Five free tropical camping sites near Townsville will help you save money and give you a sense of freedom and peace of mind.


Free camping in a safe secure spot while traveling is one of those rare luxuries the solo traveller seeks but rarely finds. For me one of the objectives of my solo motorcycle touring is to reduce the amount of money I spend while on the road. This allows me to travel further and have bigger adventures. Apart from the cost of fuel the next most expensive cost is that of accommodation. While some prefer to go to motels on their journey and others stay in cabins. I prefer to camp where I can and save my money for luxuries when I need to. At between $12 and $50 dollars per night for a non powered camping site at your average caravan park, it doesn’t take long to reduce you weekly budget.

Making the budget stretch

But if you are willing to do a bit of stealth camping or even seek out the occasional free camp then you can make your budget stretch significantly. There are all sorts of free camping sites set up by some of the more progressive councils around Australia, as I ride around the country I will try and post some of those for my fellow travellers.

Camping out of town

Many of the free camp sites are out of the main town areas, for obvious reasons such as not wanting to compete with commercial caravan parks. But if you’re happy to be out of town a little bit then these five sites just outside Townsville are worth looking at.

Townsville Council Booking System

The Townsville City Council have a booking system for all of their free camping sites, a visit to their web site will help you book. I always find these things very complicated. But if you’re one of these people that like to book ahead then please feel free to go to the web site and book.

I understand why the council wants to manage these sites, during the busy winter season Grey Nomads are choking the free sites and many spending longer that is reasonable camping for free. But as a solo motorcyclist I’m not into spending a lot of time in one place. So a quick overnight sleep in a peaceful location is all I want.

When I camp I like to have a secluded spot that is safe. Most of the recommended camping locations are very exposed to traffic coming in late at night, it wouldn’t be difficult to squash a tent and not even realise it. For this reason I camp in out of the way places and conceal my tent and bike to gain minimal attention, especially if I’m the only one in the area.

Bluewater Rest Area and Free Campsite

The Bluewater Rest Area and free camping site is about half an hour north of Townsville, it’s on the left side of the road just after the Bluewater Creek Bridge. The rest area provides a survior revivor stop that is open most days. To get to the park and camping ground follow the dirt road as it runs back towards the creek.

The camp ground is back from the main road, but you will hear passing traffic. It is still one of the best rest area sites between Homehill and Cardwell. Camping at Bluewater Rest Area and Free Camping site is pleasant as there are lots of trees and grassland. The park has free barbecues and a well maintained toilet block.

Saunders Beach

Saunders Beach provides easy access to sand and surf, it is one of the first free camping sites you will come to if travelling north from Townsville. To access the site you will need to turn right at the Saunders Beach sign and drive approximately fourteen kilometres towards the beach side village.

Saunders Beach Free Camping area is small compared to the others on this list. It is shared with the day parking area. For this reason it is the least secure of the five sites.

I prefer to find out of the way areas to camp, this helps me secure my bike and any equipment I have, the more discrete I can be the more comfortable I feel. The Saunders Beach Campsite leaves me a little exposed. If I was camping here I would look for a place less exposed. Unfortunately, alot of these areas are in the restricted area. At Saunders Beach they have sprinklers in the part timed to start at five in the morning.

Balgal Beach No 1

Balgal Beach is a widely spread out community, amoungst the beach scrub and palm trees. It’s a well established residentical community. There are two free camp grounds in the area. Bagal Beach No1 is situated at the point on the Rollingstone Creek Estuary. There is a park, a shop (currently closed) and a boat ramp.

The turn off to Balgal Beach is just before the Rollinstone Hotel on the Hume Highway, it is a approximately thirty minutes north of Townsville and about twelve kilometres south of the Frosty Mango. The village is seven kilometres from the Bruce Highway turnoff following the Balgal Beach Road.. You pass pineapple plantations and small hobby farms on your journey out to the beach.

Balgal Beach free camping area is at the end of the point and just above the Balgal Beach boat ramp. There is easy access to the beach through the beautifully maintained gardens. At the southern end of the camping ground is access to the Esplanade, there is a singer net in this area.

Balgal Beach No 2 – Tents Only (Justin Street Park)

The journey to Balgal Beach No2 Camp Ground starts with the same seven kilometre beach access road, only you turn right at Acheron Drive, continue down until an intersection where you turn left onto Ocean Road then right again onto Justin Street. Follow Justin Street until it disapears into a gap in the trees.

The Justin Street Park is designated for tents only, but the way it is set out enables secure camping away from the car park for tents and enough room for vans. If I wanted to spend a few days just chilling out and powering up my equipment with a solar panel this is the site I would choose. The only down side is its seclusion. I wouldn’t leave my gear set up while I explored the rest of the town without some sort of security devices.

Vincent (Bushy) Parker Park

The fith free camping spot is Vincent (Bushy) Parker Park. It is located geographically behind the Rollinstone Hotel, but you have to access it from either the Balgal Bay Road or ride past the hotel and turn right off the Bruce Highway, then ride past the police station until you see the park on your left.

The Vincent ‘Bushy’ Parker Park is named after Vincent Wheatley. Vincent flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britan, shooting down five German bombers. He was shot down himself, captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.

What do you need to do to prepare for stealth or wild camping?

