CARAVAN owners and 'grey nomads' are still coming up with ways to holiday for free, often going against local laws in the process.
As the 'grey nomad' season gets under way, caravan parks have pointed out that caravan owners are better off staying in purpose-built parks, than they are stopping in car parks or lay-bys, and have called for councils to do more to stop people staying overnight where they shouldn't.
Mackay Regional Council development services director Gerard Carlyon said the council was actively trying to attract more visitors in RVs and caravans to the Mackay region, and added that the council did not support illegal camping.
"The RV tourism market is estimated to be worth $2.5billion annually, so we want the Mackay region to be well positioned to access this lucrative tourism market,” Mr Carlyon said.
"That is why council last year amended fees at its Mirani Caravan Park to provide affordable options aimed at the RV market,” he said.
That move helped prompt the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia to officially declare "Mirani, Pioneer Valley” an RV Friendly Town.
However, Mr Carlyon said it was important visitors in RVs and caravans were making use of the facilities throughout the region for overnight stays.
"Council in no way condones illegal camping in our region.”
Mr Carlyon said access had been improved at the Sarina Field of Dreams Parklands, the site of a new visitor information centre project that is under way, to cater for tourist buses, RVs and caravans. But he said this was for day visits only.
"There are no camping facilities at the Field of Dreams Parklands.”
Similarly, there are no approvals for caravans and RVs to camp at Mackay showgrounds or Muller Park at Ooralea, despite a sign at the edge of Muller Park stating: "No parking or camping beyond this point”.
"Each year council grants two permits as one-off approvals for camping at Muller Park for Mackay Kennel Club Incorporated associated with their major annual events at the park. However, as a general rule, camping is illegal in our parks.
"We have been working with caravan park operators over the past year, as well as clubs representing owners, to look at new options for RVs.
"This could include new RV parks, new short-stay locations and changes within current commercial facilities to take advantage of the great opportunity the growing RV market presents for the region.”
Ann Westwood, manager of The Park on Farrellys Rd said caravan parks are experiencing the same cost issues as other businesses in Mackay.
"With ever increasing compliance costs, rising costs in electricity, water, rates, insurances, rubbish removal, and so on, to remain viable as businesses, we need the support of council and the travelling public.
"Our guests tell us there is an increasing number of travellers staying in 'free camping' sites, which may be only 1km from a registered, commercial caravan park but supply a toilet and running water.
"If council made camping illegal in areas which do not hold caravan park certification and this was policed, it would go a long way to giving the legitimate parks a boost.
"Councils allowing 'free camping' activities create an uneven playing field. Private investment in commercial camping and caravan parks is necessary to match the demands and changing expectations of travellers.
"At The Park here in Paget, we provide our guests with tourist information and encourage them to lengthen their stay in Mackay, hence spending more dollars in the town. We recommend restaurants and point them towards the best retail outlets and service providers.
"Secondly, we employ locals and source all our equipment and supplies locally. We strongly believe that locals must support locals if we want the local economy to prosper.
"We have always had a separate area of the park designated for tourists, including during the busier mining years. We never at any time turned any caravans away because we were full.
"With several commercial parks in the region, there is no need for the council to provide ratepayer subsidised camp sites in and around Mackay.
"They would do better to spend their rates on continuing to beautify Mackay and provide activities than bear the cost of overflowing rubbish, disposal of grey and black water, marked sites, emergency evacuation, supervision and registration of guests and the wear and tear degradation of provided sites, all of which private commercial parks incur as part of their business.
"We're all in this together to make Mackay great or the ring road will simply have travellers bypass Mackay altogether.”
Why they keep coming back
DESPITE some caravan enthusiasts looking for a free place to stay, there are some who prefer the security and facilities of a proper caravan park.
Bev and Terry Linke from Mildura say they have been returning to Mackay each year for 11 years during the winter to stay at The Park on the Bruce Highway south of Mackay.
Bev, who makes and sells handbags to aid cancer research, said "It's a safe, comfortable place, it's got lots of facilities that caravaners need and lots of places to visit.”
She said The Park is ideal for her. "When you're coming from the south, you don't have to worry about driving through the traffic until you become accustomed to where the roads go. It was on the way and looked clean and tidy and we come back because of that.”
Bev said that she has sold 1400 bags since she started making and selling them. She sells them for between $20 and $50, and has raised $25,000 for cancer research.