02 Nov A guide to Far North Queensland in a bell tent
Words and photos by Angie Davis
360° video camping in Far North Queensland
There’s only so long a gypsy can ‘settle’ in one place. The nomadic lifestyle is made even easier when your tent packs down into a little duffle, can be strapped on the roof, and pitches easily by one person in under 20 minutes. After a month in the new Gypsy Palace, we were ready to explore the north and hit the road as eager as kids in a candy store with our gypsy wagon on wheels.
In a space of three weeks, we pitched our Psyclone Bell Tent some 14 times, covering over 8,000 kilometres of ground, and sea, in our ever-efficient hybrid car. In a bid to save money and explore the road less travelled, we would head inland each afternoon to find camp in the bush, and were rewarded with serene landscapes, epic swimming holes and loads of wildlife.
If you’re thinking of doing a trip north in your bell tent, save this article, start packing, and read it on the way. Here are a few tips once you hit the road:
The bible of camping apps, you’ll want this one on hand each day when you’re mapping out your route and semi-pre-planning your upcoming night’s campsite. Loaded with a spectrum of campsites, bush and commercial and caravan parks, WikiCamps was our lifeline and I spent a good deal of time researching camps, reading through recent reviews, and checking out the user-uploaded photos to make sure we were getting the most out of our camping adventure. The app also lets you know which camps are accessible by standard vehicle or 4WD, information that saved our butts more than once.
Queensland National Parks Registration
Growing up in South Australia, I don’t recall having to pre-book for camping in national parks and forests, but you certainly do in Queensland and as many campsites are numbered and reserved for pre-booked campers only (and well policed by the rangers) you are best to register ahead of your trip.
Some of the popular campsites will even book out days in advance depending on the time of year, although we managed to find space in each campsite by only booking a few hours ahead of arrival. Take note that you might not get mobile reception in various regions and thus if you’ve chosen on your map or WikiCamps where you want to camp for the night, jump on your phone and register your spot before you leave a major town or good mobile coverage.
Many of Queensland’s national parks and forests will not allow you to use scavenged wood from inside the parks as firewood and you are required to bring your wood in from outside the park. Rangers regularly patrol the areas so be mindful if you are thinking about having a fire and collect some wood on your journey into the national parks.
Be aware of weather conditions, particularly strong wind warnings, but in still camps you can really make the most of your fire for cooking and warming up your tent before you go to bed at night. Don’t pitch your tent too close and use common sense around fires, but if you are conscious of optimising the benefits of a fire before you pitch your tent then you can really live it up glamping in the bush in your bell tent.
Camping in commercial parks
We mostly avoided commercial parks as we prefer the serenity and landscapes of the bush, however we did sneak a few nights in at the resort-style Big 4 Whitsundays caravan park in Airlie Beach. If you are planning to set up and settle for a few days in a commercial park, plan ahead. The popular parks are not over generous with ground space, and even if you’ve booked an unpowered site you might have an unpleasant surprise when you arrive to find your grass site is not big enough for the width of your bell tent and more often than not these parks are at full capacity – especially during the dry season when we visited – and cannot accommodate for your larger tent.
Also, many powered sites are set upon fake grass where you are unable to bang in your tent pegs. It pays to call ahead, weeks if need be, and be very transparent with the dimensions of your tent, your vehicle size and that you will be requiring a grass or dirt space to pitch your bell tent.
Whereever you can, be spontaneous. Travelling light and having a good pack down and setup routine will enable you to have more of an adventure. The bell tent is so easy to put up and down – easier than many other smaller tents on the market – that you can truly live a nomadic lifestyle on your road trip in Far North Queensland.
We were on the hunt to find an Aboriginal elder who might be able to take us bush to cut our own didgeridoo, an idea that took us some few hundred kilometres and through three towns before we finally found ‘Joseph’, in Laura, who took us out that afternoon to hunt our didge. Leaving Laura late into the afternoon, we didn’t arrive out our next campsite until well into the night, but with the tent ready to put up as soon as we found a flat patch of grass with our headlamps we were all tucked in and sound asleep within 30 minutes of arriving.