Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip (and the unplanned outback!)
So after doing our dive on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns we hired a campervan and cruised the East Coast of Queensland, Australia for 10 days. To summarise on our Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip before you read this blog, overall it was AMAZING, EXPENSIVE and EDUCATIONAL.
Cairns – Mission Beach 9th – 11th March Journey: Avg. 2 hours – 139km 🚐
Thankfully we left the rain behind in Cairns however that didn’t make a difference to the damage of the floods along the route. Driving a hi-top campervan for the first time with torrential rain battering down, we both did pretty well to get ourselves to Mission Beach in one piece – our first stop!
Adjusting to life on the road in a camper takes a few days, no matter how many times you do it. You have to get into a little routine – like remembering to unplug electrical leads from power points outside before you drive off – yep, I’ve messed up before so this time I was super conscious.
On route to Mission Beach we stopped off at Babinda Boulders – we both struggled to pronounce that to begin with. You could really see the extent of the floods at this stage and a pathway, well, we presume it WAS a pathway, was completed flooded. We didn’t get to the boulders in the end. But we did make a start on our animal road sign checklist on route to Mission Beach. First sign – Cassowary.
Mission Beach is a town in the Cassowary Coast Region. Now if you google Mission Beach, it is a stunning destination and it’s one of those popular places to do a skydive too which always speaks in volume. Unfortunately, we saw a very distressed beach due to the storms and floods but nevertheless walked along for a good hour or so, found a few pretty shells, a dead frog, a dead starfish and a funky stick that was clearly a prop that Gandalf lost when filming Lord of the Rings.
On our second day, we decided to go exploring in the van around the area and try and find some of Australia’s nature to photograph. We hit the jackpot and came across a Cassowary and heaps of wallabies within the first 30 minutes of us exploring! This was Steff’s first sighting of anything close to a kangaroo so it was pretty exciting! And the Cassowary…. kind of looks like something from Jurassic Park. We were pretty impressed with our findings!
We stayed at Dunk Island View Caravan Park for two nights, the staff were awesome, there was a pool, showers/toilets were clean and overall it was a pleasant stay. Rating this one 10/10.
Mission Beach – Townsville 11th – 12th March Journey: Avg. 3 hours – 236km 🚐
Hahaha – 3 hours from Mission Beach to Townsville. That’s when the main highway isn’t flooded. So if you’re reading this post just before you’re about to road trip the East Coast of QLD and the Bruce Highway between Ingham and Townsville is closed – you’ve lucked out massively because here’s a few tips.
So the main highway was blocked and we had to get to Townsville to stay on track with our itinerary – luckily, I know a guy. Laurie, who I lived with back when I was working in Aus in 2016, well – he’s basically the RACQ website. He knows Queensland like the back of his hand. To get to Townsville we had to take the inland route. Basically the outback. Now I don’t know if you’ve watched Wolf Creek, but neither of us were massively keen on this idea but jumped in the van anyway and off we went.
Our experience of the outback – well, we didn’t get murdered which was awesome, the only way I suppose we could describe this cheeky little (not little!) inland route is… long. It’s just miles and miles of nothing and unpaved scary roads. On average, it should have been a 7-8 hour trip – it’s 640km – which is more than double what it should have been on the main highway. In the end, it took us about 10 hours. And we were absolutely pooped by the end of it. But we did it – WAHOO!
TIP: Definitely stop at Pipers Lookout for a photo opportunity when coming into Townsville.
Important Advice – Before you do that drive, make sure you have enough fuel to get you between each petrol station, because they are very far and few between. And also make sure you have enough fuel for you – water, snacks etc. You wouldn’t want to break down without!
We arrived at Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park, got ourselves a Macca’s (because who would want to cook after 10 hours on the road?!) and got an early night. The next day we would be getting on the ferry and over to explore Magnetic Island!
Townsville – Magnetic Island 12th March 2018 Journey: 20-25 minutes – FERRY ⛴We booked the ferry the night before, and it was pretty straight forward! We cruised over to Magnetic Island with a company called Fantasea, it was free to park our van at the dock and the staff were really friendly and gave some really good advice as to where we should explore when we get over to the island!
