to make our QLD coast roadtrip amazing
June 9, 2010 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice for a north east coast Australian road trip. Planning to drive from somewhere north of Brisbane (?) up to Cairns or further, in a fairly low-fi style. Looking for tips on car/van rental, places to see and accomodation. Anyone done this? Details inside.

So three of us will be flying from Sydney up to somewhere in Queensland north of Brisbane, somewhere it will be warm in July. Basically our plan is to see lots of nice beaches and scenery (we love most scenery - cane plantations and old farm buildings as well as rainforest and coast) and go swimming a lot and be warm.

I am interested in renting a campervan possibly. Does anyone have experience with this? If we do, can we rent it in south QLD, drive it up and leave it in Cairns, will that cost way more?

Also no resorts or fancy accomodation. Camping is perfect, or low-key but pleasant style or eco holiday places. Backpackers okay as long as they're not too rowdy (much as we love hordes of sunburnt geezers).

We are definitely interested in the Whitsundays, does anyone know if you can camp on any of the islands? Are there ferries to the islands? If no camping, is there any non-resort style accomodation?

Anyway, I'm interested in ANY tips, advice or experiences anyone has had doing this kind of roadtrip. Activities, strange towns, nice burgers. We're not broke, just not interested in luxury holiday styles. Also any places you would recommend from north of brisbane up to wherever...

We'll be there in mid-July. Thanks peoples.
posted by beccyjoe to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
It would be great to know what sort of time you have have available -- the distance between Brisbane and Cairns is 1700kms...
posted by prettypretty at 8:31 PM on June 9, 2010

Me and some traveller's I met rented a car (standard compact) and drove from Cairns north to Cape Tribulation. This was January 2008. Stayed in a hostel at the Cape (we had our own dorm, so any rowdiness was self-induced), which was walking distance to the beach (although the beach wasn't swimmable - too many jellyfish). There was a rainforest boardwalk thing we paid (too much) to see, but did manage to see some nice birds, and a big walking stick.

75km's north of Cairns is Mossman Gorge which was a nice place to pop in for a swim.

We also checked out Barron Falls, which also had a (free) rainforest boardwalk (falls themselves were a trickle when we were there). Didn't see quite as much wildlife, but it was nice enough that paying $25 for the Cape Trib boardwalk seemed like a waste..

Wicked Campers were all over the place in Australia, so I imagine you could rent in one place and drop off at another. The website probably has information. Australia caters to that sort of travel, so I can't imagine you'll have too much trouble in that regard. (You say you're flying from Sydney, so I assume you're Australian - but I know it's easy to not notice all the tourist-oriented stuff going on in your own country).

I got the general impression that camping would be pretty easy to come by.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2010

Haven't been there, but they go to Cape Tribulation in Sean and David's Long Drive. It's a narrative, not a guidebook, but it will give you some kind of feel for the trip. And it's pretty funny in places.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:12 PM on June 9, 2010

I went on almost this exact trip, albeit six years ago. We rented a car and stayed in hotels/motels, so I have little camping advice, but here are highlights from my trip (we flew into Brisbane and then drove up to Cairns and then took a day excursion even further north):

If you're spending any time in Brisbane itself, I had a very good experience at the affordable Edward Lodge, 75 Sydney St., in the New Farm neighborhood. The city itself is pleasant, but what was particularly nice were excursions outward, to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you get to hold koalas and feed kangaroos as well as seeing many other creatures, and to North Stradbroke Island, accessible by ferry and very scenic.

On the roadtrip, we found that most of the (to us) most interesting and lovely places were further north. This was somewhat in contrast to what was described in our guide book - times may have changed, but back then what the book assured us were thriving, interesting towns turned out to frequently be almost abandoned and lifeless. However, the town of Mackay has a cute, art-deco style downtown, and is probably worth a visit.

Things got really good up around Mission Beach, which has both a very nice beach and some lovely rainforests surrounding it, which are one of the few areas where wild cassowaries live. We particularly enjoyed a short hike through an area full of fan palms in Licuala State Forest (a description of the trail can be found here -- it's a hotel page but I don't know anything about the accommodations).

I definitely recommend heading inland to the Atherton Tablelands. We spent a night in the town of Yungaburra, where you can go on various animal-spotting outings, including night hikes to spot tree kangaroos and morning boat rides on Lake Tinaroo to see wild platypuses (they're very cute and smaller than I expected). Nearby is the town of Kuranda, which is very touristy but great for picking up souvenirs.

