We were really excited about this leg of our journey – 12 days in a campervan to travel 1700km between Cairns and Brisbane. However, we found a lot of the time in our campervan hot, sticky and uncomfortable. It was old, parts were broken, there were no air vents in the back so journeys were uncomfortable and it wasn’t easy to see out of the windows. The beds were heavy and cumbersome to put up and take down and it drank fuel for fun! We wouldn’t mind but it also proved to be around 50% more expensive than the previous 12 days with car and hotel/Airbnb covering a similar distance. The cheapest camper we could find (with a toilet) was £100/$165 per night, campsite fees were around £40/$60 per night and we were spending about £30/$50 a day on fuel. It was not a budget way to travel!
That being said, our road trip was fabulous!
Our first night was on a pleasant, free campsite in Babinda, a quaint little sugarcane village just outside Cairns . After another walk in search of the elusive cassowary bird we stopped at a swimming hole aptly named Babinda Boulders where the children plucked up the courage to climb the huge boulders and jump off them. It was a beautiful spot so we ended up staying longer than planned and didn’t drive too far that afternoon. Our next stop was a leisurely one at a Bali Hai Tourist Park on the lovely and deserted Mission Beach.
The following day we drove further south past fields of sugarcane and banana plantations towards Townsville. From there, we took a 1.5hr detour inland where the landscape became flatter and more arid to the gold mining town of Charters Towers. The town began as a cattle grazing settlement but, once gold was discovered, it boomed. At the height of the gold rush there were 170 gold mines in Charters Towers and it was the second biggest town in Queensland after Brisbane. The former prosperity of the town is reflected in the elaborate architecture, different from anything we’ve seen in Australia so far. We watched a film about the town’s history up on a hill overlooking the town (from where we also saw rock wallabies and spectacular lightening storms 100km away on the coast). We stayed on another free campsite on the outskirts of town. The following day, we returned to ‘The Miners Cottage‘, an authentic building that the owner has filled with interesting antiquities. The girls were also able to pan for gold and were lucky enough to find some but unfortunately not enough to retire on!
From Charters Towers, we drove back towards Townsville and then down the coast to Seabreeze Tourist Park in Airlie Beach, the ‘gateway to the Whitsunday islands’. The Whitsunday islands are a group of 71 mostly uninhabited, tree-covered islands in the Great Barrier Reef, surrounded by turquoise ocean and white sand beaches – beautiful. Our biggest splurge of this (entire) trip was a day trip to 2 of the islands with 2 snorkelling stops. We planned to stay 2 nights in Airlie but the trip got postponed so we stayed an extra night. Airlie itself is a small town mostly built from tourism with a huge marina and some trendy restaurants and bars. We walked into town along the lovely 2.4km waterfront boardwalk, and were ready for a swim in the free outdoor lagoon pool when we got there. We used our free day to visit Cedar Creek waterfall and swim in the swimming hole, where we saw a huge monitor lizard.
Our Whitsunday trip was worth the wait – we saw a turtle, some huge fish and brightly coloured coral whilst snorkelling. The scenery and beaches lived up to their reputation and the tour company we used (Zigzag) were great with the kids, letting them use the paddle board and feed the fish and they looked after them when they needed a rest from snorkelling. We had left our shoes on the boat so, James alone decided to walk barefoot up the trail up to a stunning lookout from Whitehaven beach where you can see the horseshoe-shaped bay where we stopped to snorkel.
After that trip we drove 1.5hrs to Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, a beach-front campsite where wallabies and kangaroos come to feed on the beach at dawn. We set our alarms for 5am and were not disappointed! There were around 10 wallabies and 2 kangaroos. Although they were wild, we hadn’t realised that the campsite actually put food out for them so that they could remain in one spot while a ranger told us about them. We watched them for about an hour, eating, bouncing around and squabbling at times. Two of the female wallabies clearly had joeys in their pouches but we didn’t see them. After breakfast, we walked a steep trail to a lookout point over the beach before packing up and moving on in search of another Australian native – the platypus…
Eungella national park is the number one place in the world to spot platypus. It was a 1.5hr detour inland and I found in the guide book that there was ‘Platypus Bush Camp‘ on the way there that had their own platypus swimming pool. It was a quirky, rustic camp run by an eccentric guy and we decided to stay there for the night. We spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the creek until dusk. Then we sat by the platypus pool and watched and waited silently for around an hour until it was too dark to see. No platypus. We were all tired so went to bed and decided to try at dawn. At 5am we went back to the pool, watched and waited. No platypus. By 6.30am we decided to take a chance on driving 30mins to Broken River in Eungella National Park to try there. Eungella was worth the trip in itself. It was a steep drive up into the mountains in a unique rainforest ecosystem. We spent another hour looking for platypus and met a few people who told us they had seen some the previous day at 5.30pm. We were very disappointed. We had intended to spend the day driving to make up some lost time from Airlie, but we really wanted to see platypus. After discussion, we decided to spend the rest of the day there and try again at dusk. We spent the day walking trails, doing school work and checking the creek for platypus but only found turtles and snakes!
