Since heading into the outback along Queensland’s Savannah Way we have discovered the joys of free camping. Technically free camping refers to a lack of facilities, ie no showers, water, power and sometimes no toilets rather than no cost although many are free of charge or only ask for a small donation. Many are located at the outskirts of a town, along rivers, at historical sites or can even be a gravel pit on the side of a major highway.
We love free camps, not only because it keeps the budget down but for the extra space and ability for the kids to run freely without us worrying they will bother the neighbours or be squashed by a four wheel drive. There is also a camaraderie between travellers staying at free and bush camps that we just haven’t felt in caravan parks and have met many lovely, like minded people by camping in them.
We have stayed in quite a few free camps now but hands down our two favourites have been the Cumberland Chimney site 20km west of Georgetown and on the Gregory River.
The Cumberland Chimney is the remains an old brick chimney dating back to the late 1800’s and used in the mining heyday of the area. There is also a large lagoon that is home to many different species of birdlife. Actually the whole site is a haven for birdwatchers, we had a flock of red tailed black cockatoos living in the tree right next to our camp, which were beautiful to watch and listen too. There is a gravel area up top that people like to camp on as it overlooks the water but we bypassed this opting for a flat, grassy, shady spot further away from other vans giving the boys plenty of space to run around. We were even able to have a camp fire – excellent real estate! Another bonus of this camp was its proximity to Georgetown, one of our favourite outback country towns. Georgetown had a great playground, a small but well stocked foodworks, potable water tap, dump point (to dump our porta-pottie at), TerraEstrial – a museum with large collection of gemstones and crystals and just a general friendly feeling about the place.
The free camp at Gregory Downs was located on the Gregory River and had no facilities at all. Being self-sufficient is a must at many free camps and we are so glad that we bought a porta-pottie for this trip – it has definitely been one of the things we couldn’t have managed without. The section of the Gregory River that runs through this camp is very shallow and fast flowing. It’s also icy cold but given the temperatures are in the low thirties during the day a wonderful activity here is to float (or ride your boogie board) down the river with the current pushing you along at quite a brisk pace. The four of us had a ball cruising down the river then walking back up the top again for another go.
One thing with free camps is that there are, of course, no set sites and no bookings. It is purely a first in best dressed kind of deal. Both our favourite camps were really popular for obvious reasons. We got into the Cumberland Chimney site a bit before midday, which meant we had a good choice of places to pull up but our trip to Gregory Downs was a longer one meaning we arrived at the camp at about 2.30 and managed to squeeze into the last tiny spot – there are definitely some bonuses to having a small camper trailer rather than a huge 20-something foot van! We watched quite a few vans pull in after us and have to leave again.
I think I am definitely overdue for a recipe so I thought I’d share my savoury mince recipe with you. Definitely a camping favourite there is something so comforting about a bowl of savoury mince around a campfire. I love it made with plenty of veg and served with brown rice for a nice boost of fibre and B vitamins. You can easily mix around the combination of veggies and I often do depending on what I have available to me. If I was making this at home I’d use a homemade chicken stock in place of the water, which adds extra richness and all the benefits of lovely gut healing meat stock but unfortunately stock is just too hard on the road! The recipe below makes enough for our dinner and lunch the next day. I just warm it on the stove in the morning and pop it into the thermo pot to keep it warm for lunch on the go.
So if you are out there on the road or planning a trip we highly recommend you give free camping a go and hopefully we will see you out there! Until then, eat well and live happy.
500g grass fed beef mince
500g pork mince
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise then diced
1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise then diced
1 brown onion, diced
3-4 celery sticks, sliced thinly
A few good splooshes of gf tamari (actually its probably about a tablespoon but you know what I’m like at measuring!)
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp herbamare
3 heaped tsp arrowroot
olive oil for cooking
cooked brown rice to serve
Heat olive oil in a deep frypan or flame proof casserole pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 2-3 mins until they are just softening. Add mince and cook until browned all over. Add veggies and enough water to just cover the mince/veg mixture. Bring to a simmer. Add tamari and herbamare. Simmer for approx 20 mins until veggies are soft, stirring occasionally. If you are cooking it in a fry pan you may need to add a bit more water during cooking time if it starts to dry out. Add honey and stir. Place arrowroot in a cup with enough cold water to make a thick liquid then add to mince. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring to thicken. Serve with brown rice.