There’s no denying citizens of the road have an awesome lifestyle – they wouldn’t be out there if it wasn’t a sweet deal. But that’s not to say towing your home behind you doesn’t come with its own set of logistical challenges, particularly when you need to reroute to civilisation for matters of housekeeping or to resupply. Ultimately, there are towns in Australia that are more suited to caravans and motorhomes than others, but if you’re new to the game or coming from abroad, how would you know where they are?
The Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) is doing an interesting thing for the caravan community that you may or may not have heard of. It's a program called RV Friendly Towns. For a city or town to earn its badge of honour, it's got to tick a bunch of boxes. Some of these boxes are practical criteria – access to low-cost overnight parking and free drinkable water are two obvious examples – but other qualifiers are less tangible. A ‘welcoming’ attitude from the community at large is one of them.
It was in Geraldton, Western Australia that we 'felt' this firsthand. The free overnight parking along the foreshore, the ease with which we could explore the city centre, access to running water and pleasant public amenities… for two people with limited experience travelling in a clunky campervan, it all seemed easier than it should have.
Later, when we learned that RV-friendliness is a club-and-council initiative and not just the result of good town planning, we were not surprised to see Geraldton on the list. That said, we could have spared ourselves the wondering had we paid attention to the big blue “RV Friendly” signs announcing its credentials as we puttered in.
Blissful beaches are made all the more appealing by Geralton's waterfront free camping and caravan-specific services.
What's in a sign?
To rookie caravanners, the existence of an RV Friendly Towns program will be welcome news indeed. If you’re a veteran ‘vanner, you might be thinking “what rock have you been living under?” Whichever camp you fall into, we think it’s worth talking about.
For one, the list of certified RV-friendly towns is widespread and always growing. And while it might not seem like a big deal to meet a bunch of guidelines and slap up some official signage at the border, the benefits for caravan and motorhome tourers are manifold. Right off the bat, the RV Friendly accreditation tells you a bunch of useful information about a place that you would otherwise have to spend a significant amount of time researching.
At the very least, it tells you there’s cheap or free overnight parking that isn’t 50km out of town. It tells you there’s a free dump point, potable water and suitable parking within or close to shopping centres. Not essential but still likely will be the availability of mechanical and medical services, long-term parking such as caravan parks and campsites, and a Visitor Information Centre appointed with RV-sized parking and RV-specific information.
If you’re making decisions about where to stop on the fly, that big blue sign could save you the frustration of scouring a town for services and amenities that it simply doesn’t provide. It’s knowledge to have up your sleeve for contingency purposes; a place to legally pull up when caravan parks are full, or when you’re behind schedule and won’t make your next booking in time.
Better than all that though, is the sense of inclusion programs like this bring. By participating, a town is effectively rolling out an caravan-sized red carpet. And when you know that a community has gone to the trouble to be accommodating of big rig road travellers, it amounts to a jolly nice feeling.
While you can expect the warm fuzzies from participating towns, don’t forget there’s still plenty of places that aren’t involved in the program but will still provide all the same services and more – they might just be a little harder to pin down. Stay in caravan parks and RV-friendliness is obviously a given.
There’s also towns that come close to meeting the brief but don’t quite cut the mustard. These places fall into a separate category called RV Friendly Destinations, and must simply meet the minimum requirement of offering cheap or free overnight parking.
Wide avenues are at their most beautiful during springtime in RV-friendly Grafton
A win-win situation
Naturally, the benefits of the initiative swing two ways; a “symbiotic relationship” of sorts. Being promoted as RV-friendly assists travellers in a very real and meaningful way, but it also encourages tourism, boosts the local economy and serves the interests of a town’s business owners.
This idea to divert traveller dollars by offering something of real value for free isn’t exclusive to the CMCA’s program by any means. In North America for example, the majority of Walmarts will offer up overnight parking to caravan and motorhome travellers free of charge. Pop in to get groceries or gear before heading off the next day, and the act of generosity on behalf of the store looks a little more like a two-way street.
All around Australia, hundreds of country and outback pubs have been doing something similar. Buy a frothie and a feed at a participating pub and you can park on the grounds or at a nearby campsite – usually for free. We think the benefit for businesses resonates strongest in this example. Initiatives of this kind aren’t a greedy grab for tourist dollars, often they’ll help bring destinations out of obscurity and play a significant role in keeping small and remote communities afloat.
Park your big rig with ease in the beautiful harbourside town of Strahan while you venture off to explore Tasmania's wild west.
Keeping options open
When you want to see every corner of a country by hauling your tiny (or not so tiny) home behind you – a mode of travel that, while wonderful, has restrictions – choice is a real gift. On GoSeeAustralia for example, we present dozens of commercial options within a region so you can easily scan available listings and take your pick. Factor in RV-Friendly Towns, Country Pub Camping, farm and station stays, national parks and council-run camping, and you’ve got a pretty great mix of comfort-first and dollar-stretching options before you.
The tools are out there for caravanners and motorhome owners to explore Oz in a way that suits them, however there’s nothing more useful than firsthand accounts.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with any of the programs we’ve mentioned above, places you’ve been that are caravan-friendly, places that aren’t, or any thoughts you have about caravanning and camping more broadly.
Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and if we publish your Letter to the Editor in the next issue of the Outdorian magazine, we’ll shoot you a $50 voucher to spend on GoSeeAustralia!
So what the hell is GoSeeAustralia? We're basically a bunch of Aussies who love the outdoors – and that’s why we’ve created a place where you can book campsites at over 500 caravan parks and campgrounds Australia-wide, rent campervans and RVs, as well as share your experiences and stories.