out of nowhere to rescue you, but only if you call them and even then it can take ages for them to arrive.
If you are somewhere that doesn’t have cell service (the majority of the Australian continent, tbh) and haven’t planned ahead by bringing a satellite phone, what do you do? Tour compies always have a way of communicating in an emergency, which is a lot of responsibility to plan for if it’s just you.
Of course, you know yourself best. But your comfort is something to consider when choosing between a group tour or heading out on your own to go Australian bush camping.
Are you a “camping” person with lots of experience looking out for yourself?
This might be the biggest caveat to whether or not you’ll be fine camping with just friends or a partner. I grew up in suburban Texas. It’s so flat here that I thought the overpasses on the freeways were mountains until I was well into Jr. High.
South Texas is a swamp that is hazy, hot, and humid nearly 1000000% of the time. My family was not a camping family anyway, but there was no way we were going to pitch a tent near the bayou to be nipped by hundreds of mosquitos and wake up with a water moccasin in our sleeping bag.
Yet my friends that enjoyed doing laps of Australia grew up in parts of the USA where camping and hiking were the norms. Or spent their 20s in New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world. Or studied in Germany and went on long hikes in the forest with no cell reception for fun all the time.
If you have experience in the backcountry with limited resources and find that easy and exciting, then heading out with your partner or a few friends for Australian bush camping could be perfect. If you went to Girl Scout camp once in the fourth grade like I did, you should probably just take a tour.
That way you’ll come out alive.