Cairns the town wasn't too exciting (to us), but the Great Barrier Reef is all it's cracked up to be. Definitely get out into the water - you take a boat out to the reef, and it's wonderful to see while snorkeling if you're not scuba divers.

The excursion north from Cairns was pretty great too, I have to say. Nearby, the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in Port Douglas was a great way to see whatever animals we'd missed thus far on the trip up close and in what looked like (for them) comfortable surroundings. The birds in the aviary sections were incredible. Further north, it was a blast to go on a crocodile-spotting boat ride on the Daintree River (departing from the town of Daintree). There are also some great rainforest walks around there and further up toward Cape Tribulation (actually a pleasant beach).

As you can tell, we really like watching animals - that may not be your top priority, but I hope some of these ideas will be useful to you. Enjoy your trip!
posted by unsub at 9:28 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. These are helpful tips.

@prettypretty - we have 2 -3 weeks, probably around 2.5 weeks.

@backwards guitar - yeah I am Australian, but our Canadian friend is coming to visit, hence the trip. I have travelled extensively on the road in Canada and the U.S. but you're right I know nothing about that stuff here.
posted by beccyjoe at 9:45 PM on June 9, 2010

I have done a small part of that trip, when I went to Cairns and travelled up the coast to Cape Tribulation. This was 10 years ago, so no idea how much things have changed. Cape Tribulation was beautiful, and very much worth the trip. IIRC, in July you should still be able to swim, as jellyfish season is Oct-May or so. At that time, the coast road proper ended at Cape Tribulation, and was 4WD-only north of there. No idea if that's still true, but if you want to camp, that might be a really cool trip, you could go all the way to Cooktown.

Seconding the recommendations for Mossman Gorge and Kuranda (touristy but beautiful, take the cable car up and the train back down). Port Douglas has a lovely beach but is fairly pricey. There were lots of small and lovely beach towns along the coast road between Cairns and Port Douglas. North of Port Douglas things started to feel a little more rural I think.
posted by Joh at 11:09 PM on June 9, 2010

I live in Bundaberg, I've driven the road to Cairns. Not really a lot to see for long stretches. All suggestions are good above. But if you are in the Bundy area me-mail me for an impromptu meetup!

Probably fly into Hervey Bay from Sydney? But 4 hours on the road may be a cheaper option for picking up a camper in Brisbane.

Hungry Tum 24 hour backpacker favourite is the place near the railway for a good burger in Bundaberg.

The Hummock is good for views in the Bundaberg area.
posted by dinoworx at 11:16 PM on June 9, 2010

Town of 1770 is good, it has a low-key, relaxed feel and you can get out to (the bottom end of) the Reef and do some snorkelling and diving fairly inexpensively. Also some nice lookouts, beaches etc. We had a driving honeymoon from Brisbane to about that far in September three years ago and had a great time. I researched and booked the holiday entirely on the web (although we weren't camping), all accommodation was sight unseen and for a modest budget, and we had no unpleasant surprises at all.

Plenty of camping areas in that part of the world, too. I liked the countryside between 1770 and Bundaberg, and I think the Childers area may offer what you are looking for in terms of beautiful farmland scenery. You also might want to consider spending a couple of days around the Fraser Island area further south, eg Fraser itself or Rainbow Beach, beautiful.
posted by k_tron at 1:20 AM on June 10, 2010

There are lots of camper van hire options - Juicy, Wicked, Maui seem to be the most visible on the roads. One-way hire will often have an extra charge.

The Queensland Tourism website has some information on driving holidays. If you can, head into the Qld Tourism office in your city, they have great info and all the maps you need.

Here is some info on camping in National Parks in the Whitsunday Islands.

Don't miss: Atherton Tablelands, Cape Tribulation, the islands, snorkling on the Great Barrier Reef, the Kuranda Railway, Tully River... ah...the list is long.

Get online to Thorn Tree, the Lonely Planet forums. You'll find many ideas for your trip there.
posted by Kerasia at 1:56 AM on June 10, 2010

Wow, awesome, thank you everyone. THanks for all the links. This is inspiring.

@k_tron - there is a town called 1770? I must go there just for the name.
posted by beccyjoe at 2:47 AM on June 10, 2010

So named because they say it's where Captain Cook first stepped ashore in Queensland, in 1770, unwittingly leading to the production of many novelty souvenirs.
posted by k_tron at 10:58 PM on June 10, 2010

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