We have had an EPIC time bouncing around Queensland and Northern NSW, however if I had to pick any stretch that really blew me away, it would have to be the inital three weeks that we spent between travelling Townsville and Cape Tribulation in late 2015. From the dry, red-rocky outcrops of Townsville you will pass through luscious waterfalls, pristine empty beaches, rainforest walks with island views, swimming holes of crystal clear water, wild jungle-like environments, the oldest rainforest in the world, crocodile territory, cassowary habitat, banana farms and cane sugar plantations, large towns with great facilities and small towns with chilled out vibes. It really is a must-see for every Aussie (and International tourist) to start to understand this crazy country just a little bit better.
Our roadtrip is made to be campervan-friendly so that you can fly in and out of Cairns, collect your campervan and return it to the same locations saving you the fees that you have to pay to return a campervan to a different location. If you’re driving in with your own car then feel free to start at one end and finish at the other.
Day 1 – Arrive in Cairns and pick up your campervan. Cairns is well worth spending a day in, but lets do that on the way home and get on the road asap! We’re heading south first. The north of Cairns is much more untamed than the south and it’s probably a good idea to gently ease yourself into the idea of camping in crocodile territory instead of diving in head-first!!! We’re going to spend our first couple of nights in Mission Beach. Avid readers of our blog will know all about our love affair with Mission Beach so I wont go into detail, just go here to find out all about this island paradise on the mainland.
For ideas on how to spend Day 1 and Day 2 in Mission Beach, head here, however in short you can take a walk along the rainforest and be rewarded with views over the islands, skydive over the great barrier reef, lounge the days away on the beach or get active and hire bike and ride the trails in search of the illusive cassowary.
Day 3 – Pack up camp and hit the road again. Today we’re headed only a short drive south to Big Crystal Creek for a couple of nights. Here you can swim in a magical waterhole right at the edge of your campsite. It is actually called PARADISE waterhole. I mean… really… how could you skip that?! We recommend spending most of day 3 here. Set up camp and walk further up the dirt road the campsite sits on (approx. 2km walk) to the Rock Slides, which are less visited and a lot of fun and swim in! See the picture below, this is where you will be swimming, reclining and relaxing!
Day 4 – Take a trip up the mountain, visit Little Crystal Creek and delve into the depths of Paluma Range National Park. Here you can rock-scramble, hike in the rainforest and swim in freshwater swimming holes. We were here in the dry season however in the wet (Aussie summer) these waterholes are full and the waterfalls are in full flow. Little Crystal Creek is well known for its historic stone arch bridge built in the 1930s that picturesquely sits behind the waterfalls.
Continuing past the waterholes up the mountain further, you will reach the small township of Paulma. Here there are some very very nice, luscious and relaxing rainforest walking tracks. Be on the lookout for cassowaries here! When you’re al tuckered out head back to Big Crystal Creek to stay the night. You might want to hit the hay early because you’ve got a big day in the city tomorrow.
Day 5 – Up as early as you can, and pack up camp. We are hitting the biggest town in North Queensland today; Townsville. Now Townsville may not have the best reputation, or any reputation at all for that matter. It tends to be left off the tourist map altogether, but it is well worth checking out. We recommend hitting Flinders Street for a nice meal, walking The Strand, swimming and exploring Riverway park and finally climbing castle hill for the sunset views. It’s a bit of a hike, but totally worth it. You can check out all these activities and a few more free things to do in Townsville in our article here.
We recommend staying the night at Alligators Creek. It is only a short drive south of Townsville and is the perfect location to wake up in. It’s also very close to the Billabong Sanctuary, which is a great place to see Aussie wildlife up close in an environment that is much kinder than a zoo. The keepers are very knowledgable and caring. We had a great time here.
Day 6 – Wake up for sunrise and take your coffee to the waterhole. You will be treated to a view of the turtles coming up to feed at sunrise, as you enjoy your coffee. It is the perfect way to start the day! Our recommendation after that would be to find a spot in the shade down near the waterhole and have a nap – you did wake up at sunrise after-all! Spend the day at Alligators Creek, there are some great walking tracks around the park and it’s just a really nice place to chill out, swim, enjoy the water and Australian bush setting. If you’re wanting something more exciting to do, then head to nearby Billabong Sanctuary.
