Cautionary Tale About Private Camping

Anita and Mike Pavey — 8 September 2022
Sometimes booking a camping place to stay can be more complicated than you think

Kicking back in our favourite camp chairs at a private campsite, admiring the beauty of our riverside location. Our relaxation is interrupted by the sound of an approaching vehicle; a little odd considering our remote location, or so we thought!

The vehicle was emblazoned with ‘Local Council.’ The officer jumps out, “what are you doing here?” Looking around, it seemed quite evident. There were two vehicles, two camper trailers fully setup, with awnings erected, camp mats down, associated camping furniture deployed, and with two couples, each a drink in hand and wearing typical summer clothing — a hat, t-shirt, thongs, and pants.  

The backstory — some weeks ago, we had booked a campsite though Hipcamp, a commercial venture where you pay to camp on private property. In this case, we had found a tranquil campsite on the banks of the Murray River. Unlike a caravan park or free camp where you’re shoehorned into an existence the size of a shoebox and boxed in by other campers, we had space and serenity on our side, if but for a few hours.

A Hipcamp is the new-age Station Stay; many without the primary produce link. We’ve stayed at a range of these establishments at Burra, Hay Valley and Swan Reach and enjoyed the open space on each occasion. In most cases you pay for the isolation, with limited guests per property.

The problem in this case was our location. According to the Council Officer, the first 30m of river frontage is Crown Land. So, if you have ever cruised down the Murray River and noticed signs that say, ‘do not moor here,’ that would appear to be more of a request.

The owner at our campsite had land that abutted the river frontage, a licensed jetty, pump station, and a cleared grassed area. Other campsites were set back from the river around a large lagoon, well back from the river. In total there were five camp sites over the broader area.

Recently we had camped on one of these lagoon sites. We hadn’t brought along our kayaks on that occasion, although we wish we had. Kayaking in this environment is glorious; silently paddling along, listening to the croaking of the frogs, and scoping out the local wildlife, be it a ‘roo, birds of all descriptions, or even a fish poking its head or fin out of the water only metres away. It is a sight you would never get to appreciate from the land.

Camping on the river is next level. From a wilderness perspective, soaking up the sounds of nature, from the cry of birds soaring above, to the rustling of the nearby reeds as an echidna forages for food.

Then there is the human interference. If it’s anywhere near a river shack community, which often ranges in interpretation from shack to castle, you can take in the river life. Tinnies zing along the river surface enroute to their next fishing spot. And the high-end wake board boats that echo a V8-burble as they tow a variety personal cargo up and down the river, many with boom-boxes blaring. Ahh, the serenity (or not)!

Back with the Council Officer, a debate ensued. Clearly, we were in the right. We had paid a landowner through a commercial website. It couldn’t be an issue for us; only the person who had taken our money. Right?

However, we were the ones breaking the Bylaw at that time. Long story short, we were asked to leave!

The morale of the story is to be very wary of paying for riverside camping accommodation unless you are staying in a caravan park. These establishments have undergone council approval which is significant. Planning approval, impact on the environment, and waste disposal.

The landowner was clearly embarrassed and promptly refunded our money. His Hipcamp has since been removed from the website.

We salvaged the weekend by camping at a nearby caravan park. Sure, it wasn’t bush camping, but we still enjoyed a relaxing kayak in the nearby backwaters, the serenity of the river environment, just with an extra neighbour or two. 

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