Megalong Valley provides probably the closest opportunities for free-camping within an easy drive of Sydney. After staying in the city and suburbia for six weeks, it’s wonderful to be back in the calm environment of the Australian bush.

After leaving Katoomba, we continued along the top of the Blue Mountains ridge and took a left at Blackheath, following the signs to the Megalong Valley. The road winds through natural rainforest before levelling out on the valley plain.

Megalong Valley, February 2012
The Megalong Valley is a large, flat expanse on the western side of the Blue Mountains.

Megalong Creek, February 2012
Megalong is named from an Aboriginal phrase meaning "valley under the rock".

Our first camp was at Old Ford Reserve — located alongside a low bridge on the Megalong Creek. When we arrived, there was only one other campsite set up, but as the evening drew darker, more and more vans entered the lot to park for the night.

Old Ford Reserve, Megalong Valley, February 2012
Fifteen kilometres from the first turn-off at Blackheath, Megalong Road crosses the Megalong Creek at Old Ford Reserve.

Megalong Valley, February 2012
We had lovely company and met some nice families while camping at Old Ford Reserve.

The facilities are quite simple. There are several picnic tables at one end of the reserve, and brand-new toilets are easily accessible from the road. Apart from that, the campsites were defined only by the charred remains of previous campfires.

Camping at Megalong Valley, February 2012
It's been wonderful to sit around a campfire again. This is something that I miss when we're in the city or suburbia.

We haven’t had a fire since we camped north of Newcastle “for the New Year’s Doof party“ It is easy to find firewood at Old Ford Reserve, and almost everyone who spends the night makes a fire. I think it acts as a television substitute because it gives people something to gaze into while talking or thinking in the calm of the evening.

The creek is accessible from several spots within the reserve. Signs are clearly posted, not recommending swimming or drinking from the creek — but we did both of these. Others, too, swam in the creek, and on Saturday it was teeming with families enjoying the cool waters.

Megalong Creek, February 2012
Megalong Creek has several deepish water-holes, one of which is directly before the bridge.

Megalong Creek, February 2012
A lot of the creek is kept shallow by its course across swathes of flat rock.

Clear water of Megalong Creek, February 2012
The water in the creek is clear and refreshingly cool.

There is a four-wheel-drive track across the road from the reserve which leads to a swimming hole further downstream. We trekked down the track each morning to enjoy a day of playing on the rocks and in the safe shallows of the fast-moving stream.

Megalong Creek, February 2012
This is a family-friendly creek with many good places for those with young children to play.

Families that are looking for a weekend away from Sydney would have fun at Old Ford Reserve. If camping on a weekend, get here early so you can set up your tent on one of the few flat spots within the reserve. Or else bring a 4WD and rough it in the bush on the other side of the road.