From humble beginnings in 2014, Country Pub Camping — where pubs offer free on-site parking in exchange for patronage — has grown to include 120,000 members and 1200 pubs Australia-wide. We spoke to founder Jackie Blanch about its extraordinary success.
In 2014, Jackie Blanch and her husband Ken bought their first caravan and planned to travel throughout Queensland with friends. Their first stop was the iconic Nindigully Pub, near St George. They camped right beside the river, a mere 100-metre stroll from the pub where they enjoyed happy hour and dinner.
On their next trip, they happily camped at Mirrool in NSW, but when Jackie tried searching for more pubs with camping, she found it difficult to find any. She started up a Facebook group and invited a few friends and family members who she thought would enjoy it to join.
Then she started researching and making hundreds of phone calls to publicans in country towns across the country.
That was the humble beginnings of Country Pub Camping (CPC), now a nationwide movement with more than 120,000 Facebook members and 1200 participating pubs across the country.
The premise is simple. Participating pubs will allow self-contained caravans and RVs to park behind, beside or close to the pub for a free night or two of camping in exchange for patronage — a meal and a drink or two — at the pub. Sometimes basic amenities, such as toilets, are available for use during pub hours, but for the most part, campers must be fully self-contained.
CPC took off quickly and in 2017, Jackie developed a website which today has about 70,000 members and which includes an interactive map so travellers can see the participating hotels in the area in which they are travelling. Both the website and the Facebook group contain state-by-state lists of all participating pubs.
A retired operating theatre nurse manager, Jackie and Ken breed Black Angus cattle in north west NSW and travel in their van when they can, with kelpie Tammy.
Jackie ran CPC by herself for several years, but now has an admin team of volunteer editors managing and compiling the pub lists in each state which are available free of charge from the Facebook group. Hoteliers are not charged any fees and campers who support the pub are supporting the whole community.
“People top up their fuel, buy groceries, and bakeries are always popular with the nomads,” said Jackie.
Jackie and Ken (Credit: Jackie Blanch)
Jackie tells the story of the former publican of the Royal Hotel at Grong Grong — a remote village in NSW.
“She told me that it was country pub campers that had enabled her to keep the pub doors open. Kay had kept a diary of the people camping, and it had grown from single figures to the hundreds of campers who stayed over in the pub’s backyard annually, and who enjoyed meals and drinks there,” Jackie said.
Without the support of all the caravans that stop at their hotel overnight they would not survive.
“They are a Godsend to us. Not only do they support us they support our local shop as well; we are a small country town just trying to hang in there We are going through our second drought at the moment and, boy, it is very tough when you don't get much support — thank you to the nomads”, wrote Kay. The Royal Hotel has now been bought by the community, which has turned it into a real showpiece.
And other publicans have had similar stories.
Jackie credits the success of CPC to the self-sufficiency of campers these days.
“With caravans becoming much more self-contained, having ensuites and solar, people have decided they don’t need caravan parks as much, she said. “They are very much enjoying the experience of staying where they don’t have to cook, they can meet new people over a drink and chat to the locals about the best things top see in the district.
“Caravan parks have a great role with the travelling public, but pub camping is a way to combine uncrowded freedom camping while still being within the towns and villages. It is also a safe place for solo travellers or those a bit nervous about testing the waters of somewhere apart from parks.”
Amy, Jackie, Ken and Dave (Credit: Jackie Blanch)
Members of the Facebook group are encouraged to share their experiences to assist fellow travellers and this is a great source of feedback for Jackie and her team.
“Whenever we travel in our van, we always incorporate pub stays. I try to find new ones to list too. Publicans give very good feedback and most of them are quite excited about the idea,” she said.
There is an unofficial etiquette that applies when country pub camping, for example ring ahead instead of just rocking up, and definitely support the pub by having a meal.
Most people play by the rules.
“According to the publicans, the majority of people enjoy meals and drinks to repay the hospitality,” Jackie said. “They always like people to check in at the bar before setting up, and check for any conditions that may apply — such as grey water disposal or where pets are permitted.”
While there are 1200 CPC pubs across the country, here are Jackie’s recommendations in each state.
THE ROYAL CARRANGARRA HOTEL, TAMBO
The Royal Carrangarra Hotel is the oldest licensed site in Central Western Outback Queensland. The Publican is Ben Casey, and he thinks outside the square to attract tourists and locals to his pub.
Every evening, except during summer, he runs chicken races where vividly coloured hens race each other around a track to with the prize of a feast of grain. The event is enormous fun, and Ben auctions the hens with the prize money going to both the winning “owner” and a worthwhile charity. The hens stay to run another day — including the losing birds!
Ben’s meal specials are legendary, and he will welcome you warmly to his pub.
The Royal Carrangarra Hotel
THE WELLSHOT HOTEL, ILFRACOMBE
Tracy Hatch went to an auction one day and bought a pub, much to the surprise of her husband.
The Wellshot is in a tiny town near Longreach, and the pub is famous for its hospitality and good cheer. Ilfracombe was best known for the Machinery Mile — a display of antique tractors that stretches the length of the town. When the general store burnt down, Tracy provided the essentials from the pub, and soon the Coffee Hatch was created to provide that necessary ingredient — caffeine. Unique bar stools are positioned and there would have been a million photos taken of patrons astride them.
The display of hats in the bar is rivalled only by the number of monetary notes that have been thrown onto the ceiling, pins attached, by patrons. A couple of times a year this is collected, and the funds go to charity and local areas of need. The Wellshot is where the Inaugural County Pub Camping Rendezvous was held, with many members attending. A memorable time for all.
