How to Choose a Campsite

Just like the real estate adage, choosing where to camp is all about location, location, location. The three crucial elements that determine where we camp are water, sun and wind.

Examination of prospective sites and careful observation before settling in can prevent both minor and major catastrophes.

New Ground

Usually, there has been time to evaluate the general vicinity before arrival. Careful inspection of maps, a little internet research or seeking some local knowledge all go a long way towards finding a place that can provide a pleasant camping experience. If you arrived here by reading Touring Remote Oz - the Myth Part 1 or Part 2 you will understand finding terrific new ground can often be half the battle.

Harbour Side Views
tent by a waterhole

We generally try and camp near water regardless of whether it is the ocean, estuary, dam, river or creek. Unless you are camped near a river mouth it’s unusual to find drinking quality water near the ocean. Apart from the convenience of being close to fresh potable H2O, it’s usually the visual aspect that attracts us to water. The chance to see an areas wildlife coming in for a drink or watching the local birdlife at a waterhole all contribute to the uniqueness of each camping experience. That is assuming you haven’t located directly on top of the only available water for a hundred miles and scared everything off. Farmers and Station Owners are also grateful if you have allowed their stock enough room to take a drink as well.

So as we approach a potential campsite we assess the lie of the land. If rain looks imminent we survey areas that won’t become arterial waterways after an hour’s downpour. Old natural gullies, drains and washouts indicate where the water runs and avoiding pitching a tent on or near these is key. Likewise avoid the base of hills. Water runs downhill, an obvious but often missed fact. Slightly higher ground, like a flat raised hump will often provide the best position and help stop leaves and debris gravitating and accumulating in your site. Be mindful when expecting rain that many northern Australian creeks and rivers remain dry most of the time, rising and running only for a few days a year after heavy downfalls.

Ever mindful of the suns position and where it sets and rises we aim our car to provide shade and protection. Unless you have dragged everything out from your car you will probably spend a fair amount of time working near or retrieving things from your vehicle. We have a kitchen that slides from the rear of our 4WD and we like to work in the shade.

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Ever mindful of the suns position and where it sets and rises we aim our car to provide shade and protection. Unless you have dragged everything out from your car you will probably spend a fair amount of time working near or retrieving things from your vehicle. We have a kitchen that slides from the rear of our 4WD and we like to work in the shade.

Be mindful that the sun will not be in the same place it was an hour after you arrived. Note which direction the earth is travelling around the sun and forward plan for comfort.

The Wayward Wind

The prevailing direction of the local wind can be judged by observation. Trees grow and bend with the breeze and if you look they virtually point away and tell you where the wind comes from. Likewise leaves, branches and bark get blown into places from a certain direction. By taking a quick mental survey on arrival and making an educated guess at the likely wind direction you are going to experience you can plan around the breeze.

Our choice of campfire location is always decided by the wind. We decide on our sleeping position first, aiming the tent either into or away from the prevailing wind, and then put the fire where we will least likely become smothered in smoke, ash and sparks.

We avoid sleeping or parking a vehicle close to Australia’s famous gum trees. While the natural shade provided is always a bonus and the trunk makes a great tie down point gum trees lose branches. Some eucalypts are worse than others but big, heavy overhanging branches have the potential to come down, especially if it is windy.

Trees also provide a home for large numbers of insects and animals, especially in areas of light forestation. A terrific way of ensuring you suffer an insect infestation is to make sure you camp as close as you possibly can to their homes. Setting up on top of an ant’s nest is a guaranteed road to misery. Look for the small telltale holes and hills of an ants nest. They will find you and your food eventually but there is no need to treat them like pets and move in with them.

Do you know that one noisy bird who squawks all night when all the others are silent? It probably means you are sleeping directly under his tree.

Burning Ambition

If the area you have chosen to camp has an abundance of potential campsites and you have the luxury of being picky then a minor consideration can be the supply of firewood. Camping near a big fat log that will provide all your wood for the duration of your stay is a great way to minimize the workload. Bear in mind that if you are staying in a popular area that hosts many campers that there will be a circle of barren wood producing country around the site. The circle increases as people walk further afield in search of firewood. By selecting a location away from the most popular areas your chances of finding good wood increases.

Setting up camp can take some time and nobody wants to reassemble an outfit once it’s been setup. By getting some basics right first time around you can get on with relaxing and enjoying the location.

Happy Camping.

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