Day 7 – Today we start the northward journey with a day spent lapping up the glory that is Magnetic Island. Drive from Alligators Nest north to Townsville and hop on the passenger ferry to Maggie (as the locals call Magnetic Island). Expect a small island, jam packed with tropical beaches, nature walks, rocky outcrops, koalas, goannas and a complete lack of crowds. Interested?! You should be! Try to take one of the early ferries to the island and one of the last back to make the most of your day in Maggie.
Once on the island, you can purchase a day pass for less than $10 that will get you anywhere you want to go on the island. Our suggestion is to head to Horseshoe Bay for a bite to eat, then hit the beach and head to the right, following the walking track to Radical Bay. It’s a bit of a local’s secret and the walk there is just as nice as the destination (see pic below!). After Radical Bay, walk back to Horseshoe Bay and take the bus to Forts Walk. This is a 4km walk that leads to historic WWII structures and lookouts. Along the way you will get excellent views to the Palm Islands in the north and Bowling Green Bay National Park in the south. Koalas are often seen in trees along the track. The walk culminates in 360 degree views from the top of the fortifications. You can walk from here back to the jetty to take the pier back to Townsville, or if you’re all walked out, then jump back on the bus to get to the pier.
After returning to the mainland, we suggest driving up to Murray Falls (a 2.5 hour drive) to camp the night in a stunning setting. If you’re done for the day and just want to set up camp asafp (as soon as fucking possible), then you can camp up for free at Saunders Beach, which is only 30 mins north of the Townsville city centre. You can stay at Saunders Beach for free for up to 48 hours.
Day 8 – Today we are chasing waterfalls and incredible views at Murray Falls in the Girramay National Park. The Yalgay Ginja Bulumi walk starts just behind the campsite and is a relaxing 1.8km return with some incredibly rewarding views from the top. Reward yourself with a swim in the river trailing from the bottom of the waterfall after your return walk. There are rope swings set up for playtime in the river and there are a couple of natural small rockslides to mess about on. You an easily spend a whole day in this lovely place. There are also free wood-fire BBQs to cook up some snags for lunch.
Day 9 – If you fell in love with Murray Falls, then get ready to tumble head-over-heels with what you’re going to see today! Hit the road and head north to Babinda Boulders via Josephine Falls. Now… I love Babinda Boulders, but I ADORE Josephine Falls. Imagine a cold fresh-water swimming hole, with a cascading waterfall background, surrounded by thick rainforest and electric blue Ulysses butterflies dancing around in the canopy of the trees overhead. It. Is. Incredible. Go. There. I wont give you a photo, you just need to explore it for yourselves!
After enjoying Josephine Falls in all her glory, head on north to Babinda Boulders, this is where we are setting up (free) camp for the night. You will be within walking distance to the this view —>
Be sure to head to the river at sunset and try your luck at spotting turtles and platypus. You can swim here in designated areas, but stay away from the waterfalls, they have taken lives before.
Day 10 – Take an early morning dip at Babinda, then do yourself a favour and head to the Babinda Bakery for breakfast. It is the best bakery in North Queensland and their breakfast burritos are worth walking over broken glass for. We’re taking a big drive today, but it is a very special drive and we will break it up into a coupe of stages. First stop: Mossman George. This is a 2 hour drive from Babinda. Mossman Gorge is your first taste of the famed Daintree National Park. You should head to the Mossman Gorge Centre which is run by local and indigenous residents to the area. There are a range of walks you can do in Mossman Gorge and the Centre will be able to provide you with maps and info about all of them. Allow yourself a couple of hours here before hitting the road again.
Your final destination for the day is Cape Tribulation. This is wild rainforest at its finest! Cassowaries, crocodiles and monitor lizards all reside in this section of the Daintree. In fact, this is the oldest rainforest in the world, making it extremely special. It has taken a few beatings from cyclones in the past, not that you can tell. It looks to us to be in pristine condition. We recommend staying at the National park campsite at Noahs Beach, it’s cheap and right in the middle of the (wildlife) action. Just be aware of the local fauna that may visit your site and be sure to leave no food scraps outside your van.
