New South Wales Camping in the Time of COVID-19

Australia's coronavirus restrictions couldn’t have come at a worse time for this van-life-loving couple. Here’s how they were able to safely explore the wilderness north of Sydney.


A woman cooks over a stove near her campervan in New South Wales, Australia, with a campfire in the foreground. Photo © Kim Napier

Kim Napier is the producer of the World Nomads Travel Podcast. These camping experiences inspired her and her husband to embrace van-life full time – she now podcasts from the road.

My husband Andrew and I had picked up our newly kitted out, LDV G10, one-ton van just after bushfires had devastated Australia in early 2020. As a result of the devastation, tourism campaigns were underway to get holiday makers back to the affected regions and inject some much-needed money into their shattered economies. And we were keen to go.

Andrew and I have always been campers, usually packing a tent and a couple of sleeping bags into the back of a car, so the van was next-level camping for us. The setup not only includes the kitchen, with two burners and a sink, but also a 12-volt battery, a socket for a fridge, and USBs to charge our devices. There’s also ample storage, and awnings on both sides for cover. And as a bonus, it’s insulated, so camping during winter is very comfortable. We also choose properties that allow campfires – the best way to keep warm in the great outdoors.

Owning our van means constant movement, which guarantees adventure. Our idea was to use the van for extended weekends, exploring regional New South Wales, with plans for longer trips down the track.

However, right when we are ready to set out, the government requires us to stay home, as it worked hard to contain the coronavirus. When restrictions are lifted and some travel is allowed, we hit the road, mindful we would need to practice social distancing and good hygiene.

A woman relaxes beside her well-appointed campervan at a campsite in Australia.
Our setup. Photo credit: Kim Napier

Finding socially-distanced campgrounds in New South Wales

Using an app called Youcamp, we find a large and gorgeous cattle property 25 minutes’ drive from Mudgee, about 3.5 hours northwest of Sydney. It won’t be hard to socially distance amid 1,100 acres of bush.

This campsite has everything in place to ensure our health and safety during COVID-19. Guests have to check in one at a time, and there are multiple signs reminding us of our social distancing responsibility.

Cleaning practices have been put in place in the bathrooms, and guests are encouraged to wipe all surfaces down before exiting the toilet. Although soap is provided, it was recommended when we booked that we bring our own soap and hand sanitiser.

COVID-19 safety practices vary campground to campground

Our next trip is to a property in Martinsville, an hour and 40 minutes’ drive north of Sydney, inland from the regional city of Newcastle, and is a very different experience.

At this property, we don’t see any signs about coronavirus, there is no hand sanitiser in the bathroom block, and the property’s horses definitely aren’t practicing social distancing. At 3am one morning, we are woken by three thoroughbred horses under our van’s awning, where they have knocked over our portable kitchen, broken a drawer, and taken a healthy bite out of it.

A campervan parked in a large, green field in New South Wales, Australia.
Social distancing, van style: Bunyip Camping in Martinsville. Photo credit: Kim Napier

It’s time to move on, playing a game we call Left/Right. It’s simple – when you reach a junction in the road, someone calls left or right and that’s the direction we take. That’s how we discover Sofala, a former gold mining town established in 1851.

We stop here, pull out our kitchen, and make egg and bacon rolls by the river, with the beautiful, isolated village as our backdrop before we hit the road again.

On another weekend, we head to Upper Orara, a region inland from Coffs Harbour, about six hours north of Sydney, settled in a rainforest on the edge of the Bindarri National Park. And just like in Martinsville, news of COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have made it this far. The property host reaches out to shake Andrew’s hand, instead the elbow bump alternative we had become used to in Sydney.

As this property didn’t have any bathroom facilities, we head into a bush with our spade, a roll of toilet paper, and a bottle of hand sanitizer when nature calls. We’ve also chosen a spot next to a huge lime tree, perfect for our nightly vodka and soda.

Our most recent camping trip is to Wollombi, a historic village two hours north of Sydney, where we set up in the grounds of the old village pub. There are plenty of these in rural Australia, allowing campers to stay for free – they only request you don’t bring your own alcohol, but instead support the pub by buying from them. Here, we also order our meals from the pub kitchen.

The pub takes coronavirus seriously, with a COVID marshal who makes sure everyone is seated and properly social distanced, and who wipes down tables and other surfaces the moment guests leave. Customers are limited inside the pub at any one time, where they order before dining outside.

We feel our health and safety has been considered (plus there are strict regulations in place for hotels, and any breach could see them cop a hefty fine).

Taking personal steps to stay safe

We are disappointed that not all of the campsites have COVID-related restrictions in place, but we take responsibility ourselves by making sure we travel with our own soap and sanitizer and socially distance from other campers.

So, while currently we can’t make new friends while on the road, we are enjoying exploring our own backyard, discovering places we would never normally visit.

Oh, and owning a van wouldn’t be complete without a hashtag. You can follow our getaways on Instagram @advanture2020.

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