With the ticket we purchased, it also included a bus pass and that is just one of the many ways that you can get around the island. Alternatively, you can hire a car – a normal one, or an incredibly quirky one too, some were designed like a Barbie toy car. There is so much to do on the island but obviously all at a cost. You can pay to enter to Koala Sanctuary, go on a boat tour, do a bit of snorkelling of even a scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
We opted for the free things, and there are heaps of free things to do if you go exploring. You can do The Forts Walk, they’re all the old forts built in World War II. Or you can do your own bit of snorkelling, or wander to the many different bays and beaches the island has to offer. Our favourite part though, was checking out the Rock Wallabies. They’re so small and tame, they’ll come right up to you and eat food out of your hand. And yes, you are allowed to feed them, just as long as it’s from the right menu, meaning carrots, rock melon, apples etc.
Unfortunately we had limited time on the island, but it didn’t stop us from heading over there in the first place – so don’t let that stop you! It’s worth a visit. We hopped back on the ferry in the afternoon and hit the road for our next destination. We hit another beautiful sunset when on route to our next destination and when we jumped out to take a photo we were greeted by several cows that walked over to us. They made the photo even better!
Townsville – Airlie Beach 12th – 14th March Journey: Avg. 3hrs 10 min – 274 km 🚐
Airlie Beach is beautiful, a resort town on the Whitsunday Coast – and also known as the gateway to Whitsunday Islands. At this point in the road trip and with 30C degree heat, we needed a swimming pool at the next campsite. And this turned out to be a common theme from here. We checked into BIG4 Whitsunday Resort – because not only did it have a swimming pool, it had a water slide – and we’re not ready to grow up. Turns out the water slide was for kids only… righto. But we had a paddle in the pool anyway. TIP: If you book your camper through Britz, Mighty or Apollo, you should get 10% discount at BIG4 campsites.
We decided against going over to the Whitsunday Islands, although it was a hard decision. We had however already done a dive on the GBR, gone over to Magnetic Island, and Fraser Islands was on the cards further into the trip. However, if you have the time or $$$ then go and do it! If you don’t, you can still explore Airlie Beach and check out a few of the look-out points for Whitsunday to get a view of that beautiful white sands and clear blue sea. We did exactly that, and then headed down to Airlie Beach Lagoon to cool off and have a swim.
We spent these days having a break from driving, lounging in the pool, sunbathing and doing a bit of work for our small business that we started before coming away. Everyone needs a lazy day!
We left early morning on 14th March…. For what was to become, our favourite place on the trip!
Airlie Beach – Cape Hillsborough 14th – 15th March Journey: Avg. 1.5 hrs – 128km 🚐
Cape Hillsborough National Park, I feel it’s one of those secrets that Australia kept from me when I lived there. I’d never heard of it until Steff said – “Check this out! Let’s go here!”
We checked in to Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park nice and early, a campsite located on the beach and surrounded by a forest. The campsite has heaps of perks, there’s a swimming pool, mini-golf, bush walks and the best part – kangaroos congregate on the beach at sunrise, giving you not only an amazing memory, but a perfect photo opportunity.
With the whole day ahead of us, we went exploring. We spent a good hour walking along the beach, climbing on rocks and taking photo’s (though we were a tad windswept!), finding really cool shells and we came across hundreds of crabs running across the sand. That wasn’t enough for us though, so we enquired at the front desk of our campsite and they advised us of a really cool hike that we can do. We chucked on our gym gear, packed a bag (forgot the first aid kit though!) with bug spray, water, our photography gear and headed out.
I wish I had the camera strapped to my chest because Steff definitely fell over and tripped up a record number of times during the walk. That could have been some good material for You’ve Been Framed. The walk itself was really cool, not in the literally sense, it was absolutely sweltering, but the views were amazing. The forest along this track is home to over 25 species of vividly-coloured butterflies and 150 bird species. It was about a 2-2.5 hour walk, half of it being up the mountain to the lookouts and the other half where you’re greeted by a nice cool breeze on the way back down to the beach. We timed it perfectly with low-tide too which enabled us to walk over to Wedge Island at the end of the walk.
We spent the rest of the evening having dinner, sipping on a beer and getting an early night. Alarms set for 5:30AM to catch those roo’s at sunrise!