Day 11 – Spend the day exploring the oldest rainforest in the world. You can walk the beach, just stay out of the water, this is real croc-country! Next to Mason’s Store in Cape Tribulation is a freshwater swimming hole that you should track out to, just be sure to make a purchase from the store to thank the owners for giving you access to this special place. Here you can swim, croc-free. Take the Dubuji Boardwalk, a beautiful 1.8 km walk through rainforest and mangroves or the Maardja Botanical Walk. For those with cash to splash, you can go jungle surfing, or zip-linnig, through the rainforest canopy. We spent the whole day just lounging at Noahs Beach, enjoying feeling like the only people on the Earth.
Day 12 – Wave goodbye to the wilderness and put on your best (or at least cleanest) clothes. We’re heading to Port Douglas; playground of the rich and famous. Be prepared to indulge in great food, good coffee and walk streets lined with boutiques and beautiful people. Spend as much time as you wish in Port Douglas, then cruise on down the highway, admiring the views all the way to Ellis Beach. Ellis Beach is a lovely beachfront campsite, and is the only commercial campsite that you will need to stay at thought this whole roadtrip. It is work the price though. Right on the beach, close access to Kuranda, Palm Cove and Cairns City, it’s a great base for exposing this FNQ city.
Day 13 – Head up the hills and explore Kuranda. This treetop township is in the heart of the rainforest and is famous for it’s markets and it’s rainforest walks and waterfalls. Be sure to check out Barron Falls and the Kuranda Heritage Markets, as well as taking a sample of some of the many waling paths that are scattered around the region. On your way back to Ellis Beach, we suggest heading to Crystal Cascades, it’s a little out of the way, but it’s a lovely place to splash in the water and just have a little zen at the end of your trip.
Day 14 – It maybe the last day of your trip… but hold back the tears. It’s not over just yet. After checking out of Ellis Beach, head to the Cairns Botanical Gardens for a leisurely walk and admire this lovely park. You can grab lunch in the garden cafe. Once you’re done with your vehicle, return it to the dealership in Cairns city then spend the day splashing about in the free access lagoon and lounging about in the sunshine on the grass of the Esplanade. Do any last minute souvenir shopping, tanning, eating and drink then get your ass to the airport on the bus and head home to show off the pictures of the best road trip ever.
How much will this Ultimate Aussie Tropical Roadtrip cost you?
This road trip is one that we have done and can tell you us dirt cheap! We reckon you can do it for a total of $1,626 for two people, all costs included. That is $813 per person for a two week road trip. How much would you spend on a two week stay in a tropical paradise normally? How much on car hire, accommodation and tours?
This is really a good price.
If you take the following as a base you can start to get an idea of what this might cost you:
You will spend most of your time in National Park Campsites, these are $5.95 per person, per night and can be booked online through any of the links given thought the article. There are options to free camp for a few nights in they roadtrip which can make this trip cost even less. You will stay in one commercial campsite, which will account for $70 of your accommodation budget. If you can find a cheap, legal and enjoyable campsite in Cairns, then please let us know because we struggled to find one!
(TOTAL just under $206 for 2 people for 13 nights)
CAMERVAN OR CAR HIRE
FOOD & BEERS
- If you cook for yourself you can budget approx $15 per person in food. Check out our camping recipes here for ideas on fast and easy meals or download the great Fuck Pasta and Ketchup book here.
(Approx $420 for both people for 2 weeks, you can of course make this as much or as little as you like by cooking for yourselves or eating out at every meal).
- You will drive approx over this trip, depending on how many side trips you make. There is a great little calculator here for working out how much you should budget for fuel.
(Approx $200 for this roadtrip)
- Ferry to Magnetic Island ($33 per person return trip) and all day bus pass on the island ($10 per person)
- Barge to Campe Tribulation ($14 per car return trip)