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Over the Christmas area my wife and I (kinda off the bat), decided to go for a 2 day camping trip to the "Southern Forests" region of Western Australia. However, each site we checked ended up being full. (I guess not surpising over the holidays, though the one that was miles down a gravel road did surprises me.) So it was getting late, and was getting tired. So we pulled in to a Rest Area, (Marked P) to make a plan. It was about 20km from the nearest town. We spotted an alcove where it looked like someone had camped before, and said "right, we are stopping here."

People sleep in their cars in the rest stops all the time. My car was too small and we had much better camp beds. So we set up the tent. It was nice enough, and we were not confidant of finding another site, that we stayed for 2 nights (It was only missing a toilet).

During that time someone else stopped for one night in a Motorhome (like a Winnebago I think). Someone else turned up each night and slept in their car (but left during the day).

My question is: Were any of us breaking the law, or violating some guidelines as to acceptable/intended use of the space? Or are rest stops intended to be point-of-last-resort / amenities-less campsites?

There is a note in this brochure which says:

24 Hour Rest Areas: 24 hour rest areas are not intended for camping and stopping is NOT to exceed more than 24 consecutive hours

And the list of signs seem to indicate that 24 rest areas are specifically marked. But it is somewhat unclear as to if the 24 hours is exceptional, as you are Allowed to stay for up to 24 hours (and on normal sites you are perhaps not meant to say for more than 8 hours rest). Or if it is the reverse -- on normal sites you are allowed to camp, but 24 hours sites you can not.

  • This website provides a nice overview on the different rules for rest areas in Australia's various states. Older versions of the A Wbrochure you quote (i.e. this one) used to be more specific about the intention of rest areas, saying: Remember, rest areas are not intended for camping. Overnight stays are only permitted where you see the ‘24’ symbol. In the end, I think it's just a matter of using common sense: if you're too ... – MH. Jan 11 '16 at 20:07
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    ... fatiqued to continue your drive safely, pull over and get some rest. Even if it's just in a parking bay (rather than a rest area) a police officer will most likely agree it's better to be safe than sorry. Of course, do make sure you leave the place as you found it, take any rubbish with if no bins are provided and don't block any commercial traffic etc. I'm fairly certain you weren't supposed to stay the 2 nights on the rest area you mention (unless signposted otherwise), but not sure about the exact legalities. Hence, this as two comments. :) – MH. Jan 11 '16 at 20:08
  • Roadside rest areas are intended for tired travellers and not for campers. Indeed most of them are signposted with "no camping" signs, as are most urban and suburban parking areas. Having just come back from a road trip down under I've seen many camper vans and caravans doing overnight in rest areas, but have never seen tents aside from a couple with a tent mounted on the top of their car. Bottom line is: it's harder to prove you are a tired traveller if you pull out camping gear for the night in a rest area. To be sure check county regulation as these apply regarding camping restrictions. – JoErNanO Jan 31 '16 at 6:28
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Resting Tired Travellers vs Free Campers

Roadside rest areas are intended for tired travellers and not for campers. Indeed most of them are signposted with "no camping" signs, as are most urban and suburban parking areas. Some rest areas allow overnight stays, and the longest one can stay is 24-hours. The thin line between a tired traveller and a camper lies in the fact that a traveller will leave to continue on their journey after sleeping to rest, whereas a camper is likely to stay for longer.

You mention Western Australia, well here's a governmental brochure on rest areas (in PDF) which clearly states:

Western Australia 24-hours rest areas no camping

For more information, here is a great webpage from The Grey Nomad with links to governmental sites about rest areas and regulations, one per state:

VIC: click here

NSW: click here

Queensland: click here

SA: click here

TAS: click here

NT: click here

WA: click here

Different states have different regulations. This is what the grey nomad has to say about sleeping in rest areas:

While it is unlikely that an exhausted motorist would be reprimanded for taking a break from the road during a long journey, there are nonetheless rules governing the way rest areas and heavy vehicle areas should be used in each state and territory.

Clearly, the local commercial caravan parks would not be amused if scores of grey nomads set up a long-term encampment at a rest area. Travellers can be fined for overstaying time limits of for camping at a rest area illegally.

My Experience

Having just come back from a road trip down under, I've seen many camper vans and caravans staying overnight in rest areas, but have never seen people sleeping in tents aside from a couple with a tent mounted on the top of their car. Bottom line is: it's harder to prove you are a tired traveller if you pull out extensive camping gear for the night in a rest area. To be sure check state/county regulation as these apply regarding camping restrictions.

  • +1. Though, a 24hour rest area is a specific (signed) type of rest area. Its said so in the second page of the boacher you linked. I too read that broacher (I link to it in my question.) It was this ambiguity that lead me the ask the question. That said the quote from Grey Nomad does go far towards making clear the culturally expected use. and the fact that you can be fined. – Lyndon White Feb 5 '16 at 9:23
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Unless there is a sign , usually placed by the local council or national parks, that specifically states no camping its highly unlikely any one will care how long you camp in a road side stop .

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    This doesn't answer the question "is it legal?". – JoErNanO Jan 31 '16 at 6:29

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