Alarms go off – makes a change from having to get up for work at that time! We quite happily hopped out of bed, excuse the pun, for this experience. We grabbed our photography gear and walked a few yards on to the beach…
And there they were. Just happily minding their own business. It was still pretty dark to begin with so we could just see the silhouettes of lots of kangaroos. There was at least 15 or more. As the sun started to peep up, the kangaroos got closer to us and at one point the two biggest roo’s kept on following Steff and I. A bit scary to begin with but they’re super tame. We chilled with the kangaroos for an hour until it was complete daylight, and off they hopped back into the forest.
A memory that neither of us will forget.
ZOOM IN on my face to see the pure fear when the two biggest kangaroos come hopping towards me and just sit there.
Cape Hillsborough – Yeppoon 15th – 16th March Journey: Avg. 4.5 hrs — 379km 🚐
Yeppoon was just an overnight pit stop for us, somewhere we could relax for the day, do some laundry and do a bit of work. Because the next stop for us was Hervey Bay and that was a good 8 hours from Cape Hillsborough, so we decided to break the drive up and pitch up here for the night.
We stayed at Beachside Caravan Park and considering we didn’t have any plans for this stop, we lucked out by getting a spot overlooking the beach.
Sunrise came and we were in for a treat, from the comfort of our bed we were able to watch it rise over the sea. The best alarm clock ever.
We headed off early as always with the Sat Nat set to Hervey Bay… but not forgetting a cheeky stop off at Bundaberg to hit up the distillery for a bottle of my favourite rum.
Yeppoon – Bundaberg 16th March Journey: Avg. 4 hours – 328km 🚐
There’s not much to say on this one. Other than…
Oh – and we checked off another animal sign from our list… KANGAROO!
Bundaberg – Hervey Bay 16th-18th March Journey: Avg. 1.5 hrs – 110km 🚐
We booked into Harbour View Caravan Park for two nights, arriving late in the afternoon we were dying to get into the pool after 6 hours of driving! We pitched up the van, got into our bikinis and walked down to the campsite pool… which was interesting to say the least. Bit more of a green murky pond. So we avoided that one and decided to tan before the sun disappeared and have a cheeky glass of rum. That glass of rum ended up being the whole bottle. I cooked the best dinner that night, and I’m pretty sure it was because I was under the influence of alcohol.
Alarms set for an early one again – off to Fraser Island next! In the morning, we left our campervan at the site and hopped on to a bus to the main dock.
Hervey Bay to Fraser Island 17th March Journey: Avg. 30-35min
We booked on to the Fraser Explorer Day Tour. Now, neither of us are ones for doing tours, we prefer to go and explore ourselves and feel less restricted. BUT – this was one of the best experiences we’ve had. Upon our arrival we were directed to a big blue 4×4 bus. Our tour guide introduced himself and he was fantastic. He had a great sense of humour and his knowledge of the island was on point. When we left the docks and started driving into the rainforest, he said “Welcome to my office.” Pretty awesome job.
We learnt so much that day – here are just a few of those things:
- Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes to swim in
- It is the largest sand island in the world!
- The island is over 800,000 years old
- There are around 25 to 30 packs of Dingoes that roam the island, each pack consisting of around 12 Dingoes – believe it or not, we were told that we’d be lucky if we even see one…. But we saw four dingoes – HAPPY DAYS!
- The island was named after Captain James Fraser who is rumoured to have starved to death on the island – there is so much to this story, definitely worth a look into. They’re looking to rename the island K’gari, pronounced ‘gurri’ and it means ‘Paradise’. Made perfect sense to us.
- The most popular way to get around is by 4X4 and 75 Mile Beach is a nationally registered highway
- The beaches surrounding the island are unswimmable due to sharks, rips and unpredictable water conditions
- Eli Creek flows over 80 million liters of water into the Pacific Ocean EVERY DAY! And the water is so pure you can drink it. We did!
- Lake McKenzie boasts pure silica sands that make for a great all body exfoliation – this place was absolutely stunning!
- Maheno Shipwreck crashed on the island’s shores in 1935 due to a cyclone off the Fraser Coast
- The island is home to unique rainbow coloured sands that have formed from erosion
Halfway through our tour, we were cruising along the beach in the 4X4 bus and our driver informed us that there are two planes that operate, there are limited seats, but if we want a chance to see the island from above, shout out now.
Obviously we did. $80 AUD each – you can’t really say no to that because the experience itself was an unforgettable one. We had the opportunity to see some of Fraser Islands lakes that are unaccessible – one of which was shaped like a butterfly.