Finally at 4.30pm we spotted our first platypus right by one of the three special viewing areas. We were so excited! It spent a few minutes swimming, resurfacing and diving down again – brilliant! It was smaller and cuter than we expected it to be. There were smiles all round. We checked further down the creek and spotted another one before we left. Our efforts had been rewarded! We stopped at the ‘sky window’ for a fabulous view on our descent back down the mountain, but it was already going dark. We drove 1.5hrs that evening to Cape Palmerston Holiday Park where we awoke to find kangaroos close to our camper in the morning.
By now we had lost 2 driving days (3 really as we left Cairns a day later than planned) so had some ground to cover. We spent the day driving and arrived in the Town of Seventeen Seventy at 8pm. The town is named after Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia in 1770 and is part of the ‘discovery coast’. The Captain Cook Holiday Village campsite is all we saw of it though! With our poor Wi-Fi connection, we discovered that Cook first landed in Australia at Botany Bay so we decided not to explore the town any further. We later discovered that Seventeen Seventy was where he made his second landing and we were disappointed we didn’t at least get to see the beach. We drove from there past mango orchards to the sugarcane town of Bundaberg – famous for rum and ginger beer.
We opted to visit the ginger beer brewery which had a nice child-friendly museum explaining the history of ginger beer and how it’s made, followed by a taste test of their 15 flavours – a sugar and fizz fest! As the children were not allowed in the ‘Bundaberg Tavern’ we visited the bar at the rum distillery for an adult drink but didn’t do the tour, so I am still unaware why they have a polar bear in their logo!
We continued driving that afternoon through a rainstorm and stopped on a free camping spot (just a car park with no facilities) in Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast. We were woken abruptly by a ranger knocking on the window at 5am telling us that we couldn’t camp there. When we asked why, he told us that we had to be self-contained. We then told him we had a shower and toilet to which he apologised and wished us a good holiday! We spent the morning along the lovely Hervey Bay waterfront and, despite some initial objections from the kids, we walked to the end of the 220m, 100 year old Urangan Pier. It was the closest we got to Fraser Island – the world’s biggest sand island with a rainforest growing on it. We visited the ‘Fraser discovery sphere’ at the Hervey Bay cultural centre which gave lots of well presented information about the humpback whales that visit Hervey Bay and the flora and fauna of Fraser Island. Fraser Island has now been added to our bucket list but unfortunately we had no time to do it justice on this trip!
We were heading for our last stop of the trip at Noosa and passed through Rainbow Beach on the way. Rainbow beach was not quite as scenic as we expected it to be – the cliffs along the beach have layers of different colours in them, but it was raining on and off so perhaps we didn’t see it at its full potential. We did see an actual rainbow at rainbow beach though! We continued towards Noosa Heads and eventually found Noosa River Holiday Park, a waterfront campsite, after driving in the dark and rain trying to find somewhere to stay. In the morning the sun had come back out and we were greeted by a stingray whilst we were eating breakfast by the edge of the river. We had run out of time to explore much more of Noosa so that was a lovely way to end to our trip!
On our last leg to Brisbane we drove along the scenic ‘Steve Irwin Highway’, through the Glass House Mountains, so named because Captain Cook thought they looked like the glass factories near his Yorkshire home. They are actually the lava core of extinct volcanoes where, over may years, the outer rock has been eroded away. We stopped at the lookout and did the walking trail where koalas are often spotted. We didn’t see any koalas but we did see two Boobook owls. By the time we arrived in Brisbane we were tired and more than ready to say goodbye to the campervan. We had driven over 2600km including the detours – a little too rushed at the end as we tried to make up for lost time – but a wonderful adventure that made us love this country even more. Now for a few days rest in Brisbane before continuing the second leg of our roadtrip on to Sydney but in the comfort of a car!
Click here to check out the rest of our Queensland Roadtrip photos.