Camping ballots

By: Claudia Bouma, Photography by: Chris Bouma

What’s your experience been with camping ballots? Do you think it’s a fair system?

Camping Ballots

Camping in national parks has changed a lot over the last couple of decades. Gone are the days when, last minute, you’d throw the tent and camping gear in the car to spend a weekend in the bush without having to worry about bookings. You simply made sure you had the right amount of cash on you so you could pay the camping fee directly to the ranger or via a self-registration box.

Online booking systems have been introduced in most states, with Victoria the most recent addition. Some parks are so popular they have opted for a camping ballot system to ensure every camper has the same opportunity to obtain that perfect spot during the summer or Easter holidays.

Tidal River campground in Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Blanket Bay in Great Otway National Park, Banksia Bluff in Cape Conran National Park, Point Leo Foreshore Reserve, Bristol Point and Green Point campgrounds in Booderee National Park and Freycinet National Park are some of the parks which operate a ballot system.

The camping ballots are completely random which means everyone has the same opportunity to secure a spot but it also means you could miss out, year after year. At Point Leo Foreshore Reserve the policy is that campers can re-book their site for the following year, as long as it’s done before departure.

Trial Bay Gaol campground in Arakoon National Park tried to introduce a summer ballot system at the end of 2013 but this was met with great resistance when long-term campers claimed they had not been told about the ballot system and instantly lost their sought-after spot.      

Previously, the park had a long-standing rule that school holiday visitors had the first option to re-book the same spot the following year. After discussion with the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service it was decided to postpone the web bookings until everyone was aware of the new system.

Currently, Trial Bay Gaol campground does not operate a camping ballot but sites must be pre-booked at all times.

The different Parks and Wildlife Services in Australia claim to have introduced online booking systems and camping ballots to make it quicker and simpler for campers. I’m not sure I agree with this as back in 2009/2010 I travelled around Australia for two years with my husband and three children and hardly ever had to worry about online bookings. We’d arrive at a campsite, set up, pay our fees (usually via a self-registration box) and leave when we’d explored the area – it was quick and simple.

These days we have to carefully plan our itinerary and book the majority of our sites before arrival, locking in our dates.

A camping ballot is supposed to make the system fairer, but is this really the case? At Booderee National Park 463 people took part in the ballot with 250 successfully securing a spot – that’s a lot of disappointed campers. Thankfully, the ballots are held in the middle of the year so families can make alternate plans in case they don’t get a spot.

What’s your experience been with camping ballots? Is it a fair system? I’d love to hear some of your personal experiences.