We had the opportunity to see the famous Maheno Shipwreck and take some amazing photos too! The story behind the SS Maheno is also one to read into – one of it’s purposes (way before it became a beautiful ruin washed up on Fraser Island) was in World War I when it was called in to service and converted into a hospital ship.
After our shipwreck experience, we were taken to Lake McKenzie. This perched lake is located 100 metres above sea level, meaning that it comprises of rainwater only. Along with the clean water, the sand around Lake Mackenzie is pure silica, giving the beach a shimmering white colour. Our tour guide told us, if you were to look under a microscope at normal sand, it would be slightly jagged and have a sharp edge. This sand however, is perfectly round. And it’s a great natural exfoliator.
We got into our bikini’s and went for a dip in this famous lake, and it was the best swim we’ve ever had. Look how clear that water is!
We were kind of sad to leave Fraser Island and would have loved to have spent a few days there! But nevertheless, the experience that we had was amazing and we without a doubt plan to return one day! Leaving the island whilst we were on the ferry, we caught the most beautiful sunset and it finished the day off perfectly.
Hervey Bay – Noosa 18th- 19th March Journey: 2hrs 15 min – 184km 🚐
Noosa was our last stop of the road trip! We checked in to our campsite, Ingenia Holidays Noosa and headed straight for the pool. Clearly at this stage we were in fall denial that we had to give up Carlos the next day. Carlos was our camper van by the way, we named him.
We reluctantly packed our backpacks in the afternoon and treated ourselves to Fish & Chips.
The one thing I love about fish and chips in Australia is the variety. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some cockles in vinegar on Brighton seafront, but they seem to have it all down under – and the portion sizes are ridiculous, Steff and I should have shared one meal between us!
For our last evening, we headed down to Noosa beach to be greeted by a beautiful sunset. We have a habit of catching them at the best times! There’s so much to do in Noosa, Steff fell in love with it a bit, but we didn’t have a lot of time there so that’s one more on the list to revisit!
Noosa – Brisbane 19th March Journey: Avg. 2 hrs – 150km 🚐
It was a jam packed morning, filling the gas back up, driving to our drop off location, picking up the rental car etc. But I was excited to get to Brisbane as it had been my home for 8 months when I worked in Australia back in 2016. And more excited to introduce Steff to what used to be my home, where I made some amazing friends that I couldn’t wait to see! Oh yeah – last but not least, our final animal off our sign check list…. KOALA!
The road trip was amazing, we loved camp life, we got so used to it that we’re looking at investing in a VW Camper (stereotypes, I know!) in the future. If you’re planning on a Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip and have any questions that we may not have answered here – feel free to get in touch via our Contact Us page… or alternatively drop us a message on Instagram – @we.are.wandering
Stay tuned for our adventures in Brisbane where we visit the Glass House Mountains, Australia Zoo, South Bank AND go to a pineapple farm!!!
What’s on the menu tonight Chef? 👩🏼🍳
We cooked up a storm in our camper and only ate out once or twice. Here are some easy meals to cook if you’re planning a road-trip.
Chicken Pesto Pasta
We had this quite a lot. Because it was so easy. Cook some chicken, boil some pasta, cut up courgettes, onion, red peppers, cherry tomatoes and chuck in some baby leaf spinach. Mix pesto and mayonnaise together, fold that bad boy into the pasta and Hey Presto. Dinner is served.
Get a mixed bag of salad, a couple of garlic cloves and two nice pieces of steak. Fry the steak on the BBQ with chopped garlic and butter – Bob’s your uncle. I even cut up some Brie and melted it on to the steak. You’ve got yourself an easy peezy dinner… Gourmet Camp Style!
Mexican Chicken & Rice
Literally a bag of Uncle Bens Mexican rice with salad and chicken. Do you need instructions for that one?
Chicken & Avo Wraps
Fry some chicken, cut up some avocado, tomatoes, salad and cheese. Chuck that all on to a wrap and add pesto mayonnaise. Yummy!
To use up the rest of the wraps we grabbed som fajita mix/flavouring, cut up some peppers, onions and garlic. Cooked the chicken and the veg, added the fajita mix and BOOM I FEEL LIKE FAJITA TONIGHT!