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'Instead of outlawing camping, another option is to regulate it': expert urges rethink on camping

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An expert on camping around Australia says many places – especially on the Coast – are missing an opportunity by not providing free and budget options for travellers.

The comments come after Noosa Council announced last month that local laws officers would be taking a zero-tolerance approach to illegal camping, amid what it called growing community frustration.

Heatley and Michelle Gilmore run Camps Australia Wide, which includes guidebooks and an app focusing on low-cost camping, RV and caravan travel sites.

The company began on the Sunshine Coast more than 20 years ago, when Phil Procter self-published the first Camps book from Cooroy in 2001.

The Gilmores, who took it over in 2018, are now based at Rainbow Beach but were previously owners of a monthly magazine in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Mr Gilmore says councils and community groups are missing an opportunity to provide low-cost options for travellers.

“Most of our travellers stay in both caravan parks and camps, but less than a quarter of our travellers choose caravan parks alone,” he said.

Michelle and Heatley, who formerly ran a magazine in the hinterland.

“Many communities, especially on the Coast, are losing a huge sector of the market by not providing free and budget options for travellers.

“So many times travellers tell us they bypass areas that do not provide ‘freedom camping’ sites. This doesn’t mean ‘free’ – councils or community groups can still charge a small amount and provide options for the RV community.

“Many studies have proven that RV travellers are good business, contributing thousands of dollars to the communities they travel to.”

Mr Gilmore said ‘freedom camping’ in approved sites was very different to illegal camping, and that illegal camping could affect the perception of all campers.

“Instead of outlawing camping, another option is to regulate it,” he said.

“Many communities successfully operate council- or volunteer-run donation or low-cost camps, and all businesses in the town reap the benefits.

The Gilmores’ camping set-up in Charlie Moreland camping area near Kenilworth.

“Too often we come across communities where freedom camps have been closed due to pressure placed on council from ‘so-called competing’ businesses.

“Council staff should realise that if alternatives are not offered, most RV travellers won’t patronise a caravan park, they will move on to a location that does offer choices for camping. This reduces income for all businesses in a community.

“In addition, many new travellers now are travelling with set-ups that do not require power, water and toilets. They are set up for off-grid as they are fully self-contained. Communities and the industry should offer options that suit this type of traveller as well.”

He also suggested some responsibility for making campers aware of local laws could be passed onto vehicle hire companies.

“As early morning walks are commonplace for us in Rainbow Beach, we generally see hire campervans stopping overnight,” Mr Gilmore said.

Heatley identifies Booloumba Creek in Conondale National Park as a highlight of the region. Picture: Shutterstock

“Perhaps if fines were directed at hire companies, the education of where to camp (and where it is illegal to camp) might pass onto overseas travellers and tourists.”

He said Camps Australia Wide included verified information for travellers on how to ‘leave no trace’ by respecting the environment and others when camping.

“Camp in designated/approved areas only and use dump points correctly,” he said.

“Different states have different rules, such as for firewood collection or length of stay.”

So for someone who has spent many years travelling Australia, what are Mr Gilmore’s favourite spots on the Coast?

“We love Charlie Moreland (near Imbil State Forest),” he said.

“Although popular, this state forest campsite is cheap, spacious and the Little Yabba Creek is a beautiful spot for a swim. We loved the local rufous bettongs visiting and the nearby waterfalls at Booloumba.

“Kenilworth has loads of farm stays nearby, and Kenilworth Showgrounds is right in town, opposite the cheese factory and next to the pool.

“Cooroy RV stop is a great option as well for campers, and a handy base to explore the coast or hinterland.

“Showground stays like at Maleny and Eumundi are also very cost-effective options and super-close to town, shops and eateries.”

For more on Camps Australia Wide click here.

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor with your name and suburb at Sunshine Coast News via: news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au

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