The Wellshot Hotel (Credit: Jackie Blanch)
THE CRADOCK HOTEL
Cradock is a tiny town off the beaten track from where you can see the Flinders Ranges.
Publicans Dave and Amy are raising their young family in this great village. When you stay at Cradock you will see sunsets like no other, and relax in their modern and friendly pub. The meals are generous and well cooked. Dave and Amy will ensure you have a great pub experience and will remember your visit forever.
THE OVERLAND CORNER HOTEL
One of the most historic hotels in Australia, this pub has had many entities. Built from local limestone in 1859 it was a Cobb & Co staging station, later a general store and post office. A lot of historic photos and artefacts are there to view. Brad and Nicole purchased the pub in 2020, and with pandemics, drought and floods to deal with, have simply shrugged their shoulders and got on with it. They have continued to improve their pub and it is a pleasure to visit.
Credit: Pam Field
NEW SOUTH WALES
Armatree consists of a couple of dozen homes, an agricultural supply business, and the pub.In the midst of cropping and livestock country, it’s a good half-hour from the nearest town. Camping on their lush lawns, enjoying a chat with the local farmers and being served up a prime rump from the kitchen is an absolute pleasure.
I first stayed here when Ash and Lib were the publicans. The pub was in a sorry state and they shed blood, sweat and tears renovating and creating the beautiful pub it is today. It has now changed hands, but I will always have a fond spot for this hotel.
THE ROYAL HOTEL DENMAN
Located in a small town in the Upper Hunter Valley, the Royal is a beautiful hotel, painstakingly restored by publican and owner Mark, who has had the pub more than 20 years.
It is popular with visitors and locals alike, and the bar and dining room are very busy every night of the week. The food is Instagram-worthy and features local produce where possible. The camping area is on pub grounds, and modern amenities are provided for the campers.
The Royal Hotel Denman (Credit: Jackie Blanch)
WATHEROO STATION TAVERN
The building is a railway station that is still owned by the railway but leased by the community and run as a tavern, and a great stop for travellers. Watheroo is a small community on the wildflower trail about an hour from the coast. The publican, Sally-Ann, generously offers power and water for free if you have a meal at the tavern. What a great deal.
They open early for your coffee fix, and run a post office agency for the community.
THE GRANDE OLDE DUMBLEYUNG INN, GODI
This majestic building is located 230km from Perth and 200km from the Margaret River region on the Wildflower Trail. Peter is the publican here.
It is just a short drive to Lake Dumbleyung where Donald Campbell’s Bluebird broke the speed record in 1964. There is a replica of the vehicle nearby. Sit around the fire drum out back of the pub after a delicious meal and meet some new friends.
The Grande Olde Dumbleyung Inn (Credit: Sharyn Millar)
A popular pub with friendly staff. It is a popular base to visit Port Arthur and not worry about cooking dinner when you return to camp.
TALL TIMBERS BAR AND BISTRO
This lovely pub has a spacious, free RV camp adjacent, so it is just a short stroll to the pub to enjoy dinner and a drink.
The huge green grassed area is located next to a picturesque little creek, with weeping willows and friendly ducks. For a nominal fee, guests can access the indoor pool or the tennis courts.
Tall Timbers Bar and Bistro
Formerly a Cobb & Co coach station, built originally of weatherboard in 1852 and renovated to utilise bluestone in 1880.
Located in Shiraz wine heartland. Beth and Garth serve fresh, local produce and outstanding meats and seafood for your dining pleasure.
The Redesedale Hotel (Credit: Beth McIlwain)
THE ROYAL HOTEL, SEA LAKE
The community purchased the pub when it was abandoned by the former owners. Renovations are extraordinary and tasteful. I am very impressed with this hotel in the small, sleepy town of Sea Lake in the Mallee region of Victoria. Lake Tyrrell Salt Lake is nearby, and photo opportunities abound, along with the very beautiful silo art attracting tourists to the town. The Juke Restaurant is part of the pub and serves perfectly prepared restaurant-quality meals and fine local wines.
DEVILS MARBLES HOTEL, WAUCHOPE
On the Stuart Highway south of Tennant Creek.
Wow! What a surprise. The saying “do not judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. It is a credit to Nicole and Gary who manage this little slice of paradise. Although the menu is not extensive, they have a nice selection from which to choose.
The grilled barramundi is fresh and grilled to perfection. The pub owns the attached caravan park which has all the amenities travellers need.
THE BARK HUT INN
On the Arnhem Highway at Mount Bundey, the Bark Hut Inn is located on the western edge of Kakadu National Park, two kilometres from the Mary River and Mary River National Park.
Terry Baldwin built the hut in 1963, constructing it by hand, using any ironwood and materials he could get his hands on in the local vicinity. Using the help of the local Aboriginal people, he created a strong bond with them. It underwent a complete renovation in 2022.
The Bark Hut Inn provides shady powered and unpowered campsites, supplies and fuel.
The big, rustic restaurant has very good food. A swimming pool is available for use, with tropical palms and vegetation bordering the pathways.
The Bark Hut Inn
Pub camping etiquette:
- Park on the road and go into the bar – don’t head straight to the camping area without first checking in
- Ask if it’s okay to camp and how to handle your grey water
- Ask about pets too, if you have one (or more)
- Pay a fee or donation if it is requested
- Check out the menu and book a table for your meal
- Set up, return and have a refreshing drink after your drive
- Having your own barbecue on pub grounds instead of a pub meal is poor form
- Consider purchasing any drinks from the pub to have back in your van
- It is wise to call ahead and check the pub is open on the day you wish to visit