You may have heard of Whitsunday Island, Fraser Island or Airlie Beach, and these are all amazing places to visit on your trip to Queensland. But if you're after something a little less tourist-y, this is the trip for you. You don't need much - you can do this in a week, as long as you have a vehicle, somewhere to sleep (a tent will do) and a little patience. Google maps will help too!
When we did this trip, our aim was to drive from Brisbane to Cairns as quickly as possible. Where we stopped along the way we chose on what we were feeling that day. Fancied a swim? We found a public pool. Fancied a walk? We found a Botanic Garden with a free zoo! Wanted some amazing views? We went to the beach. We did stop off in some of the highly hyped about places some of your friends or family visited when they travelled the East Coast of Australia, but the highlight of this trip for us were the small towns we stopped in.
Day 1 - Rainbow Beach
Not too far from the more commercialised Hervey Bay, the drive to this small seaside town is truly incredible. Rows and rows of pine trees line the roads towards Rainbow Beach as you drive through the Toolara State Forest. It was on these roads that we saw our first wild Kangaroo, just stood at the side of what it thought was a deserted road with its baby Joey in her pouch!
Once you get to Rainbow Beach, it seems all your problems just melt away. There’s plenty of hilltop views of the sea and places to stop for lunch and even BBQ. Our favourite spot for a light bite was Jilary Cafe for a warm muffin and amazing coffee. The beach was full of swimmers, sun bathers and 4WD alike, and with trips over to Fraser Island, this makes a perfect day trip or even a weekend stay in one of the nearby hotels.
Camp for the night was further North in a little town called Childers. This free camp is unsuitable for tents but great if you have a van or car in which you can reside for the night. Fellow campers were really friendly and were willing to give advice on further stops on the way and share information about the the town’s history.
Day 2 - Town of 1770
This place was recommended to us by my Uncle who had travelled Australia a number of years ago. If he hadn't, I'm not sure we would have even heard of this place never mind accidentally found our way there. Despite its odd name, this small bay is truly spectacular and a great stop off for lunch or just to lazy on the sand. With lots of small seafood cafes and eateries dotted around the area, you will be spoilt for choice.
We drove on to find camp for the night and found another free camp next to the Boyne river. Campers were sociable and friendly, and felt like you were staying in a little community. The house next to this campground was filled with artwork made from recycled metal and was interesting to look at. The amazing views of the river made this camp an absolute pleasure to be in.
Day 3 - Rockhampton and Bouldercombe
When we arrived in Rockhampton, we weren't really sure what to expect. But we soon decided we wanted to visit the Botanic Gardens, and we were not disappointed. With lagoon side views, amazing plants and trees, there were endless corners of these gardens to explore - and all for free! Make sure you have a hat, sun cream and a bottle of water before you set out on your adventure here. I would also recommend having a picnic lunch near the Cafe at the entrance of the gardens, where you will be surrounded by tropical birds vying for a chance to nibble on your crumbs. We saw a family enjoying this experience and we wished we’d saved our lunch!
As well as the gardens, Rockhampton has a zoo located next door which is also free. With amazing animals, an aviary and daily feeding times so guests can join the keepers and hear a little about them and ask as many questions as they liked. Our favourite were the chimpanzee feeding time, and the keeper gave us a lot of information about these animals, and you can truly tell he is very passionate about his job at the zoo. If you have an old mobile, take it along to get recycled in aid of the chimps - if you don't, you’ll wish you had!
This night we decided to drive a little out of Rockhampton to the best free campsite yet. This campsite was very quiet, but full with all different types of travellers. There were your typical backpacking couple, the Aussie couple travelling the country, the solo traveller. Whether you're staying in a tent, a car, a van or an RV, this campsite is suitable for all. The facilities at this camp are what made it outshine the rest. Lovely clean toilets, an outside shower, a grill and play area for the kids, not to mention the great pub next door. We stopped in for a beer and to our surprised saw a huge Roo bound across the road!
Days 4, 5 and 6
These were spent in Mackay, Airlie Beach and Townsville respectively. Free camps are thin and far between the further north you get towards Cairns. These nights we stayed in motels, hotels and hostels, which are relatively cheap and easy to find. These nights weren't as amazing as the others but it gave us chance to catch up with the world, have a proper shower, sleep and even a swim in the pools at our accommodation - just what we needed when we’d been cramped up in a tiny van for almost a week.
One place that we would go back to, and cannot even believe we found was on Day 4, between Rockhampton and Mackay. This was Clairview, a small town with a population of just 75 people. The view from the beach was incredible and we could not believe so little people lived in this tiny town. We stopped off for lunch, and saw a number of other travellers doing the same. If you go further into the town there is a little community centre where residents were selling their wares. We unfortunately didn't have time to stop in, but on our way back down, Clairview is definitely somewhere we will stop again.
Day 7 - Cairns
In a week, we made it to Cairns. There’s loads more to see on the way and we hope to see so much more on the way back down the East Coast, but these had to be our highlights on the way up. The smaller towns and lesser known places were hidden gems in our eyes, and if we’d have known about them sooner, we might have been able to see more of them!