Stealth or wild camping involves ensuring your camping profile is a minimal as possible. I would normally stealth camp if I was in a place with high security concerns. It usually involves spending some time scouting an intended camping area and understanding where the most secure and out of the way places might be. For this reason I have included a couple of general tips that might help on your next wild or stealth camping adventure. You can read about my experiences on the following blog post

Arrive early

It goes without say that when looking for a camp site you should find one before dark. If it’s busy and you can’t see much then your options for finding that perfect spot is significantly reduced. If you’re looking for that out of the way place in the tropics you need to know what’s around you.

Scout the best site for your camp set up

Look for trees that might come down in a strong wind or if you’re near the beach consider tidal movements, don’t camp too close to the high tide mark and look for estuaries that might rise during high tide.

Always allow yourself a secure exit pathway from your tent

When I’m wild or stealth camping, I alway plan a route from my tent to a safe place. This might be a tree I can hide behind or a pathway to a safe location. It’s only a precaution but if I need to get out of my tent urgently, I want a safe place to regather my thoughts. It could be a place I will shelter in if the weather takes a turn for the worse, such as lightening or a storm.

Camouflage your site

Camouflage is a method to reduce your visibility. However, if you have a bright red tent then camouflaging your tent is not going to be easy. That said, if you find a shed with a bright red wall and you can camp in front of it, that might help. There are many tents that are an ideal colour for camouflaging. Some have camouflage patterns others are a nice karkey green or sand brown colour. The trick with camouflage is to break up solid shapes or colours. This stops the eye recognising the shape. I use a houchi which is a camouflage pattern on a small light tarpolean to cover my bike.

If you have a tent like mine, its about a metre high so I look for a small drop in the landscape to help make the profile smaller. In my book I talk about camping on a ridge in Central Queensland, I found a site hidden by a small rock ledge.

Keep barriers between you and traffic area

If possible keep a barrier like a tree or rock between you and the traffic area. This prevents you from being accidentally flattened during the night. In Surat i found a site where the council had placed big rocks to prevent cars going into the park. These were ideal barriers, others include fences, posts or camping tables.

Stay away from estuaries or river inlets

The obvious reason for this is to stop yourself from floating away in the middle of the night or at least have water running through your tent. But it is also for crocodile safety.

The general advice when camping in the tropics where crocodiles live is to stay 50 metres away from the high tide mark or an estuary. It is also recommended that you are two metres above the high tide mark as well. If a crocodile is in the area, which is most likely they have been known to go on nightly excursions.

If you’re near water in North Queensland you can almost guarantee there’s a crocodile somewhere around, the problem is you won’t be able to see it. They are masters of concealment and have developed ambush hunting skills from millions of years. But there are a couple of things you can do to stop yourself from becoming croc food.

General advice from the experts

  • Scout the area near the water for slide marks, this is where a croc have been sunning them selves on the river bank and has slid into the water
  • Look for any dead animals around, the smell will attract crocs
  • It’s recommended by many croc experts that you camp at least 50 metres from the high tide mark and if possible two metres above the water as well
  • Never enter the water in an estuary or known croc area and don’t go closer to the water than five metres.
  • Keep food or fish scraps near your tent, dispose of food scraps in waste bins and ensure these are between you and the water.
  • Don’t swim in water ways in crocodile county. This is pretty much all of northern Australia, splashing is like a dinner bell to crocs. Don’t let children or dogs swim in rivers, waterholes or estuaries, crocodiles are extremely fast coming out of the water.

Learning your behaviours

Crocodiles learn your behaviour,if you go to the same spot to collect water, go fishing or sit and have a coffee a croc will wait for you. Camping near the beach in North Queensland is safe providing you adhere to a few important points. Most crocodiles live in estuaries, deep water holes or rivers, but they can also be found in the sea. It is less likely they will be in the sea far away from a river mouth but it can happen. Crocodiles often swim between estuaries during breeding season or the summer months.

It always pays to ask locals what crocs and any other wild animals are in the area. They are the best source of knowledge and advice. People have been attacked while camping by crocodiles, but this is extremely rare. In fact I have only heard of one such event and that was up the top of Cape York.

Other important considerations when camping

  • Look up for Eucalyptus trees with potentially deadly branches, some eucalypts will drop branches without warning and these branches can weight upto three tonnes.
  • Find a secure place for your bike where it won’t blow over onto you and where is can be out of site or camoflagued, lock it up and cover it. I use a brake lock alarm on the handle bars and a camouflage cover at night.
  • Clean your site, don’t leave food of empty rubbish around and keep equipment packed away after use. Snakes like to find cover under tarps or in boots. Be mindful of them and keep boots on your bike or in your tent, keep the fly screen zipped up at all times when you are away from the tent or sleeping at night. Watch where you’re walking at night and use a torch if going to the toilet when it’s dark.
  • If you encounter a snake, stand still, once it realises you’re not a threat it will slither away. If you are a couple of metres away from it, back off slowly. Snakes travel through areas looking for food. Generally, you’re not food so their not interested in you.
  • Secure your equipment before retiring for the night. Take off your GPS and phone and store you tank bag and valuables with you ovenight. Don’t be tempted to leave your keys in the bike ignition, have a routine to put the keys away in a safe place.

Unsure about wild camping or what tent to buy?

Camping is one of the simple joys of solo motorcycle riding. If you’re not a camper but want to consider giving it a go check out my review of the Black Wolf Wasp UL2 tent at or my post on wild camping in Australia

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Gary is a travel writer, educator, training specialist and part time adventurer. When not paddling rivers, diving on the Great Barrier Reef or riding down some dusty outback track on his trusted KLR650 "Emu" he likes to explore historical areas and look for the back story.


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